Title: Driving Me Mad
Rating: T. The not worksafe Archer/Rin love version can be found at my writing lj.
Characters: Archer x Rin
Word Count: 21,229
Warning(s): Some Heaven's Feel spoilers.
Summary: Rin is honest, except to herself. Typically, it blows up in her face.
Dedication: To...Caradryan? Raistlin? I'm grateful for all your help and infinite patience, but please pick a handle and stick with it.
A/N: Done for the 30 lemons challenge theme number 22, "Bottoms Up, or 'Surprise, Guess Who's On Top Tonight?'"
Fate/stay night © TYPE-MOON / Kadokawa Shoten / Studio DEEN.
Cross-posted to fsn_fiction, 30_lemons and my writing lj.
Archer tested the yumi, the range of six archery targets already quickly set up between his and Ayako's efforts. He wasn't surprised the Japanese bow was in such good condition considering Emiya didn't even practice-his younger self was simply the type to care for such things. Although Sakura's genuine enjoyment of kyudo couldn't have hurt things any as far as motivation went.
The loops of the tsuru firmly in the groves at either end of the bow, Archer held the bow at his side as he remained immobile. Ayako gave him a curious stare, clearly waiting for an explanation.
"Prepare your bow, Mitsuzuri." Archer said, tilting his head in challenge. "I want to see if you're as worthy to instruct as I am to advise."
Ayako stilled a moment before grinning approvingly, nodding her head. "Yes. Fair's fair. I have to say, I'm happy you thought of asking, Emiya-san."
"Archery is a mental art as much as it is a physical one. Respect is...important," Archer replied, watching Ayako assemble her own bow with the same skill he distantly recalled from his old life.
"If that's true, I may be the wrong person for this," Ayako said, manner sincere rather than self-depreciating as she stood before her own target with bow and arrow at ready. "I'm not bad but there are those better than me in the club. Matou is especially skilled, even more so considering she's a first-year."
"I don't doubt her talent. But she's not the one being tested now," Archer answered, reaching for an arrow as he centered his breathing.
Ayako's smile grew once more as her gaze flicked to the targets, twelve meters away. Child's play to an archer of his skill, but explaining why he could hit a target as far as four kilometers away would take more explaining than he really felt like. "That's a good answer, Emiya-san."
A glance passed between them, one practitioner of kyudo to another.
Arrows were gripped, bows held at ready.
A single breath. The pulling of strings, the straining of arm muscles against the yumi.
The visualization of the arrow already at the center of the target.
The dull sound of the bulls-eye being struck.
"Dead center," Ayako noted, looking pleased. "I hit the bulls-eye too, but I don't always get it perfectly in the middle like that."
"It was still a good shot on your part," Archer said, reaching to string another arrow. "I could hit something further away than twelve meters, if you want to pick a target." He aimed before releasing the arrow, the slender wood buried firmly in the epicenter of the third target.
"Oh?" The Archery Captain replied, making her own shot to strike the fourth target. Not a bad one by any means, but still out of Archer's league. She seemed to be aware of this, eyeing the target with a little dissatisfaction before turning to look at Rin. "Tohsaka, why don't you pick?"
Rin frowned, distracted from her silent admiration of Archer's kyudo. It was strange and a little disappointing to realize she had never actually seen his skills as a kyudoka. But his former status as the Heroic Spirit of the Bow was a well-deserved one, his movements natural and flowing as a mountain river. "Why me, Mitsuzuri-san? I'm only familiar with kyudo at all because of you and Sakura."
"You can pick a target just fine, and your choice will be unbiased," Ayako said, amber gaze moving to Archer than back to Rin again. A sneaky, teasing smile started to grow on the other girl's face as she gave Rin a searching look. "Unless you think you can't be, for some reason-"
"The knothole on the tree at the end of the courtyard," Rin hastily interrupted as she pointed at the target, not wanting Ayako to figure out more than she absolutely had to. That she had already noticed how familiar Rin and Archer were with each other was bad enough.
"That one? Tohsaka, you're merciless. It's almost thirty-five meters from where we're standing." Ayako replied, squinting as she focused on the knothole. "And that spot itself can't be more than two centimeters across."
"Archer can hit it," Rin said calmly, voice utterly confident. Her eyes met his, the faith in their blue depths making his breath catch.
"Oho, you're not usually one to praise like that," Ayako said, grinning as Rin's cheeks went faintly red. "Well then, Tohsaka thinks you can do it so let's see your shot, Emiya-san."
Archer nodded, centering his breathing once more to calm his pounding heart. None of this showed in his actions, the arrow nocked no less gracefully than before. A heartbeat's worth of time passed, the world shrinking down to just his target. His fingers released the shaft, the bowstring twanging as the projectile flew to lodge neatly in the exact center of the knothole.
Ayako's eyes widened as she went to check the shot, her expression both impressed and slightly shaken. She didn't bother to announce what both Archer and Rin already knew.
That the shot was perfect.
Ayako plucked the shaft from the tree, turning it over in her hands. Finally, she chuckled before walking back to where they stood.
"Geez, Emiya-san. Why aren't you making a fortune in archery competitions? Someone with your skill could do very well for himself," Ayako asked, sitting down on the engawa. "Honestly, I'm embarrassed about having you advise now. It feels like I'm wasting your time."
"It's more complicated than that," Archer said slowly, unstringing his bow carefully. "I've...only arrived in Japan recently, so I'm still working out what to do with myself."
Ayako gave Rin an impish look, clearly aware of the amount of familiarity between her friend and Shirou's 'relative'. "Really? D'you got any suggestions for him, Toh-"
"I personally can't think of a better way for Archer to spend his time than helping you, A~ya~ko~," Rider cooed, popping up so suddenly even Archer jolted in surprise. Ayako gave a nervous squeak, made so frantic by her attempt to flee she ended up slipping on the engawa floor and falling face-first into Rider's generous chest. "Fufufufu~"
Rin forcibly held back a laugh as Ayako scrambled away, unusually flustered as she straightened her jogging sweats out. Rider merely smiled in response, not the least bit put off.
"A-anyway, Emiya-san," Ayako coughed, face still red. "It would be wonderful if you would advise while Fujimura-sensei is out sick," Her gaze shifted to Rider before she scooted back just a bit more. "The Archery Club gets lots of support from the school and we tend to do well in tournaments, so I'm sure I can work out a compensation fee of some sort with the principal. It probably won't be that much, but it's better than nothing."
"Mitsuzuri, I don't need-" Archer began.
"No, I insist. It wouldn't sit right by me if you didn't get something for your efforts," Ayako said firmly, nodding assuredly.
The sheer nostalgia that washed over Archer had him laughing dryly, Ayako's strong will just as he remembered. Perhaps that was part of why she and Rin were such good friends. "Fine, I give. I know better than to argue when you're like that..." He stopped before adding quickly, "From what Rin's told me of you, that is."
"Hmm," Ayako responded, eyeing Rin closely. "How uncharacteristic of Tohsaka to just talk to a guy like that."
Rin blushed, but the sound of the front door opening halted any blistering response she might have prepared.
"Nee...Tohsaka-senpai, everyone, we're back," Sakura's voice called out from the hall. Shirou's voice could faintly be heard murmuring to her before she continued. "And we brought lunch."
Shirou picked up another piece of beef from his gyudon, chewing slowly before starting. "So you were right, Mitsuzuri. It was mono. The doctor said it shouldn't be too serious since Fuji-nee's so healthy and we caught it early. But she'll still be out for about a month."
"Haaa," Ayako sighed, chopsticks snagging a bit of beef and rice from her own bowl. "Well, it's a relief she's going to get better. Looks like we'll be depending on you for that long, Emiya-san."
Archer shifted, his discomfort only perceived by Rin. "Just Archer is fine. Or Archer-san if you must. And I don't mind being useful."
Ayako laughed a little, taking a sip of her soda. "With a reply like that, Archer-san, you really do sound just like Emiya. Some things must run in the family," She stirred her bowl around with her chopsticks, missing the tense looks around the table. "Anyway, graduation is in just six days, on the twenty-first. There'll be a long weekend and then we'll be starting the new school year before April begins."
"It's already that close? Time went by unbelievably fast." Rin said, eating a last bit of beef to completely empty her bowl. "And aptitude tests first thing for all the new third years. Feeling up to it, Shirou?"
Shirou gave Rin a level stare before groaning, "Tohsaka, you really are a devil at heart. Saying such things when you're always at the top of your year for grades is just cruel." Next to him, Sakura gave Rin the tiniest hint of a reprimanding frown.
"Oho, but time's running out for you too Tohsaka," Ayako trilled with more than a little wicked glee. "Just one more year for our bet, or have you forgotten?"
Archer looked at Rin, blinking as her face went red. "Rin, what bet is that?"
"I-It's not important!" Rin said quickly, holding up her hands as if to physically shield herself from inquiry. "Besides, now that we know Fujimura-sensei's situation, we should go to the school to get the paperwork for your employment put through so there won't be any problems-"
"Yes, let's all go together," Rider smiled, moving a little closer to Ayako in a way that had her looking nervous and flustered. "Ayako, you'll show us around, won't you?"
"U...um..." Ayako sweated, giving Rin a pleading look that was studiously ignored. "Okay..."
"Just as I thought, Ayako is truly a wonderful girl," Rider beamed, embracing Ayako in a way that rather reminded Rin of a snake trapping some small helpless animal. "If there's anything I can do to repay you..."
"It's fine! Really!" Ayako said quickly, forcibly extracting herself from Rider's arms as the eirei pouted at her. "Let me just go home and get changed, and I'll meet you all at school in an hour." The club captain continued moving backwards to the front hall, unwilling to turn her back on so dangerous a foe. "Thanks for the lunch, Emiya."
"Sure, Mitsu-" The sound of the door slamming and footsteps running away cut Shirou off as he stared in the direction Ayako had gone in bewilderment. In a second, all their eyes were on Rider. The Servant sighed in a mixture of disappointment and bemusement, crossing her arms over her ample chest.
"She got away. But I suppose it makes things more interesting..." Rider mused, unaware of the stares. She brightened suddenly, sitting up. "Do you think she's going to change into her school uniform?"
"Probably, if she's planning to see the principal," Archer said, raising an eyebrow at Rin's suspicious stare. "What?"
"You don't have a thing for..." Rin started, before stopping and shaking her head. "Never mind. We need to go back to our place and get your papers. Now's as good a time as any to see if they pass the authenticity test."
For some reason, Archer's expression lifted subtly. The white-haired man nodded, following Rin to the entrance hall to slip their shoes on.
Once more, the front door open and shut to leave Shirou, Sakura, and Rider alone at the table.
"I wonder why Archer-san looked so pleased by that," Sakura said, daintily eating the last few grains of rice at the bottom of her bowl.
"Because she said 'our place' inside of 'my place'," Shirou replied, the answer coming to him surprisingly easily. For a second his head twinged with a phantom ache before it faded as quickly as it came.
"Senpai?" Sakura asked, checking his forehead with her slender little hand. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Sakura," Shirou said, giving her his most reassuring smile. "There was just a lot going on today, so it isn't surprising I got a headache. Tohsaka doesn't really need us at school, so I think I'll just lie down."
"O-oh," She said, looking down at her hands as Rider discreetly left the room. "Um...senpai..."
"If you wouldn't be bored, I'd love your company Sakura," Shirou chuckled, stroking her smooth cheek that flushed so sweetly under his hand. "I sleep best when you're there."
"I won't be bored, senpai. Not with you."
The sun hung low in the sky by the time Archer and Rin finished working things out at school. It had gone even easier than he thought it would, between Rin's flawless documentation and Ayako's vouching for his skill. From there, it had been simple enough to work out a temporary contract agreement and look over the Archery Club facilities as well as the rest of the school. Not that he actually needed it, but Rin was the only one who knew that.
He didn't mind though. There had been something surprisingly pleasant about seeing the school again in peaceful circumstances, and seeing Rin play the flawless school idol never stopped being amusing. And to be honest, at least with himself, he really liked seeing her in her school uniform. Taiga falling sick aside, it hadn't been a bad day by any means-
"You look satisfied," Rin commented as she walked beside him. "Are you that ready to start tomorrow?"
"Hn. Things haven't worked out too badly, so why wouldn't I be satisfied?" Archer said as they walked the familiar road south to the edge of Tohsaka Manor.
"True, but when you look like that I can't help but worry you've got something up your sleeve," Rin responded, smirking up at him.
"How could I have something planned when the most I'm doing is teaching kyudo to high school students?" Archer asked, holding the gate open for her before following her to the front door.
"This from the man who did his very best to bring a paradox about and wipe himself from existence; all on a chance so ridiculously small it was a shade away from impossible," Rin shot back as she unlocked the door, her teasing smile taking some of the bite out of her words. She slipped out of her red coat, Archer automatically taking it to hang it up in the front hall closet. "Well, that was then and this was now."
"Hn," Archer grunted, taking off his own jacket. "Isn't that just sophistry, Rin-"
"Oh, it's not important." Rin said, setting down her school bag before heading for the stairs. "I'm going to change, so would you mind getting started on dinner?"
Archer sighed at her flippant attitude, but a little smile played upon his face anyway. "And what would you like, Rin?"
She paused at the top of the stairs, looking down at him over her shoulder. "Surprise me, Archer."
Rin had already disappeared from sight by the time he worked out a reply, voice dry with meaning. "I'm planning on it."
The morning was cool and grey when Archer first woke, earlier than usual considering it was his first day of advising the archery club. Curled up next to him, Rin barely responded to his stirring as she remained deeply asleep. Carefully as possible, Archer slipped away from her to prepare for the day.
Twenty minutes and a hot shower later, Archer was back by the bed gently nudging Rin's shoulder. She had never really been an early riser, but this morning she was sleeping even sounder than usual. He smirked slightly in pure masculine pride as he looked at her, recalling just how much energy she had expended the previous night because of him. In which case she couldn't really be blamed for needing the rest, but she had asked him to wake her earlier than normal.
"Rin...Rin, it's time to get up," Archer repeated, shaking her softly. Just as before, Rin only mumbled at him in response before curling up to hide beneath the blankets. He sighed, pulling the blankets down once more. Clearly, something more was needed.
Idly, Archer leaned over to gently blow in Rin's ear. He wasn't exactly sure what he had been expecting her to do, but it was probably safe to say it was nothing close to what did happen. As soon as the air hit her Rin cried out, bolting upright and scooting back, all the while protectively covering her ears.
"I'm sorry, Rin, I didn't think you'd react...so...strongly..." Archer said, trailing off as he got a better look at her. Face flushed, blue eyes wide, her body trembling hard.
Nipples stiffening under the thin cotton of her yellow pajamas, easily visible with the top two buttons undone. Chest rising and falling as she breathed in a way he usually associated with something other than simple surprise. Archer smiled as he moved to join her on the bed even when his eyes narrowed with a hunter's instinct. Sensing his intent, Rin blushed more before covering her ears as completely as possible.
Not that it did any good. Gently but firmly, Archer grabbed her wrists to pull her hands away from her ears, moving her so she was down on her back. Rin struggled for a second against his grip, but her body moving against his was counter-productive more than anything.
"That was very interesting, Rin," Archer purred, easily feeling her tremble at his breathe against her ear. "Are you always so sensitive there?"
"N...no, no I'm not." Rin said weakly, squirming as her heart pounded. "You just surprised-oooh Archer..."
Archer trailed his tongue down to her earlobe, gently nibbling at the soft flesh. "What was that? If that's how you react when you aren't sensitive, I'm not sure I could take how you'd react when you are."
Rin groaned, arcing back to expose her throat in a way that was too much to ignore. Archer released her earlobe to slowly trail kisses down her throat before sucking at the pulse in it beating hard and fast. "I-it's just...coincidence..."
"Coincidence, you say? I'm going to have to test that one," Archer smirked at her after a quick glance at the clock. It may have been his first day of coaching, but some things were too…important…to put off.
Even if it meant a little lateness.
"Ara, Archer-san~!" Sakura beamed sweetly, her expression lifted from the purest of angels. "We were worried you had gotten lost, considering you were supposed to show up almost fifteen minutes ago." Her violet eyes widened to add to the appearance of innocence, but there was a dark gleam within their depths. Behind his shoulder Rin glared at her sister, expression pointedly warning.
"Now, now, Matou, it's easy to get lost if you aren't familiar with the roads around here," Ayako broke in, not knowing Archer was more than knowledgeable about Fuyuki. Her easy smile went nervous for a second as she looked carefully for anything lavender colored. "Er...is Rider-san...?"
"She's at the hospital dropping some things off for Fujimura-sensei." Sakura told her, before her expression grew a little mischievous. "But she said she'd drop by after school to watch club."
"Ah, that's...um...thoughtful of her," Ayako sweated nervously, before clapping her hands together to catch the attention of the club members who were looking curiously at the unaccustomed presence of the school idol and the mysterious stranger. "Everyone, listen up!"
All eyes were on her automatically, her anxiety gone as Ayako held herself like a true leader, confident and capable. "I know lately we've been going through a lot of changes, both expected and unexpected. The end of the school year is approaching, and pretty soon we'll all be going on to the next grade and welcoming new years to the club," Ayako's tone went somber as her expression grew more serious. "And we've had changes we haven't expected. Recently, we've lost more than one of our members to the mysterious disappearances...and we have not seen any of them again," Sakura flinched, looking down with a pained face even as Shirou laid a comforting hand on her shaking shoulder. "And now, our Club Adviser has unexpectedly taken ill."
Concerned noise rose at this, until Ayako raised her hand and silence fell once more. "Fortunately, Fujimura-sensei will recover from her mono in roughly a month. However, this does put her out of commission at a vital time in our preparation for the Regional Kyudo Championship. Which is why I've taken the liberty of finding a temporary fill-in coach for Sensei until she recovers."
Shifting slightly, Ayako gestured to Archer. Uncomfortable with the rather intense stares he was getting, he nonetheless stood carefully and did his best to stay composed. "This is Emiya Archer-san, everybody. He's a relative of Emiya's who has agreed to help us out while Fujimura-sensei is recovering, so regard him kindly. I've seen his kyudo skill, and can personally attest to the fact we're lucky to have him here to advise us even for a short while."
Archer cleared his throat, collecting his thoughts quickly as attention shifted to him. "As Mitsuzuri said, these are unusual circumstances you've all found yourselves in. She's spoken highly of your skill, and just as you should expect me to do my best, I expect the best from you in turn. I'll be strict but fair, so I hope this will result in a smooth transition for everyone here. This may be only temporary, but with honest effort on both my part and yours we can make the best of it."
There was a moment of low murmuring, the gathered archery club members looking at each other as they took this in. One of the first-year students raised her hand slowly, face a bit pink as she didn't look Archer quite in the eye. "Um....Emiya-sensei? What will happen when Fujimura-sensei gets better?"
Archer exhaled, a little thrown by the title as he answered her question. "Fujimura-sensei will return to being your club advisor assuming she's made a full recovery."
The murmuring grew as the stares grew more speculative, until Ayako clapped her hands once more and the voices quieted.
"Everyone, I'm sure you all have questions for Emiya-sensei, but we can save them for after-school when we have more time. I have one more announcement to make-" Ayako paused to grin, her expression lightening the mood, "-And don't worry, it's a good one," She gestured to Shirou, who gently lead a mystified-looking Sakura forward. "As I'm sure you all know, in less than a month's time I'll be moving on to third year along with all the other second years. Naturally, my first concern was the Archery Club. While I've enjoyed being captain, I'm just not going to have as much free time as before. So, I thought on who I felt was reliable, hard-working, talented, and cared as much about the club as I do. One person came to mind, which is why I'm happy to tell you all come the new school year Matou Sakura is to be your new Archery Club Captain."
"Eeeh?!?" Sakura squeaked, blushing as the entire club clapped enthusiastically, Shirou and Rin most of all. The violet-haired girl covered her red face with both hands, mouth opening and closing as she tried to collect herself. "Mitsuzuri-senpai, it's an honor but-"
"I won't hear it, Matou. You're the best person for the job, and I know you truly love kyudo," Ayako smiled, nudging her encouragingly. "Hey, with you as Captain, maybe Emiya will finally stop resisting and join the club again."
Sakura tilted her head, looking very thoughtful even as Shirou backed away nervously. "Senpai...."
"Not with Archer there. We'd kill each other before first bell," Shirou hissed under his breath, before speaking louder. "You know, school will be starting in twenty minutes and there was something Issei needed me to fix-" His fingers fumbled with the sliding door before he made a swift retreat for the relative safety of the school. "See you later!"
Rin walked next to her sister, eyeing the retreating red-head with hooded eyes. "Coward. Want me to scold him for you, Sakura?"
Sakura shook her head, looking slightly amused. "It's not like he doesn't have a point, Nee-san. Besides, if Senpai really upset me I'd let him have it later myself."
Rin nodded in approval, either oblivious to, or more likely ignoring Archer's slightly disturbed expression.
Sakura, you really are Rin's sister, aren't you...? He thought as the club members started filing out to change for school. The boldness isn't a bad thing, but please don't become as scary as Rin. I don't think the world could take it.
The final chimes of the morning bell had died away by the time Rin was in her seat, idly looking out the window as she waited for the homeroom teacher to arrive. She was still getting accustomed to not seeing Kuzuki-sensei around anymore, but Shieru-sensei was fitting well enough considering the abrupt circumstances in which she had become 2-A's homeroom teacher. Rin supposed it helped that her class was a calm, settled one-
"Hey, Tohsaka, what's with that look? It's scary to see you with that thoughtful expression."
-For the most part.
With a sigh, Rin moved her gaze away from the scenery to give Makidera Kaede a cool stare. "What do you mean by that, Makidera-san? It's too early in the morning for nonsense."
The tanned track star nodded at that, an absurdly approving look on her face. "Yes, yes. This harsh Tohsaka is the one I know. Staring out the window like a dreamy girl with her head in the clouds is completely unnatural for you."
"You're the unnatural one, Makidera-san," Rin deadpanned at the runner, resting her cheek in her hand. "Do you always place such significance on my facial expressions?"
"She's just overly excited today." Himuro Kane cut in, pushing her glasses up her nose as she looked calmly at her fellow track team member. "Everyone is."
Rin blinked at the grey-haired girl, shifting her gaze from Maki. "Why is that, Himuro-san?"
Himuro settled into her own seat, straightening her pencils into a neat row. "You should know, Tohsaka-jou. You were with him in the archery dojo."
Barely managing to restrain her startled expression, Rin looked back and forth between the two girls. "What? You aren't talking about..."
"The kyudo advisor who's filling in for Fujimura-sensei," Saegusa Yukika finished with her usual shy smile. "Good morning, Tohsaka-san."
"Good morning, Saegusa-san," Rin replied, expression softening slightly for the girl who had always reminded her a bit of Sakura in temperament. But reality returned swiftly enough. "Don't tell me everyone is talking about that. What's the big deal about a substitute teacher?"
The light gleamed against Himuro's glasses as she directed a focused look at Rin. "Normally none. But a handsome substitute who's just old enough to have that aura of experience, but young enough it's not like having a thing for older guys? That's a different story. And the archery thing doesn't hurt, either-"
Shieru-sensei walked into the room, effectively halting all conversation. Rin automatically stood, bowed, and sat with the rest of the class, mind racing as an unpleasant feeling gripped her chest.
A while later, the lunch bell rang. The passing of time had done nothing to lessen the strange, tight feeling stirring inside her, much as she had strived to ignore it. The barbed emotion only intensified as she pulled out her bentou...the one Archer had made for her that morning.
"Ano, Tohsaka-san?" Yukika piped up with a hopeful smile. "Would you like to have lunch with us? You have your bentou this time..."
"Sure, Saegusa-san," Rin said, joining her and the other track team members at the window. "Thank you for remembering."
Yukika pinked a bit as she untied her furoshiki, the blue and white fabric falling aside to reveal her bentou. "A-ah, you're welcome..."
Makidera sat down heavily in her seat, quickly unpacking her own lunch and snatching up a sausage. "Haa, don't make such a big deal about it, Yukichi!" She waved her sausage around dramatically before taking an emphatic bite. "It's just Homurabara Gakuen School Idol Tohsaka Rin-sama-oh, she's glaring again."
"Please don't talk with your mouth full, Makidera-san." Rin replied, smiling like an angel and not meaning any of it. "It's too vulgar for a girl, so have some consideration."
"Harsh!" Maki said, mock scooting away and hiding her face with the lid of her bentou. She lowered it after a moment, resuming eating her lunch with slightly more grace.
"It was gross, Maki." Himuro commented, popping a tamagoyaki into her mouth while quietly watching Rin unwrap her own meal. "Tohsaka-jou, your bentou have been looking quite elegant lately. That must have taken some effort."
Rin cursed in her head even as she gave a small smile to the other girl. "Thank you, but it's certainly worth it." Even though I can't exactly explain why I wasn't the one who made it...Archer, being so fastidious shouldn't cause problems like this.
"Kara-age, tamagoyaki, stir-fry veggies, rice...even a sliced tangerine," Yukika observed, craning her head to get a better look. She gave Rin her usual gentle smile, lifting a inari-zushi from her lunch. "I thought all that practice making lunch for my brothers made me pretty good, but yours looks even better, Tohsaka-san."
Rin gave a weak affirmative noise, desperately casting around to change the subject. "Saegusa-san, you have brothers?"
The brown-haired girl nodded. "Yes, three. They're all in elementary school."
"Three younger brothers...no wonder you're so good at managing the track team," Rin said, taking a bite of the kara-age. Flavor filled her mouth, a flawless balance of ginger and soy sauce and chicken...perfectly breaded and fried. Suddenly, ten pieces didn't seem like enough. She swallowed before smirking a bit at Maki. "Especially this one here."
"Yeah, she is good with childr-hey! That's Homurabara's Black Leopard to you, Tohsaka!" Makidera shot back as she stood up, posing with her lunch in one hand and head tilted artistically to catch the sunlight streaming through the window.
"Homurabara's Black Leopard, please sit down," Rin responded flatly, picking up a clump of rice before popping it in her mouth. "Save that energy for the field, you know?"
"Yes, Kaede. Archery isn't the only club preparing for competition," Yukika added, lightly tugging Maki's skirt until she sat back down again. "Our best runner shouldn't tire herself out before school's even let out."
"Hmph, you know I have energy to spare," Makidera pouted for a moment, chopsticks poking at her grilled salmon before tearing a piece off. She wolfed it down before giving Rin a grin. "Besides, we actually have Tohsaka with us for once. Rejected any confessions lately?"
"Don't use me to fuel your appetite for gossip," Rin said before taking another bite of stir-fry vegetable. It figured it was delicious as everything else in the lunch. "And no, I haven't."
Yukika looked shyly at her, fiddling with her tofu. "Tohsaka-san is very popular, after all. Of course she'd be confessed to often."
"It really isn't that frequent," Rin objected, nibbling on a slice of tangerine. "Besides, I have better things to do with my time than waste it with romance."
"Such an unfeminine answer from Tohsaka, who'd have thought it?" Maki cackled, all three girls looking rather intently at her. "Ohoho, or do you just already have someone?" Suppressing the urge to move away, Rin replaced the lid of her now-empty bentou before retying the furoshiki.
"Yes, that would explain a lot," Himuro said in a completely serious tone, index finger lightly tapping her chin. "Tohsaka Rin rejected each and every boy who confessed because her heart belongs to another...and no one must ever know of their hidden love-"
"Are you even listening to what you're saying, Himuro-san?" Rin asked, slipping her bentou back into her bag. "I'm just not interested in pursuing a relationship or falling in love."
"That's cold, Tohsaka," Makidera drawled as she leaned back in her seat, contentedly full. "Don't you care about all the heartbreak you've caused?"
"No," Rin replied immediately, Kaede wiping a fake tear in response.
"She's not going to be the only one causing heartbreak, judging by the look of it." Himuro said as she gazed out the window, lazily chewing her katsu sandwich. "I see the swarming has already started."
"Swarming?" Yukika asked, her eyes widening as she followed her team-mate's line of sight. "Oh my."
Curiosity roused, Rin glanced out the window. The location of her classroom meant that where the school's athletic events were held could be easily seen...which included the archery dojo.
And the roughly twenty girls who were crowded around it, each at various stages of working up the nerve to look inside. For what-or who, to be more accurate-didn't take a huge leap of logic. Rin closed her eyes, concentrating herself for a moment. Awareness drifted across her mind as she sensed the familiar circuits of Shirou and Sakura, but none belonging to Archer. Clearly, he wasn't actually in the school for now, but would probably return at the end of the day to start training.
"Word really has gotten around, even when hardly anyone outside the archery club has actually seen him," Himuro noted, pushing her glasses up. "So, Tohsaka-san, is he really that good-looking?"
"H-hey, what are you asking me for?" Rin asked, more irritated than she cared to admit by the girls near the dojo.
"Because you have seen him," Himuro told her, raising a brow at her reaction. "Besides, you've been pretty familiar with Emiya-kun lately, so you would probably have a better chance of knowing his relative than most."
"That's true, but..." Rin trailed off, stomach clenching at the looks she was getting. Finally, she sighed and gave in. "Yes, he's handsome. Even if you don't go for that manly, kind of rugged look."
"Is he your type, Tohsaka-san?" Yukika asked, toying with her furoshiki as a strangely anxious look flashed across her face.
"Huh? I don't really have a type, so I can't answer that," Rin said, sneaking another glance out the window. About ten more girls had arrived, and it looked like more were on the way. If it was this bad when Archer wasn't even there...Rin shuddered slightly, thinking of what after school was going to be like.
Worse than even she had imagined, as it turned out. Rin barely managed to keep her jaw from dropping as she stared at what looked like half the school-at least, the half that was female-crowded outside the dojo. Next to her, Shirou had a similar expression on his face that was somewhere between disbelief and horror.
"Tohsaka...women are scary," Shirou eventually said, running a hand through his hair. "I'm actually starting to feel sorry for that bastard."
"I'm sure it's just curiosity," Rin replied after giving Shirou a Look, though she wasn't feeling as confident about it as her words let on. "You know, new face in a small town and all that. But still, they shouldn't be getting in the way of Sakura and the others when they're trying to practice."
Shirou shrugged at that, a fond smile on his face. "Between her and Mitsuzuri, I'm sure they can handle it."
"That still doesn't mean they should have to deal with a bunch of interlopers," Rin said, scowling at the crowd for a reason she didn't care to examine too closely. "You think Archer would at least have the sense to make those girls go away."
"He doesn't even notice them," Shirou murmured to himself, his voice strangely quiet and eyes distant. Rin shot him a questioning look as he shook himself out of it, waving her off with a smile. "Let's go inside and see how Sakura's doing, Tohsaka."
Rin nodded, the two of them somehow making their way past the crowd to enter the dojo. Inside, the bolder of the girls were lounging against the walls and watching the proceedings. It didn't take a lot of observation to see they could have cared less about the archery itself, considering the way their eyes as a whole were firmly fixed on Archer. Rin's expression grew darker even as she realized Archer cut a nice figure in a gi and hakama. He looked the very essence of a Japanese kyudoka in the blue and white cloth...though she couldn't help but think he'd look better in pure black.
"Senpai!" Sakura hurried over, smiling cheerfully at them both. "You came by to watch after all."
"I did promise you I would, Sakura," Shirou reminded her, tugging gently at a lock of violet hair. "Besides, there's no way I'd miss out on that." He jabbed a thumb over where Archer was correcting the stance of a first year. A female first year who was blushing altogether too much for Rin's tastes.
"How has he been doing?" Rin asked, looking away from the sight that was only making her more and more irritated.
"Very well, actually," Sakura said, eyes flicking to note Rin's expression before settling into her normal sweet smile. "He doesn't mince words, but Archer-sa...Emiya-sensei clearly knows what he's doing. He has a way of correcting people so they overcome their mistakes and learn what they could work on for themselves. For the kind of teacher he is, it's a good skill."
"Really?" Rin looked back to where Archer was still helping the first year. To look at his face, most people wouldn't see happiness of any sort. But Rin could read genuine enjoyment in the lift of his brow and set of his jaw. She really shouldn't have been so surprised. Deep down, it had always been Archer's way to help those who needed it...and he really did love kyudo in a way few people did. Archer must have sensed her gaze, head lifting as his gaze met her own for a long moment.
"Nee-san," Sakura's subtle cough caught her attention. Rin started, face flushing as her sister gave her a knowing smile. "Would you and senpai like to stay and watch? You seem to have already gotten started on it."
"Is it me or have you gotten meaner lately?" Rin muttered as Sakura's smile widened. "Besides, you have enough people without any interest in archery already watching."
Sakura cast a penetrative look Rin's way as Shirou looked on obliviously. "Nee-san, you're too dishonest with yourself by far."
"Hey, Sakura, care to elaborate on that?" Rin asked, an irate vein popping up in her forehead. Sakura merely chuckled until a vaguely-familiar looking first year tapped her shoulder. Rin looked at the auburn-haired boy, trying to place where she had seen him before.
"Excuse me, Matou. Nee-chan needs you to fill out some paperwork for club," The boy told Sakura, face going distinctly surly at how close Shirou was standing to her. The sense of deja vu lifted as an arm was slung around the boy's shoulder, causing him to buckle slightly.
"Minori, I could have gotten Matou myself!" Ayako said cheerfully, ignoring the way his cheeks flushed as she let him go. With the siblings side by side, Rin finally caught the resemblence between Ayako and her younger brother. Even with Minori's aggravated face and Ayako's look of total and complete fear-
Wait, fear? What brought that on- Rin thought before she got a quick answer.
"Ayako, so you have a younger brother?" Rider beamed happily behind Rin. "It's lovely to meet you, Mitsuzuri-kun."
"Urk...Rider-san..." Ayako began to step back in a futile effort to get some space between herself and the Servant. "You did come by after all-"
"Yes," Rider said in the warmest of tones, smile bright as the sun. "I wanted to see Ayako in her kyudo uniform. Are you and Sakura going to the school to fill the paperwork out?"
Trapped, Ayako's shoulders slumped in defeat. "...Yes. Would you like me to show you around, Rider-san?"
"That would be wonderful, Ayako," Rider's glasses gleamed as she held onto the younger woman's hand. The girl sighed once more before leading the way, Sakura inclining her head before trailing after them.
"Does Rider...like Mitsuzuri?" Shirou asked, utterly bewildered.
"No, she's just clinging that closely because she enjoys cutting the circulation off in other people's arms," A deep voice sarcastically cut in from behind. Shirou and Rin turned to face Archer, the white-haired man eyeing his younger self with brow raised and arms crossed. Rin swallowed and looked down, feeling heat warm her cheeks.
"But they're both..." Shirou began, blushing to roughly the same shade as his hair. "And Mitsuzuri never really seemed like the type."
"Judging by Rider's approach, she's planning on winning Mitsuzuri over with mind-numbing persistence," Archer deadpanned, his steel-colored gaze resting on Rin. "Are you alright, Rin?"
"W-what? I'm fine, it's just warm in here," Rin said, taking an involuntary step back. With a quick breath she had composed herself enough to look him in the eye. "So, Sakura said things were going well?"
Archer shrugged, the movement sending his muscles flexing underneath his gi. "That's an optimistic assessment, but everyone is doing their best to adjust. It helps that all the members here have been with the archery club for at least a year, so they're willing to work hard."
"And the crowd doesn't bother you?" Rin asked, the words slipping out before she could stop herself. Her face began to warm again as she averted her eyes from him.
Archer blinked, looking honestly confused by the question. "Not really. If they want to observe and aren't disturbing anyone, it's not like it hurts."
"...Right, that makes sense," Rin responded quietly, fingers twisting with the handle of her book bag. She gave a little smile, the most she could manage at the moment. "If it builds interest-"
"Emiya-sensei!" A second year waved over at them, cutting Rin off. "Could you analyze my stance?"
"You should help him," Rin said, knuckles white with tension around the leather. "Shirou and I will just watch and stay out of the way."
Archer frowned at her, but read something in her expression that said she didn't want him to pursue it. He gave a sharp nod before heading over to help the second-year, leaving the two magi to walk to the wall where the other non-club members were watching.
They stayed for a good two hours, long enough for Sakura to return with Rider and Ayako in tow. For something Rin had little personal interest in, the time spent observing the archery club went by fast. Perhaps it was because Archer did it with such grace. Sometimes it felt like she would never tire of seeing him handle the bow.
Before she knew it, it was almost six. Shirou nudged her, indicating that if dinner was to be prepared at a reasonable hour, they'd have to leave now. Rin stood, brushing her skirt off as she looked around for Archer or Sakura.
"Nee-san, senpai, are you leaving now?" Sakura asked, approaching her as Archer made his way over to them.
"Yeah, I need to get started on dinner," Shirou said, squeezing her hand gently. "You two shouldn't be too much longer, right?"
"No," Archer replied, setting his bow against the wall. "The entire club is staying late tonight, so we won't be done till around eight."
"...Oh," Rin murmured, a strange wave of discontent washing over her. "I guess we'll just start on it without you."
Sakura eyed her sister carefully, missing nothing in her voice and expression. Her violet gaze moved to Shirou, but it seemed he was oblivious to Rin's less-apparent emotional currents as always...although he did seem to be looking at Archer for some reason.
After a long moment, Rin sensed Sakura's stare. She gave her younger sister an annoyed look before her expression returned to its normal composed state. "I'll go pry Rider away from Ayako, then. We'll have dinner ready by the time you get back."
Rin walked off to separate Rider from Ayako in a near-literal sense. Sakura watched her a second longer, before glancing at Shirou and Archer and giggling softly. Both men looked at her blankly, clearly not seeing the cause of her amusement.
"Sakura, what is it?" Shirou asked, face a little flustered.
"I-I'm sorry, senpai," Sakura laughed a bit, struggling to contain herself. "I just realized Archer-san and senpai have a lot more in common than I originally thought."
In unison, Archer and Shirou scowled. Sakura's expression only grew more amused, and their own darker, as they realized they were once again in sync.
"So much for hoping your personality wouldn't grow devilish," Archer muttered, brow furrowing as Sakura attempted to hide her smile with her hand. He looked over to where Rin was firmly dragging Rider away from Ayako, feeling his tension lessen involuntarily...until Sakura covered her mouth a little more firmly, shoulders shaking.
Shirou followed Rin and Rider after bidding Sakura goodbye and nodding slightly at Archer. The two kyudo-practitioners watched the three of them leave together in silence before Archer's eyes flicked down to Sakura.
"So, what did set you off in the first place?" Archer asked, picking his bow up from against the wall and testing the string automatically. To his slight confusion, Sakura gave him a fond smile as she brushed her hair back over her shoulder.
"You and senpai are both surprisingly dense in some ways, Archer-san," Sakura told him with a impish look, moving away to check on post-Rider Ayako.
Archer's eyes narrowed as he mentally vowed revenge. Dense how, Sakura? You're dating the King of Denseness, you have no right to talk.
The setting sun painted the sky a thousand brilliant shades of scarlet and orange as Rin, Shirou, and Rider slowly walked down the path to the residential district from Homurabara Gakuen. A low rumble vibrated the air when a black motorcycle with two riders passed them by, but otherwise the streets were virtually empty. There was a steady silence as they walked, not exactly heavy but not conducive to conversation either.
This was mostly because of Rin. The dark-haired magus had been unusually quiet, giving off an air of deep contemplation as she walked a little ways before the other two. Not for the first time, Shirou and Rider exchanged a concerned look as they debated whether to say something or not. There was just something unnatural about Rin being so withdrawn, completely at odds with her normal confident self.
The trio had reached the intersection connecting the commercial and residential districts when Shirou had finally worked up the nerve to speak, when Rin abruptly stopped and distantly at the skyscrapers lining the horizon. There was more than a little conflict written in her expression, but a keen observer could tell Rin had finally made up her mind about something and there was no going back.
"Shirou, Rider," Rin spoke up with a tiny smile that seemed to be meant to reassure Rin herself as much as her two companions. "I have something I need to do in Shinto, so go on to your place without me. I should be back in time for dinner."
The red-head blinked, tilting his head curiously. "Tohsaka, what do you need to do?"
To their surprise, Rin flushed a little before striding away. "That doesn't matter, so just forget about it!"
Shirou and Rider both stared at her retreating figure with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. Suddenly, Shirou hissed sharply, grabbing his left wrist and applying pressure as pain flashed across his face.
"Shirou, are you alright?" Rider asked quickly, Rin's behavior forgotten in her concern for the boy beside her. She scanned the surrounding area, but detected no immediate threats.
"It's...it's fine, Rider," Shirou gritted out, controlling his breathing as his pained face began to ease. He relaxed the grip on his wrist slowly and carefully. "All of the sudden, my wrist just hurt..."
"Let me see." Rider told him, taking his arm carefully to study it under the slowly fading light.
A dark bruise was slowly forming, in sharp contrast to Shirou's lightly tanned skin. Rider's startled eyes met his, each looking at the other for answers that weren't coming.
"Shirou-" Rider started, before he waved her off.
"It's okay, Rider. It's just a bruise. It doesn't even hurt that much anymore," Shirou said, straightening up after picking up his bookbag from where it had fallen to the ground. "Let's just go home."
"But bruises don't form spontaneously," Rider replied, easily keeping up with Shirou's pace considering her long stride. "Sakura will be worried."
"If it happens again, I'll do something about it," Shirou answered, casting a glance at the river turned vivid ochre by the sunset. "We shouldn't bother her about small things."
Rider frowned but nodded reluctantly. "For now, at least."
Shirou was halfway through preparing the beef curry when Rin returned, holding a bag from a store well known for its high-quality leather goods. Something in her face convinced him not to question her about it...mostly the understated but very real threat of violent retaliation. Instead he passed her an apron, smiling to show his good will.
"Tohsaka, could you get on chopping the vegetables?" Shirou asked, gesturing to where they were neatly laid out and washed. "I'm a little behind, so it'll help a lot."
"Hmph," Rin stared coolly at him for a moment, clearly waiting for some line of inquiry. Seeing none coming, she turned to the vegetables, cutting them into tidy, even pieces. "What were you planning on doing with them after?"
"It's curry tonight, so something light is best," Shirou told her, stirring the pot carefully as he tested the thickness of the curry sauce. "Just grilling them with a tare base was all I had in mind."
"I'll take care of that, then," Rin said, accentuating her words with the thud of the blade against the cutting board. "I see you've already got the rice cooking too, but do you really need that much for five people?"
Shirou ran a hand through his hair, mussing it a little as he chuckled. "I guess I forgot Fuji-nee wasn't going to be here for dinner. Well, I can use the leftovers for lunch tomorrow."
Rin laughed a little herself, turning to toss the chopped vegetables on the grill as she stirred the tare basting sauce. Dipping the brush in the sauce, she began to coat the vegetables to let them soak up the flavor. "Or maybe not. Some people around here have a pretty healthy appetite."
"Don't say that about people who can't defend themselves when you don't even eat breakfast most of the time, Tohsaka," Shirou said pointedly, letting the curry simmer as he began to dice tofu to add to the miso soup. "It's not good to skip meals."
Rin glared at him for a second, flipping the grilling vegetables to brush the other side with the savory tare. "It's not like that. If I'm not hungry, I shouldn't force myself to eat."
Her anger slid off Shirou like water, barely noticed by the red-head as he chopped wakame efficiently before lifting the cutting board and adding it to the miso. "But it's funny, Tohsaka. You always eat breakfast when Archer makes it-ow!"
Smiling sweetly, Rin increased the pressure on the fingers pinching Shirou's side. "Emiya-kun, are you sure this is an avenue of thought you wish to keep pursuing? By all means, keep on going if you like." She waited for his head to shake in firm denial before letting him go, serenely turning to move the now finished vegetables to a waiting tray.
"Red devil," Shirou mumbled, rubbing the tender spot until the worst of the sting faded. "I knew the Tohsaka at school was a complete fake, but to think she was this much of a bully-"
Fortunately for the sake of Shirou's well being, the sound of the door opening and two pairs of footsteps entering the Emiya house distracted Rin from violent retribution.
"We're home~!" Sakura's voice rang out cheerfully, instantly washing away the tense atmosphere in the kitchen. "Senpai, do you need any help with dinner?"
A second later, the timer Shirou had going for the curry rang to indicate it was ready. He turned it off before removing his apron and hurrying to the entrance hall to greet his girlfriend. "No, Sakura. You came just as it fini-" He stopped, eyes widening as he spotted the bandage neatly tied around Archer's left wrist exactly where Shirou's own was wrapped.
"Senpai?" Sakura asked curiously, following his gaze to Archer's arm. "Oh, it's nothing serious. Archer-san was helping a first year who hadn't strung her bow properly, so the tsuru snapped. It was nothing an ice pack and bandage couldn't fix."
"Concerned about my health, Emiya?" Archer asked sarcastically, setting his equipment down carefully. "I'm almost touched."
"Not in a million years," Shirou shot back flatly, shoving his hand in his pocket so his own bandage couldn't be seen. "What kind of ex-Heroic Spirit can't dodge a snapped bowstring?"
Their eyes met with piercing force, glaring heatedly at each other until two meaningful coughs sounded. Both men turned to cool, calm expressions and crossed arms from both Sakura and Rin. In its own way, it was far scarier than anything they could do to each other.
"Are you two quite finished?" Rin asked, giving them both a look rather reminiscent of a mother faced with two misbehaving little boys. "Dinner's all set out, and I don't feel like waiting any longer."
"Senpai, Archer-san, be civil," Sakura chided, her chastising tone striking as hard as Rin's scolding one. She let them soak in their own guilt for a long beat before smiling gracefully. "Let's go eat now."
"So, how did it go?" Rin blew on her steaming curry, trying to cool the dish before taking a bite. Unsurprisingly, it was delicious as everything else Shirou made. "Is the kyudo range still in one piece?"
"Nee-san!" Sakura protested, expression wounded before she caught sight of the teasing look on Rin's face and relaxed. "It went very well, for your information."
Rin sipped her tea, waving a hand at her sister. "Yes, yes, Archery Club Captain. I see you're taking your duties very seriously."
Sakura pouted a second before straightening up. "Well, there were rough patches here and there. Everyone's used to Fujimura-sensei, and Archer-san's teaching method is very, um, different from hers..."
"Harsher, Sakura. You don't need to skirt around it," Archer's mouth curved in a sardonic smile as he sipped the last of his miso soup. Before he had even completely set the bowl down, Shirou reached for it. A bemused look was cast his way as the redhead began to refill the bowl.
"You're intuitive tonight, Emiya. Too bad it isn't for a more useful situation," Archer commented, taking the full bowl back from Shirou.
"Huh?" Shirou blinked, sounding slightly confused. "I could just...tell you wanted some more..." His voice trailed off, expression oddly thrown. Sakura shot him a concerned look as Shirou mussed his hair in thought.
"Are you alright, Shirou?" Rider asked, setting her spoon down as she noticed her Master's boyfriend's distress.
"W-what? I'm fine, nothing's wrong!" Shirou said quickly, waving both hands in denial. "It's just been a busy day, that's all."
The rest of the table gave him a shared look of complete disbelief.
"Completely unconvincing, senpai."
"Shirou, it's just too sad to watch your feeble attempts."
"I can't believe I was ever that bad at lying."
"Well, if Shirou tries very, very hard, he just might grow up to be a terrible adult like you, Archer."
"Rider, that's going a bit far-"
"Hey, I wasn't lying when I said I was fine!" Shirou interrupted them all, palms slamming against the table. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. "Look, I appreciate the concern, but nothing's wrong. I promise I'd say something if there was."
Sakura reached out to hold one of his hands in her smaller, softer one. "You promise, senpai?" Gentle violet eyes gazed at him, worry still very much evident.
Shirou smiled back at her, lightly patting Sakura's head. "I do. You know I keep my word, Sakura."
Her face relaxed some, but she still looked unsettled. "I'll even take it easy after dinner if it'll make you feel better."
"Good. I'll go take care of the dishes, so just take care not to strain yourself," Rin said, leisurely finishing off the rest of her meal before dabbing her mouth gracefully with a napkin. She gave him a look that clearly stated any response to the contrary would not be wise. "Isn't that right, Shirou?"
Shirou bowed his head, acquiescing without a fight. "Yes, Tohsaka."
True to his word, Shirou simply sat at the table as he watched the evening news with Rider and Sakura. Neither the television nor the sounds of Archer and Rin washing the dishes were enough to distract him from his thoughts, which while having not reached the level of true worry, were nonetheless confusing and more than a little abnormal.
Shirou remembered dreaming of swords, when Archer's arm had been transplanted onto him. Even through the fracturing of his consciousness, innumerable blades had always been crystal clear. But those blades hadn't been simple weapons, or even just Noble Phantasms-at the heart, they made up the core of Archer's existence. They were Archer, in a way.
He was beginning to realize the consequences of being so deeply connected to another being were longer lasting than he originally thought, even with the connection severed. Absently, Shirou rubbed his left arm as his eyes flicked to Archer for a second. Being able to read his alternate self that well, to even anticipate his actions and desires...while it didn't seem outright harmful in any way, it was still strange. Moreover, he just plain didn't want to be connected someone he disliked so strongly. Not for the first time, Shirou wondered how Tohsaka put up with the man, only to forcefully suppress the thought as he realized that relationship was one best left unexamined for the sake of his sanity.
Shirou took a sip of the green tea Sakura had brewed before shifting to look at where Tohsaka and Archer were finishing up the last of the dirty dishes. There was something strangely amusing about watching a Heroic Spirit do something so mundane, more so because a slender girl had effectively bossed him into it. But that was another thing he had noticed about Archer, willingly or not. The white-haired man had always been perfectly content with doing even the most domestic tasks, as long as Tohsaka was the one who asked.
In spite of himself, Shirou wondered why that was. He watched them for a moment as Archer washed and Rin dried the dishes. Archer's face was composed as always, though the redhead had noticed lately that the set of his jaw seemed to have become less tense. Shirou rested his chin against his hand, not seeing anything notable in so ordinary a scene.
Then Archer gazed at Rin, and everything became as clear as a summer's day.
It was easy for Shirou to tell, even though he wasn't the most observant person around. How could he not? The look on Archer's face was the same Shirou had whenever he looked at Sakura.
Archer loves Tohsaka. He loves her.
The thought rang through his head, banishing anything else. Shirou stared, unable to help himself as he was shocked to the core. He had always known that Archer had a kind of regard for Tohsaka that no one else earned from him. It wasn't even hard to think he cared for her, in his own way. But that Archer was in love with her had never even crossed Shirou's mind, even with the...intimate...relationship they seemed to have settled into.
Shirou hesitated at the thought of her. Tohsaka was harder to place. He was sure she cared about Archer too, but whether she loved him in return or not...
Well, what he was sure about was that she wasn't ready to love Archer either way. The white haired man must have known that himself. It explained the underlying pain in his eyes, that he couldn't be honest about how he felt lest he risk losing her-
"Emiya, you have three seconds to stop staring before I punch you," Archer's deep voice cut into Shirou's chain of thought. Still shaken, Shirou gazed blankly at the visibly irritated man, his thoughts going in a million directions at once.
Archer's eyes narrowed. "One-"
"Oh, stop it Archer," Rin said, drying her hands off before resting them on her hips. "Shirou, is everything alright?"
"I...I..." Shirou stuttered, feeling his face flame as he quickly looked down to avoid Rin's sharp eyes. "I think I need to lay down for a bit."
Sakura stood with him, hands smoothing out her skirt. "I'll go with you, senpai, in case you need anything."
Shirou gave her a grateful look, taking her hand as they walked to the room they shared together. Sakura opened the door, shutting it complete close after Shirou. Settling easily in seiza position at the top of their futon, the violet-haired girl patted her lap insistently.
"Sakura?" Shirou asked, expression inviting an explanation.
"You're going to rest your head on my lap, senpai," Sakura told him in a firm tone, contrasting with her lightly flushed cheeks. "And then you're going to tell me what really made you react like that."
Despite himself, Shirou laughed as he obediently lay down to pillow his head on Sakura's soft thighs. "I really can't hide anything from you, can I?"
Sakura smoothed his hair down with a delicate touch, voice cheerful yet not having a single crack in its conviction. "No, you can't. I've watched senpai far too long to be easily fooled, so you may as well share with me."
"Yes, yes," Shirou sighed, just enjoying the warmth of her body and the relaxing strokes of her hand. It took a considerable effort of willpower not to simply drowse off. "I just...well, it's not something that's easy for an amateur magus like me to explain."
"Senpai?" Sakura asked, her hand resting on his hair. "Do I need to get Nee-san?"
"No!" Shirou replied quickly, panicking at the thought of facing Rin after that. "No, you don't need to get Tohsaka. It actually has to do with her, in a way."
"Eh? With Nee-san?" Sakura echoed, and Shirou could sense just a hint of a pout in her tone.
"Only because it's really about Archer." Shirou reassured her, reaching out to hold her free hand. He felt Sakura grow calm once more before he continued. "Like I said, it's hard for an amateur like me to explain, but...I've kind of been getting...flashes...from him. You know, I'll be able to tell what he's thinking or feeling once in a while."
"Flashes...because of when your circuits were bonded together?" Sakura mused to herself, growing concern evident in her voice. She gasped softly as she looked down at Shirou's hand, finger skimming the bandage around his wrist. "Senpai, your left-"
"I know. It's in the same place where Archer was injured," Shirou finished, squeezing her hand to comfort her. "Let me guess, it happened around...six thirty?"
"T-that's right, senpai," Sakura confirmed with a soft voice. "Yours happened at the same time?" She went silent, stroking his hair once more. "I should talk to Nee-san. You and Archer-san still being connected..."
Shirou shifted to look up at her, the troubled look on her face a stab in his heart. "Sakura, it's okay. It's a little weird, but it's not painful or causing any harm."
Sakura bit her lip, her eyes meeting his. "But..."
His fingers tightened around hers as Shirou gave her the most reassuring smile he could. "Don't worry about it, Sakura. If it gets any stronger, I'll go see Tohsaka." He winced a little, praying it wouldn't come to that. "I just hope she won't press me too closely for details."
Sakura looked confused at that. "Why would that be a problem?"
"Because then I'd have to tell her how I could tell Archer and I are connected, and that would mean telling her Archer's in love with her." Shirou said without thinking until Sakura's gasp registered. "Oh crap-"
"Senpai, is that true?" Sakura beamed, her face lighting up as she bounced a little. "Archer-san loves Nee-san?"
"Er...yes, he does. But she-" Shirou began, but he could already tell Sakura was in her own world.
"They'd have such a cute baby, don't you think?" Sakura sighed dreamily, hands to her flushed cheeks. "She'd be like a tiny little Nee-san..."
Shirou shuddered, rather nightmarish visions of the kind of offspring Archer and Rin would produce dancing across his vision. A beautiful angel with the heart and mind of a demon seemed to be not too far off the mark...
"Shirou-jii-san! How come this tamagoyaki isn't as good as Otou-san's? But then again, my Otou-san is the best so maybe it should be expected."
"Shirou-jii-san! You'll help me fix the teapot before Okaa-san notices, right?"
"I'd be a good auntie, and sew her baby clothes and sit for her-" Sakura continued as Shirou shook his head in a desperate attempt to wipe the images from his mind.
"But Sakura, she's not ready to love him back," Shirou interrupted her, the dreamy haze lifting from her violet eyes. "That's why he's keeping it a secret. So she won't get scared and leave him."
"Hm. That's..." Sakura mused, thinking on this. "Unfortunately true. Nee-san isn't good at being honest about how she feels." She sighed ruefully, fingers running through Shirou's hair absently. "Even though she's probably half in love with him already, if she knew how he felt...she'd end it in an instant. Archer-san really does know Nee-san well."
"Any relationship with two people as headstrong as Archer and Tohsaka is bound to be complicated," Shirou replied, closing his eyes as he relaxed into Sakura's touch. "Now it really comes down to is who's the more stubborn out of them."
"And who do you think that is, senpai?" Sakura asked, amusement coloring her tone.
"Tohsaka is a formidable opponent," Shirou said, a small smirk twisting his lips. "But Archer is the most stubborn, devious bastard who's ever lived."
"Senpai..." Sakura reprimanded, but the tilt of her smile betrayed her agreement with Shirou's opinion.
"Against Archer, Tohsaka doesn't stand a chance," Shirou continued, not missing the irony of supporting a man with whom he had such an antagonistic relationship. "Not that she isn't going to make him work for it."
There was a companionable quiet in the air as Archer and Rin made their way down the streets, returning home as night fell around them.
Or rather, almost companionable. But it would have taken an astute observer indeed to notice the hint of forcibly-repressed irritation in Rin's eyes that had remained even hours after seeing the crowd of girls at the archery dojo.
"You know, you never really gave your opinion, Archer," Rin said suddenly, cheeks reddening slightly at his questioning look. "How you thought things went today."
"Oh, that," Archer shrugged, grey eyes closed in reflection. "It wasn't perfect, but everyone being willing to work so hard is a good sign." He smiled a bit as he recalled the proceedings in the dojo. "There are some members with real skill, too. It's not surprising that they frequently do well in competitions."
"You actually have a good view of them, huh?" Rin noted, her eyes narrowing. "And they didn't even have to use a Command Spell to earn it first."
Archer smirked down at her, biting back a laugh. "Still sore over that, Rin?"
Rin glared at him, tossing a lock of hair over her shoulder. "You made me waste a powerful piece of thaumaturgy. On purpose."
"It wasn't a complete waste, Rin," Archer pointed out. "Although being killed and resurrected seems to have broken the Order."
"Hmph. It's still unfair. It's not like you didn't know I would be a good Master, but you still put me through all that." Rin said, giving him a cool look that slipped a bit on seeing the obvious amusement in his face.
"Are you sure you aren't just regretting I don't have to bow to your slightest whim now, Rin?" Archer teased her, enjoying the way her face flushed. "You know, 'Obey my every command' is a rather suspicious choice of words-"
"Shut up!" Rin shot back, shoving the gate open with a bang. "I was right from the start, you don't deserve any praise at all."
Catching up with her in a second's time, Archer's hand closed over Rin's on the doorknob.
"Oh? To think after all this, my Master still has a low opinion of me," Archer's voice brushed huskily against Rin's ear. Catching the way her breath hitched along with the lovely flush rising on her cheeks, he smirked slightly as his fingers stroked her hand. "Shall I do something that would earn your regard, Rin?"
The gentle flush immediately heated up into a furious blush. Speechless, Rin stared up at Archer as he casually opened the door to let them both inside to shut it just as smoothly.
"W-w-what?" Rin stammered, her head spinning with surprise. "This early in the evening...you want to..."
"You never objected to having tea at night before, Rin," He said, giving her a smile of schoolboy-like innocence before his expression went devilish. "Or did you have something else in mind? You know I'd be happy to give you whatever you need-"
"Just make the tea!" Rin replied hastily, shrugging out of her coat with record speed. A faint chuckle followed her as she strode to the sitting room, her face still aflame. Seating herself on the plush cream-colored couch, Rin gave a small frustrated sigh.
"What's wrong with me?" Rin murmured softly. Glancing at her schoolbag and thinking of the contents within it before shaking her head, the magus sighed once more in a mixture of amusement and resignation. "Well, I'm glad he's enjoying himself. The least I can do is see things to the end."
The brightness of the next day saw Archer and Rin engaging in what had become a ritual for them both. There was something deep and undeniably pleasant about those quiet mornings, letting comfortable silence hold steady with only the sounds of the tea being poured and sipped breaking it.
Rin fidgeted with the spoon she was using to stir her tea with, fighting her feelings of irrational anxiety. In her opinion, there was nothing to be anxious about an innocent gift between, well, whatever she and Archer were to each other-
"I think the sugar and cream are completely stirred in now, Rin," Archer commented from the armchair he was lounging gracefully in, accentuating his words with a sip of his beverage. "Seven minutes straight is more than enough."
Rin started, setting her tea down with a violent clatter. There was a moment's strained silence as Archer eyed her in clear amusement, though there were flashes of concern in his grey eyes too.
"Is the tea not to your liking, Rin?" He asked, placing his now-empty cup noiselessly on the table.
"N-no, that's not it!" Rin said quickly, shaking her head in denial. Reddening at the force of his bemused look, she reached into her book bag for the simply wrapped package to toss it at him. "Here."
Archer caught it easily, studying it with a blank face as if he didn't quite know what it was or what he was supposed to do with it.
"It's for you, idiot," Rin clarified, sipping her tea to cover her rising embarrassment. "I saw it and I thought it was something you could use."
"I...thank you, Rin," Archer said sincerely. "Do you want me to open it now?"
"Do what you like," Rin replied as indifferently as she could, his faint smile telling her it failed. Taking another long sip of her tea to wet her dry throat, Rin let the rustling of paper fill the air.
Utter silence. The dark-haired girl's fingers tightened to near whiteness around the handle, anxious regret already filling her.
"I don't know what to say, Rin," Archer said quietly, carefully holding the black leather archery glove. "It's been a long time since I've owned anything so fine."
Rin stared for a second, her face burning so crimson she felt feverish. "D-don't say such things until you actually try it on! Just because it looks right doesn't mean anything, e-especially since I had to guess your hand span-"
"You can relax," Archer told her soothingly, slipping the glove on and flexing his hand to test the fit. "It's perfect."
The warm, gentle smile he gave her had her heart pounding painfully hard in her chest. With considerable effort Rin finished her tea, standing up with her coat hooked over her arm. "W-we should get going now if you want to make club on time."
"Are you sure you want to come along, Rin?" Archer asked, slipping the glove in the linen pouch that came with it. "I know this is pretty early for you."
"It's fine," Rin told him, her face still faintly red as she slipped her coat. "Just concentrate on teaching and don't worry about me."
A few days later, Rin reflected she really should have chosen her words with more care. Not that there was anything wrong with Archer working hard, which he was, or that she couldn't take care of herself, which she could. It was just-
"He's really handsome, isn't he? Emiya-sensei."
-That. Counting back from ten slowly, Rin forced herself to relax her death grip on her chopsticks and stop pretending they were her classmate's neck.
Maybe she had brought it on herself to some extent. Rin wasn't oblivious to the power of Archer's good looks and fit body, even if he was. Toss him into an environment full of teenage girls who were emotionally ahead of their male peers by a few years and the end result was practically inevitable.
After several straight days of fawning, the cool logic was starting to lose its power. She knew she didn't have right or reason to feel the hot anger that was frequently spiking up, but it happened all the same.
A dreamy sigh escaped the group of girls still gossiping near her.
"And when he bends over in that hakama-"
Rin snapped her chopsticks in half with a loud crack.
"T...Tohsaka-san..." Yukika whispered, eyes wide. "Would you like to borrow a set of chopsticks?"
Taking a very deep breath for composure, Rin smiled as gracefully as she could. "If you don't mind, Saegusa-san."
Kaede grinned like a fox, chewing on her yakisoba pan with gusto. "Better get her some painkillers too, what with her attitude today-"
"Makidera-san, are you sure you want to finish that sentence?" Rin asked, smile sweet as candy laced with arsenic. "I know you normally don't think that far ahead, but even your survival instinct isn't that dull."
"Eep," The tanned girl huddled in her chair. "Better make that painkillers and chocolate-hey!" Grumbling, she peeled the shrimp tempura Rin had thrown at her forehead off before eating it with a shrug. "Mmm, it's really good."
Himuro glanced at Rin, expression unreadable. "Are you feeling alright, Tohsaka-san?"
"Just a headache," Rin said smoothly. "It'll go away once I eat."
"Emiya, you've got that tic in your brow again."
As it so happened, more than one magus at Homurabara Gakuen was feeling a bit strained due to the former Servant's presence. Shirou felt his brow to confirm his friend's comment, his attempt to weakly laugh it off turning into a long, frustrated groan.
"It's bad, isn't it?" Issei asked, methodically eating his usual austere bento.
"They just won't leave me alone," Shirou said, rubbing at his temples. "I feel like I've got a sign on my face that says 'Ask me about the new archery coach'. One that only girls can see."
"Women," Issei snorted. "No man is worth that much adulation based on looks alone."
Shirou glanced down at his own lunch, spirits lifting at all the caring little touches that were Sakura's signature. "Maybe I should make a sign. 'Yes, he's already in a relationship!' or something."
"Try pamphlets, you'll spare yourself effort all around," A voice cut in sardonically. Archer stood framed in the doorway, glaring at Shirou in a way that somehow told the redhead he was an annoyance too pathetic to crush. There was a small clattering noise as Issei dropped his chopsticks, immobile and strangely red at the other man's presence. Archer glanced at him, causing his blush to darken, before turning his attention back to Shirou. "Or is that too much planning and foresight for you?"
"Do you hang around just waiting for a good chance to cut in with something sarcastic to say?" Shirou retorted.
"I don't have a need to do such things, what with you providing so many easy openings on your own," Archer smirked slightly. "Amazingly enough, my entire existence doesn't revolve around making you look like an idiot. I'm actually here to get the archery club budget files from Ryuudou Issei."
Both men looked at Issei, who had progressed from mute and red, to mute, brilliant red, and somewhat hazy-eyed. A long, awkward moment passed before Archer coughed, feigning ignorance. "You are Ryuudou Issei, aren't you?"
Face utterly crimson, Issei shot to his feet before bowing deeply. "Y-Yes, I am! I'm honored to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance, Emiya-sensei."
Archer blinked, a little taken aback by the extremely formal greeting. "Thank you, Ryuudou," Meaning to put Issei at ease, Archer gave him a small smile. That it only caused the student council president to flush hotter still and swallow nervously was mystifying to the older man. "Are the budget files here?"
"Oh, of course! Um...t-they should be here somewhere-" Issei babbled, moving over to the filing cabinet to rifle through the meticulously organized files with something less than his usual efficiency.
Archer and Shirou looked at each other, sharing an confused look.
"I'm sorry, they should be here..." Issei mumbled, fingers thumbing over folders. Finally, he chanced upon the file his eyes had somehow skipped over and pulled it out. "Here, Emiya-sensei-ahhh!" Issei's own startled yelp cut him off as the heavy file fell from his jittery hands.
Just before it could fall to the floor, Archer easily grabbed it. Straightening up, he casually tucked the folder under his arm before inclining his head. "Thank you, Ryuudou. I'll just return these later."
"Keep them as long as you need!" Issei said to Archer as he made his exit, waving weakly as the door shut behind him. A second afterwards, he slumped back into his seat, holding his head in his hands.
"Issei?" Shirou asked, still muddled about what had just happened.
"So, he has a girlfriend, huh?" Issei murmured, voice muffled.
"Er..." Shirou paused, thinking of the myriad complication that was Archer's love-life. "Close enough. Uh...why do you sound so disappointed?"
"Must be some woman, to be with him." Issei said, ignoring his friend's question.
"...You have no idea."
Rin stared listlessly over the school grounds, dyed crimson by the sunset. The sounds of various sport clubs letting out could be heard in the distance, but she paid them no mind. Considering just who was occupying her thoughts, this was no small feat.
Much as Rin hated the thought, the jealousy that had stung at her heart made her choice-her only choice-all too clear. She just hoped Archer wouldn't hate her for it. This thing between them was never meant to last, and that she was feeling possessive over the man when she had no right or reason to do so...
It was time to let Archer go. For his own good and hers. Ignoring the painful way her heart clenched, Rin headed slowly down the stairs to make her way out of the school and onto the grounds themselves.
By this time the school was all but deserted. What few students remained were already leaving their clubs in clusters to go home. Lost in thought as she was, Rin wasn't so out of it she didn't notice two girls leaving the archery dojo as she approached the building. Reflexively, Rin ducked into a pool of shadow before her brain reminded her she had no reason to hide.
Mentally berating herself for behaving so suspiciously, Rin stood still as the girls walked past her obliviously. Unfortunately, this meant she could hear every word of their chatter perfectly...and with her luck, it could only be about one thing.
"Maa...club was tough tonight. Emiya-sensei was so hard on us," One of the girls said, rubbing her shoulder gingerly.
Her companion giggled, a meaningful smile flitting across her face. "Hey, you know if he was hard on us in a different way there'd be a line of girls stretching to Tokyo."
"K-kokoro-chan!" The first girl shrieked, face red. "What if someone heard you?!"
"Heh, I'm only saying what we all wish would happen. I saw you staring at his arms for a good ten minutes, Aika, and you weren't the only one," Kokoro responded carelessly.
Aika blushed even deeper but didn't deny it. "But we shouldn't. Emiya-kun said he already has a girlfriend..."
Kokoro snorted, already starting to stroll off. "If I had that many girls on my back, I'd say anything to get them to go away. No ring means he's fair game."
Her friend hurried after her, her reprimanding tone sounding in the distance. Neither of them had noticed Rin, the air about her far different than it had been a minute ago. She took a trembling breath before closing the distance to the dojo.
Archer wrung out the cloth he was using to clean the dojo floor, the pattering water drops echoing in the empty silence. Straightening up to empty the bucket, he cast his eye approvingly on a job well done.
A loud slamming noise snapped Archer out of his reverie. Turning swiftly as only an eirei could, to his surprise Rin stood there. Her slender frame was shaking, but her expression masked in the shadows somehow worried Archer even more.
"Rin-" Archer began uneasily.
"What do you think you're doing?" Rin interrupted, her voice soft and quiet. He knew Rin well enough to be aware of just what a huge danger sign that was, but that told him nothing about what had triggered it.
"Cleaning the dojo," Archer said, tone carefully pitched at neutral even as Rin closed the distance between them. He had to forcibly repress the urge to take a step back when he finally got a clear look at Rin's face. "Is there something wrong?"
"'Is there something-'...you..." Rin hissed, expression as angry as he had ever seen it. Lightening fast, her leg swept his feet out from under him, her palm slamming against his chest to pin him to the floor. A very distant part of his mind noted Shirou was probably laughing himself sick somewhere at this, and that he really had been slacking off if Rin of all people could take him down that easily. The rest of his mind was rather understandably occupied by Rin straddling his waist and kissing him roughly.
That was new, to say the least. There was a kind of fire and possessiveness in the movement of Rin's mouth against his that she never had been bold enough to act on before. A low groan escaped Archer as she nipped his lip hard enough to sting, her tongue slipping inside to dominate his own.
Rin's breathing was ragged as she suddenly ended the kiss, licking her lips as she stared hazily down at him. Her hands weren't idle, tugging at his gi to strip him to the waist.
"They have to understand," Rin whispered, clearly speaking more to herself than to him. "You were my Archer first. And now I'm going to remind you why."
Winded in the most enjoyable way possible, they lay together on the floor for a long, quiet moment. Recovering his energy fairly fast, Archer focused his prana enough to break the binding spell Rin had cast. Supremely content despite his lingering confusion over what exactly had spurred her to do this, he kissed the bare expanse of creamy shoulder within reach of his mouth. Feeling her chest rise and fall gently against his own, he moved his hand to lazily trace her spine from the nape of her neck all the way down to the small of her back.
She shifted against him in response, skin soft and warm against his. Her breathing was more even now, though the looseness of her muscles told him her reserves were still low. Absently playing with her hair, Archer grinned at her.
"Not that I'm complaining or anything, but what brought that on?"
He reasonably expected some embarrassment on her part, but her entire body stiffened like a strung wire under his hands. Evidently, she had more energy left than his initial impression, if the speed with which she moved away from him was any indication. Archer gave her a bewildered look as he sat up and pulled his clothes back into place.
"I'm sorry," Rin choked out, eyes cast down as her cheeks turned a dull shade of red, "I'm so sorry, Archer."
He gaped at her, utterly speechless. Taking his silence as a reprimand in itself, she kept speaking in a shaking voice, "I...I shouldn't have been so angry, and I took it out on you, and..."
Her gaze lifted to his wrists. It barely even stung, but already the skin was irritated and reddening. The sight had her shoulders slumping in regret, her fists pressing hard against her tights in chastisement. The crushing silence was unbearable, each second that passed feeling like it took an eternity. Not breaking the lull of sound, Archer kneeled in front of Rin, face level. For a split second her eyes held with his before she looked down once more, prepared to accept whatever harsh reprimand he had in store for her.
Gently, he flicked his index finger against her forehead, a soft laugh escaping his throat at the startled way she stared at him, "Your clumsiness hasn't changed despite everything. I'm glad."
"C-clumsiness?!" Rin repeated in a high-pitched voice, "I'm apologizing sincerely here and that's your response?"
"Rin, no one-least of all me-is going to deny you've got incredible talent. But do you honestly think I couldn't have stopped you if I really wanted to?" Archer pointed out calmly, watching Rin's flush deepen with no small amount of amusement.
For a second she opened her mouth and shut it, clearly flustered beyond words until her expression switched from mortification to focused suspicion. "So...you actually did want it like that?"
"Well, I hadn't factored a binding spell into things, which I have to say was quite innovative on your part-" Faced with a cutting glare, Archer stopped midsentence. "Yes, I did," He smirked slightly at her, adding, "Considering how wet you were when I hadn't even done anything, I'm not the only one who liked it."
"Oh," Rin said weakly, a furious blush rising on her face. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"You weren't ready physically," Archer told her. "I may have wanted you on top, but not at the cost of your own pleasure. More to the point, much as I did enjoy myself, couldn't you give me a little warning?"
"I-I didn't originally set out to do that!" Rin protested, hugging her knees to her chest protectively. "It was the opposite if anything..."
It felt like his blood was freezing in fear of those words and all they implied. His response dying in his throat, all he could do was stare at her mutely while his heart grew heavy. Rin bit her lip, hugging herself a little tighter.
"...I was scared," Rin finally said, her tone defeated, "I was scared because those girls chasing after you made me jealous when I shouldn't have been, and being scared because of that made me angry."
Archer was lost at this point, but it was still far better than feeling like Rin was slowly prying his heart out of his body with her bare hands. "What girls?"
Rin gave him a disbelieving stare before covering her face with a shaking hand. "You...didn't even notice? At all? I lost my temper over nothing!?"
Archer hadn't even begun to form a reply before she cut him off with a wave of her hand. "I guess some things really don't ever change," she paused for a second, chin resting on her knees in a way that made her look strangely vulnerable. "But Archer...I really don't know what to do."
Right now, there was nothing he wanted more than to hold her in his arms and soothe her. Knowing perfectly well this would only make things worse in her current state, Archer settled instead for ruffling her hair. "I was-am-the Servant you Summoned, Rin. That we have a strong bond is natural, so of course you felt defensive. It's nothing to worry yourself over."
She didn't say anything, but the noticeable way her expression eased was enough. As if to reinforce for herself the true meaning behind his words, she nodded in agreement. "Then we'll...," she paused, trying to find the most neutral words, "let things stay as they are."
Archer wasn't satisfied with such a small concession on her part, but figured his low luck ranking had been pressed enough for one day. "Aa."
Rin nodded again for emphasis, a slightly irritated look of remembrance flashing across her face for a second. "Just don't be so oblivious next time."
He was about to point out it was like he had done anything to encourage the attention when the school clock chimed the hour, its deep tone reverberating across the empty grounds. They both started a bit, the serious air dissipating to lighten the atmosphere. Nonetheless, Rin still looked faintly embarrassed as she reached for the clothing still scattered about. As she redressed herself silently, Archer set out to wipe away the last traces of their coupling from the floor. Task finished, he glanced at her for a second before bringing himself to speak up. "If you want to clean up while I change-"
"I don't need..." Rin began before shifting, color rising on her face, "I-I'll be in the washroom." At the glint of amusement in his eyes he was unable to hide, she shot him a glare. Under her breath, she mumbled, "It's not my fault there was so much this time, Archer."
Fortunately, the sound of the water running as she washed up covered any laughter that might have triumphed over his self-control. His lips were still firmly fixed in a smirk despite his best efforts in the changing room, stripping out of his gi and hakama for his usual shirt and slacks. Packing the traditional clothing away in a bag to bring home and clean, he exited the dojo to wait for Rin to join him before closing up.
It wasn't long before she emerged, her cheeks still a little pink. Moreover, there was something different about the careful way she was walking...
"Rin? Are you alright?" Archer asked as he shut the doors, locking them with a turn of the key.
She didn't reply for a second, looking immensely embarrassed. "...L-like I said, it was a lot this time." Shooting him a frustrated glare at his lack of comprehension, she played with her fingers, elaborating, "My panties were too sticky, so...so..."
Archer couldn't help it. An evil grin spread across his face, his hand skimming her back until he reached her bottom. A gentle squeeze told him everything he needed to know, but her flustered squeak proved too much to resist. "You don't have any underwear on, Rin?"
Rin stuttered, scooting away as her face started going scarlet, "A-archer! Not outside, what if someone saw-"
"Ah Emiya-sensei, good evening," Issei said as he emerged from behind the dojo's wall. His pleasant smile went somewhat strained when he caught sight of Rin, but he still managed a courteous nod. That alone told her he hadn't seen anything in a moment of pure luck. "Tohsaka."
"Good evening, Ryuudou," Archer replied, serenely sliding his hand in his pocket as if he hadn't just been feeling Rin up a second ago. "You're dedicated to be here so late."
"Student council work can pile up like that," Issei told him with a modest shrug, "Anyway, I actually found some archery club files that had been misplaced, and wanted to give them to you while I had the chance."
Archer accepted the files, tucking them into his bag with a level of composure Rin couldn't help but be awed by. Wondering at how collected he was, it took her a moment to register Issei speaking to her.
"-and you're here quite late for someone who isn't in the Archery Club, Tohsaka," The slightly tense look Issei usually had around her was rapidly becoming tinged with suspicion.
"I...I was helping clean up so we could both get to Shirou's house for dinner faster," Rin managed, forcing herself to keep cool. "It certainly isn't fair for him to straighten things up all by himself."
"How uncharacteristically generous of you," Issei retorted, pushing his glasses up. They sized each other up for a moment before his eyes widened in sudden shock. "T-tohsaka...your blouse..."
"What you mean, my blouse-" Rin began, looking downwards to where his eyes were focused, choking midsentence. The shirt was misbuttoned in what was quite possibly the worst imaginable place, a hint of pale cleavage clearly visible.
There was a moment's dead silence as Issei's gaze flicked from her to Archer and back again, the look in his eyes growing a little more horrified with each passing second. It was a horror Rin would have been feeling as well if her mind hadn't been rendered utterly blank despite her best efforts to think of some explanation. From the bottom of her heart, Rin cursed her distant ancestor for her genetic propensity to fumble at the worst moment. Somehow, in some unfathomable way, this was all Tohsaka Nagato's fault.
"Ah...Ryuudou-kun..." Rin started, voice feeble to even her own ears.
"Rin," Issei suddenly intoned, folding his hands together into dokko position.
"Eh? What are you-"
"Hyou, Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin-"
They both stared at the student council president for a moment before the source of his chanting and hand motions registered.
"The Kuji-in?!" Rin shrieked, only Archer holding her arms back restraining her from giving into her desire to curse the bespectacled boy with a Gandr. "You're trying to exorcize me?!"
"-Retsu, Zai, Zen!" Issei finished, sweat trailing down his forehead like he had really been throwing all he had into the purification mantra. Swaying where he stood, Issei looked at her with eyes that were clearly glazed even through his glasses. Sometime during the chanting he had pulled out a set of prayer beads, wrapping tightly around clenched hands. He remained in a crouched position for a long moment, clearly ready to move away or forward based on whether he had succeeded in banishing the 'evil'.
"S...still here...," He noted absently, bowing to Archer before walking past them both with that same dizzy stride. "Forgive me Emiya-sensei. I'll purify my spirit and try again later for your sake."
Archer watched him go, feeling bemused but wisely not showing it considering Rin was still fuming in his arms. He remembered clearly that Issei and Rin had never been the best of friends, but for the monk to go to outright delusion rather than imaging Rin in intimate relations with anyone was a rather extreme reaction. "The human mind certainly has some interesting coping methods for dealing with trauma." At the enraged growl that escaped her, he looked down and patted her head calmingly. "If it's any consolation, I don't think he seriously thought it would work on you-"
"I don't want to talk about it!"
Thankfully, dinner itself passed uneventfully. After changing into the spare set of clothes she kept at the Emiya home, Rin along with Sakura and Rider had absconded to the dining table to go over her replacement body research. Archer would have offered to help, but was all too aware any usefulness he had would be minimal at best.
Aimlessly, he wandered out to the engawa. Breathing the clean night air in deeply, his skin pricked suddenly in a way only magecraft could evoke. A wave of something almost nostalgic washed over him as his eyes settled upon the storehouse, a dim light glowing in the smudged windows. Some irresistible urge propelled him forward despite his better judgment, but his hand slid open the door with such natural ease it was as if he had never left.
Emiya Shirou sat cross-legged with his back to the door. If he was aware of Archer's presence, he didn't acknowledge it. Palms seemingly empty, the white-haired man could nonetheless detect prana growing denser, thickening and twisting into form like clay being shaped by a potter. The blade formed slowly, the pinnacle of a smith's skill in gleaming iron. Gram, or rather the physical shape of it. Just looking at the projection, Archer could tell the perfect appearance belied the lack of the history, experience, and divine mystery of a proper Tracing, little more than bits of prana that happened to look like a Noble Phantasm. A weapon without a soul.
"It's like being chained to the earth and reaching for the stars," Shirou spoke up without turning around, the sword dissipating in his hands. "I try to grasp it and I can't. Even if I had retained the knowledge, this body...isn't suited for Tracing."
Archer snorted, leaning against the door. His eyes flicked to the corner of the storeroom, where even now he could feel the faintest traces of mana that the now-invisible summoning circle held before he looked away. "Don't act as if your original body was well suited for anything to begin with."
Shirou finally tilted his head up at the older man, expression amused rather than incensed. "You still haven't let go of that self-loathing, huh?" He laughed a little at Archer's annoyed look, his posture relaxing. "Well, it's early. I'll keep training."
"Gold to a cat," Archer responded, somewhat gratified by the irritated twitch of Shirou's brow, "Training blind is barely going to bring any result than not training at all."
"If you have a suggestion, you're welcome to share it," Shirou groused. Underneath the attitude, he did look truly concerned about Archer's point. Lost in thought, the redhead looked down at his hands. At the pitiful sight, a disturbingly altruistic urge made itself known in Archer's mind. A few failed attempts to crush it later, he sighed in defeat and sat down.
"Archer?" Shirou blinked, confusion clearly written on his face.
"Not a word," Archer grunted, giving his younger self a scowl that practically qualified as an attack in itself. "Just follow my lead and maybe I can make you marginally less pathetic."
The redhead still looked surprised, but scooted closer to watch Archer carefully. A beat later, he returned the older man's scowl with a smile just as damaging. "If it's any comfort, at least this is of your own free will rather than being browbeaten into doing it by Tohsaka."
"Just shut up and watch, you failure."
In the house Rin lifted her head, sensing the flow and ebb of prana nearby. Noticing her sister's distraction, Sakura cast out her senses to arrive at the same conclusion.
"Senpai and Archer-san? What could they be doing?" Sakura set the notes she was going through down.
"Practicing, probably. The pulses are consistent enough for it," Rin told her, readjusting her glasses as she flipped through another arcane text, taking down a passage. "Let's just concentrate on our own work."
Sakura glanced down at the piles of paper and books scattered on the table ruefully. "I can't believe you managed to gather together this much, Nee-san."
"Don't praise me just yet. If it's not useful, there's really no point," Rin told her, closing her current tome only to switch it for a new one. "And so far, none of them have been."
Her sister bit her lip awkwardly as Rin continued, "Honestly, I'm at my wits end here. The Einzberns might have the resources to make a new body and transfer a consciousness into it, but I don't and considering how things turned out I have nothing to coerce them into doing so."
"...But does it have to be a homunculus body specifically?" Rider spoke up, face thoughtful.
"That's...a good idea, actually," Rin replied, mulling over the implications as she took a sip of her tea. "If one path doesn't work, find another. Might be expensive, though."
"It doesn't matter if I have to sell everything," Sakura said without hesitation. "If it's for senpai, I'll make it happen no matter what."
"And Archer," Rin pointed out dryly, watching her sister blush. She chuckled a bit before gathering some fresh sheets of paper with which to note-take. "Well, let's get on it. It's about time we've got a lucky break."
"Careful, Nee-san," Sakura giggled, smiling puckishly. "You'll jinx us."
"After the Holy Grail War?" Rin snorted derisively. "I doubt life could throw anything that could phase me after that."
A old blues number played over the speakers at Copenhagen Bar, accompanied only by the soft whisper of a glass being cleaned. It was a shame the place, usually full of people enjoying an after work beverage, was a veritable graveyard. Hotaruzuka 'Neko' Otoko didn't bother to wonder about it as she went about her task. Things had gotten a little better lately, but there was still plenty of wariness in being out after sunset. Understandable, but a small part of her couldn't help but be annoyed at the lack of answers. At this rate, one would practically think people would stock up on everything from guard dogs to garlic just to feel secure, no matter how false that comfort was.
The bell over the door tinkled once, signaling a customer's entrance. Neko set the shot glass down before turning with her usual feline smile and a friendly greeting. "Welcome! Please, take a seat, miss."
The woman who had walked in smiled back, shifting a large leather suitcase from one hand to the other. Red hair-unusually long, well past the knees-swished as she scanned the bar. Curiosity roused, Neko stepped out from behind the bar to speak to her.
"Miss, can I help you with something?"
The redhead stilled, cerulean eyes focusing on the bartender. "My bad, my bad. I'm actually supposed to be meeting someone here, but I guess she hasn't arrived yet-"
Neko stiffened for a second, pose ramrod straight and eyes blank. When, she spoke, it was in her own voice but leeched of emotion and inflection. "Please follow me if you would, Aozaki Aoko-san."
Other than raising a brow, Aoko didn't look affected by the sudden change. But then, she had gone into this bar with her guard well up. To meet with...well, the word enemy wasn't quite right, and competition a bit too mild. The closest one could really get was "the other side", but even that simplified a relationship both fragile and complicated. Which was the point of this meeting itself. Aoko couldn't imagine her counterpart was enjoying this any more than she was, but it was a necessary evil for them both.
After all, things were messed up enough in Fuyuki without dragging a thousand years of enmity between East and West into the mix. Not that Aoko really cared either way personally, but magi were the same everywhere. If Fuyuki and whatever had caused the enormous magical disturbance a month ago were worth it, they would fight for it even if that meant going to war with other Associations or the Church. Considering there were still places that were barren wastelands from the last time two rival Magi Associations battled two hundred years ago, avoiding conflict was naturally a top priority.
Neko stopped abruptly in front of a booth that was at just the right angle to be invisible from the door. Aoko had her mouth opened and was fully ready to call out her contact for using a hypnosis spell for no good reason. Then she actually saw who she was supposed to negotiate with and was nearly unable to hide her shock.
Well, well. This explained the need for the spell, at least. Setting her suitcase down with a thud, Aoko dropped into the booth and sized the occupants up. Classic Japanese features, slender and petite with her long black hair pulled into a ponytail tied with a thin white ribbon. Unremarkable clothes, blue jeans and a dark green v-neck shirt. Nothing too out of the ordinary on that front, but none of those things were the cause for her surprise. Aoko couldn't have imagined the Far East magi would send someone who couldn't even be out of high school to conduct such an delicate task.
"She tried to card you, didn't she?" Aoko asked, gesturing to where Neko stood like a statue. "You could have just said something if the meeting place was a problem, Saitou Aya."
The girl's gold eyes met Aoko's own blue ones, holding for a long, tense moment. After a second she snorted dismissively, her fingers beating out an irritated tempo against the table surface. "I wouldn't be much of a houjutsu-shi if I couldn't deal with such a simple problem. In any case, I've come to expect lack of consideration from you, Aozaki-san. This meeting would have happened at least a month ago if you hadn't kept putting it off," She paused, dropping four cubes of sugar in her steaming cup of tea before stirring it briskly. "Are things well in Misaki?"
The question hit neatly, as the girl must have known it would. Clenching her fist in unaccustomed anger, Aoko glared coldly at Aya. "Speaking of lack of consideration, I don't recall bringing other people to this meeting was agreed upon." Her gaze flicked to the man who was silently smoking even now, dark, intent eyes jarring with his relaxed expression. At that, he stubbed his cigarette out in an ashtray, giving Aoko a smile that did nothing to ease her whatsoever. Canine teeth pointed that much more than normal tended to do that. Still, something about him came across as vaguely familiar, and Aoko stared at him for a good moment trying to place where she had seen him before.
A surface glance revealed almost nothing. The black jeans and leather lace up boots weren't unusual, nor was the faded vintage t-shirt with the Metallica logo emblazoned on it. Looking at the man revealed a leanly fit build with dark shaggy-cut hair and chiseled features that marked him as Scandinavian in origin. Suspicion would not be the first reaction one would expect a woman to have to him, but Aoko was feeling it for good reason. He seemed completely unaffected by her obvious wariness, reaching into the pocket of his grey duster to pull out a lighter, flipping the thin piece of metal between calloused fingers. Even in the dim light of the bar, Aoko could see the faint gleam of a white jade pendant dangling from a leather strap around his neck. Squinting her eyes, she tried to pick out the characters carved into the stone in keeping with traditional Eastern aesthetics. 'Sho...Kachi..?'
"As one Freelancer to another, you should know we aren't bound to the Magi Association, Blue Gunner," He spoke up in good if faintly accented Japanese. That deep, smooth voice jolted her memory, sliding the pieces into place. He grinned at the light of recognition in her eyes, slouching back casually in his seat. "I'm here because I wanted to be, not in any official capacity."
"One of the Pakkala family...the eldest son, Fenrir," Aoko confirmed, lifting a brow at him. "I haven't seen you since that job in Stockholm four years ago. You're certainly ended up a long way from Finland."
"I took a right at Seoul," Fenrir said with a straight face, ignoring his companion's annoyed look. "My residence in Japan aside, Hyougo and Nagano aren't exactly next door to each other, so I provided transportation."
"Last I checked, the railways were operating just fine," Aoko replied pointedly, not buying such an excuse. "Why do such a thing?"
He laughed like the answer was obvious, "Because it's so much cooler to take a motorcycle."
Aoko went silent, gaze flicking from Fenrir to Aya. "....Hey, Saitou. Is this guy really human?"
"I'm not even sure he's from this universe," Aya sipped her tea, voice set at a perfect deadpan. She waved off Fenrir's impending protest, lips tilting into a very slight smile. "But it keeps things interesting."
As his put-out look faded into something harder to read, Aya looked back at Aoko with a serious face. "Anyway Aozaki-san, I was not sent here by the Yu Dao Gong to make small talk, as I expect the Magi Association did not intend for you to do the same. We need to decide how to settle the matter of Fuyuki." Gracefully, she set a cup out for Aoko and poured her a measure of tea from the same pot she had gotten her own. Passing it to the older woman along with the cream and sugar, she continued, "And what to do with its Supervisor."
Fixing the brew to her personal preference, Aoko gently blew on it before drinking. "So we're down to a territorial dispute, more or less?"
"...Basically," Aya said, voice clearly revealing her disdain for the situation. "The Tohsaka family and their lands maybe be affliated with the Magi Association, but Japan as a whole is one of the territories under the Yu Dao Gong. Which can only result in both organizations wanting to reap what benefits there are, or wash their hands of it if it's not worth the trouble. With the amount of energy alone that was gathered at Ryuudouji, I can tell you now that's not going to happen." She paused for a second, collecting her thoughts carefully. "Do you have any idea what happened, Aozaki-san? The most I could get from our records was reference to some sort of summoning ritual that takes place in sixty year cycles."
Aoko hesitated, weighing the pros and cons of telling the girl what she knew. Choice made, she sighed before speaking, "A summoning ritual that utilized the excellent leyline on these lands that was formulated by the Tohsaka, Makiri, and Einzbern families. Something about allowing for extremely-high level spell casting without direct knowledge. Our own records don't have more than that, but on a personal level...," Her voice trailed off before she finished, "I could tell there was a huge activation of the Third Magic there."
There was something wry in Aya's expression as she nodded, and its presence nagged at Aoko in a way she couldn't explain. "That makes sense. Magi sense thaumaturgy, and Magicians sense Magic. However, that doesn't account for the sheer amount of prana gathered."
Aoko downed her cup of tea before pouring herself a second helping. All three were silently thinking, only the music playing breaking the quiet. Finally Aoko leaned back, looking at the girl straight on. "So we pretty much have a whole bunch of questions, and half an answer at best."
Fenrir snorted out a laugh, returning his lighter to his pocket. "Succinctly put, Miss Blue. Don't you know diplomats aren't supposed to be so straightforward?"
"Good thing it isn't my long-term job, then," Aoko retorted with a tiny grin, setting her cup on the table. "You know what this means, Saitou."
"Investigation. We'll each get the facts, and decide who has the greater right to Fuyuki," Aya supplied, resting her cheek against her palm. "Tohsaka Rin-san...certainly has a lot to answer for. She's not in an enviable place."
"That may be, but there's no escaping it now," Aoko said, though her face was sympathetic. "Something this big can't be ignored. It's only her misfortune that everyone's looking to her for answers."
"Tohsaka is a magus," Fenrir added, sliding his lighter back into his pocket. "She'll remember that your gains and your losses are equal in thaumaturgy."
Aya looked out the window, the moon a faint yellow crescent in the sky. "She's certainly paying the price now. For all the troubles that it's causing her, I hope it was worth it for Tohsaka-san."
The setting, instantly recognizable as the Emiya Dojo...or rather, its fourth-wall breaking counterpart, the Tiger Dojo. Mysteriously, neither Taiga nor Ilya were anywhere to be seen. Instead, standing tall in front of the two banners that read "Archer" and "Rin", a newly introduced character awaited wearing the familiar blue hakama and white gi...over a Ramones t-shirt. Shinai slung over his shoulder-
"Okay, that's enough exposition," Fenrir Pakkala interrupted the narration. "I mean, it's pretty clear you're doing it this way so people aren't bored senseless by all the in-story crap you have to explain," He looked left and right, smelling the air. "I can tell Aya's around here, but I'm not sure why she hasn't come out yet-"
Forcefully removed from her hiding spot by the godly power of the author's will, Saitou Aya appeared, face utterly set with cold, killing rage. This anger was easily explained by the fact that Taiga's outfit being taken meant only Ilya's was left to wear, which resulted in an angry houjutsu-shi clad in purple bloomers and a white athletic shirt with a matching purple collar.
Silence reigned as Fenrir carefully picked his way through a response. "Um...you look cu-"
"Not. A. Word," Aya gritted out, glaring at the world in general. "Why do I have to wear something so embarrassing?!"
"Just consider what the alternative would be," Fenrir said, a brief pause taking place as they both imagined their outfits switched before shuddering. "Thought so."
"We could have just worn our regular clothes," Aya protested, expression still slightly disturbed, "Or had Fujimura-san and Einzbern-san do the Dojo like normal."
"Ah, but then it wouldn't be clear as a parody," Fenrir pointed out, giving the shinai a testing swing. "Which also brings us to the reason those two aren't here. They were chronicling Emiya Shirou's journey through the Grail War and his growth as a man, but this is Archer's story now. Thus, a new Dojo is needed." He lowered the shinai, grinning at her. "Niellä Dojo?"
"That's completely unsubtle, Fenrir," Aya replied flatly, arms crossed. "Like that procrastinating fool renaming the whole series to "Across The Universe" as a symbol of improvement as a writer isn't bad enough."
"Yes. Yes it is," He grinned at her like she wasn't faintly scowling at all. "Anyway, the faster you get this over with means the sooner you can change."
"Fine," Aya sighed, conceding the point to him. "To put this long, long, long...delayed chapter into perspective, Archer-san has actually made a bit of progress in his relationship with Tohsaka-san. At least as far as getting her to admit he's important to her is concerned. It's not much, but Tohsaka-san can be very emotionally oblivious so it counts."
"...Yeah, I totally don't know what it's like to deal with that at all," Fenrir grumbled under his breath before straightening up and giving the shinai another swing. "However, it's not going to be smooth sailing from this point! For one thing, Issei knows, although he lacks the power to remove Rin's evil spirit from this world-"
"He should have tried Sankiraimon, that's stronger than the Kuji-in," Aya added, intellectually piqued. "The Kuji-in is a series of nine hand forms and words for basic purification, but the Sankiraimon is specifically designed for exorcisms."
"-What she said," Fenrir continued smoothly, "But Rin also faces trouble coming from two directions, the Magi Association of the West, and the Far East organization too. Sharp readers probably figured out that was us two on the motorcycle earlier."
"Yes, they both have a stake in finding out what happened," Aya nodded. "It was stated pretty clearly, but basically the Yu Dao Gong or 'Imperial Way Palace', which is the equivalent in the Far East to the Magi Association, has a right to be there. The reason no one from the Middle East Magi Association has shown up is mainly because they have no legitimate claim."
"Aozaki-san has been in the West too long if she can't be more than technically correct when reading characters," Aya said pointedly, face neutral. "And I'm a member of the Yu Dao Gong. Using Western terms like magi would make about as much sense as the Pope conducting Mass in Chinese. On that subject, a houjutsu-shi is someone who specializes in Buddhist or Shinto thaumaturgy. Although in Japan you find the two mixing a lot."
"Speaking of Japan, Hyougo and Nagano are two of it's provinces. Since Fuyuki is roughly around the Kobe area, that places it in the former, while Togakushi where we came from is in the latter," Fenrir swung the shinai down in a men strike. "Bit of a drive, but for various reasons a motorcycle was preferable to public transport."
"There shouldn't be much more beyond that. Various terms for Japanese style archery were used, but those should have been clear enough in context. The glove Rin gave Archer is a mitsugake, or three fingered archery glove, and is the same one you see him wear in Hollow Ataraxia." Aya finished. "We aren't going to be dealing with that event for awhile yet. One crisis at a time is enough."
"It's a troubling situation, but Rin could have done something about earlier if she hadn't been distracted with pretending she didn't want to nail Archer six ways from Thursday," Fenrir said, jolting as Nendoid Rin popped up suddenly in all her tiny glory.
"It's true, fan-made characters can only speak trash, " The miniature version of Rin postulated, taking a quick drag of her cigarette before disappearing as abruptly as she appeared.
"..." Went Fenrir.
"..." Went Aya.
"I vote we forgot that happened," the Finn ventured.
"Agreed," Aya said quickly before bowing. "Until next time, Niellä Dojo!"
The doors slid shut with a snapping noise, sealed...for now.