Interlude – Tohsaka Rin

Rin trails behind Saber and Shirou. The group moves at a brisk, but not hurried pace, Servant and Master sharing quiet conversation as Rin watches. Shirou makes a clumsy, poorly worded remark of concern for Saber's well being, which she misinterprets as a lack of faith in her skills. Saber's resultant indignant outburst brings a smile to Rin's lips. The scene brings back fond memories of a time she had never wanted to repeat, but still wouldn't have traded for all the world.

It wasn't the same, though. This time, she was an outsider. An anomaly. She didn't belong here, in a place and time that was never meant to exist.

"Are you ready, Tohsaka?"

It takes a moment for Rin to register that she's being addressed. It had been a long time since she'd heard that voice refer to her by her surname.

"I'm sorry, what was that, Sh... Emiya-kun?" she stumbles over his name for a moment, but quickly corrects the mistake while mentally scolding herself.

Shirou... no, Emiya, cocks an eye quizzically before repeating his question. "We're almost to the temple. Are you ready, Tohsaka? There's no telling what we might find and if we run into the shadow..." He trails off and shakes his head. "Maybe you should summon Archer, after all."

"Yes, I still find it curious that you came alone," Saber interjects, frowning at Rin. "Regardless of the importance of what ever task you assigned him, it seems reckless to potentially place yourself in harm's way without your Servant to protect you."

"And hypocritical," Emiya adds, "considering how you've reacted when I did the same thing."

Saber nods in agreement. "It seems uncharacteristic of you, given your usual discretion. Shirou has ordered me to protect you the best that I can, but I will not hesitate to place his safety above yours if I am forced to make that choice."

Fate must have a very twisted sense of irony. Rin would have laughed if her mind wasn't preoccupied with the grim realization that a time paradox could end her existence at any given moment. If anything, doing nothing was a far more dangerous prospect for her than tracking down the shadow.

The chance of learning anything useful was slim at best, but if she was to have any hope of figuring out how to get Shirou and herself out of this mess, they needed to stop being passive observers and take action. The window to Akasha would only stay open for so long.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing, Tohsaka?" Emiya asks.

No, she didn't. Even so, the only thing she could do now is move forward.

"I'm not helpless," Rin snaps. "I understand the risks and I'm willing to accept the consequences for my choices, whatever they may be."

The words taste like ashes in her mouth.

"Okay, I'm sorry." Emiya raises his hands placidly. "I didn't mean to sound ungrateful for the help. It's just... unlike you, is all. Usually, I'm the reckless one."

Rin sighs, more out of fatigue than impatience. The past few nights have been... trying. "There's a difference between recklessness and calculated risk, Emiya-kun. You can't gain something without risking something of equal value. It's the most basic tenet of magecraft."

"Then the question remains," Saber interjects, "what do you stand to gain from this course of action that is worth risking your life?" She turns and stops, planting her invisible sword into the ground, as if to bar further passage. "You claim to be an ally, but you are not being forthright with us. You are hiding something; yet you expect us to trust you without extending us the same courtesy? I have every right to question your motives, and unless you convince me otherwise, I will not allow you to continue with us."

She has a fair point, Rin has to admit. Once upon a time, Servant Saber and Tohsaka Rin had shared a mutual understanding and respect, but that history no longer existed, and probably never would. Rin sighs again, more weary than ever. How was she supposed to win when the enemy was Fate itself?

"Now, hold on, Saber!" Emiya raises an objection only to be rebuffed by his Servant.

"No, Shirou, I will not be moved on this issue. Unless you are willing to compel my obedience by use of a Command Seal, we will go no further until I say otherwise."

"Saber, you're being—"

"Sensible," Saber finishes with an air of finality. "Do you disagree, Archer's Master? As you said so yourself, to gain something, one must risk something. In other words, nothing is free. That principle applies doubly to magi."

Her brow furrows, pupils narrowing into fine points. "So tell me magus, what is the price of your personal assistance this night? Where is your Servant? What are you scheming?"

Rin automatically starts to protest, but when she opens her mouth to speak, the words never come.

In many ways, Saber was about as ideal of an opponent that she could hope for. Rin knows what would provoke her and which buttons to push. That cumbersome sense of honor and chivalry would also be easy to manipulate. And there was always that ace in the hole, her identity as Arthur Pendragon, and all the baggage that came with that legend. Between all those weak points, Rin is certain she could deflect suspicion from herself and even come out with an advantage, but...

She is tired of feeling dirty. Saber had been a friend once, and Rin is so, so tired of hurting the people she cares about.

She bites her lip, hard enough to draw blood. As the taste of iron fills her mouth, she is reminded that the path of a magus is filled with naught but pain and death. She has chosen to walk this path of her own free will. Any regrets are irrelevant. So long as she is a magus, she will lock away that part of herself, the child who wishes for a happy ending for everyone.

Lying to herself had never been a problem in the past. Why should that change now?

Rin smiles, a pattern of muscle contractions her face knows well. To a magus, a smile is only ever a tool, after all.

"Why, Saber, you do wound me with your accusations," she coos, the words rolling off her tongue like silken velvet. "Where is Archer, you ask? Forgive me, but weren't you the one who wounded him? Is it so strange that I would have him recuperate his strength while he has the chance? As we're only scouting, I thought the danger of this mission would be minimal... unless, you're saying that you're not confident in your own abilities?"

As she eyes Saber's wince and gritted teeth, Rin knows she has the upper hand. Time to press the attack.

"This strikes me as a poor way to repay the care I give to your Master while he's at school, where you aren't able to protect him. What have I done to warrant such distrust, I wonder? Emiya-kun and I have put aside our differences to defeat a common enemy. A contract, even a verbal one, is sacred to a magus. I wouldn't have given my word if I didn't mean it. I thought a Servant, of all individuals, would understand that."

Rin fakes a wounded look and sighs theatrically. She's already hammed it up this much; what's a little more? "What's more, as Second Owner overseeing this land, I can't ignore any potential threat to the secrecy of magecraft within my jurisdiction. I'm obligated to search for and eliminate this mysterious shadow regardless of other circumstances. I merely thought it would be efficient to pool our resources since we have a common goal. I suppose burying the hatchet is too much to expect from a Servant whose only desire is the Holy Grail. That was selfish of me and I apologize, Saber-san."

"That's enough, Tohsaka," Emiya reprimands in a soft yet clear voice. Saber has already turned away, a silent admission of defeat. "You've made your point. We should continue before we lose any more time."

For a brief moment, her eyes meet his and she can see the disappointment in them. It hurts to see that look on the same face as Shirou, though she knows she deserves it. Even so, she offers no apology and merely follows as Emiya and Saber take the lead again.

It's frighteningly easy for her to ignore the prickle of guilt in her heart. After all, what's one more tiny sin when she already has a mountain of them?

Interlude Out

A/N: Hello, dear readers. It's been a long time since I've updated, huh? I've always had every intention of finishing this story, but as they say, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I've been occupied with other issues in my life, but it seems like the dust is starting to settle and I can get back to writing in my spare time. I know I'm rusty, so don't hold back in your critiques. I'm sorry that this isn't really a proper chapter, but getting back into the swing of things has been proving difficult and I honestly don't know when I'll be able to post a proper chapter.

I would like to say how grateful I am for everyone who's expressed interest in this story. Even though I haven't updated in over two and a half years, I still get at least a few new followers every month and even the occasional PM. Without that little extra bit of motivation, I don't know if I would have tried to take up the pen again (or the keyboard, rather). I hope I can live up to your expectations in the chapters to come. I know it was a long wait, but I'll do my best to make it worth it.

Till then, try to consider this an appetizer. With any luck, the main course will be soon to follow.