Somehow Rin got Shirou back to their little motel room. The blood slicking his body and clothing dried and began to flake away, leaving rust covered stains deep in the crannies of his scars. Rin lowered him onto the bed as gently as she could and tentatively checked to make sure that he was still breathing. His breath was labored and shallow but still coming steadily. Rin looked into his body with her third eye for any deep injuries that had penetrated into his core but didn't find any. Her healing had offset Assassin's phantasm enough to keep Shirou alive. There wasn't anything else she could do for him.
Still fighting off the draining effects of Assassin's fear aura and the mind shattering confusion of Berserker's revelation Rin forced her exhausted body into motion. Except for the shield that she had conjured to survive Saber's attack she had never channeled so much energy at one time. She felt just as exhausted as she had then. Although the position of the sun showed that it was still early afternoon Rin felt as if she had been running for days.
Her eyes were grainy and fatigue pulled at her shoulders like a blanked filled with lead. She shook her head and forced her back straight. Shirou groaned softly when she pushed him upright to get his shirt off and Rin let him fall back gently. Instead she used a small magical slice to split the hem of his t-shirt and gently tore it apart up the center to pull it off of him. She was too tired even to blush as she pulled off his pants.
She washed the blood off of him as best she could using a damp cloth from the small kitchenette and then laid the covers over him. His brow was still furrowed in pain and he was sweating profusely but his breathing seemed somewhat easier. Rin took his hand. Even helpless, broken, and unconscious he felt like a bastion of strength. Rin felt like the gentle pressure of his hand under hers was the only thing preventing her from flying apart.
She felt miserable and helpless. There wasn't anything that she could do except wait for him to regain consciousness. Everything was falling apart. Her falling out with Ilya, Berserker going rogue, Shirou on the brink of death. And now to find out that Berserker and Shirou were the same person? Not to mention the madman and his pet killing machine loose in the city. Rin's jaw clenched. Kotomine had to be stopped.
Exhaustion permeated her bones. Shirou's hand was rough and warm in her grip. She sat in a chair next to the bed, her head drooping as anxiety chased confusion and fear around the circus in her head. Eventually tiredness won out and little by little she fell asleep.
Rin was awakened by a subtle shifting movement against her cheek. She jerked upright with a start, for an instant forgetting where she was. The darkness of the room mirrored the darkness of that tunnel and a wave of panic washed over her. She mastered herself as a calming voice came from the darkness and she quickly remembered where she was. She had fallen asleep slumped forward over the bed, her cheek resting on Shirou's chest. His movements had wakened her.
"Rin?" He asked tentatively, one hand reaching forward through the darkness to caress her cheek.
Rin managed to hold her composure for several whole seconds before she broke down crying. She threw herself forward and flung her arms around Shirou's neck, showering his face with kisses and babbling about how worried she was. Shirou tensed in pain, his body still weak from the attack, but when Rin tried to pull back his arms encircled her and crushed her against his muscular chest. He returned her kisses so passionately that she was panting and breathless when at last she sank down beside him to rest her head on his shoulder.
They lay together in silence for a long, pleasant moment. Rin was nestled in the crook of Shirou's big arm, his fingers tangled in her long hair idly toying with a loose lock. At length Shirou shifted slightly, raising himself up on an elbow over her and looking deeply into Rin's eyes.
"Rin, there's something that I...ever since I met you it's been...you're the most..." He started stammering, his eyes falling shyly to the side. Rin felt her breathing speed up as Shirou gathered up his thoughts.
"Rin, I lo..." He began but she quickly put a finger against his lips.
"Shh!" She said and his eyes opened wide in surprise.
"I...I wanted to say it first." She said, half shyly and half petulantly.
Shirou laughed. It was the same deep, happy, musical laugh that Rin had fallen in love with in the first place.
"Together then." He said, grinning at her.
They both took a deep breath and stared into each others eyes.
"I love you." He said.
"I love you." She said.
It was so simple and so sweet. Neither of them made any speeches or long winded overtures. There were no romance movies or song lyrics quoted. They just told each other. Rin felt her whole body flush. She felt like she never had before. Although she projected the aura of an icy heiress she wasn't inhuman. When she was a girl she had precocious crushes on cute classmates and distant celebrities. But to feel something like this? To love Shirou and more, to know that he loved her as well? It was unlike anything she had known. He made her so happy. And knowing that she made him happy also made her happy. Both intermingling happinesses built on each other in an infinitely recurring, ever rising wave.
So this is love. She though.
Rin pulled Shirou down into a long kiss, guiding his hands over her. He was tentative at first, and then tender. She held him like someone drowning clings to a lifeline as she quaked against him, gasping. They slept in each others arms until morning.
When Rin awoke again it was an echo of her awakening the night before. She dimly became aware of a movement against her cheek that brought her into wakefulness, her head resting against Shirou's chest. This time there was no panic. No disorientation. Instead she just felt safe and warm and loved. It took her a moment to remember where she was. Everything was still the same. The world was still poised at the abyss that was Kotomine's bid for domination. But instead of afraid Rin was content. Instead of isolated and off balance she felt like her feet were planted on the ground for the first time in her life.
"Mmmmm. Morning." Shirou mumbled sleepily. Rin snuggled in closer to him, her arms around his waist. He kissed the top of her head and pushed himself up into a sitting position, wincing as he did so.
"Are you alright?" She asked, worry thick in her voice.
Shirou considered for a moment. He twisted this way and that, probed his ribcage and rapped a knuckle against his skull.
"Assassin sure did a number on me but I think I'm still in one piece. Hardly at 100% yet and I definitely won't be winning any beauty pageants. But not dead either, which is nice. You saved my life." He said, leaning forwards to give her a peck on the lips.
"Are you alright?" He asked.
Rin blushed furiously.
"A little sore." She said honestly. "But in a good way."
Shirou blushed too but carried it with a grin. He threw the covers off and immediately pulled them back over himself.
"Oh. Uuuuh, I don't have any pants." He said.
"They were covered in blood. I threw them...over there." Rin said. She hadn't had time to throw them away, they were piled in the corner.
"But they're disgusting. You can't wear them."
"I gotta wear somethin' if we're gonna go stop Kotomine. What happened? I remember Assassin attacking. And you were there, you saved my bacon. And you were calling out to Berserker? Was he there? I dunno. I blacked out after that." He said, his face screwed up as he tried to remember.
Rin bit her lip nervously.
"He...he saved us. He told me that he was...well, maybe you should see for yourself." She said.
She helped Shirou up and slung one of his arms over her shoulder. She helped support him as he limped towards the small hotel bathroom. Shirou's eyes widened as he caught sight of himself and he staggered forward to lean on the counter. He turned his head this way and that, his expression distant as his gaze flickered over his features. He absently reached up a hand to touch where his left eye had been.
"Definitely not winning any beauty pageants." He said with a sad chuckle that turned into a sharp intake of air between clenched teeth. He winced and held onto his side.
"Wait a minute. I'm...holy cow! Rin, look at my face! I'm..." He said, leaning in toward her for effect.
"I know." She said.
"I'm Berserker! Spitting image. I look exactly like him. Missing eye, scars, everything!" He leaned into the mirror and grimaced as he gave himself an inch by inch going over.
"I spoke with him briefly. He ran again, but before he did he told me that he is you...but from the future." She said.
Shirou gaped at her.
"That doesn't make any sense. Well, less sense than the alternative. I mean, there's a whole passel of me runnin' around. I'm probably the most cloned person in history. You think it's more likely that he's from the future and not just some clone or copy?" He said.
Rin shook her head.
"I've thought about that. What makes you identical to Berserker? It's the scars. Genetically you're identical to Kotomine's other creations but scars are external. In fact if you got cloned now even after you were injured the clone wouldn't be scarred or have any other markings. So he has to be you. A version of you, at least. Even if the exact same thing happened to one of the other clones their scar tissue patterns would be different from yours. It's like a fingerprint."
Shirou's shoulders slumped and he rested his forehead against the glass.
"Ugh. All this talk of clones and copies is depressing. I mean, everybody wants to be unique, right? Now I know that not only am I just one in a long line of identical million-tuplets, there's another version of me running around out there. And trying to kill me, no less." He said with a sigh.
Rin turned him around sternly and shook her finger under his nose.
"Oh, don't give me any of that! I'm in love with you. Not some clone or copy. Because of the man you are, not because of your genes." She scolded.
Shirou grinned and reeled her into a hug, planting a kiss on her forehead before heading back out into the front room with his arm over her shoulder.
"You always make everything better, you know that? Still, it's gotta be rough for the poor guy. I mean, if he's me from the future does he feel the way about you that I do? To be so in love with somebody and lose them to someone else, a version of yourself no less. That can't be fun." He mused.
Rin blushed and squeezed Shirou a little tighter.
"Only you would worry about Berserker's feelings at a time like this. He tried to kill you, remember?" She said.
"It's tough to hold it against him. If I was standing in the way of being with you I might try to kill me too. Him. We. I mean he might...eh, pronouns are confusing and time travel makes my brain hurt." He said with a chuckle.
Rin's brow furrowed.
"That's just the thing. I know you. You would never try to hurt anyone for a petty reason like jealousy. If he really is you there has to be more to the story." She said.
Shirou considered for a long moment. He sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the blanket around himself modestly, resting one elbow on a knee and his chin in his palm.
"I think we're gonna need to track him down and have a chat with him." He said at length.
Rin fidgeted nervously.
"We...may need to ask Ilya for help. Between my link with Berserker and her magical tracking system we should be able to find him." She said.
Shirou laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"She's your friend, Rin. That's never gonna change. So there's some drama with her family. So what? She's your friend, not whatever stodgy old codger runs her house. I'm sure you two will make up in no time flat." He said with one of his signature grins.
Rin sat down and leaned up against Shirou's shoulder.
"I wish it was that simple. But mage politics can be complicated. There's no guaranteeing that she would even agree to see us." She said.
Shirou draped an arm around her and gave her a little squeeze.
"You worry too much. We'll just go see her. It'll be fine, I promise." He said.
Rin rested against him for several long minutes before pushing herself up.
"Well! We aren't getting much done if we mope around here all day, are we? I'll run out and buy some clothes for you. Then we can get down to work." She said brightly.
Shirou smiled at her and gave her a peck on the cheek as she left. Her heart sang and she felt a spring in her step as she made her way down the sidewalk. Even the deeply overcast skies could do nothing to dull her good mood.
Across the road from their motel a tall man with copper skin and shoulder length black hair worked through with beads and feathers crouched below the edge of a rooftop. His eyes followed Rin as she made her way along the street, a steely gaze fixated on her back until she rounded the corner. The tall man stood and shouldered the long wooden bow that he held as he made his way to inform his master what he had seen.
Rin remained oblivious to her hidden observer as she made her way to a small clothing shop that she had spotted several blocks from the motel. She made her best guess about Shirou's sizes and grabbed him a pair of jeans and several long sleeved t-shirts. She also realized that all of her own clothing was still at Ilya's mansion. Everything she was currently wearing had been dragged through rubble, heavy combat, and the sewer system. She was hardly a rose.
With her nose wrinkled in sudden realization of her own condition she also picked out a skirt and a red sweater. They didn't have anything like the thigh socks that she knew Shirou liked so she settled on some cheap nylons instead.
While she was shopping she failed to notice the long dark sedan that glided to a halt in front of the clothing shop, or the twin figures that emerged from it. One was tall and dark, the same red skinned warrior that had shadowed her from the motel. The other was almost eerily pale with feral eyes that contrasted with her well groomed appearance.
Rin failed to notice them until the front of the store exploded inwards.
There was a chorus of screams as the sparsely scattered shoppers ducked down. Shards of glass and shattered masonry pelted through the air. The force of the blast carried Rin off her feet and sent her sprawling. She scrambled backwards through an aisle of plaid shirts and desperately looked for cover. The magical aura radiating from the store front told her that her aggressor was a mage and so she resisted the urge to cast spells. As soon as she did the prana expenditure would give away her position.
She scrambled to a hiding place with her back against a row of shelves and peeked around them. There were moans and cries from injured people who had been caught in the blast. Sakura Matou and her servant Archer stood silhouetted in the broken front of the store.
Rin hissed a curse. How had they found her?
"Tohsaka Rin! Come out and face me!" Sakura shrieked.
Rin's mind raced. Was there a back door? Some way to sneak out? The only way out was directly past Sakura and Archer. Rin had seen Sakura fight. She was powerful, but Rin was confident that she could hold her own. Maybe she wouldn't win, but Rin would at least be able to escape. But with Archer there? Nobody in the world stood a chance unless they had a Servant of their own.
Rin pushed herself up to her feet and forced her shaking hands to still themselves. Her mind raced as she cast around desperately for a way to escape, or at least to buy herself some time.
"If you want a meeting it would be more convenient if you'd make an appointment." She said, forcing all her natural haughtiness and command into her voice.
She began weaving a counterspell, dropping all pretenses at stealth as she prepared to defend herself. She was the proud, powerful heir of one of the most influential magical families in the world. She would not allow herself to be bullied or intimidated.
Sakura's face suffused with rage and Rin felt a sudden swell of magical power emanate from her. As it had before a dark shadow began to creep down from her temples. Spidery veins of black corruption encroached on her pale skin like angry cuts that pulsed with dark power. Her irises deepened from a bright and alluring violet to a menacing red.
"Don't toy with me, Rin. You have no idea what they did to me. You, you stayed with father. You were raised in privilege and wealth and comfort. Me...LOOK AT ME!" She shrieked.
Rin's eyes widened but she had only an instant to react as Sakura unleashed a bolt of dark energy at her. Rin dove to her left. The beam was too big to avoid completely but she managed to throw up a shield spell that angled the bulk of the blast away from her. The instant that Sakura's spell touched her own her hackles rose and goosebumps popped out all over her flesh. Something about Sakura's prana was tainted, oily, like trying to grasp something slippery and insidious.
She rolled to her feet and began charging another shield spell, confusion warring with adrenaline in her mind.
"What are you talking about! That's the second time you've claimed some sort of misguided grudge against me but I've never seen you before in my life!" Rin demanded.
Sakura's expression slackened and a brief look of confusion shot across her face.
"They...our father never told you about me? No...No! You have to have known. You left me there in hell!" She said, her face hardening in anger and denial.
Again she lashed out and again Rin managed to dodge by the barest fraction. This time it was as much shock as the suddenness of the attack that froze her in her tracks.
"Our...father? What are you talking about?" Rin asked, uncertainty quavering through her voice.
Sakura's expression twisted into a cruel smile.
"You really don't know? We are sisters, you and I. You lived the life that I should have lived. They loved you. Comforted you. Mine was a life of torture. Pain. Vi...violation." Sakura's eyes fell and she hugged her arms around herself, the agony of her past suffusing itself across her face.
"That's impossible. Fath...my father was a good man. He would never have abandoned anybody!" Rin said, but the thread of uncertainty was there. Could Sakura really be her sister? Genjo would know. Rin would ask him. If she survived.
"Maybe Tokiomi wasn't the saint that you thought he was." Sakura said, regaining her composure as bitterness seeped back into her words.
"But one way or the other, your life is mine now."
Rin didn't have time to respond as she blocked another of Sakura's dark mana bolts. How can she be so powerful? She wondered. But the burning question clawing at her mind was: Can it be true? Is she my sister?
She dove out of sight behind a toppled rack of clothes and stared wildly around for a way out of the situation. Sakura was mad or lying or mistaken. Or she was right and still had a vendetta for Rin's blood. Either way there was no talking her way out of the situation. There was only one thing to do. She would have to launch an all out magical attack, force Sakura to defend herself. If Archer blocked the spell it might give her an opening to escape. But then what? On foot Archer would run her down easier than someone picking up a babe. Oh well, she'd have to cross that bridge when she came to it.
Rin was just steeling herself to make a dash for the door when she felt a sudden burst of grail energy from just outside the shop. A second servant was attacking Archer!
A rescue? She wondered frantically. It has to be...
"Berse..." Rin jumped up with a shout but her words faded in her throat.
Archer was standing between Sakura and their new assailant, his twin tomahawks in his hands.
There in the street towered the twisted, glittering form of Alpha.
Rin gaped in horror but Sakura didn't recognize the new threat.
"What are you supposed to be?" She demanded, her eyes flittering over his grotesque body, taking in the twisted amalgamation of flesh and metal.
Alpha simply stared at her through his one flesh and blood eye and his one glowing prosthetic.
"Identity c-c-onfirmed. Matou Sakura. Dark Grail shard. Directive: Subdue and retrieve." He half stated, half mumbled in his grating mechanical monotone.
Sakura snorted and gestured Archer forward offhandedly.
"Subdue? You may have misjudged who you're dealing with, monster." She said.
Archer sprang into action and for an instant Rin held out the brief hope that he would be able to beat Alpha. He moved with all his sinuous grace, ducking in under the unarmed abomination's guard and slashing at his mid section with both axes. But Alpha move like nothing Rin had ever seen. As fast as Lancer. As fast as Berserker in the grips of his madness.
He twisted around the blow like water flowing around a boulder, a motion that brought him chest to chest with Archer. He slammed a palm flat into Archer's breast and there was a crack like thunder as flesh collided with steel. Archer was whipped backwards like a rag doll, crashing through the rear wall of the shop. Rin scrambled out of the way as Alpha followed up his attack with a wave of his hand. Again the air near him shimmered and a streak of red shot through to follow his pointing finger. It blazed into the cloud of dust that Archer had raised and Rin heard a meaty thunk as it hit home.
"Tecumseh!" Sakura shrieked, dashing past Rin to her Servant's side.
The dust cleared quickly and Rin saw Archer pinned to the wall by a blood red spear that transfixed him through the center of his chest. Sakura rushed to him just as he pulled himself away from the wall, the spear still running all the way through his body. She cupped his face in her hands, a tender gesture that Rin found surprising coming from the vengeful mage.
"Don't die! You know what to do." She said.
Rin detected another burst of grail energy emanating from Archer and she quickly scanned him with her grail vision.
TRUE NAME: Tecumseh
NOBLE PHANTASM: Unbroken Spirit
TYPE: Barrier Phantasm
DESCRIPTION: The Archer is able to temporarily shrug off the effects of injuries. The Archer is completely immune to damage for the duration of the effect, although wounds will still accumulate. As the phantasm ends all wounds suffered while under its effects are inflicted on the recipient.
Archer staggered a step away from the wall and then straightened, the look of pain vanishing from his face. He casually reached down and drew the spear out of his chest, dropping it to the ground with a clatter. It made a sucking noise as it pulled out past his lungs and left a fist sized hole gaping in his chest. He ignored it.
"Yes, Master." He said, firming up his grip on his weapons and charging.
Alpha whipped his hands forward again and two more ornate, legendary weapons shot forward out of the air near him. A gilded trident missed, a long rapier with an ornate braided handle pierced Archer through the thigh. He moved as if the wound wasn't even there. Once again the air rippled but instead of shooting the weapon like a projectile Alpha plucked an golden sword from it.
He still moved with that disconcerting speed remarkable even for a Servant, but this time the fight was different. Instead of maneuvering for position and trying to maximize his defense while striking tactically Archer simply charged directly in and began hacking at Alpha's head and chest with his tomahawks. Alpha hit him easily, stabbing him again and again through the stomach and chest. But the wounds meant next to nothing to Archer. Without giving any though to his own defense and simply ignoring the horrific wounds he was sustaining he launched an all out offense against Alpha.
And, slowly, his strategy began to pay off. Alpha took one step back, and then another. His energy went from capitalizing on Archer's open defense to fending off his attacks. Fewer and fewer strikes were aimed at Archer and more and more were defensive blocks and parries. Could this be it? Could someone actually beat Alpha? Rin would be in trouble no matter who won. But the thought that somebody could beat Kotomine's secret weapon filled Rin with a kind of manic, desperate hope.
A hope that was dashed by a particularly vicious slice from Alpha. It knocked Archer off balance and opened up a small space between them. For the first time Rin saw a glimmer of emotion light Alpha's dead eyes. Was that the barest hint of sardonic amusement? As if the entire fight was some massively entertaining diversion.
"You fight...w-ell." He said in his halting mechanical voice.
"But you're still just...a...mongrel!" He said, punctuating his words with a mirthless mechanical laugh.
He spread his arms wide, opening himself to attack. Archer didn't miss the opportunity. He charged forward one last time, his blades angled to sink into Alpha's neck.
And then the air began to ripple. Not a single spot the size a hand like it had before, just large enough for a weapon to pass through. A dozen spots like ripples in a pond, then two dozen, then too many to count. The air surrounding Archer looked like he was being viewed from under water. From behind him a sword shot forward and pierced him through the shoulder, but he kept charging. A long spear with a T shaped cross grip stabbed into his calf. A two handed broadsword scythed through his midsection and pinned him to the ground. Weapons shot forward like a hailstorm of blades, each more varied and fantastical than the last.
Archer snarled and tried to push himself up, the blade transfixing his belly sliding through him and leaving a crimson smear on the blade. He was forced back down as weapon after weapon pounded into his back. He looked like a pincushion, a man sized hill of swords. His noble phantasm rendered him immune to damage, so Alpha simply shredded his body until there was nothing left of it.
How long can he keep this up? Rin wondered. But her curiosity was short lived. There was a burst of grail energy as Archer's phantasm ended.
"No!" Sakura cried out, falling to her knees and reaching futilely towards where Archer lay, his body completely obscured by fallen swords. There was a sound like a dam breaking and a rush of blood exploded outwards from the pile as the ability ended and Archer's body disintegrated completely.
Sakura began quietly sobbing and Rin looked for a way to escape when Alpha froze her in her tracks with a glance. His dispassionate gaze flicked between her and Sakura. Rin quickly calculated her odds of surviving. She readied a spell. At least she wouldn't die without a fight.
But to her surprise Alpha turned away from her and stalked towards Sakura.
"Damn you! Damn you! Damn you!" She screamed, channeling a massive blast of dark energy forward. It was massive, the most powerful spell that Rin had seen her cast yet. She channeled into it all her fury and all her hatred, the crackling bolt enveloping Alpha like a tsunami.
He didn't dodge, or block the attack, or try to evade. He didn't bother. The terrifyingly powerful bolt of energy crashed against him, crackled, scorched the air and the ground. When the writhing energy dissipated Alpha stood exactly where he had before. He was completely unharmed.
"You. Grail...shard. You are r-e-quired." He intoned. He took an ominous step forward and Rin threw up the most powerful shield spell she could between him an Sakura.
"Oh no you don't. We've still got things to discuss." She said through gritted teeth.
Alpha's gaze shifted to her and she felt her blood turn to ice.
"You. Tohsaka magus. You are...irrelevant." He said.
He drew back his cybernetically enhanced fist and Rin felt a burst of energy surge through him. He took a short step forward and rammed the fist into her shield hard enough to shatter the reinforced mana barrier like it was made of glass. Rin cried out and fell to her knees as the backlash of the connection being severed hit her. Her vision blanked for a moment and when it slowly returned Alpha was standing in front of Sakura, one hand clutching her throat. Her fingers feebly scrabbled against his metal grip.
"No, don't..." Rin said, reaching forward feebly.
Alpha reached across and backhanded Sakura hard enough to knock her sprawling and send her spiraling into unconscious. Rin winced in sympathetic pain but was unable to intervene as Alpha bent and slung her limp body over his shoulder. He didn't spare Rin a glance as he stalked out.
She watched his back as he marched out of the rubble that remained of the shop and leaped over a nearby building with a single easy bound. He was gone.