The new command's been lying on him like razor wire since she issued it last night. These days he's a little too consumed by the great regrets to bother much with small ones, but he's had enough time over the past few hours to wonder if maybe he shouldn't have pushed Rin so hard, defended his actions to her so stubbornly, after coming back from Ryuudou Temple. Maybe then she wouldn't have taken him seriously enough to waste a command spell on protecting that idiot.

Of course, maybe it's not that at all; he doesn't want to think about it, but it's all too possible that Rin has made the mistake of actually starting to like Emiya Shirou. Even if she has, she'll snap out of it eventually—someone as smart as her, most of the time, must sooner or later realize that everything about that kid is a lie and a fraud, and there's nothing worth liking there. But he thought she knew well enough not to go that route in the first place—

Archer has to curl one hand into a fist to cut off that train of thought. Even thinking about the new command, the sudden imprint on his soul of don't you dare try to harm Emiya Shirou again, makes him want to vomit, and since it's not like he can even do that in this body, it's just stupid.

But dawn has come without him quite realizing it. He left his watchful post on the roof an hour ago while light was only just sneaking over the horizon, and now the only thing that tells him of the changing time is the sullen groan from down the hall of Tohsaka Rin staggering out of bed half-awake. He stares pointedly at the wall and does not go to her side, but all the same, he somehow fails to go into spirit form and hide from her entirely.

"Archer...?"

But she sounds so confused, in her groggy way.

"Hey, Archer. Hey, where's my breakfast?"

He doesn't have the presence of mind to tease her properly this morning, and oddly he feels a pang of disappointment over it. Strange, but it seems that he's grown to enjoy that routine. Now, though, he merely pulls himself together to slant a disapproving glance at her. "There was a problem, Rin."

"Huh?"

She's starting to surface from the depths of sleep, he can tell, but she's not quite there yet. He has another minute or so to execute this particular piece of sarcasm before she wakes up sufficiently to start hitting him. Good. That's all he needs. "I would have had to break some eggs to make the fried rice."

She's almost awake now-enough to start frowning in serious irritation. "What are you even saying?"

So he continues. "And you've made it quite clear you won't let me break anything to accomplish our goals."

"You idiot!" A hurled shoe glances off his shoulder. Ah. He misjudged that timing.

He shrugs it off. "Is that all you have to say, Rin?"

"It is! And I'll make my own breakfast." She makes a point of stomping as she heads into the kitchen. But he finds himself watching her from through the doorway even though he was certain he would ignore her all this morning to make his point. Maybe it's the command spell, or another part of being a Servant; he doesn't like to look away from her when he can help it. The problem is that after a few minutes, she notices, and she thinks it's all right to start talking to him again. "You know that was really stupid, right? There's nothing about making breakfast that's like abandoning my allies to cooperate with someone like Caster, so you shouldn't even say that it is."

He finds himself shrugging and springing to make an answer—grateful on the inside that she still thinks this is about practical matters, about whether Saber or Caster makes the better ally. "It's close enough. You will run yourself into trouble this way sooner or later, you know. It would be easier to put aside your tears now and cut yourself free of these obligations you've made for yourself, so—"

"Archer."

He stops. Her voice is not only serious now, but heavy with barely-restrained anger and poorly-hidden distress. Her hand tightens on the frying pan handle for a moment, and then she lets it go and turns around to face him, her head held high, her eyes fierce. Like that, she looks—

—cute? Stupid. It's stupid of him to think that. He's long past thinking that pretty girls look cute when they're upset and need to be helped with something but still trying their hardest; he knows that. It was a stupid way to think in the first place. "What is it, Rin? Can you think of any objection?"

"Of course I can." She bites the words off. "I won't abandon my allies. I won't abandon the way that I choose to fight. You! You're telling me to give up on the way that I live! Archer, you of all people should know better—!" And there, she cuts herself off with the sudden guilty flash in the eyes of someone who's said too much.

Something about that guilty look bothers him, but he can't stop to think about it now. Because what she just said—it's too absurd, it's so absurd that it's like a knife where he never expected one. "Me?" He can't hold back a laugh, low and displeased and without real humor. "Master, you're looking at a dead man who knows nothing butgiving up. Don't say a stupid thing like that to me."

Rin bites down on her own lip to fight the tears he knows are threatening to come into her eyes. He wants to make her stop doing it, but he can't; he can only watch in narrow-eyed silence. Finally, she says, "Yeah. If you want to give up, I can't stop you. But you can't tell me to." She takes a breath. "There's something I understand, Archer. It's like this: you can only give up once."

He shakes his head and lets the contempt he feels drip into his voice. Is it only contempt that he feels? It must be only contempt that he feels. "No, that's where you're wrong, Master. If you give up once, it's only the beginning."

"Stop it," she snaps. "It's not true, all right? I've been trying to hold onto the life of a magi in my own way all this time, so I know what will happen if I walk away from it on your terms, or anyone else's! I won't ever be able to pick up the pieces again, and I won't be able to drop whatever I do manage to hold onto...! Whatever's left after that, no matter how sad...that's what I'll keep in my hands for the rest of my life."

Her words are ringing in his ears now. He didn't expect that at all. What is it she's saying that's leaving him so numb and shellshocked? Why is he remembering warm ashes from long ago, and the face of a weary man smiling down at him in desperation? "Rin—" He doesn't understand, but he keeps listening.

"So," she finishes, her jaw set firmly now, her eyes sparkling as much with determination as with anger, "you won't convince me to put aside my decision, Archer. I'm going to stay on the path that I started following and not fall down, even if it would be easier to crawl!"

He knows he should have something to say to that. But all he has is one thing. "You're wrong, Rin."

"I'm not wrong," she says. Now her eyes are blazing.

"All that giving up once means is that you have to keep finding new ways to do it afterwards." He would cross his arms over his chest, but he can't move them from his side for some reason. His voice is so much flatter than hers.

He thinks that she'll retort with more anger, more defiance, more of those beautiful eyes alight. But all of it slowly goes out of her then, as she stops and looks at him quietly, and after a few moments she shakes her head. "You're so stupid, Archer. What should I do with you?"

Archer rolls his eyes. "Whatever you say, Master. But you only have one more command spell, you know."

"I'm leaving for school," she says. "I forgot: I don't usually have breakfast anyway. Stay here and clean it all up. There's no way you're coming with me today. And—" She stops for a moment, then rushes forward. "Think about it, all right! I don't believe you've given up." She shoulders past him without any further warning—she's beyond him in a sudden flash of warmth that he doesn't understand—

He watches her go, still not understanding, even when she leaves the house and closes the door. How could she say that he hasn't given up? How could she say that you can only give up once?

Into the silence of the empty mansion, he laughs again, and it surprises him how much of a struggle it is to keep that laugh sane. "I have to watch out for her," he murmurs as it fades. "Because my Master is such a fool."