Chapter 65:

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

"Of all the places I hoped you could take me off to in private, Onii-chan, this wasn't one of them."

Shirou pretended to not find amusement in Illya's disappointment as they stood in the middle of Fuyuki Park. "And what of Saber, Assassin, and Berserker? They don't count?"

"Papa barely talks as much as Berserker." The daughter pretended to not notice Kiritsugu's brief moment of parental anguish a few feet behind her. "And Saber doesn't strike me as the gossiping type seeing as she's kept quiet about nearly everything you've done since you summoned her."

"I would prefer to refer to my actions as 'respectful and loyal to my Master', if you don't mind Illyasviel," Saber chided with a hint of amusement.

"Most of us would prefer if you were more 'respectful' and such when he's putting bombs in people's homes," the small girl deadpanned.

"..."

"Illya, be nice. You know Saber wasn't around when I set them up. Or knew about most of them for that matter," Shirou chided while mentally apologizing to his Servant. "I thought you were over the bombs by now."

"I'm your adorable sister. I hold the rights to hold everything and everything against you for my personal benefit. It's the rules." The girl pouted with inflated cheeks.

"Hai hai. Whatever you say," the older brother capitulated her with an amused smile.

"Humph." The girl huffed looking away from him with her nose up for a moment or two before letting out a sigh. "Speaking of unsavory things, can you tell me what that was all about with Grandfather? It's not often that you're so... aggressive."

Shirou sighed, knowing that this was bound to come up sooner or later, given the looks the others were not too subtly giving him during their walk to the park. "Not sure what to say really. I want to be the nice guy in all of this mess. Negotiate fair terms with no violence or headaches and all that. It was… I don't want to say easy, but feasible during the Grail War. I knew pretty much everyone. None… most of us weren't idiots and were capable of being reasoned with. I had built a rapport with everyone, so when I made my case, you guys listened. Or at least, enough to investigate further on your own and put the puzzle together yourselves. After that, I just... showed what I had to offer, what was at stake, and everything just fell into place. Give or take a few minor disasters."

"I'd say that losing Rider and letting Caster run rampant for so long qualified more than mere minor disasters."

From the side, the group turned to see Sakura and Rider approaching.

"Saber, Assassin, Berserker," Rider greeted the Servants quietly, getting quiet nods in turn.

"The point was that despite everything, almost everyone here was more or less reasonable." Shirou laughed with a helpless shrug. "The same can't be said for the ones pecking and swarming in every day. Some people can be talked to before they do something stupid. Others, need a bit more to realize where the line is. I learned my lesson with what happened with Issei, and I have to be even more firm about it now or else everything could crash down on all of us."

"Did something happen?" Sakura asked, confused. "What went wrong with the Einzberns?"

"Grandfather got a bit ahead of himself," Illya evasively summarized the situation. "But Onii-chan's diplomatic skills need some major work too."

"It wasn't that bad." Shirou smiled nervously.

"You impaled one of the guards to the wall with a copy of their weapon," Illya deadpanned.

"Assassin killed three of them." The excuse sounded as weak as his body language.

"You literally instructed him to take two of them out yourself just to make a point." The girl didn't let up. "And that wasn't even touching that hilarious imitation of Gilgamesh you pulled at the end making those projections behind you."

"Hey, it worked. And if I recall, I wasn't the one that made the first move." Shirou's smile slowly died. "You noticed it too, right?"

Illya shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to admit to his point due to the implications. "It was suspicious, but Grandfather was clearly disturbed about something regarding me getting exposed. Something that we might not know about."

Disturbed enough to set up a trap potent and strong enough to take down Berserker and Saber, the two strongest Servants in the war, even with their innate strengths and resistances to magecraft.

"Don't tell me we have another ridiculous game to untangle ourselves from," Sakura all but groaned.

"No. Fortunately this time we've already got it all but settled." Shirou shrugged. "We promised them Illya's body once she does 'die'. All we have to do is hand them her original soulless body with the Lesser Grail in it after the swap in a few months and they'll leave us alone. A simple preservation or time stagnation bounded field can easily fool them into thinking she died later than she actually did once we hand it over."

"I don't care what happens, just so long as you take some proper care of my body. I have been using it for almost the past two decades." Illya huffed, pretending like she barely cared about her current mortal frame. "After everything I've been through, I should hope that it's sent off with some integrity."

"I'm quite certain that you have little to worry about in that regard." Saber smiled wryly. "I doubt that Assassin would take too kindly to anyone that would try otherwise."

All the Masters present didn't bother to try and hide the shudder spawned from that hypothetical.

"My safety aside, can we return to the reason as to why we are here in the first place?" Illya frowned, slightly annoyed and looked around at the park. "The curse aside, being in such an open location is usually something that assassins like you and Papa try to avoid, isn't it?"

"Ah, right. Well, you see, that's kinda the point." Shirou smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of his head. "The thing is, after everything that I've gone through and all of my… growth, over the war, I more or less need to figure out how to fight again."

The group was silent for several long seconds as his words were digested.

"Huh?" Illya blinked absently as if not comprehending what he had just said.

"I, don't understand." Sakura was in the same boat. "Shirou, you spar with Bazett-san and Saber almost daily. And if I remember correctly, you even picked a fight with Lancer last night."

"You literally impaled an Einzbern combat homunculus half an hour ago as if it was nothing, and now you're saying you don't know how to fight?" Illya added onto Sakura's argument.

"No. I don't believe that's what Shirou was alluding to." Saber interjected on her Master's behalf before looking at Rider. "I believe the other Servants understand his situation as well."

"Mmm." Assassin nodded, not elaborating any further.

Berserker didn't say anything, as expected.

"Yes. Enough that I understand why Sakura and I were called." Rider stepped forward to Shirou in particular, the air of a predator slowly leaking from her very existence.

"Shirou, explain." Illya was beginning to lose her patience again.

"Not much to explain." Shirou shrugged, his eyes never leaving Rider. In a way, the fight had already started. "I'm too used to ambush tactics and assassination. And sparring with Saber and Bazett-nee only improves my technique and basic melee skills. I haven't had time to practice going all out with my changes and abilities against an appropriate opponent that's flexible enough to show results. Saber and Lancer aren't good matchups, Caster's too busy, Assassin's not suited for sparring, Berserker would kill me, and Archer…"

"You'd be tempted to kill Archer for real." Illya deadpanned, saying what pretty much everyone was thinking.

"Which just leaves Rider." Sakura concluded before the conversation stayed on Archer for too long. She turned to her Servant warily. "Are you fine with this?"

"Don't worry Sakura. This can just be considered an extension of our fight last week." Rider confidently comforted her Master. "I promise I won't hurt him too much. I'm quite experienced with playing with my opponents. It was one of the few forms of entertainment I had on the Shapeless Isle over the years."

"I seriously can't tell if I'm looking forward to this or regretting it already." Shirou laughed with an easy and genuine smile on his face.

"I'm surprised you're fine with this, Saber." Illya turned to the King of Knights skeptically. "I thought you'd be angry that Onii-chan wants Rider to help him with getting stronger."

"I have already come to terms with what Shirou needs." Saber shook her head while noting how everyone was slowly backstepping away from Shirou and Rider. "His technique has improved notably since my summoning. However, your brother's methods are not restricted to pure swordsmanship. He requires a versatile opponent to fully practice and exercise his own versatile methods. I am afraid that I am too powerful for him to fight against in earnest without getting a true feel and understanding of his capabilities. I trust Rider to fill the role aptly."

A pair of nails linked by steel chains materialized in Medusa's hands. "I'll be gentle."

A pair of steel blue blades with cursed red edges formed in Shirou's. "I'll be in your care."

The energy between the two began to rise enough that the temperature in the area warmed by several degrees…

And then they vanished.

Twenty meters away the pair seemingly rematerialized with a loud clash as their weapons met. As like before, Rider's daggers were "severed" into pieces by Shirou's cursed blades, but they were replaced immediately and effortlessly for the next exchange a millisecond later.

"Fast." Sakura blinked in surprise as she tried to keep up with the seemingly innocent spar. "I didn't think Shirou was this fast. He's keeping up with Rider."

"They're still warming up," Assassin corrected, having no issue seeing each and every move made. Shirou hadn't used the Emiya family crest yet, and Rider was, if anything, playing around with him. She was moving at a fifth of her actual combat speed if that.

That said, Rider was one of the fastest Servants in the War. Her twenty percent was still ungodly compared to what most humans could ever dream of matching.

Saber didn't turn away from the fight, watching with clear green eyes. "He's changed. Not simply due to Archer's memories either. His body has been forced to mutate and adapt. Either because of his Reality Marble or because of his peculiar vampire condition. His physical and magical capacity is greater than it once was, and he's unused to maximizing its use properly in combat."

The clashing pair were increasing in aggressiveness. One strike became three. A missed kick created a small crater in the ground. And-

BOOM!

Shirou flew back as Rider instantaneously increased her speed and suckerpunched him, launching him back over twenty meters before he managed to skid to a stop, still on his feet but gasping for air.

"Stop fighting me like you're human," Rider ordered emotionlessly, void of favor or malice. "You're using the same moves and tactics you did a week ago. Stop pretending to be Saber. If you want to explore the depths and versatility of your abilities, then do it already. Don't waste my time. Or are you already set on imitating Archer?"

That last quip seemed to be the trigger to break Shirou out of his stunned funk if the small wave of pure anger was any indication.

"Ooooh, this probably won't end well." Illya grimaced, with Sakura and Saber nodding in agreement.

Indeed, before anyone had noticed that Shirou had dismissed the weapons in his hands, he was already firing a salvo of nameless swords at Rider with his bow at breakneck speeds, and his rate was only getting faster with each shot.

Rider was already moving before the first shot had made it halfway to her, but she soon realized that avoiding Shirou's projectiles would be harder than anticipated. Each and every sword-arrow was aimed almost exactly where she would be, even with her enhanced speed and inhuman agility. It was almost akin to facing an Archer Class Servant in that regard, if only because these attacks had less weight in comparison.

"Not bad. To keep up with me, even with your eyes and the memories from Archer isn't a simple feat. Your foundation and ability with a bow are notable." Rider smiled before digging a little deeper into her mana. "But how will you do with this?"

Rider vanished.

Surprisingly though, she didn't reappear to deliver another painful blow onto her target, but a short distance away from him to defend against what could only be described as a buckshot fired from Shirou's bow consisting of shards from a literally shattered sword.

Correction. She had been stopped by eight pseudo buckshot sword blasts, all fired in extremely rapid succession to generate a borderline literal wall of shattered steel that threatened to shred her into chunks of meat had she been a normal human being.

The moment her momentum was stopped, Shirou had once again swapped tactics as half a dozen swords above him materialized and fired like bullets while he threw his right arm forward, whipping out a golden chain from his sleeve.

"Oh?" Rider almost purred with curiosity and amusement as she saw the chain come for her. She knew what it was, but in terms of experience she still vastly outclassed Shirou with respect to this style of combat.

In an inhuman display of agility, she leaped sideways while lashing out with her own nail and chain to ensnare the oncoming golden one, simultaneously avoiding the swords coming at her by a hair's breadth in the process before landing elegantly on her feet. She hadn't stood up right before already lashing violently, intending to send a jolt that would at the very least dislocate or break Shirou's arm…

"Trace. Break."

Or at least that had been the plan before the length of her nail and chain shattered explosively starting from where it was entangled with Enkidu.

All the way up to Rider herself.

In the brief moment the Servant was preoccupied with her armament literally blowing up in her hands, five times the number of blades than before materialized above Shirou and fired off violently.

Rider, instinctively noting the danger jumped to move while dismissing her nails so she wouldn't be damaged by the literal chain reaction…

… Only to stumble as her leg was caught by the golden chain linking back to Shirou's other arm.

The park rumbled as Rider was bombarded with the nameless Noble Phantasm copies…

"Not bad."

Or at least, it had appeared she had been bombarded. The fact that she walked out from the debris and destruction with barely a scratch seemed to indicate otherwise.

"You're far more aggressive than Archer is." Rider sauntered to him slowly like the predator she was. "You clearly prefer an offensive strategy over his defensive style. There is no time wasted being patient or buying time. You aim to make openings in your opponent's stance to exploit , be it by attacking whatever strength or weakness they have that suits your preference at a moment's notice. What a vicious and merciless mindset you must possess in order to think that way. Really, blowing up a woman's precious toys like that. You're lucky I have a soft spot for types like that. I find them... adorable."

As if to underscore her point, she rearmed herself with her nails and sensually licked the tip of one of them.

Archer's technique was more refined than Shirou's, without question. But he could afford to tank it out. He was a Servant, and had the skills and experience to hold out long enough to come up with some clever, if somewhat vanilla method to take out an enemy that outclasses him in one way or another.

Shirou on the other hand, while still impressive for what he was, didn't have the luxury to take a hit or two against stronger enemies if they had to go toe to toe. Not yet anyways.

"Haaaaah." The young assassin breathed out some hot air from his lungs, getting some oxygen into them. He was starting to hit his stride, but he could already tell that he was going to suffer very soon from this match. Rider was simply too strong for him to hope of taking on one on one in a fair fight, no matter what tricks he used… save for maybe his Reality Marble. But that would defeat the point of the spar in the first place.

He really stuck himself in an unreasonable situation this time.

"Looks like you're starting to enjoy this little date too." Rider smiled, noting the unrestrained and genuine grin on his face.

"Guess you could say that. Out on a moonlit night with a beautiful foreign woman. Most guys would jump at this kind of setup." He stood up straight with sword in hand. In the back of his mind, he was contemplating whether or not he really should be so reckless for the next exchange. If it went wrong…

"Looks like you're hesitating about something." Rider seemed to picked up his uncertainty instantly. "Come then. The whole point of this was for you to impress me, wasn't it?"

Shirou couldn't help but bark out a laugh. He knew Rider was only half teasing him, but he couldn't deny that she was right. There was no point if he didn't at least try and branch out a little bit more.

Regardless of the risks and consequences.

Trace On/Selecting Noble Phantasm based on desired properties.

Safety Off/Altering and repurposing structure while maintaining integrity of Mystery.

Release all safety procedures/Applying and organizing altered product.

Shirou held out his left arm.

Execute and forge.

"My body is made of blades."

The flesh of his outstretched hand rippled and warped… no, it was more akin to flexing and reverting back into its scaled and bladed state, only instead of the standard gray steel like sheen, it possessed a hybrid gold and steel white motif.

Rider could feel the odd power his arm radiated from where she stood. "Oh? That is certainly new."

Saber noticed it too. And it felt familiar. "His arm. That sensation. Don't tell me he…"

Before either Servant could finish their thoughts, Shirou vanished.

Rider barely managed to get over her surprise before lifting her nails up to defend against his strike from the sword in his left hand.

She once more had to adjust to the shock of the far more powerful blow knocking her arms away to block the followup from the weapon in his right. Even if she wasn't using all her strength, the difference in his blows was more than enough to throw her off balance.

It was only by the third strike that she managed to regain enough footing to retreat with a large leap that would have put her in range of his bow had he decided to follow through.

"That is more like it." Rider smiled in approval. "Using a Noble Phantasm's passive ability to enhance yourself by making it your flesh. You're using your condition to your advantage. Quite adaptive."

"Yeah, though it takes some getting used to." Shirou nodded, albeit with a grimace. Truth be told, he got almost as much whiplash from that attack as Rider did. He wasn't expecting that much of a boost. "But, that's why we're here, aren't we?"

"I suppose. Though I had hoped it was because you finally noticed a girl other than Sakura." Rider teased. "Before we continue, dare I ask which Noble Phantasm you armed yourself with?"

Shirou raised his two nameless blades in hand, slowly pouring mana into his body to reinforce himself further to bring the fight to the next level. He'd have to start off slow. There's no telling how well he'd be able to adapt once he used the Emiya family Crest.

For the briefest of moments he hesitated uttering the sword's name, as it no doubt would bring up memories that were best left buried, but he squashed that immature notion. There was no point in hiding this information. Not after everyone there had put their trust in him.

"It's Arondight."

The sword of Lancelot of the Lake. A blade of the Fae, just like Excalibur. And one that tasted the blood of friend and foe alike.

And, most notably in this particular instance, a sword that enhanced ALL of the owner's parameters just by wielding it.

Or being meshed with it in this case.

Saber pretended to not notice the gasps and looks that those next to her were giving her.

"Oh? Isn't that one of the swords that belonged to one of your men, Saber?" Rider slightly tilted her head to his Servant.

"It would be best you not get distracted, Rider," Saber chided, betraying none of her thoughts on the matter. "Arondight is a Fae made blade. The very counterpart of mine. It was a force to behold in Lancelot's hands, for better or for worse. And to be quite frank, I am uncertain of what disasters will be wrought with it in Shirou's hand. Imitation or not."

"Love the positive reinforcement, Saber," Shirou called out while focusing on Rider, his mana slowly elevating.

As was Rider's. And judging from her levels, and her smile, she wasn't going to be as easy on him as she was earlier.

"I stand by what I said, Master. You're a handful at the best of times as is." Saber didn't bother to hide the small smile of amusement on her lips.

Arondight's enhancements, on top of his altered body, near perfect Reinforcement, and the Emiya crest…

Shirou vanished once more, as did Rider.

A notably larger swath of the park was cleared out from the collision of the two forces.

Shirou was right that he wasn't able to fight on a Servant's level directly.

Three more craters were made in the following ten seconds, along with four minor trenches.

But, truth be told, he was closer to the feat than he probably assumed.

o. o. o.

"And you just let the vampire inside like that?"

Touko let out a puff of smoke from her lungs while casually leaning back in her seat. "In case you haven't noticed, this isn't the Age of the Gods. There aren't many things these days that can stop an Ancestor of Solomon's calibur at a moment's notice if he felt like throwing his weight around. And I'm sorely in lack of those resources."

Caster sighed and shook her head. She had only been gone for a couple of hours to do her periodic maintenance of the Greater Grail and in that time the Vampire had done… something. She was beginning to suspect it was a genetic trait of those monsters. The boy's peculiar mutated branch be damned. "And? What did he want?"

"To help, surprisingly enough." Touko reached over her desk and picked up a vial with clear fluid in it, save for a small blemish hovering in the middle. "Why didn't you tell me that the girl's mom was still around? Servant or not, her eggs still work as far as I can tell."

Caster held back a multitude of frustrated reactions to the revelation. "The Mother's very existence was determined to be a need-to-know subject. Did the monster inform you of her ailment?"

"He did. But then again, we have you, don't we? Just another thing to get around as far as I'm concerned." Touko's teasing clearly was rubbing the Servant the wrong way, and moments later her confident smile dropped. "That said, this donation will do us a good bit of help if we want to get the body set up anytime soon."

"How so?" The Princess of Colchis knew that the woman was leading the conversation into another headache that couldn't be ignored no matter how much she desired otherwise.

The redhead took in another puff of her cigarette and looked at the ceiling blankly. "Truth be told, making a proper body for the girl's more complicated than we first thought. Normally the way my craft works is that I make a direct one to one copy of the subject. No more. No less. A literal perfect clone. Problem is that our little princess in particular not only has parts that we can't copy, but also her body has been played with before and after birth. Heavily. It's messed with her soul to the point that not only can't we make that "copy" in the first place, but her very soul can't properly identify what her body's supposed to be. And if the body and soul are misaligned enough…"

"The body will prematurely fail." Caster frowned, realizing that Illyasveil's current limited lifespan was a more difficult ordeal to address than initially assumed.

In a most basic analogy, Illyasviel was already an unbalanced structure due to her alterations. One already in the process of falling apart due to its shoddy making. Without the original blueprints, or at the very least a list of the alterations made to her over the years, making a copy of her body would only lead to another unbalanced structure, with or without the contents.

Irisviel's egg sample, though, addressed that issue. A perfect original blueprint of a Justease model genetic sequence.

Almost perfect, at least.

"Like I said, normally these bodies function under that 'no more, no less' principle. Enough that a person looks at it and truly believes, 'that's me'. However this project's different. We're trying to produce an 'Illyasviel' without the nonsense the Einzberns have done to her. An 'Illyasviel' that 'Illyasviel' can naturally see as herself, even if it's different and she's never seen it before. What she should have been, so to speak."

"No. That won't work. Not in its entirety." Caster shook her head. "The alterations to her are too severe and prominent. Producing a body of what she should be now without the modifications in its entirety will put her soul into shock if transferred. The disparity between the two states is too great."

"Mmm. Which is why it's probably best that the munchkin stays a munchkin for a while more, but then we have to adjust for the age of her soul to make it still properly adapt to the weight of her current age…"

"That won't be too difficult of an issue. The effects of longevity and the soul are well understood in my era. Addressing the disparity and implementing adjustments won't take long." Caster cut her off. "Before that, I will need to examine and cleanse the sample of any contamination from the Greater Grail."

"Go right ahead. You're the expert when it comes to this thing." Touko yawned before getting up and stretching. "I'm actually going to take a nap. Haven't rested since I got here."

"Very well. It should take me some time to properly examine this… donation, and ensure that it can be used to reinforce the body's integrity. We will have to be careful that the effects of its spiritual origin are minimized if not nullified for the final product."

"Knock yourself out." The Aozaki waved. "Oh, and be careful with the stasis fluid for the body. I finally managed to get it just right for the kid. Took me forever to find the right balance to use for it. Einzbern homunculus and all that."

"Given her peculiar condition, I don't doubt it. We can discuss your findings when you awaken." Caster didn't bother to look at her as she picked up the egg sample and began chanting in an ancient language that to Touko's ears shouldn't be possible for the human tongue to pronounce.

"Fine by me." That should give her plenty of time to get some rest.

And to figure out a way to either explain or cover up the lone drop of Merem Solomon's blood mixed into the solution.

o. o. o.

"Do I want to know?" Rin asked as Shirou's group finally walked into the house.

Shirou, on the other hand, was fireman carried in by Saber and completely unconscious.

"It is fine. Shirou just wanted to train with Rider for some time." Saber tried to put her at ease. "They decided the Park would be a suitable and spacious location for it."

"That's where you were all this time? You couldn't find a locale more suitable for something so minor?" Luvia cringed. Spacious or not, the city park sent chills up her spine.

"Blame Onii-chan. He's the one that picked it." Illya yawned. She just wanted to sleep at this point.

"Rider certainly looks like she did a number on him," Bazett noted.

"She did." Sakura gave Illya an unreadable look from behind that most certainly did not make the albino shudder. "Berserker did the rest."

"Berserker?!" Those not in the know balked.

"She thought it would be good to 'make things interesting' for Shirou while he sparred with Rider near the end." Sakura's tone remained dead even, in contrast to the guilty party who pretended in futility to not be affected by it.

"So help me if I didn't know Shirou well enough by now, I'd genuinely believe he planned this to get out of explaining what the hell he did earlier at the Association." Rin rubbed her temples in frustration.

"It worked, didn't it? Onii-chan even managed to kill Berserker once." Considering just how many Noble Phantasms Gilgamesh threw at the Greek Demigod during their fight, it wasn't hard to assume that the teen had more than enough options to call upon if needed.

"Only after Rider helped distract Berserker long enough for him to do anything other than put up shields so he wouldn't die. Even then it was a close call." Saber sided with Sakura, not amused. "You still need to apologize. Just because he has a peculiar disposition doesn't mean you can frivolously throw him at dangerous situations."

"... Are you talking about Berserker or Onii-chan?"

"Yes."

"Hah!" Lancer laughed loudly from the living room.

Bazett made a mental note to throw Lancer at more dangerous situations due to his peculiar disposition.

"The moment that Shirou and Berserker are put on the same level of unreasonable nonsense is the moment I'm going to bed to wait out this headache." Rin turned around with a dead look in her eyes and returned to her room. Hopefully when she woke up the world would make more sense.

"For once we are in agreement." Luvia followed her with the same exhausted expression.

"Oh. Is everyone back?" Irisviel was the last one to enter the hallway, and gasped when she saw Shirou. "Oh dear. Is he alright?"

"He'll be fine, Irisviel. He houses Avalon. Shirou just needs some rest, and will be ready to cook everyone breakfast by morning," Saber placated her.

"Oh, that's right. Avalon's very useful like that." Irisviel placed a hand on her cheek thoughtfully. "Why I remember when it helped me recover from being stabbed by that dreadful priest back during the Fourth War…"

"What." Saber, Illya, and a suddenly materialized Kiritsugu asked in perfect synchrony before the three looked at one another briefly as if asking if the other knew about this.

"I mean it didn't stop him from killing me at the end of the war eventually, but even I thought I had died at the time." Irisviel completely missed their reactions as unconsciously scratched at her chest.

"When, exactly was this, Irisviel?" Saber asked warily.

"Hm? Oh, it was that night that mad Caster attacked the castle. After you left, Maya and I escaped in the other direction while Kiritsugu fought Lancer's Master. I detected Kirei Kotomine approaching the grounds and… thought that we could deal with him so he wouldn't meet up with Kiritsugu." Iri scratched her cheek sheepishly. "It didn't end well. We were completely outclassed by him."

"Iri." Kiritsugu rubbed his temple in exasperation from his wife's antics. That said, given what he did to Lancer's Master and fiancee soon afterwards, he didn't have much ground to preach on.

"At least we know where she gets it from now." Sakura sighed.

"Get what from?" Iri and Illya asked as one.

Nobody was brave or foolish enough to answer that question.

"Assassin. Saber. I leave them in your capable hands." Rider briskly walked past the two without sparing them a look back.

She was followed by Sakura.

"... Can I kick them out? It's technically our family house." Illya looked at her Servant parents skeptically.

"Legally speaking, it's under your brother's name, and managed by the neighbors." Assassin absently replied.

"Oh? They sound nice." Irisviel smiled.

"Aren't they Yakuza?" Illya asked.

"Our neighbors are Yakuza!? And you left our son in their hands after you died?!"

"Illya, don't use your mother as a distraction to get out of trouble." Assassin blatantly ignored his wife's technically justified but still overreaction to lecture their daughter.

"Tch."

"If you don't mind, I'm going to put Shirou to bed." Saber sighed, not wanting to get in between an Emiya family moment, even though she was technically carrying one of them on her shoulder at that moment.

"Is he all right?" Irisviel asked with some concern.

"It's more exhaustion than anything. He was reaching his limits when Illyasviel believed it was prudent to intervene." Saber pretended to not notice the girl look away with a pout. "Fortunately, Rider was quick to switch targets, and Shirou's copy of Enkidu was readily available to stall Heracles long enough for my Master to manifest a few powerful enough Noble Phantasms to put him down long enough for the rest of us to get the situation under control."

"Oooh? Amazing." Iri's red eyes sparkled like a child's. "Kiritsugu, is our boy really that strong? I mean, everyone's told me all these stories, but to think he's able to kill Illya's Berserker, it's a bit hard to believe."

"Honestly, I find you being here more absurd." He reached out and held her hand to calm her down. "Or myself for that matter."

"... Kiritsugu."

Assassin shook his head and sighed, looking down at his daughter. "You'll apologize to your brother in the morning when he wakes up. You know he's going through enough as it is."

"I thought he could handle it," Illya relented. "He looked like he could keep up with Rider, and he said it himself that he was a better matchup against Berserker."

"Not when he was running on fumes. You knew as well as the rest of us that Rider was playing with him the entire time, no matter what it looked like," he lectured, glancing at Saber as she gave them a parting nod before rounding the corner of the walkway and heading to the bedrooms.

It was a subtle twitch of the hands and a minor flicker of mana that would not have been noticed by anyone save for the most attuned or experienced.

"Tell the truth." Assassin's tone grew heavier as the bounded field made the conversation private. "What was the point of pushing your brother to the brink, Illya?"

"Kiritsugu?" Irisviel looked him confused.

"Our daughter isn't so impulsive as to risk Shirou's life like that on a mere whim. A prank is one matter. Berserker is another. Had it been nearly anyone else in Shirou's position, we very well might have been bringing back a cadaver tonight, if it had been fortunate enough to remain intact."

Illya shrunk from her father's cold stare. How he had managed to somehow mix his emotionless "Magus Killer" facade with that of "the disappointed father" was too much for her to brush off. "Onii-chan's not that much weaker than you. I made sure that Berserker wasn't going all out."

"Heracles on a bad day could effortlessly turn most Servants into smears across the landscape. And your brother is notably less than most Servants. It was why we were at the park in the first place." Assassin didn't buy it.

She shook her head. "That's not it. Don't think I didn't notice, Papa. Near the end, he was almost as fast and strong as you are."

Kiritsugu's eyes narrowed slightly. Technically speaking she was right, but she was only factoring his his base stats. If he threw in his own skills, tactics, and abilities, he still outperformed Shirou if they ever fought. "And? As far as Servants go, I'm on the bottom rung. My skills are what make me a factor, not my physical prowess. Lancer's Master could give me a difficult time if I squared off against her with just my fists."

He knew it firsthand too. The Witch had made it a point to test out their respective limitations shortly after the Fraga had fallen under her control, and she wanted to humiliate Assassin for being difficult.

Illya held her ground. "If that's true, then why didn't he ask for help when Berserker jumped in?"

There was a brief pause. "Rider did help him."

"She was already fighting when Berserker cut in. She was involved the moment Onii-chan was from his perspective. Even so, he didn't tell me to stop. He didn't ask for Saber to help, or any of that." She shook her head. "Onii-chan didn't even need to kill Berserker to make him stop. Not with those chains of his. He was exhausted, and yet the first thing his mind jumped to when things escalated was the most unreasonable option of them all."

Kiritsugu's lips slightly pressed together into a firm line. He was starting to see what Illya was looking at. "You were testing his mindset. You're worried he's going to recklessly get himself killed."

"You saw what he was like during the meeting with Grandfather. He's resorting to violence faster compared to during the War. Whether it's the right move or not is irrelevant." Illya shivered slightly. "I… don't like seeing him like that. Onii-chan's too nice to have that cold look in his eyes. I've only known him for a couple of weeks but even I can tell that he's changing. It's like, concluding the War did something to him."

Despite being a Servant and someone that rarely showed emotions, Kiritsugu breathed out slowly and loudly through his nose, as if taking time to digest her point and the implications.

Because she wasn't wrong. Shirou was changing. His entire life had been built around the Grail War and trying to fix everyone else's disasters. With it gone…

"Go to bed. We will talk to him tomorrow about this when he awakens. Without Berserker's input this time," he firmly instructed. "Before anything, you will apologize. To your brother, to Saber, to Berserker, and to Rider and her Master. You put us all in a position with your decision tonight. Regardless of your intentions."

"... Fine," the girl sulked, avoiding eye contact. She knew she wouldn't be able to get out of this one.

"I will clean things up with the other Servants in the meanwhile. Hopefully Rider and her Master won't hold too much of a grudge."

Illya cringed. In hindsight, she probably could have done things better regarding them. She didn't need to be close to tell that they could indeed hold a grudge if they wanted.

"Iri, take Illya to bed." Assassin turned to his slightly concerned wife.

"Is it really that big of an issue, Kiritsugu?" She asked.

"It has the potential to be. Whether or not it is… well, that's why I'm taking measures now. Don't worry."

Before either of the women could say anything, Assassin vanished both from sight and from their senses.

"He does know that saying that only makes it worse, right?" Illya frowned.

Iri sighed, placing a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Let your father be, Illya. If there's anything he surpasses other Servants at, it's being thorough."

"Why don't I feel comfortable knowing that then?"

"Because it's your father being thorough."

Illya couldn't help but groan painfully as she made her way to her bed.

o. o. o.

It was late into the night when Saber's eyes snapped open.

"... I'm surprised. Out of all the potential visitors I expected, you were among the least likely to show."

"I do try to keep things interesting every now and then." Archer materialized in the room, pretending to not notice Shirou sleeping just a few feet away.

"I'm sure that many of us would agree that events are interesting enough as of late." Saber knelt with proper posture next to her Master. "... I'm curious. Does being in here bring up any nostalgia?"

The Counter Guardian snorted. "This empty and blank room? There's barely anything to be nostalgic about. Unlike this current iteration, I was as dull as you could get. It's hilarious in a cruel way."

"I find it nothing of the sort. To not find any solace or familiarity in your childhood room where you grew up without conflict… it is more cruel than anything." She shook her head.

Archer didn't bother sarcastically dismissing her thoughts. This was neither the time or place for his usual narcissistic behavior.

So, he got to the point.

"Why do you support him?"

Saber frowned and looked at Archer with mixed emotions. "Out of everyone here, I thought you would understand why the most."

"I, was a charity case," he corrected, crossing his arms. "A walking, talking, oblivious idealogue that was so blind to his idiocy and incompetence that he couldn't save a single person while preaching endlessly to others."

Archer looked down at his counterpart. "He's nothing like how I was. Capable. Competent. And willing to do more than half of the disasters that dad was. Things that you wouldn't tolerate in a million lifetimes."

"You speak as though my own history was pristine and without flaw." The King of Knights shook her head dismissively.

Archer snorted, knowing she was alluding to the disaster that was her rule. "You still tried. You're still trying. This one though… he's convinced you to stay…"

Oh…

OH.

Now his concern with her was making more sense.

"You know of Merlin's prediction."

One that waits forever. One that searches forever.

"... Of all the people I've let down, that I can still remember at least, you're the one that haunts me the most."

"Shirou…"

"Is he the one?" Archer cut her off before she could say anything else.

His question cut through her armor and heart, causing her more fear and trepidation than the majority of battles these past few weeks.

"I… don't think so," she relented, unable to look Archer in the eye as she gazed upon her Master's exhausted face.

He could be though, she didn't say, if she so chose and pressed forward.

But she didn't. Not yet at least. The ordeals and responsibilities that her Master bore were already crippling and maddening to even dwell upon. To add to that burden with a task beyond even those was cruel and unreasonable.

Perhaps… perhaps if the two of them managed to surmount his future ventures successfully. Perhaps if she experienced and appreciated the peace that haunted his every waking moment firsthand herself.

Perhaps then she could trust him with the future she still spurned.

But not now.

Not yet.

"He is trying to give me something else. I am still the King of Knights, but here and now, it entails… less. And with no battles to fight. No lands to rule. No fiefs to manage. I have… time. To think. To feel. To experience. Away from my responsibilities. Away from corpses and blood of my men and comrades littering Camlann. To reflect on myself, and on others that are not afflicted or weighed down by my responsibilities. The change in perspective is… surprisingly refreshing. Barring the vampires."

"They tend to do that when they're around." Archer sighed and shook his head. "Like vermin that lot."

"I almost miss the dragons." Saber's lips twitched in amusement. "Speaking of, I noticed a peculiarity earlier tonight. Shirou could reproduce Arondight, and I was curious why you never did so yourself. Its abilities to enhance one's physical stats sounds like something you'd gravitate towards."

"Arondight?" Archer frowned in confusion before shaking his head. Judging from the very brief glazed look in his eyes, he had probably momentarily taken a moment to withdraw the information he had on the sword from his Reality Marble. "Ah. No. Most Fae made weapons are taxing for me to produce. Not impossible, but inefficient. Your sword being the pinnacle of the class. I believe he is capable of it because of your connection and Avalon increasing his affinity to them."

"Hmm. A pity." Saber dismissed the inquiry with a hint of minor disappointment.

"Don't bother. Greatswords aren't my style if you haven't noticed already." Archer smirked. "And before you ask, I prefer my personal bow over that melodramatic thing Tristan uses."

Failnought's design was a curiosity, being a harp turned bow that generated all sorts of shockwave based attacks, but it wasn't EMIYA's style in the slightest.

"Truly? And here I thought it would fit someone as melancholic as yourself," Saber teased, not at all ashamed at mocking not only Archer, but Sir Tristian as well.

"Not enough to spout terrible poetry and pluck harp strings endlessly at everyone in earshot for extra attention," EMIYA scoffed. "Some people have standards."

"So you have encountered my Knights." Saber gave him a wry look.

"I have, and I think Camelot was better off perpetually putting out fires. Those fools would have driven you and your country mad had they been given time to their own devices." Archer grimaced. "It was like you and Bediviere were the only adults out of the lot that could keep their minds out of their pants. Or yours in particular."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Mordred."

"... Ah. She's still highly particular about me, I take it." Saber had the decency to break eye contact. Her "son" was a rather peculiar topic.

"As you with your kingdom." Archer crossed his arms and gave her a careful look. "... I know it is neither the time nor my place to ask, much less to call your judgment into question, but you do know what Mordred was truly requesting for when she demanded you to acknowledge her as your heir, right?"

Saber took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I presume you mean after I managed to filter past my sister's constant actions to undermine my rule, the means of which Mordred was conceived, and the idea that I suddenly have a flesh and blood child as one of my most prominent Knights?"

Archer held back a grimace, knowing he had stepped on a landmine, but held his ground. "Given your tenure and experience as King by that point, I'm confident you managed to get past those details faster than most. For better or for worse."

She shot him a dirty glare but held her tongue. She wouldn't fall for misleading and cruel words. In a sick way, he was right, as usual. She always put her duties as King above all else. Mordred's intentions and her desires were no exception.

"... Mordred's wishes were not difficult to discern. Her emotions and intentions had always been rather blatant. Although, that was likely due to being better understood to circumvent the helm she constantly wore to hide her identity."

He nodded, absently recalling said helmet Noble Phantasm the Knight of Treachery was usually summoned with. "I've noticed."

"You know how vexing politics can be at times. Like you said, there was a time and place for everything, and Mordred… was rarely the best at judging those whenever her ambition was stoked. Had she chosen a more private venue and presented herself with more tact… instead, she exposed herself in front of half of her peers and all but demanded that I acknowledge her as my blood and heir. For her it may be a sign of trust and confirmation, but I am a King. And Mordred…"

"Is a knight and of your blood, but not one worthy of the throne." Archer already guessed that Mordred's plan of exposing herself may have been influenced by Morgan's machinations.

She slowly nodded with heavy eyes. "The tales more or less have the right of it from there. Lancelot's and Gwennivere's tryst. Then Mordred's betrayal. Then Camlann."

He wouldn't bother to ask if Saber ever tried to reconcile with Mordred during this time. It would be a vile insult to the both of them to even voice such a thing.

Instead, he merely nodded a few times before turning away. He had already lingered long enough. "At the very least, be rest assured that the mantle of a King is notably lighter in this era than yours. It may do you some good to experience life without that weight before you burden yourself with it again. If you chose something that ridiculous again."

"Archer, you have no-"Saber scowled and turned to give him a piece of her mind, only to find that he had already left the room.

He hadn't told her to disregard her responsibilities as King, although he had openly mocked them like he did everything else. Instead, he had reminded her that her duties were… less. At least in this era.

In his own roundabout way, he was telling her to stay with Shirou for as long as possible. Not telling her what to do one way or another. Only merely to wait.

It was possibly the most indecisive advice she had ever seen either of them give.

Was it through personal experience that he suggested this? These irregularly long summonings that provided the briefest respites in his own hell?

She looked down at her Master with concern. Archer wasn't Shirou. Not completely. There were too many discrepancies to consider them the same person anymore. However, Archer was Shirou, once.

Past or present, she at the very least owed him the courtesy of following this small bit of advice before following through with her vow… if she followed through.

Unaware of her thoughts, outside the room Assassin and Rider stood silently in spiritual form. Neither said a word to one another, nor intended to. Their initial plans for the night were interrupted by Archer's impromptu visit, but neither minded.

o. o. o.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"You're taking a day off." Rin blatantly poked Shirou's chest the following morning.

"Where did this come from?" He blinked, completely confused.

He only grew more confused at the heavy stares everyone was giving all around the room.

He felt like the answer was supposed to be obvious, but for the life of him he couldn't figure it out.

"Shirou, you're burning yourself out." Sakura was the one that spelled it out for him. "Everyone's noticed it despite your attempts to hide it."

"This has little to do with your impromptu spar with Rider last night." Saber shook her head. "But when you take into account you've been picking fights almost daily ever since the Vampires have expressed interest in you, it quickly becomes apparent you need some time to decompress."

Shirou opened his mouth to argue.

"This is not a discussion," Luvia cut him off firmly. "You are going to the city today to be pampered and relax, so we can relax. I have already booked your visit to the best spa in the city, and dinner at a restaurant that I can personally attest can even rival your skills."

"What about-" he tried to get a word in, but was once again interrupted.

"We're taking turns." Bazett smirked, knowing what he was about to say. "Two of us plus Saber will be on your ass at all times so you can't run off and do something stupid. The rest of us will use that time to get more jobs and chores done so we don't fall behind. Truthfully though, I wouldn't be surprised for Caster to demand at least triple this treatment once all the work we've landed on her lap is finally finished."

"I assure you, I've made it blatantly clear to her that the coffers and resources of the Edelfelt family are at her disposal whenever she so chooses. With the guarantee that outside of emergencies, she will be left to do as she pleases for a month after this debacle is over." Luvia grimaced, very well aware of just how overworked her Servant was. They really were taking her for granted at this rate. "And you are going to contribute to her reparations once this is over for that matter."

Almost to prove Luvia's point Saber chipped in. "I believe she's currently next door with the puppeteer magus working on Illyasviel's body. From what I've been informed, the task you gave them is more of an ordeal than anticipated. And all of us would be pleased if no further ordeals were made known."

Shirou grimaced, knowing full well that they had him there.

That said, something caught his notice and looked around curiously. "What about Illya? Where is she?"

"She's grounded after what she did last night as punishment," Sakura replied with a tad bit too much satisfaction than what she intended.

Out of the corner of everyone's eyes, Illya's face peeked out from the hallway of the house watching them, flushed red and eyes watering like a child on the verge of completely breaking down.

They all pretended to not notice.

"How did you manage that? Seriously. I don't see how that's physically possible." He blinked in genuine confusion. Given this was supposed to be his day off, it wouldn't be hard to assume that she'd be all over it. With Berserker if necessary.

"Assassin put his foot down, surprisingly." Rin languidly waved off his concern, trying to play indifferent if it wasn't for the small amused smile on her own lips. "He knows how to act like a decent father when he wants to. It was pretty interesting to watch."

"Illyasviel has agreed to behave and undertake some of the other's chores in exchange for going out to see a movie with you tonight." Saber elaborated. "Assassin will have the final say on whether she does a good enough job to warrant it."

"Regardless of what she wanted and the results, she shouldn't have sent Berserker after you last night." Sakura shook her head. "And you shouldn't brush it off as something minor, Shirou. No arguing."

His eyebrow twitched. Getting treated like some child that couldn't make decisions for himself was annoying.

"We'll leave for the city in a few hours. You can do whatever you want till then, but nothing extreme." Rin stated imperiously. "Unless someone is kidnapped or we're under attack, you are not to do anything remotely Magus Killer-like while with us. Understood?"

"That means you can't bring any weapons or explosives with you." Bazett added.

"But Rin and Luvia can bring their gems?" Shirou frowned, knowing better.

"Some of us don't have Reality Marbles, in case you haven't noticed." Luvia held her ground. "And I fully intend to enjoy my time out as much as I can. And what is a lady without some flair?"

"Reasonable?" Rin dryly retorted.

"Ohoho! I suppose that only some of us have the luxury of being prepared at any time to look good." Luvia laughed aristocratically… before having it slowly die off as she was given cold stares by Bazett (poor), Sakura (homeless), and Rin (frugal). "Ah…"

"And even fewer are generous enough to share said luxury with their peers?" Shirou offered helpfully.

"Yes! Of course!" Luvia took the bait on reflex before realizing what she had just agreed to. "Wait!"

"Too late! Luvia's treating us to clothes and jewelry shopping!" Rin cut in immediately, her very being glowing with a hunger and greed of a different sort this time.

"Might I suggest we shop for Sempai first?" Sakura asked sweetly.

Shirou mentally goraned. They were past the point of no return. Rin would quite likely murder anyone that tried to stop her shopping spree on Luvia's tab. He wasn't stretching the truth on that either.

But it had been his idea. He had made his bed and he might as well sleep in it. Preferably still alive.

The room was ominously quiet before all the female Masters paused and looked at Shirou as though he was a piece of meat.

"Welp. Nice knowing you kid." Lancer gave Shirou his final dues while materializing and walking out of the room without a second glance.

"I fail to see what I have done to deserve this." The teen shivered like any warm blooded male did, but made no attempt to escape. He knew a doomed cause when he saw one.

"You actively picked fights with half of the Servants here in less than a week," Rin deadpanned.

Shirou opened his mouth to point out that it wasn't half when the reality of what he was arguing, and his counterpoint, caught up to him.

"Did you want to say something?" Rin looked at him dead in the eyes, all but openly declaring that she'd enjoy watching him dig his own grave.

"... You are aware that your goal is supposed to make me unwind, right?" He purposely tried to skirt around the potential landmines that would only put him deeper in trouble.

"Don't worry. We'll be shopping for ourselves too." Sakura purred, somehow sneaking behind him without him knowing. "Who knows? Maybe we'll find something you'll like?"

"We will?" Rin and Luvia blinked as Sakura's smile turned more impish and she leaned into Shirou's back.

"Cheater! No fair!" Illya shouted from the hallway.

"And I know when I'm taking my time off." Bazett rolled her eyes before momentarily examining her own suit. If she was going to stay in Fuyuki for longer than expected, she admittedly should get some more clothes for herself as well. On her own time of course.

"This means war, Sakura." Rin growled with fire in her eyes, Luvia nodding in rare agreement with the same expression.

Shirou truly debated whether or not to remind them again that this supposed day off was to help him relax, but he thought better of it.

There were some wars even he knew he stood no chance surviving.

o. o. o.

"We have visual on the dog."

The American magus on the other line of communication paused from his lunch as he got word from his subordinates. It had been nearly a week since they had entered Fuyuki city covertly in an attempt to gather more information on the participants, but had met with little luck.

Any attempt to get close to where Emiya supposedly lived was shot down, quite literally by what they could only assume was Archer. Efforts to get close to where the supposed "Greater Grail" of the Grail War system was rebuffed by bounded fields so elaborate and powerful that it could only be attributed to the Caster class Servant.

And then there were the rats. The less said about those monsters tearing apart everyone's familiars and equipment, the better.

Literally half the force that managed to get in the damn city had been wiped out so casually he had wanted to call the mission off after the third day.

So, conventional underhanded methods aside, they had decided to play it safe. Long distance reconnaissance on popular locations, and sending polite missives to the house proper to indicate that they were not a threat and wished to speak to him. Alongside the three other groups that had been verified to be in Fuyuki despite the strict lockdown the city was supposed to be under.

Magi prided themselves on finding ways to ignore or skirt around the rules after all. They wouldn't be very good at what they did if they didn't.

And it looked like their patience had finally paid off.

"Go on." He requested through his earpiece while trying to look casual. Of all the residents and members of the Grail War, getting information on Shirou Emiya, Barthomelloi's prized Silver Dog was near the top of their target Second Magus Killer was an enigma to the bulk of their world.

The kid was an odd one if you looked at his public records and dug a bit deeper. Found during the previous war. Original family and name unknown. Slightly above average student. Notably exceptional archer with the potential to be an Olympian if his glowing reviews held water. Habit of doing errands around town and fixing equipment. Close to the local yakuza. Supposedly a local legend when it comes to cooking. And otherwise, a surprisingly helpful kid that nobody could say a mean thing about.

The American looked down at the profile document in front of him and saw the picture of a young asian redhead going prematurely gray staring back at him. Other than the hair color and the unusually philanthropic set of habits, the kid had a more or less normal public life compared to other Magi.

"He's in the city with the Owner and the Hyena." His right hand man muttered quietly. "... Almost looks like a date the way they're fighting over him. Lucky bastard."

"They're kids. Keep it in your pants." He chuckled before realizing something. "What of the heavy hitters?"

"Nega-belay that. Confirmation on the Knight twenty meters back in modern clothing blending in. She's smaller than I thought."

"And she'd still probably kill all of us in a single swing of whatever sword she has if given the chance. Don't be stupid and stick to recon. We're down by half already."

"The half that were foolish enough to think they could pull one over on a Servant and poke at their bounded fields. How that idiot Morrison got put on our group I'll never know. It wasn't by merit I can tell you… shit."

"Problem?" He frowned, worried for his friend Scott's immediate future.

"I'm exposed. He's looking right at me and doesn't look happy." The agent's voice was unsettled. More so since he was decked out in pure civilian wear, with no notable mystic codes on his person, and sitting inside a cafe with a window view of the city streets. By all rights, he should be just another face in the background at best, and yet somehow he was still pegged within seconds. "The rumors weren't wrong. Bastard has silver eyes. Creepy as hell."

Son of a bitch. Pure Eyes were a right pain to get around if you didn't know what their mystery was. "Don't make any moves. Don't follow him. We can't afford it. Just do what he wants. Show your stomach if you have to."

That said something was wrong. Anyone even remotely experienced in assassination and espionage knows that the first thing you learn is to not draw attention to yourself, or let your target know that you exist. Not unless...

"Way ahead of you. Feels like a blade's at my throat already." The voice on the other side laughed nervously. "Looks like he's not telling the girls though, which means I might actually live through this… wait, where's-"

"Do you have business with my Master?"

Fuck.

A third, distinctively female voice was heard over the line.

In just a few seconds without any attention, the Saber Class Servant had already made its way to them. If there was any doubt as to how scary Servants were before, they were dead and gone now.

The leader of the operation wasn't even there and he was already sweating bullets. There was something overwhelming about that voice that made him feel like a cadet on his first day of training all over again. The brat had purposefully broken one of the cardinal rules of the game to give his Servant an opening to literally sit at their table without them able to react until it was too late.

Fucking Emiyas. Father or son. They were both nightmares to deal with.

"I thought Emiya summoned Saber, not Assassin." He stalled for time in order to regain composure.

"I assure you, this conversation would be far shorter and more unpleasant if I was." Saber casually corrected him while pretending to not recognize the existence of the copy of her dagger Carnwennan that Shirou made earlier the day. "I presume that you are not among the other three groups I have had the task of accosting today?"

"You may. It certainly explains why your supposed Master appeared to be vexed with us earlier." Wonderful. They were already in hot water because they weren't the first ones to try peeking on a teenage three-way date.

"Considering the previous encounter involved a young woman who believed it was intelligent to try and accost me with a faulty Mystic Code and disturb the peace, I believe his thinly veiled mood was warranted." Her casual tone didn't change at all, but it did little to hide the underlying implications.

Scott cursed under his breath. So that's what the spike he felt earlier was. It had been so fast that he barely even registered it.

Given how quickly the Servant had reached him, he now knew why it had been so brief.

"Just reconnaissance at best, ma'am," he spoke through the phone. "Fuyuki's a powderkeg at best and all everyone has to go by are rumors and whatever the official statements of the Association. We have no intention of interrupting or intruding on anything."

"Especially now that you have been caught?" The Servant was not amused.

"Particularly so." Great, now he felt like he was being talked down to by his mother. Bitch never took shit for anyone.

"I recommend you report to your superiors then and vacate the city. For the sake of your mission." The Servant all but ordered in the form of "advice". "Assassin and his Master have been growing, displeased, by the increase in rude individuals recently, and consequently have been becoming more difficult to placate. Both of them are rather arduous to control at times."

Welp, if that was ever a warning to get the hell out of town, he didn't know what was. "It will be taken under extreme consideration. You have my thanks for being civil despite our rude behavior."

"See to it that you better yourself in that regard. There are many in this city that are less forgiving than my Master and myself. Now if there are no further issues you desire to discuss, I have my own obligations to see to."

"O-Only that some organizations outside the influence of the Association are interested in making contact with him. We are among those numbers. Agent, if you would be so kind as to deliver our missive.."

The agent in front of Saber slowly reached into his coat pocket to show he wasn't a threat before taking out a small envelope and handing it to the Servant. They had not expected to make a delivery that day, but all their agents had a copy of it on hand just in case.

"I will see that he receives it. Good day, and I hope the rest of the week is uneventful for you." Saber nodded, and left with a threat that needed no explanation.

"Son of a bitch," Scott hissed as he watched Saber leave, throwing proper protocol to the wind. "We've seen some fucked up shit, Mike, but I never thought' I'd almost shit myself being talked down to by some barely teen ghost in a cafe for spying on a teenage threesome. It felt like I was next to a god damn mana reactor without a lick of protection. Give me an apostle any day over this."

"Scott, shut up and return to base before your fat mouth gets all of us killed. As far as I'm concerned, the job's done and we're heading back to Okinawa," Mike cursed at his friend. "If the higher ups bitch about it, I can tell them to send someone else to get disappeared by an Assassin class Servant on the warpath. Or the Magus Killer that they may or may not be cock blocking for all I care. We have enough data to keep the spooks happy for a month."

Assassin wasn't contracted to Emiya. There were other groups that were pushing their luck with the kid. He was close enough to Edelfelt and Tohsaka to be potentially romantically involved. Emiya was getting agitated by the outside parties invading his personal space… no, there was more to it than that. There was probably something going on that he didn't want interrupted. Something that the other Masters were probably in on and willing to throw their weight to enforce even if it meant bending and breaking the rules and potentially ruining international relations.

Out of all they just learned, that didn't pertain to a threat to their lives, it was Emiya's closeness to Edelfelt that was the biggest payoff.

More than a few had voiced support to the idea of maybe buying the mercenary's loyalty to one extent to another. From utilizing Caster's Services to potentially betraying the others to steal the Greater Grail in transit.

Off the top of his head, one of three scenarios was most likely in play. Either Edelfelt was already playing Emiya for whatever goal she had in mind. Or, Emiya had already gotten to her first with a deal that she very damn well couldn't pass up.

Or, unlikely as it sounded, she really was just that smitten with him.

Either way, it was going to be a pain in the ass to get her to comply with any of their organization's requests. Especially after she had just made a show of literally tearing apart her latest contract in front of everyone during the El Melloi trial. The girl had made her position clear to the world, and unless it was part of some convoluted scheme or plan of hers, it wasn't likely that she would double back on it now. Not for them. Not for cheap at least.

o. o. o.

Shirou was tired. Truely, exceptionally tired.

Spiritually. As a man, at least.

Rin and Luvia had won drawing straws on who got him first, an omen in itself, and they had spent three hours in the urbanized Shinto district. Shopping.

Clothes shopping.

If someone had told Shirou that he had gone through more sets of clothes than there were weapons in his Reality Marble, he would either have agreed wholeheartedly, or looked around warily to make sure that Rin and Luvia weren't around to take that as a personal challenge.

Which wasn't hard to imagine since they were nigh perpetually competing with one another on virtually everything that morning. Who picked the best outfits for themselves. For Shirou. Who got the best price. Who could work the expensive brands the best. Who could pick out the best gems in each jewelry department.

Of course Shirou naturally won "who carried the most purchases between stores". He was the only participant. So much so that soon enough, the dirty looks he got from the people that noticed he was with the three beautiful young women, slowly ebbed away into one of pity once they noticed he was their pack mule.

On the bright side, they had finally gotten Saber an extended wardrobe. He had bought her a few articles before the War with the knowledge Kiritsugu provided, but even he was starting to feel guilty about seeing her wear the same thing for nearly two weeks straight.

Fortunately, once he did finally reach his carrying capacity, Luvia pulled a Luvia and hired a cab from somewhere to take their spoils back to the house. Rin of course was of two minds on that. On the one hand, more shopping. On the other, it was thanks to Luvia.

He still didn't get why the two girls were adamant on him keeping on that one pair of lensless glasses. He wasn't a fashion expert, but he didn't see much of a difference in his appearance with or without them.

… Now on Rin and Luvia on the other hand… he might have been a bit more pleased than expected when they bought a set of glasses for themselves at the shop.

Minor petty conveniences aside, it didn't change the fact his condition made walking around during the day more tiring than it should have been for him.

And that didn't even count all the errant magi peepers that were skulking around town.

Picking them out with his experience, Structural Grasping, and Pure Eyes had made them almost comically easy to find. Most were decked out in mystic codes that made them stick out like sore thumbs. The truly stupid ones had wrapped their positions in so many concealing bounded fields that the entire area just appeared one big blank to him, which might as well be a flashing sign to investigate.

After that, all it took was to point Saber in the right direction and let her use her brand of "proper British diplomacy" to take care of the rest.

He was almost disappointed. There had only been one person so far that had the brains to keep the surveillance to over a kilometer distance. The rest of the idiots were all in spitting distance at one point or another.

Not that they ever had the chance to do anything. He might have been forbidden from any of his usual "activity" today, but fortunately Saber did not have such restrictions.

To be fair though, he had welcomed the distraction. At first.

That was until one of them in their panic thought it was a smart idea to try and take out Saber with a mystic code that would have killed every civilian in a very significant radius.

Saber had worked fast, but Luvia and Rin had noticed the borderline disaster. They pretended otherwise, but he knew them well enough. Both were smart and experienced enough to know that he and Saber had been picking off the annoyances that morning. Even teasing him every other time his Servant went to "take care of something", but it wasn't funny anymore.

Not long after that he spotted enough flickerings on the rooftops of the nearby skyscrapers, and accurately deduced that Archer was also lending his support.

He had mixed feelings on the matter, but for once he wasn't completely against Archer's involvement.

"Are you sure you don't want to visit one last store before lunch?" Luvia asked with the innocence of a predator. He had to hand it to her, despite the situation she was able to keep perfectly calm and still enjoy herself.

Unfortunately, that did nothing to hide the fact that she was clearly referring to the lingerie store they had just passed ten seconds ago.

He'd like to survive long enough to eat said lunch. Walking into that store was a dead end if he ever saw one. Either Luvia and Rin would kill one another trying to impress him, or kill him in the resulting fight, or Sakura and Illya would butcher him once they find out about the trip.

And Saber would just stand back and watch.

"You sound as if I would participate in the madness." His Servant smugly laughed in his head.

"You may be the King of Knights, but you'd shirk away from this as easily as any fresh squire." He heatedly jabbed back, causing her to stagger and blush in reaction.

"Actually…" The blonde Brit spoke up in person.

"No. Saber. Don't you dare…"

"I am somewhat interested in obtaining some additional undergarments as well." Saber smiled all too kindly and innocently from behind him. "Truth be told, I am hopeful that they are more convenient and comfortable than what was available in my time."

There were no words to describe the levels of shock, hope, and excitement that were seen in Luvia's and Rin's eyes.

"You have no idea what you have just done to us." Shirou on the other hand, could only tremble in morbid horror.

"As spoken by a novice squire," she smugly teased as she positioned herself right behind him so he couldn't escape. "Surely my Master would not mind humoring me?"

"Yes, Shirou. One more store shouldn't hurt." Rin smiled like a tiger that caught its prey, as she grabbed onto his left arm in a vice grip.

"Let's go Shero! I think you'll more than enjoy this one." Luvia matched her on his other side.

There was no escape as the three women steered him towards the underwear store, completely against his protests and ignoring the fact that his face was a far deeper shade of red than his hair.

He could only hope and pray that he'd make it through the end of the day with his life, and dignity intact. Maybe in that order.

Off in the distance, he heard someone he hated laugh at his expense. For once he welcomed it. It was a good distraction.

o. o. o.

"I think today went wonderful, don't you, Tohsaka?" Luvia smiled proudly at the dinner table of the expensive restaurant that she had planned for the night. She had exchanged her usual causal dress for a more sophisticated dinner gown that hugged her figure with a bow and shawl around her shoulders and her hair bundled to one side.

"I do indeed." Rin agreed mischievously, wearing a red dinner gown she had bought herself that morning. "Shirou and Saber seemed to like it too."

Shirou and Saber didn't reply. The two of them were still in a daze, only flushing slightly, being forced to recall what took place in the lingerie store.

Saber hadn't said anything all day after the trip. Nor had she been able to look Shirou in the eye.

She would never be able to look at string the same way again.

"Must you tease them so much?" Sakura sighed, dressed in a modest pink and white dress. She would have been more believable if she hadn't also been smiling for half the day when she found out after lunch when they swapped.

"Cheaters. The lot of you." Illya glared at them viciously in her own modest purple and white dress. Just they wait until she went through puberty in her new body. She'd look just like Irisviel. If it was enough to break Kiritsugu out of his near emotionless state, it would be more than enough to bend Shirou to her will.

"You know that's not how it went between your mother and I." Assassin sighed through their connection.

"Cheaters…" the girl hissed, clearly ignoring her father. She would bide her time, and then, victory would be hers.

"I don't see why he's so out of it," Bazett mocked slyly, still in her suit. "Isn't he supposed to be experienced with girls by now?"

"Ah, well… It was different this time." Sakura flushed while Saber and Shirou turned fluorescent. "While we certainly didn't not enjoy what we did, but given the circumstances neither of us ever felt it was appropriate to… diversify much."

"You are so adorable." Luvia laughed as she swirled her wine. "Don't worry. I will take you shopping for your own personal wardrobe later. Perhaps we can take Shero with us for that one too."

"You don't have to." Shirou and Sakura blushed and replied at the same time.

"Yes, we do." Bazett, Rin and Luvia all grinned like feral predators enjoying a tasty and easy prey.

"Revenge." Illya's eyes were all but glowing like Berserker's now.

"Grooooowl." Saber's stomach protested loudly.

"... Snk." "Pffft." More than a few of them paused and laughed at the sudden absurd interruption.

Shirou had never been so happy for his Servant's gluttony than he was at that moment.

He'd try to convince Luvia to get double portions for her if the opportunity rose.

Speaking of which.

"I'm sorry for the wait ladies and sir." The lead waiter approached the group with two associates behind him with their appetizers. "Judging from the young miss' condition, we have done you a disservice."

"Think nothing of it." Saber shook her head, welcoming the distraction. "I simply have an active appetite."

"Haha. Very good. Well hopefully our services can placate it." The man laughed as all the dishes were spread out before turning to the young man next to him. "That said, pardon me for asking, sir, but are you by chance Shirou Emiya? I heard your name a few times in passing and your hair color is rather distinct."

While the man didn't notice it, the girls did note Shirou's body tense slightly, ready to move at a moment's notice. "I am? Why the curiosity, if I may ask? Is something wrong?"

The Waiter shook his head. "Oh no. Nothing like that sir. It's just one of our frequent patrons, Raiga Fujimura speaks of you often while here. Speaks of you like family, and boasts of your cooking skills. According to our chefs, you're considered a bit of a local myth among their circles. I believe it started gaining traction a few years ago at Fujimura-san's summer barbeque?"

Shirou blinked a few times before groaning, knowing what the man was talking about. "Are people still talking about that?"

It had been at one of the anniversaries of the Fuyuki fire, and old man Raiga had sponsored a city wide commemorative party slash fundraiser at the park. The old bastard wouldn't let Shirou take no for an answer when it came to helping out, so the teen went for the natural position of cooking for as many people as possible along with a few other food trucks and volunteers.. The old man had rented out a small outdoor kitchenette just for him, and Shirou had wound up cooking like mad for a solid nine hours straight without rest. The queue for his stand always had someone waiting in line for it, and on more than one occasion the person ordering looked far too eager for his meal than he thought was right in hindsight.

"I'm pretty sure that some of the teachers have tried to have you cook at one or two of the school sports days," Sakura evasively supplied, not bothering to add that she had been asked to try and make that happen by said teachers.

"They have." Rin chuckled. "But they can't because there's an unofficial ban on Shirou being allowed to cook on school campus for events in general."

"Wait. What?" He gave her a double take. "Why?"

"Don't you remember what happened freshman year during the student festival?"

"You mean that fight that happened outside my classroom? Yeah, there was some idiot that tried to cut in line and it blew out of control."

Rin shook her head in exasperation before explaining the context to the others. "Their class decided to do a restaurant theme and Shirou was the head chef. Not sandwiches but full blown Shirou Emiya lunches. Seats and spots were limited and so high in demand that by the end of the day there was a genuine black market for the damn things. Parents, students, adults, teachers, guests, hell even some of the visiting administration were part of the nonsense."

"Wait, weren't you constantly asking me for spare tickets the days leading up to the festival?" He gave her a dirty look.

"Bottom line is, everyone wants Shirou, and the school isn't willing to pay the liability costs. Again." Rin pretended to not hear him.

"That does seem to be the story these days." Luvia smirked before taking an elegant sip of her wine. "Shero being too good for his own good, and Tohsaka being petty enough to exploit it for her own minor benefits."

"Perhaps, however I suppose given how long we've known one another, I have benefitted quite handsomely without being referred to something as vile as a hyena." Rin laughed just as "elegantly".

"Hohohoho!"

"Hahahaha!"

Seconds later the two were laughing in a way that sent chills down everyone's spines. There was a danger in the air that no Servant would ever hope to match.

"Yes. Well, it appears that there were many local chefs in town that were impressed by our friend's talents. So his name is brought up every now and then in backroom conversation. Or so I'm told," the Waiter interrupted sheepishly, cutting off the buildup before it could get out of hand. "Our Sous Chef actually is interested in exchanging pleasantries with you, if you are available, good sir."

"Go on." Bazett urged with a lazy wave. "We're still at the appetizers. Better now than when the main course comes. It'll do you some good to talk shop amongst your kind. We'll keep your food safe from Saber while you're out."

"That was uncalled for," Saber chided sternly… while staring at Shirou's salad being placed in front of him.

"You're too generous." Shirou rolled his eyes, but gave a relaxed smile that had been absent for far too long. He got up and stretched a little bit. "If you don't mind…"

The girls watched him get escorted to the kitchens deeper into the restaurant before they all as one sighed and slumped into their seats.

"He's finally relaxed." Rin pinched the bridge of her nose.

"I was afraid it might take longer." Sakura agreed.

"All those annoying bugs didn't help." Illya grumbled. "Papa took out eight of them when we were with him, and I'm sure Onii-chan noticed at least six." The last two were blocks over and outside of direct line of sight.

"Seven. He noticed the magus that was on the high rise building when we turned the corner around the bakery. Just before he was dealt with," Saber corrected. "I was about to attend two of them but he beat me to it. Still less frequent than this morning though. Give my thanks to Archer. Even I was reaching the limits of my patience when that one fool nearly took out the area."

There had been a dozen Magi that were either spying on them or tried their luck before lunch.

"Going to the movies was the smart idea. Even if the film was lackluster." Bazett yawned and ignored Illya's dirty look, which was understandable seeing as she picked the movie. "Less exposure there, and it let Shirou finally turn his brain off. Plus it was the perfect place for Assassin to pick off the one idiot that tried to follow us without getting noticed."

They would never find the body. Or the parts that made it up.

"This was supposed to be a relaxing day for him. We might have only made it worse." Sakura grimaced.

"I admit, the amount of undesirable attention we have attracted here was beyond my expectations as well." Luvia frowned, dissatisfied. "I have rarely stayed at any location that my services were required for long once complete, nor has any of them received as much attention as this one in general. However, the attention this city in the far East is receiving is rather peculiar. Current circumstances aside-."

The sensation of a bounded field going up instantly made all of them sit up straight and go on alert.

"Perhaps I can provide some insight on the matter."

A handsome slim caucasian man with crisp brown hair and a pressed brown and gold suit in his late forties walked to the table without a care in the world, the swagger of a Magus confident in their victory.

"My name is Matteo Scladio, American, US special forces envoy, Magus, and in a few minutes, I will also be known as the one to put an end to the Emiya line."

All the girls frowned at the declaration, but none more so than Illya for the unknown slight. Saber on the other hand, remained eerily calm.

"Is that so?" Luvia played it cool and curiously pressed him for more details. "Do tell, how would some unknown castoff from the rejects of New York claim to achieve such a thing?"

"You wound me, Lady Edelfelt. Especially since you played a role in my achievement." He smirked knowingly. "Unlike the rest of the fools and children you have no doubt dispatched over the duration of the day, I am capable of thinking ahead. Why else did I appear at one of the few passable quality restaurants in this city?"

Rin facepalmed, figuring out what the man was alluding to. "Damn it, Edelfelt. You couldn't go one day without throwing your name around."

Luvia flinched and went stiff. "I see. You didn't follow us. You hypnotized the staff of every notable establishment in the city to report should certain key terms were heard, and then merely waited. I assume it was a combination of one of our names, and a large party. You would have at least the whole day to prepare."

"You have some nerve, interrupting our meal like this." Bazett frowned.

"I do apologize for spoiling your evening, however the needs of the few, I'm afraid. Some of you may not be aware, but there is quite the exceptional reward on your friend's life as of late. More so for his body. A cumulative result of recent events, revelations, and lingering resentment for his father I assume."

Rin bit her tongue, holding back a snark alluding to his Apostle nature.

"And the reason you assume you will be leaving this establishment alive is?" Bazett asked casually, although keeping her eye on Sakura. Out of all of them, she was the most likely to turn the city into a literal bloodbath if Shirou did die.

"Why to keep the Servant alive, of course." He stood proudly, glancing at Saber. "I actually paid attention to Lord El Melloi's trial, and admittedly have been somewhat of an interest in Fuyuki's Grail war for some time. Unlike some other reprobates, I have no interest or curiosity as to what the coming of a Zoostrian God would unleash. Good or evil. Once the Master perishes, the command spells have to go somewhere, as the war still has not technically concluded as far as the system is concerned. As someone that has taken the appropriate steps, I am confident in being assigned the soon to be vacant position relatively soon."

His logic was not unfounded. His plan was simple, yet cunning. And his smile was one of victory.

"Nom. Nom Nom."

And Saber couldn't care less as she ate her appetizer with perfect posture.

Her behavior was so unexpected that everyone took a moment to realize what she was doing.

Several of the girls let out a stress fueled chuckle, as if berating themselves for their fears.

Scladio frowned. "I have heard that Servants are temperamental. However, I am somewhat disappointed by your lack of loyalty. Even when you have been granted the luxury of eating proper food that you do not need, you show no regard for your companion. I expected more from a supposed Knight of the Round Table."

"Please refrain from speaking. You are ruining the food," Saber politely chastised the man between bites, not once looking at him. "Berating your betters for not acting the way you intend or expect is the mark of a novice negotiator. I have higher expectations of anyone that is, or claims to be capable of executing my Master."

"Your expectations are inconsequential, Servant." The man scowled. "I will put in as much effort as needed to remind you of our positions once our contract is made."

"I am perfectly aware of my position, and yours." The King of Knights dismissed him. "This is not the first time that some irrelevant fool has claimed to have defeated one of mine."

"You believe the boy will live?" He scoffed. The bounded field he trapped Emiya in was one that, among other things, cut off the connection between Master and Servant.

"I dunno." A voice behind him mused.

Thunk. The tip of a straight sword lightly stabbed into the ground behind him.

Then, a hand from behind gripped him tightly on the shoulder.

"I feel pretty alive to me." Shirou smiled as he held the man in place from behind, both physically and with the traced Black Key in the target's Shadow.

"I. How did you-"

"Word of advice. Don't try to be clever with a trained assassin on a bad day. We tend to suspect literally everything is a trap even when we try to relax." The teen's smile was effortless and easy, as though something that had been bothering all day had finally passed. "I will give you points on the setup and execution though. A bounded field that contains and produces hazardous corrosive gas while your associates from different angles armed with fully automatic high caliber guns hit me from through walls spelled to hide their presence. Fast, brutal, and efficient. Most Magi wouldn't be able to deal with that on the spot."

Fortunately, he wasn't most Magi. Before walking into the room, he had reinforced his body and clothes to the point of being bulletproof to conventional armaments short of a sniper rifle and explosives at close range. The gas had admittedly almost put him down, but he had managed to produce a mask in time to deal with it, with Avalon addressing what minor damage he had sustained.

After that, it was simply a matter of firing off a few nameless Noble Phantasms to kill the assailants and nullifying the bounded fields to leave…

That, and setting up a minor bounded field on the doorway so nobody walked in there before the cleanup crew arrived… and a minor application of alteration to fix his slightly corroded and hole ridden suit to fix up his appearance and get rid of the smell.

"Monster…" The man cursed, all signs of his prior pompous and confident attitude completely gone now.

In fact, his eyes had been progressively glazing over.

"Don't encourage him, Shirou. Sit down and eat. Your food's getting cold," Saber chastised, not at all bothering to look at him.

"Right. Right. Sorry." He nodded before looking at his would be murderer. "I recommend you go back to your meal and rest for the night. Maybe rethink your life. Or go home if you'd like before you make another mistake."

The American glared at Shirou viciously as the latter moved his hand and dismissed the sword stabbed in his shadow. Finally able to move, he wasted no time briskly walking out the room, completely ignoring the rest of the Masters and Servants there and vanishing past a pair of doors.

Only then did the bounded field around the table finally vanish, making them noticeable to the rest of the staff once again.

"Should I get Papa to follow him?" Illya asked, hinting at something more than just that.

"No. It's already taken care of." Shirou held up the hand that grabbed the man's shoulders and turned it to show three needles facing down held between his fingers. "Anesthetic. Hypnotic. And ancient sumarian toxicant from the vault."

The first to prevent the target to realize he had been stabbed. The second to make him leave under his own power. The third to finish the job. All in the supraclavicular fossa of the body. Easily going through the clothes, and pierced into the body in a spot with few veins, so there was no bleeding that would be noticed until it was far too late.

He could have easily picked something that worked faster, but he didn't want the guy to die in the middle of the place and cause a commotion.

He flicked his hand and threw all three towards one of the ceiling corners of the room where they stuck harmlessly. They'd stay there for a full day before fading away with none the wiser. More than long enough for the full effects of the poison to do their work.

"I… seriously." Rin grimaced, pinching the bridge of her nose. "It's easy to forget sometimes that you're an assassin before being some strong pseudo vampire mistake."

"That's what you got from all this?" he asked skeptically, as if he hadn't just condemned a man to death without the latter's knowing.

"You haven't exactly been the definition of subtle lately," Sakura argued, taking her sister's side on the matter.

"It's a bit hard to be subtle when trying to deal with Servants and Ancestors," Shirou drawled before finally eating some of his salad.

"At least nothing's blown up this time." Illya sighed, getting a few reluctant nods of agreement.

"I thought you didn't do poison though." Bazett hummed in hindsight.

"Food. I don't poison food," he corrected between bites.

"Of course he doesn't." Rin laughed and shook her head.

"What? I don't waste food. It's perfectly reasonable logic. You don't see me being disappointed in how you use your crystals," he defended himself.

"Oh? You have something to say about how I practice my craft? I didn't know you were such an expert on the topic, Shirou." Rin instantly went on passive aggressive mode, smiling the smile of pain and punishment.

"I have a list." Luvia jumped on board instantly.

"No, no. Let Shirou dig his own grave without help."

"With the shovels you profit from," Shirou deadpanned. "Ever since I've made them for you in bulk, you've been completely reckless with using gems for everything if you could get away with it."

"Name one thing." She challenged him.

"You tried to power your cell phone with a topaz last year because you lost the charging cables and couldn't bother to find it. It blew up so violently that the battery acid ate away at part of your eyebrow," Shirou didn't even hesitate to bring up the example. "You used a mix of thaumaturgy and makeup to hide it until it all grew back, but it didn't stop Kirei from noticing it the next day instantly and literally giving you a sermon about proper self care."

Luvia barely managed to not spray her wine across the table.

Illya and Sakura didn't with their water.

Bazett fortunately wasn't drinking anything.

Saber didn't care. She was still eating.

"You swore you wouldn't tell anyone about that!" Rin hissed dangerously before looking at the audience enjoying her humiliation. "How about the time we tried to make you that full sized gem-shaped sword?"

Shirou paused before breaking out in a cold sweat.

"I take it you're talking about a different sword than Zelretch's." Illya grinned.

"It was literally an amalgamation of crystal structures fused together in the shape of the sword because our genius here was curious what might happen." Rin grinned like a vicious animal.

"He didn't." Luvia gaped in a way that demanded more.

"He did. He tried Reinforcing it." Rin's smile widened as Shriou dropped his head.

Prodigy in the craft or not, there was no way in hell that would end well for him.

"I take it didn't end well." Illya grinned.

"Wait, was that the weekend where you blew off the top of your workshop?" Sakura asked.

Bazett didn't say anything. She was too busy trying not to bust a gut laughing.

"You really are hopeless aren't you?" Illya teased her brother.

"Oh no. He's far worse than that." Luvia cut in. "Allow me to regale you with some of our experiences at the Clocktower."

"It's going to be like this all evening, isn't it?" Shirou lamented.

"I believe that the term for it in this era is a 'roast'." Saber hummed in mild curiosity before patting him with mild sympathy on the shoulder. "Do not be discouraged. They were a common thing in my time too."

"And how often did it happen to you?"

"..."

"You're next."

"You dare demean royalty, peasant? How brave of you."

"Did Her Majesty forget about Gilgamesh already? The body is young, but the mind must be slipping."

It was a picture perfect moment. Shirou and Saber glared lighting at one another mid meal while everyone else at the table was laughing at Shirou's expense.

The entire evening passed with little fanfare after that. Good food. Good conversation. It was the lightest mood the lot of them had been in all day, if not week.

Not a single one of them had missed that something was off.

o. o. o.

Shirou sighed as he sat on the porch at home with a cup of tea in hand, staring up at the moon in the night sky.

"Shirou." Saber approached him from behind. She was the only one that was willing to get close to him in his current mood. "Care to tell me what is amiss?"

"... It's nothing much Saber." He didn't bother looking back at her. "It's just… today just hammered in the truth that I didn't want to fully admit. Or maybe one that I never fully felt and comprehended the weight of until now."

"And which truth is that?"

"I have to leave Fuyuki." He shrugged. "I thought… maybe if I played my cards right I'd be able to wait it out a bit longer. Or return at some point to try and have a somewhat normal life again. But, it's just not possible. I attract too much attention now. From Magi. From Apostles. I have to leave… home."

There was an unexpected meaning to that last word. A realized weight behind it that he didn't even notice until just now.

"I didn't know that it meant so much. It didn't sound like it weighed so much on you when you spoke of leaving before," she probed. It was the place that Kiritsugu bought and raised Shirou in, but her Master wasn't the sort of person that was that sentimental to the place.

Her mind flickered to her conversation with Archer the previous night, and his dispirited reaction to being in his childhood home once again. Yet another change that was invoked by Kiritsugu's efforts.

"It didn't. Or maybe I never noticed it did. Or, it had yet to mean anything until everyone was finally here." He shook his head. "But now… Illya. Kiritsugu. Rin. Sakura. Luvia. You. Hell, even Irisviel. It's what it was supposed to be. What it should have been. To me at least. And just when I have that peace…"

"You have to leave." Merem walked in from the dark of the back yard. "It's a cruel thing, to be truly attached to something finite only to be separated from it. Man and Apostle alike have been driven mad over the eons by this very sensation, and will proceed to do so in the future. So long as they continue to exist at least."

"Merem." Shirou didn't look surprised in the slightest by the interruption.

"My apologies for butting into a private conversation. I know you value security." The vampire bowed. It was an oddity to be certain. An Apostle Ancestor of his caliber showing remorse to anyone, peer or not.

Unfortunately, the fact that Merem bothered to apologize at all without prompt no less indicated something was amiss.

"What's wrong? Did Assassin take out a Church rep by accident on his tour of the city tonight?" True to their words, shortly after coming home from dinner, Illya had sent the Servant to take out as many unregistered Magus strongholds in Fuyuki that weren't registered with the proper channels.

It was going to be another busy few days for the morgue and hospitals. And Rin for that matter, seeing as she was the one that helped manage covering everything up in the city. Masking the deaths of foreigners to make it legally credible was a trial and a half if her complaints were anything to go by.

"If he did, it is on their heads for not working the proper documentation and staying at the assigned locations." The vampire chuckled, showing no remorse for the fates of his supposed comrades. "No, it's not that. The others made it clear that you were to have a peaceful day, and I intend to adhere to that intention. However, I do have other obligations and duties. The sooner we can check some of them off the better."

"If that is so, then it would be best if you get to the point," Saber sternly demanded, none too pleased that their private conversation was interrupted.

"Very well. Then I will do just that." Merem nodded before looking Shirou dead in the eye.

"My friend, as crass as it may sound, I request that you show me your Reality Marble so I may judge your worth."

o. o. o.

Omake: Nightly activities:

On top of a highrise building, Assassin, Archer, and Rider all huddled over a map.

"So we are in agreement then? I have everything here to the west up to the river. Rider has the north to the bay, and Archer will take out the targets to the south and east to the city limits." Assassin reviewed.

"Shouldn't take too long." EMIYA materialized his bow.

"I could do with a little nighttime exercise." Rider all but whispered as her chains came out.

"Mmm." Assassin pulled out a sniper rifle from his coat. "Easy targets for once."

"Remember the rules, old man. No explosives." Archer chided with a smirk.

"Just like a brat to lecture their betters." Assassin was already zeroing in on his first target. Seriously, you blow up one building and they never let you live it down. He didn't know why he was still getting flack for it. Caster burned down nearly half a district with all her fights with those oxen of hers, and nobody gets on her case."Some people forget what it's like to work with pure skill instead of relying on fancy tricks and Noble Phantasms for everything."

"Is that right?" Archer materialized his bow and focused on his own victim of the night. "How about we make it interesting then?"

"First to ten?" Assassin suggested.

"Might not be that many left in town after today. Getting noticed or letting a target get away is instant disqualification." Archer smirked.

Pink.

"Done. And you better hurry up or this will be an easy win." Assassin allowed himself to chuckle faintly as his first mark fell behind a magically reinforced window that did nothing to protect his skull from exploding when the bullet met his head.

Twang.

Not to be outdone fired off an arrow that split into three, piercing through the windows and concrete of a high rise hotel a kilometer away to impale the two magi and familiar inside.

"Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of me pulling ahead."

Pink. Pink.

"Cheeky brat."

Twang

"Cranky old bastard."

Rider couldn't help but lift a skeptical eyebrow as the two Emiyas more or less committed mass murder from the rooftop in a vain attempt to one up the other.

"Boys." She rolled her eyes underneath her blindfold and casually walked off the rooftop, completely ignored by her peers, and fell hundreds of meters in a freefall to get some work done. She wanted no part in their childish games.

o. o. o.

A/N:

As always, thanks Wayfarer for betaing, even when you're out on vacation this week.

Another chapter another something something something. Look I'm writing this last bit on a Friday and my mind's shutting down.

Admittedly, a good portion of this chapter is some well intended fluff. As shown, Shirou's kinda reaching his limits with regards to the situation. Not just the external pressure either, but internal as well. His entire life was a buildup to the war, and now that it's over, he's trying to get a solid grasp of what that will entail, however the magus and vampire bullshit is interrupting him so often that it's actually putting chinks into the infamous Shirou Emiya sage like patience.

On the other side of the spectrum, Saber's trying to reason and adapt to her circumstances in her own way. The attention isn't on her, and she's trying to figure out how to adjust to a life where she isn't the center of attention and everyone's fates rest on her shoulders…

… Granted, they're on Shirou's shoulders, more or less, but still not on her's. And that's what matters.

All in all though, this is the obligatory date into the city episode that virtually every decently lengthed FSN fanfic has at one point or another. It needed to be done.

And if I slipped in a tiny bit of Magus Killer shenanigans, eh. It works.

All that said, I feel the bit at the beginning of the chapter with Shirou claiming he needed to learn how to fight better was necessary. In terms of physical growth, he has been forced to change a bit. It's to the point that he's… if I were to make a comparison, a step or two behind Melty Blood Sion in terms of pure physical capability (not Berserker Apostle Sion. Normal half vampire Sion). However that's before taking his self reinforcement, Reality Marble, and Emiya Crest into account.

In terms of Servant Stats, I'd roughly put FFD Shirou's physical traits are all D rank when he had Arondight and a healthy bit of reinforcement up. With his Emiya Crest boosting his speed up considerably every now and then.

That said, these stats are less a case of "wow, he's that strong" and more of "wow, Arondight's passive is really carrying him a long way".

And yes. FFD Shirou does in fact have a minor glasses fetish. Because why not?

Working on the next GAIWP chapter now, because I feel I've blueballed those guys long enough considering where I left off. (Insert evil laughter).

As for rl, it could be better. Nowhere near as messed up as what's going on in Europe, but it's starting to get cold here in Detroit, and I just had to get the carburetor of my car replaced since the old one had literally rusted away completely on monday. Sent me back a good 1k.

Heading out to Tampa next week for my cousin's wedding… if it's still going on. Haven't gotten word of a delay yet so, yeah, here's hoping everyone there's allright.

Oh right. I have a new tshirt design up for sale. Well, it's actually the original FFD swords from way back, but I've finally cleaned the image enough to put them on a shirt. I'll put the link here:

Teepublic t-shirt /35543705-magus-killers-legacy?store_id=817891

Insert land of patrons' tag here. Just search Third Fang for my page and stuff.

Oh, and quick minor shoutout to Steeler Steelix. He's got a story out called Spiral Flames In Lugnica. A MHAx Re Zero crossover. Give it a read.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! REGARDLESS OF WHAT THEIR INTENTIONS ARE, THE MOMENT RIDER PUTS ON SOME GLASSES WITH SHIROU AND SAKURA NEARBY, SOMEONE'S GONNA GET LAID! AND REVIEW AGAIN!