(Published: 02/12/2014 - beta: Obiki Doragon, IIonezerozero )
Shirou's head hit the table with a loud thud. Slowly he raised it and let it fall again on the wooden surface of his table in his room at the Hinata-sou. He repeated this ritual for several times before stopping and sighing in resignation.
He looked at the papers scattered before him. Sheets scribbled hastily and even more hastily cast aside, crumpled and thrown in the overflowing trash can. He stood and rubbed his eyes wearily.
Gone, seven months of studies were completely gone, as it showed on the exercises he repeatedly tried to complete without results; Mathematics, Chemistry, History, English; all completely gone.
Seven months in exchange for three minutes. Even then he considered himself lucky that he had lost only superficial knowledge instead of more important memories.
He dared not think what it would have been of him if he used that power back then, when he first received it and was unable to control it. If he had, he feared, the things he would have lost would have been immeasurable.
Sakura, Rin, Rider, perhaps even Saber? That simple thought made him feel nauseous.
Then again, it showed that there was no such a thing as a convenient power, or a shortcut on the path to becoming strong. He could borrow for a time a power that didn't fully belong to him but he had to pay a price for it.
Even now, years from that confrontation, he was still being held at sword point.
"I guess it's only expected that you would stand in my way even now," he whispered to the empty room. Silently he cleaned up his room and when he was finished he sat back down at his table, pulled out his books and begun studying again.
He had seven months to catch up with.
"Isn't Emiya coming down for lunch?" Naru asked as she sat at the dinner table with the others.
"Ah, Emiya-san asked me to bring him something to eat afterward," Shinobu replied dutifully. "He said he was going to study until late."
"Huh, with all that happened lately I forgot that he was trying to get into Toudai too," she admitted between bites.
"Right," Kitsune nodded. "He doesn't really fit the image of a Ronin cracking his head on books all day long. You sure can't judge a book from its cover, uh?"
Naru winced. Though there was no malice behind Kitsune's word her casual statement there certainly applied to her. She had to admit, to herself at least, the she had given Emiya a lot of undue grief. Though his presence seemed to exacerbate some situations, the truth was that he never really caused any trouble himself. Actually it was their own hostile behavior that had bounced off of him and slammed back in their faces. To make things worse for her, Emiya hadn't just being content with letting them stew in their own problem, but he had actively taken steps to help them, as it happened in Motoko's case.
Of course, Naru wasn't all that happy with how things turned out between Motoko and Emiya, but considering the alternative what right did she have to complain? Especially while Motoko was being like that.
The sword-maiden, sitting at her side eating slowly, had changed much. To a casual observer there might have not been any noticeable difference, but to the tenants of the Hinata-sou it was a clear as day. Her diligence was renewed, and though she had yet to start training with her new teacher it was evident that there was much more passion in her morning exercises.
That could be chalked up to Motoko being Motoko, of course, but it didn't justify everything else. The raven haired beauty was much more easy-going, smiled more often and was less prone to scold Kitsune for her lax behavior. In fact, she now appeared able to appreciate her jokes and crack a few of her own.
For the life of her, Naru couldn't think it as anything but an improvement, therefore she couldn't accept her knee-jerk reaction of blaming the closest man for the slightest fault she could imagine.
When had she become such a hateful person? Living at the Hinata-sou with only women as her company and shrinking away from interacting with her peers, seeking refuge in her studies, she hadn't noticed that her mistrust of men in general had grown to the point of being nearly unjustifiable, even to her own eyes.
That was not good. No matter how deeply she had been wronged, that wasn't an excuse to become a horrible person. She had to do something about it, she decided.
The sound of knuckles hitting the door snapped Shirou out of his studies. A single glance at the table clock showed that it was already well past dinnertime. The visitor was probably Shinobu taking him some food as requested.
"Come on in," he called out. To his surprise, when the door opened, it wasn't Shinobu holding the tray but Narusegawa. He couldn't help but stare long after she had walked in and closed the door behind her. He was in fact so surprised that he didn't react when she hit him lightly over the head with the very same tray.
"That's what you get for spacing out like an idiot," the brunette said placing the food in front of him. "Here's your dinner. Eat up before it gets cold."
"Thanks," he replied still taken aback. For the briefest moment he wondered if she had poisoned his food, but then he shook it off and dug into his dinner. He was extremely famished.
While he ate, Narusegawa looked over at his papers, frown increasing as she went from one to another.
"Hey," she looking at him with a mixture of pity and annoyance, "do you really think you have any chance of getting into Toudai with these results?"
"Eh, well I-"
"You're hopeless," she slammed his papers back on the table, causing the plates to clatter loudly. "There's no way you're going to even get past the preliminary exams with these grades."
"I know that, but-"
"No excuses," she all but yelled. "If I'd just let you like this you'd be stuck here as a manager for the rest of your life. I cannot allow that. I definitely cannot allow that."
"Narusegawa, what are you-?"
"Therefore from now on I'm going to tutor you," she finally declared.
" What's with that look? I'll have you know that I ranked first at the national prep exams."
"Well, it's not like I don't believe you Narusegawa-san," Shirou replied with carefully measured words, "but I really don't get why you would want to help me. I thought you hated me."
"I don't like you," Narusegawa nodded. "I definitely don't like you," she took a deep breath. "But I was wrong about you. Don't! I don't want to hear a word about it. I was being unreasonable and I know it. So... consider this my way of apologizing. But don't get any strange idea in that head of yours, you hear me? I'm doing this only for me in the end, you got it? We'll start tomorrow afternoon. Make sure to be prepared. I won't have you slow me down any more than needed."
She then stood and left abruptly, leaving behind a shell-shocked landlord.
"I... didn't even get to say thank you for the food," the redhead mused staring at the door. "I'll never understand women."
"Smooth Naru, real smooth," the brunette sighed once she was back in her room. "That was the worst apology in history."
"You got that right," Kitsune agreed right beside her.
"BWAAAH!" Naru shouted nearly jumping out of her skin in fright. "Ki-Ki-Kitsune. W-what are you doing in here? When did you get in?"
"Five minutes ago. I wanted to share a drink with you," the vulpine woman waved her bottle of sake, "but you were nowhere to be found. Who would have thought you were putting your moves on the manager."
"Wha- I'm not putting my moves on anyone, especially not that man. Wait, how do you know about my conversation to begin with?"
Kitsune simply pointed at an empty glass placed upside down on the floor, as a makeshift listening device. With Naru's room being right on top of the manager's, Kitsune had easily heard everything.
"Kitsune!" the brunette roared in outrage. "There should be a limit to how much you invade other people's privacy."
"Eeeh," the fox sighed, "where would be the fun in that. Besides Naru, don't try to change the subject. I noticed you were more quiet than usual at dinner, but I never thought you would have skipped your route entirely and triggered the first flag yourself."
"... Route? Flag? You know, I don't think I want to know what you're talking about."
"You really oughta play more often, Naru," the older girl replied.
"I don't really have time for that."
"Especially now that you're going to tutor," and she stressed the last word sultrily, "our landlord. Aren't you a smart one? Motoko had barely begun sinking her nails into him and you regained all the lost ground by making yourself into her Sensei's sensei. Smooth Naru, real smooth."
"Shut up. It's nothing of the sort. I just went to apologize for overreacting all the time and frankly the sooner he gets through university the sooner he gets out of here."
"And you put on the Tsundere act perfectly," Kitsune continued. "It makes thing a bit harder for him, but we have already established that he's the kind of man that shows his best traits under pressure. Oh, I can already see the romance developing. The long study sessions, late into the night, long after everyone else went to sleep. Two young people growing closer and closer under the challenge of a difficult test-"
"That's it!" Naru exploded. "I've had enough of this."
She grabbed Kitsune by her shirt and proceeded to drag her out of the room, all the while she ranted her nonsense unbothered.
"Remember to use protection," was the last thing the brunette heard before the door closed in her friend's face.
"Argh!" Naru groaned. "You're too much sometimes Kitsune. Really too much."
Behind the now closed door, Kitsune sighed.
"You really oughta let it go, Naru," she said to herself, since she knew her friend couldn't hear her. "It's already been two years and you can't even take a joke."
She shook her head and left. Though her words usually fell on deaf ears, she wouldn't stop trying to rescue her friend. It was just a matter of trying harder.
No matter how many times she did it, Tohsaka Rin didn't really like to ride planes. It wasn't only because the most advanced products of modern day technology had a habit to malfunction in her general vicinity, and despite what Shirou said it wasn't her fault, but mostly she disliked the fact that she wasn't in control in the slightest. If something went wrong she wouldn't fare better than any other passenger, Magus or not.
However, if there was one thing she disliked more than riding vehicles she wasn't driving or piloting, it was allowing idiots to get away with their idiocy. Therefore she swallowed her distaste for planes, set aside her business and scheduled a flight back to her home country: Japan.
Now her hand, and more precisely her fist, was itching. Badly. She needed to scratch it. On Emiya Shirou's face.
Motoko's head was throbbing painfully. Going back to school after a few days of absence with a different family name, not too long after the news of her defeat at the hand of a man had spread through the institute, caused all manner of rumors to spring up.
Sadly they weren't all that unfounded thought they all missed the mark completely.
Yes, she now bore the family name of the only man who ever defeated her. No, she wasn't married to him. No, it wasn't her family custom to give their daughters to whoever managed to best them. Yes, she was now his apprentice and ward. No, she wouldn't date anyone even if they managed to win a duel against her.
And finally, no, they most certainly hadn't done it, as someone had crudely put it.
It served little purpose to argue with them, as apparently they completely ignored any answer she gave, when they even bothered to ask questions anyway. By the time the last period's bell had rung everyone knew at least of her new name and conjectures had only become wilder and wilder.
Was she really that popular? She hadn't even noticed it a few weeks before, caught as she was in her own distaste for half of the human population. It appeared that she even had some sort of fan club to her name, the members of which were now grieving for her "loss of purity" as she heard someone say.
Those were the kind of people even Sensei would have agreed deserving to be punished by her sword, right? Right?
She thought so, but she didn't want to find out. Certainly she wasn't about to disappoint him on the very first day. Therefore she left school in a hurry; head lowered and face burning in shame, to make a hasty retreat home, where the worst she had to deal with was Kitsune's jokes. She could take those. In fact she'd welcome them.
She was so much in a hurry that she didn't notice the person standing at the bottom of the stairs to the dorm, looking toward the top, until she bumped right into them.
As it usually happens, trouble comes forth unannounced. That it's not to say that Shirou hadn't expected it. However he had firmly believed that this very specific trouble would not come looking for him but rather it would expect him to show up himself.
How foolishly naïve.
As such, Emiya Shirou found himself experiencing a relatively new emotion, one that he wasn't very accustomed to: fear for his own life.
"Hello, Shirou. How have you been doing?"
Her words were so calm, her tone so peaceful, that one would have been led to believe she was actually in a good mood. However that smile, that sickeningly sweet and absolutely fake smile, would not fool anyone who knew Tohsaka Rin as well as Emiya Shirou did, nor would be mistaken for anything else but an ill omen.
Now, being the practically minded individual that he was and seeing that there was no third party at risk, faced with an opponent he couldn't fight and much less win, he did the only reasonable thing available.
He bolted for the door.
"Like," Rin said pulling up a foot and reaching for her shoe with her hand, smile still in place though her mask was offset by the throbbing vein on her forehead, "I'd" she swung her arm all the way behind her shoulder and then forward, "LET YOU!"
The shoe flew and spun, impossibly fast, inhumanly precise, hitting its mark right in the back of his head.
Emiya Shirou's escape ended not three steps after it had begun, with his face hitting the floor and skidding on it for several meters due to his own momentum and the strength from the attack he just received.
In hindsight, teaching Rin how to aim properly hadn't been his brightest idea. Curse you own foolishness and repent, Emiya Shirou.
Under the shocked stare of four other girls, Rin approached his fallen form, elegantly putting her shoe back on mid-walk, and put the very same foot on his defeated back, arms crossed over her chest, in a show of victory.
"Yo, Rin," the redhead greeted with his face still firmly planted on the wooden surface of the floor. In response Rin only dug her foot harder into his spine.
Some days just weren't worth getting out of bed.
Motoko's mind reached an abrupt stop.
When the person she bumped into just outside of the property, Tohsaka Rin, said she was an acquaintance of Sensei, she had been more than glad to accompany her to meet him. She recalled her name from the conversation she had shamefully eavesdropped weeks prior, and the cordial terms he was with that person on the other end of the line.
This person was likely very close to him, if she hadn't misheard and misinterpreted the affectionate tone he used to address her on the phone.
It made her feel strange, in an unpleasant way, annoyed even. She chalked it up to being already low on patience from the earlier events at school. However, for the few short minutes they had been together on the way she had compared herself to this other woman on different levels and under different aspects.
She wasn't able to reach any conclusion, especially why she was even entertaining such thoughts, but it bothered her. This person bothered her. An instantaneous dislike for no particular reason whatsoever.
Just a few weeks before she would have put on a shameful act or another out of this perceived slight, but now she avoided making a fool out of herself. She would treat Sensei's guest with the utmost respect.
That was the conclusion she had reached, therefore her body and mind froze when, upon seeing her, Sensei paled considerably and instead of welcoming his guest spun around and tried to escape.
The situation became entirely surreal when not only she attacked him with a smile, but even managed to down him with a single, masterful strike, not to mention that he allowed her to trample over his body without a reaction.
Just who on Earth was this person?
The sound of a blade being pushed from its sheath drew Rin's attention from the fool under her foot. Her eyes went to the raven haired schoolgirl who had accompanied her from the bottom of the stair. She hadn't entirely removed the sword, but just pushed it out with her thumb enough for the blade to be visible. A warning couldn't get any more obvious than that. Her posture was straight and her eyes calm, if cold, regarding her with an examining stare far different from the not-so-secretive glances she had stolen on the way to the inn.
Around her other tenants regarded her with mixed emotions. A long haired brunette regarded her with a mix of awe and surprise, similarly to a brown haired woman with shorter hair, broad chest and vulpine eyes. The latter seemed far more amused than the former by Shirou's current position.
A younger girl with short black hair seemed frozen on the spot, clutching the basket of clean laundry in her hands like it would protect her from, well, Rin.
"Yo, Rin," the redhead on the floor greeted, causing her attention to return to him. She twisted her foot further into his back.
"Don't you think that you should have greeted me before running away, Shirou?" she asked sarcastically, anger seeping into her voice.
"Didn't seem like a good idea at the time," he replied evenly, despite being held face down on the floor. "By the way, are you planning to stand on my back much longer? It's starting to get uncomfortable."
With a weary sigh, Rin removed her foot, allowing him to stand up again. "That's what you get for trying to escape," she told him; then whispered, "don't you think this is the end of it either."
She was satisfied with seeing a drop of sweat making its way down his forehead. For now.
"Oi, Shirou," the fox-like woman approached casually, "mind introducing your amusing friend here?"
"Right," he replied swatting his clothes. "Everyone, this is Tohsaka Rin, a friend of mine back from Fuyuki. Rin, this is Konno Mitsune-san, Narusegawa Naru-san, Maehara Shinobu-san and..." he stopped in his tracks, eyes wide in sudden realization, as he was about to introduce the swordswoman.
"Well..." he gulped.
"I am Emiya Motoko," the raven haired beauty said, bowing. "Pleased to make you acquaintance, Tohsaka-san."
Slowly, as if it took a great effort, Rin turned to look at Shirou with her fake smile in place. The redhead didn't meet her stare, choosing to look the other way, sweating bullets.
"Shirou," she said sweetly, promises of pain dripping into her voice, "we are going to have words, right?"
"Yes, Rin," he replied resignedly.
"So, you're from Fuyuki," Kitsune asked once they all sat at the table with tea in front of them. "I guess you're one of his friends who lived at his place."
"Oh, Shirou mentioned that? Yes, though I've been living in London for the past three years."
"London?" the swordswoman interjected. "I remember sensei saying he used to share his place with someone over there. Was that you?"
"Sensei?" Rin blinked, glancing at Shirou.
"It's a long story," the only male replied. "A very long story."
"Let me guess," she started, "it involves you being your usual idiot self, sticking your head into someone else's problem and getting out with more burdens to your name than what you started with."
"That's... a surprisingly accurate summation," Kitsune stammered. "Does he do that often?"
"More like all the time," Rin sighed, sipping at her tea. "You don't think that several young women ended up living under the same roof as him for no particular reason, did you?"
"Now that I know Shirou," the fox continued glancing from the manager to the girl who had his family name, "that makes so much sense. Did he help with your family issues as he did with Motoko here?"
"Family issues... it's an over-simplification, but it's essentially correct."
"It's not that bad, Rin," Shirou protested hearing her resigned voice.
"You are that bad, Shirou. Then again, I also know there's no point in discussing this subject with you. It's not like you ever listened to reason, anyway."
"We had this conversation before."
"More times than I care to count," Rin nodded. "And you still didn't learn a thing."
"Did you come all the way from London just to tell me I'm an idiot to my face?"
"No. Doing that over the phone was good enough. I had a few more subjects," she stressed the word glaring at him, "that can't properly be discussed if not in person."
"I don't know what you did, Shirou, but it sounds like you're in trouble," Kitsune chuckled.
"Just a moment," Motoko intervened. "I'm not sure what your relationship with Sensei is, Tohsaka-san, but in spite of that I can hardly accept someone coming over to make obvious threats to out manager."
"Well," Rin replied putting down her tea cup slowly, "I too would be more inclined to accept that kind of reproach if it didn't come from a person who repeatedly tried to hit him with a wooden sword out of some perceived slight."
Rin knew she had struck true when Motoko's gaze fell and her face flush deep red. Surprisingly, it was Shirou who spoke next.
"Rin," his voice had none of the subdued tone he had before in addressing her, "don't."
Rin blinked, opening her mouth to form a response. Her gaze locked with Shirou for a short moment and her mouth closed without saying anything. With just two words, spoken softly but firmly the atmosphere shifted entirely.
"I apologize," Rin inclined her head. "I was rude."
"No, you were correct and I was out of place as well," Motoko bowed. "If Sensei is willing to have you here, then it's not my place to argue, or to judge."
Kitsune glanced back and forth between Shirou and Rin, with a single eye open just a little bit more than usual. She considered herself a good judge of character and if there was one thing she had surmised from Rin's unconventional greeting is that she was outspoken, headstrong and probably even very proud. That kind of person wasn't easily cowed, nor would they give up making her opinion known one way or another without a good reason.
Yet, it only took a couple of words and a meaningful exchange of glances for her to backtrack and apologize. That wasn't something that could happen between casual acquaintances or two simple friends. It denoted enough trust between them to make her defer to his judgment of a given situation without questioning. In addition, Kitsune didn't delude herself into thinking that Shirou couldn't have avoided that shoe earlier, nor did she think he had been struck so hard that he couldn't have gotten up before she reached him. To her eyes it meant that he understood the reason for why she was upset and let her vent her anger in that unconventional manner, while he had not allowed the similar behaviors from them.
Understanding that, it didn't take a genius to figure out that these two were actually very close in spite of how it appeared at first glance.
"Whoa, everyone relax," she intervened, playing peacekeeper. "No need to be so stiff. Tohsaka-san, I take that you're staying in Japan for a while right?"
"Hm? Yes, that's the plan. It was high time I took a vacation, anyway, so I'll probably be staying a couple of weeks and paying a visit to my relatives."
"Fantastic. Have you ever been to the hot-springs here in Hinata? They are some of the best in Japan. In fact we have one right here in this dormitory. Unless you weren't planning to leave right away, that is?"
"Actually, I was planning of spending the night and then move back to Fuyuki tomorrow morning. I was hoping Shirou would be so kind as to let me spend the night in his recently acquired dormitory."
"Ah, about that, Rin," Shirou objected. "I don't think it would be appropriate for you to stay here."
"Why not, Shirou?" Kitsune asked, surprised that he would refuse hospitality to a friend.
"I thought this was a women dormitory," Rin agreed. "Are there other requirements besides being female to stay here?"
"Yeah, she's right. What's the matter with her staying here?"
"Well, even if I live here this is still my working place."
"Oh," Rin said casually using her hand to push her long black hair behind her shoulders. "Then is it because we are lovers?"
Kitsune lost her balance and almost fell at Rin's blunt and causal revelation of her relationship with Shirou. Similarly the others seemed to be taken aback with varying degrees of surprise mixed with indignation, thought it wasn't all that clear who or what the latter was directed at. Even Shirou himself looked like he had been bludgeoned over the head, if his slightly open mouth, wide eyes and red cheeks were any indication, though he was the fastest of the group to recover.
"You used to be more subtle than this, Rin" he grumbled looking everywhere but everyone else's eyes.
"Yes, but I was forced to learn that subtlety is wasted on people that don't get a point even when it's explained in clear terms. Don't worry though, I had no intentions to -how would you say it– indulge in improper activities. Or was it you who were thinking of doing something tonight?"
"Wha- But I haven't... Oh, just forget it," he said rubbing his temple as if suppressing a headache. "Do what you want. It's not like I ever got something out of arguing with you besides a deeper grave for myself. "
"Ah, so you can learn after all. Don't worry I won't impose. I'm going to move my luggage if you show me my room."
"Right, better have this over and done with as soon as possible."
"Sensei's…. lover?" Motoko stuttered like she had just been slapped, mind spinning wildly.
"Uuuuh," Shinobu moaned in the background.
"Ha… ha ha ha, " Kitsune chuckled awkwardly. "I didn't expect her to be so direct about it. I definitely underestimated her."
"How brazen," Naru agreed calmly, evidently the least upset of the lot, though there was an edge of annoyance in her voice.
"Well, that explains why Shirou reacted as she did earlier. Of course he wouldn't raise a hand on his woman," Kitsune analyzed. "But lovers..."
"What is it?" Naru inquired.
"She said lovers, like they are just physically involved. Speaking for myself if there was, you know, commitment, I'd have worded it differently."
"So... are you saying that they're only, what, friends with benefits?"
"What benefits?" Motoko cut in, having recovered from the initial shock.
"They have sex," Kitsune explained blatantly.
"Kitsune!" Naru almost shouted. "Shinobu is listening."
"Nah," Kitsune scoffed and waved her hand in front of the petite girl's eyes without getting a reaction. "See? Completely out of it."
"Uuuuuh," Shinobu continued unperturbed.
"... Will she be alright?" Motoko asked worriedly.
"She'll get over it," Kitsune nodded. "Anyway, this is the perfect chance to find out more about Shirou."
"Kitsune," Motoko began with a dangerous edge to her voice, hand slipping toward the hilt of her sword. "Certainly you don't intend to violate Sensei's privacy?"
"It's not a violation if she answers my questions," Kitsune replied smile widening, "besides didn't you want to know more about your Sensei too?"
Motoko looked conflicted for a moment, and then her hand eased. "I suppose."
"Then it's agreed," Kitsune pumped her fist. "It's girl's gossiping time."
"Whatever," Naru scoffed.
With that decided, they each went about their business in preparation for the questioning to come.
Except Shinobu. It would still take her a few minutes to return to consciousness.
"Was that really necessary?" Shirou asked as he carried Rin's luggage to one of the empty rooms.
"How long have you been here, Shirou?" She asked. "Two months? In that time these woman who wanted to boot you out, forcefully even, have warmed up to you. One even has her last name changed to be the same as yours."
"So you have talent for growing on people, Shirou, whether you like it or not. However, you're not the kind of person one should get closer too easily."
"I agree with that, but how does this relate to my question?"
"A line had to be drawn," Rin explained coolly. "Knowing that you are already... close to someone should give them a bit of pause."
"You're saying that like they are rushing at me or something," Shirou mumbled under his breath, but still loud enough for her to hear.
Rin sighed. "That naivety of yours makes you ten times more dangerous than you'd be otherwise, Shirou."
"Huh? What do you mean by that?"
"Tohsaka-san," Kitsune called from the end of the corridor as she approached. "You must be tired from your trip. We were going to take a bath in the hot-spring. Would you like to join us?"
"Well, I suppose I am a bit stressed from the plane ride and the jet lag. A nice bath is really what I need right now."
"Go right ahead, Rin. I'll put your things into your room."
"Don't mind if I do," Rin agreed happily, following after Kitsune.
"I'm still naïve?" Shirou asked to himself once he was alone, wondering exactly in what aspect he was still so flawed. Not finding an answer within himself he shrugged and went ahead with his job.
"Aaah," Rin exhaled in contentment while her body soaked in the thermal waters. "This is great."
"They don't have this kind of baths in Europe, do they?" Kitsune asked amusedly.
"There are a few," Rin confirmed. "But none near London. Nothing beat a hot bath when you're tired."
"I hear you," Kitsune laughed in agreement.
"Like you knew the first thing about being tired," Naru quipped at her old friend.
"Oh, shut up you!" the fox laughed and splashed her friend.
Rin laid back and relaxed, even enjoying the mild racket made by the two girls. However, her rest was impaired by the intense staring and the raw killing intent directed at her.
She turned her head to the left, where the raven haired swordswoman was looking at her with a neutral if curious stare. She wasn't the source of the killing intent, so Rin shifted her gaze a bit more to the left, where the head of a younger girl was poking from the water just enough for her narrowed eyes to be visible above the surface.
Upon being realizing she was being stared back, the girl disappeared entirely under water.
'Is she a kappa?' Rin wondered amusedly. That girl, Shinobu, was probably the one Rider told her about over the phone, with a blatant crush on Shirou.
"If you don't mind me asking, Tohsaka-san," Motoko started, "what is it that you do exactly in London?"
"I study and work as a researcher for a private organization," the Magus answered simply.
"You look a bit young to be a researcher," Naru said while she pushed Kitsune's head under the water. The busty woman flailed uselessly trying to breathe. "What do you research exactly?"
"Refractive phenomena and energy storage in crystal structures."
"That, uh, sounds interesting...," Kitsune lied, emerging from the water and glaring at Naru, "but can you put it in laymen terms?"
"I'm afraid I'm bound by an agreement of confidentiality," Rin shook her head. "I really can't divulge much more than that, well, besides that it's heavily involved with the jewelry business."
"Oh, I guess that it's a well-paid job then."
"No, not really," Rin laughed bitterly. "The biggest share of the income goes into the research itself, so I don't really make much for myself. Thankfully the lodging is included with the course otherwise I'd be having a really hard time."
"I see, I see. Is it the same place where Shirou studied?"
"Hm? He told you about that? Yes, he did study there for a year or so, though his field of application was basic metallurgy."
"I don't get it," Naru intervened. "I thought he traveled the world for a few years, but he still found a place as a researcher in a private institute?"
"Ah, I see how that would sound strange. Truth to be told it's a fairly uncommon place that places stock more on what a person is capable of rather than any actual academic titles one might have, and it's accessible exclusively by invitation."
"Sound shady," Kitsune laughed, but her eyes were sharp and inquisitive, not at all amused.
"I know, I know, but it's one of the few places that actually focuses exclusively on research for the sake of discovery rather than sheer profit, so they aren't really bound by common procedures."
"Ah, like a NPO then?"
"Yes, it's something along those lines."
"I wonder how Shirou went from studying in London to trying to get into Toudai," Kitsune said to no one in particular.
"Hey! It's one of the best institutions in the world," Naru replied a bit offended. "I don't know about this place he used to attend, but Toudai has the best courses in Japan and it's fully accredited. Graduates have a fast lane in any field they majored in."
"Yes," Rin agreed, not at all fazed by the evident disregard of the validity of the Association as a learning institute. "It's exactly like that. Shirou isn't the kind of person to invest time in researching for the sake of it, so he dropped out after he learned everything he could on the topic."
"That sound like Sensei, indeed" Motoko agreed with a nod. "He did quit archery once he mastered it, as well."
"I completely forgot about that. Wow, now that I think about it, isn't Shirou some sort of genius?"
"Genius? Shirou?" Rin couldn't hold back her laughter at Kitsune's statement. "Far from it. You could say that he's quite average in most regards."
"He doesn't sound average to me," Motoko protested in defense of her Sensei.
"No, no. Don't misunderstand me. Shirou is not average per se he just doesn't have that many talents as you seem to believe. In fact, you could say that his only real gift is the capacity to single-mindedly focus on a goal and purse it regardless of the difficulty. In those terms, I don't think you could find anyone more gifted than he is."
"So... he's stubborn," Naru summed up perfectly.
"The most stubborn man of all," Rin nodded. "I'm sure you have noticed by now."
"Yeah," all of the girls agreed equally, with different feelings backing up their answers.
Kitsune eyed Rin carefully.
This person who claimed to be Shirou's lover wasn't at all like she thought Shirou's lover would be. She was outspoken and obviously proud, all traits that Shirou would probably appreciate. However, in spite of her best assumptions, Tohsaka Rin was, surprisingly, rather flat-chested.
Was it a miscalculation on her part? Didn't all man like big boobs? Could it be that it was her chest size that made her unattractive in Shirou's eyes? The thought alone was repulsive. Then again Shirou didn't seem all that responsive to Rider's assets either, so perhaps that was the key.
Damn it, she used to think that her breast was one of her strong points. Who would think it would backfire on her? She had to find something to work around that handicap and the best source of knowledge was right before her.
"So you and Shirou, uh?" Kitsune asked noncommittally.
"Yes, that's right" Rin answered just as casually as she rinsed her body.
Damn, Kitsune thought she'd be more forthcoming with just a little prodding, but apparently subtle didn't work on her.
"How big is he?" she asked bluntly.
"KITSUNE!" the other girls shouted in embarrassed outrage.
Rin blinked twice, but instead of being embarrassed she just lifted her hands from beneath the water and held them at a certain distance.
"Oh," she bit her finger, pondering. "Somehow I thought it would be bigger-bluargh."
"Ah hah ha," Naru chuckled embarrassed by her friend's antics. The very same friend who was again being held underwater. "Don't mind her. She really doesn't know when to shut up."
"I really don't mind," Rin shrugged.
"I don't understand you," Motoko said, face still aflame. "What are you trying to get with this charade?"
"Hm? Whatever do you mean?"
"I'm not the foremost expert on people and relationship," the swordswoman admitted, "but I cannot help but think your shameless attitude is forced and not your real persona at all."
"Hmpf," Rin snorted, half-amused and half-appreciative. "I didn't think I would have been seen through so quickly."
"I was correct then. What is the purpose of this ruse? Is this an attempt to state you claim on Sensei?"
"That would make sense," Kitsune said emerging from the water. "Being on the other side of the world makes dealing with the competition a little difficult. Gotta dig your nails in when you have the chance."
"You... think this is for my benefit?" Rin blinked, putting a hand over her mouth to suppress a bout of laughter. "You think, hihihihi, that I'm jealous?"
"Is it not?" Motoko asked with a lifted eyebrow.
Slowly Rin schooled herself. "Not at all. Actually let me tell you this: if any of you at any time is able to win Shirou's affection I'd be really glad."
A heavy silence fell upon the bathhouse then, slowly as if it had been building up Motoko stood to her feet.
That single word was delivered with such a level of enmity that the other girls stepped back unconsciously.
"You heard it right," Rin nodded unfazed. "If you are able to win Shirou's heart then I couldn't be happier. However, I'd like to warn you beforehand, that's not going to happen."
"Why?" Shinobu asked from behind Naru, where she had sought shelter from Motoko's anger.
"I'll let our resident swordswoman answer that question. You who bear the same name as he does, do you think that Emiya Shirou is a man that would put down roots and engage in a normal relationship or start a normal family?"
Motoko paused, anger subsiding, pondering over Rin's word.
"I don't believe so," she answered with the tone of voice of someone who had just realized something important.
"Motoko? Why do you say that?"
"Sensei is... like a sword. There is steel inside him and a burning passion the likes of which I have never seen in anyone else before. He doesn't show it without purpose, just like a blade is not drawn if there isn't anything to cut, but at the same time there is no purpose to a blade that is never drawn. There is no way a person like that would be bound to a single place for too long."
"How oddly appropriate that you would use that metaphor," Rin chuckled. "But it's mostly correct. Shirou is not the kind of person that seeks or desire a normal life, so the thought of being jealous of him never really entered my mind."
"It's okay," Naru waved her hand in dismissal. "I don't have the slightest interest in him."
"Good for you then," Rin nodded, standing to get out of the bath. "As for the rest of you, do as you like but take my warning. There's no happiness to be found with him and his heart, well, is not something that that any living person will ever be able to claim completely. That ability... belonged to someone else."
"What do you mean, Tohsaka-san?" Shinobu asked eagerly.
"The answer to that question goes beyond what I have the right to say. If you really want to know, ask him. Finally, Motoko-san, there was just one thing wrong with your description of Shirou. He is not like a sword."
With that she left the bathroom and headed for the changing room, leaving the girls to ponder on the true meaning of her words.
So here's another chapter. Strangely there isn't much I have to say about this one as it should be fairly clear. If you have any doubts feel free to PM or visit the forum (not the Spoiler's one). Don't forget to review either.
The next chapter is already in the works, but I'm not sure if this story will be updated next or if it's going to be Path of the King.
Either way, I'll see you soon.
Thanks for reading.