Happy Valentines Day!
Thanks to I3uster on the BL forums for helping make the Gelman slightly less bad. And thanks to Google Earth for being Google Earth.
What I See
Chapter 5: To Stare at Death
Lorelei Barthomeloi stopped her slow advance on the duo, just outside of what she must have read as striking distance.
Rin spared a glance at her wristwatch, trying her best not to grind her teeth. The scraping noise in the back of her ears told her she failed. Shiki appeared to wait impassively, though the trained eye could make out how his legs had just enough tension to make a spring for an opening or a retreat.
"So, uh," Shiki held up a hand like he could stop the rising tide against him, "What did I do here?"
"That Dead Apostle you killed a while back, Louvre," Rin said through clenched teeth. "That was Barthomeloi's target."
"Un?" The sound Shiki made was the kind of sound one made when they were unsure what exactly they were reacting with, whether surprise or confusion or fear or frustration or any combination thereof. "Then, shouldn't it be good? I mean, that Louvre and them were taken out."
Rin glanced around the hall, back the way they had come from, then again past Lorelei's shoulder, before checking her watch again. "You ever get passed the ball during a game of soccer, and you've never scored a point, but you have the opportunity, and then the team ace takes the ball from you anyway and scores instead? Something like that."
"I'm a team ace? I've never been a team ace. I watched from the sidelines."
Rin started to growl out a response, but Lorelei cut in. "If you are done conferring amongst yourselves, perhaps you would like a weapon, now? I would hate to destroy you when you are unarmed, Shiki Tohno."
Shiki fiddled with the top edge of his eye covering, scratching just beneath the lip of the material. "If you don't want to kill the unarmed person, I think I'm good."
"Would you prefer torture?"
The smirk on Shiki's face fell and he looked visibly deflated. "Well, that doesn't exactly thrill me, I'm not really into that kind of thing, but if the only other option is death, torture is less bad."
The woman snapped her riding crop into her hand hard enough to make the associated whipping noise. "You perceive it as if I would harm your body. But you misunderstand. I would have you punished for the pain you have caused me. Punished in the same way." She pointed the crop toward him like she might a stubborn animal. "You trampled upon my pride. Perhaps you would like the same in return? I am aware that you came willingly so your sister would not come to harm. What if that were to change? Perhaps she too could be brought here, examined, lest we forget how you came by those eyes—"
Shiki's mouth snapped shut, his irreverent expression replaced with something else. His jaw and cheekbones set, while his nostrils flared, matching the sudden rise and fall of his shoulders.
None of which Rin was happy to see. She glanced one final time at her wristwatch, then scowled. "Oh, forget this. Looks like we're on our own." With a sigh of suffering, she reached behind her back, pulled at her blouse, and withdrew a rough, silvery device from beneath the waistband of her skirt.
Even Lorelei Barthomeloi's eyes went wide. "Tohs—"
"Es lässt frei. Juwelenschwert des Kaleidoskops!"
The magnitude was far less than before. It was downscaled, hastily tinkered with, removed from its original design. It was not the light that vanquished giant shadows created with the energy of the Holy Grail. Even if the air in this place had been as full of mana as the caverns beneath Enzou—and this hall was most certainly not as rich—it would still have fallen far short of the effectiveness she once experienced. The force was closer to small arms fire rather than a tank shell.
But the light from Rin Tohsaka's Jewel Sword still had enough kick to do what she needed.
The arc she made in the air created a wave of light that spanned the entire width of the hall. It struck where floor met wall and cut a perfect line right before the feet of the Canticle members, blowing wood and marble and concrete up into the air. The tide of smoke that issued forth shot down the hall like a backdraft of fire and everyone but Shiki was forced to close their eyes from the debris that assaulted their faces. Lorelei was caught right in the center of the blast, but she had some kind of spell up, her glove glowing with the same light from Rin's attack.
With her free hand, Rin grabbed Shiki by the wrist and pulled him laterally.
"Es lässt frei. Schnellsalve!"
Another surge of light shot forth. It crashed into the wall and beyond, blasting a hole out into the open air.
That was all it took. In scaling the blade down to be a complete product in time to be of use, Rin knew it only had one, maybe two uses in it. The sub-par materials she had to craft it with collapsed under the weight of the power she was channeling much as her muscles had collapsed when using the real thing. The crystalline structure of the sword crumbled to dust as if harvested by a completely inept gemcutter.
Still, it would do. Rin pulled on Shiki's hand and guided him through the rubble, holding her breath until they were clear of the smoke cloud.
Dull, pale light. The sun would normally be a short while from cracking the horizon and painting the sky in pale radiance, but the ever-dour London weather cloaked that. Streetlamps still lit much of the exterior, and only just. Rin was however thankful. The only other thing she had going for her was that no civilians would have seen what just happened directly—the hall had been on the museum grounds and the area they were traveling through led onto a back road that was often empty of traffic even in the middle of the day.
"This way," she said, pulling Shiki down the street.
"What the hell was that?" he hissed. "Did you hide a rocket launcher under that skirt?"
"Shut up and run!"
Smoke billowed through the hall. The dirt and grit that had started to settle from Rin's first strike flew up again at the second as the pressure change pulled air to and fro, some of the cloud attempting to escape out the new exit that appeared.
Though Lorelei barked out a command to halt, the Canticle pushed through the rubble in pursuit of their quarry, some of them coughing, others cursing their footing. The brigade had its pride as magi as well, and despite their commander's words, they wished to punish the ones responsible for this blunder. "We will not let you escape!" some rallied. Others began the process of spellwork, their arias humming through the din of people.
"That is not your purpose!" Lorelei called out, but many were already filing out.
Beyond, the street was empty. That was to be expected. Two of the Canticle crouched down, spells were spoken, and the revelation of footprints came to be like fingerprints appeared beneath forensic dust. The magus that had the right direction motioned to his fellows, stood, and—
Halted in place.
Brigade members glanced to each other in confusion, then to the one that had picked up the trail. "What is it?" they asked.
Another man froze in mid-stride, as a child might in the game of Statues. Unable to halt his momentum, he toppled over onto the concrete face-first. The noise he made was slapstick enough to make the others wince.
By the third frozen person, the first was struggling to look down. His body was not simply frozen in place as if hit by some form of curse. From just above his waist spread out a darkness that rolled over the rest of his body. The darkness at the source stilled, hardened, settled, until it took on the appearance of a slate-colored substance. Like stone.
The man tried to cry out, but found that it was difficult to even take a breath. He heard ringing in his own ears from the rush to his head, the lack of oxygen. The only thing he could make out beyond was the same sounds of horror from the others he wanted to make, the muted cries of people unable to move, unable to stop the surge of magic passing over them, through them.
Jeweled eyes watched the brigade from the eaves of an alleyway, until the entire party had other things to worry about than pursuit of two youngsters.
Other magi gathered where the corridor had been blasted open, roused from their work or slumber by the explosions. Some were already in the process of repairing the damaged building. More were carrying unconscious brigade members in, men and women that were partially petrified. One was even being examined by his fellow, the examinee unable to do anything but glare while the other poked and prodded.
"What a mess."
Waver Velvet meandered in, disinterest in his eyes despite the comment. A form resembling a woman molded out of silver trailed in his wake, then presented a broom when they reached the edge of the ruble pile. It began sweeping.
Lorelei Barthomeloi was chewing on her thumb. She did not acknowledge the Lord of El-Melloi but for a slight flicker of her eyes.
"Obliterate them so thoroughly?" Waver asked.
"No," Lorelei growled.
Waver was either truly surprised, or had the gall to look it. "They got away?"
"No. Others were alert to the escape attempt. Not mine. Probably some of the hunters." The Canticle leader seemed as disinterested in conversing with him as he did with her, despite her explanation.
Waver watched his "maid" help shift the ruble pile, allowing more magi to move in and regenerate the wall. Damaged materials slowly disappeared as the building was repaired. "Not going after them?"
Finally Lorelei glared at him directly. "She used the Second."
Again, Waver looked—or faked—surprise. "Huh." He shrugged. "Isn't that what everyone kept asking for?" The response was his answer, however. Lorelei Barthomeloi would not, despite her power and prestige, dare to intervene in such a matter. Even ignoring the issue others in the tower might have if she destroyed an heir to the Second, the fact remained that her calculations of her enemy's capacity were off. Far off.
A leader did not run into battle blindly.
Waver turned to go.
Lorelei asked, despite herself, "Unconcerned for your apprentice?"
"Feh." The man put his hands in his robe pockets, cast one last look at the damage, then was on his way. "Forget her. I have work to do."
After all, Suikoden would not get done on its own.
They headed in the direction of Regent's College, the large park next to it a place to hide out and regroup. It was also far enough away to not be an immediate location for the Association to start looking—
And for Shiki to be out of breath before they were even halfway.
"Work out more," Rin said.
"I've been stuck inside for days, weeks! And you've been feeding me junk food!"
Rin let him huff and puff, reminding herself that this was actually a dying man. His annoying habits concealed that simply too-well. She glanced to her watch again. Irritated, she fumbled around her jacket pocket for something else. The mobile phone she pulled out was not an advanced kind at all and had the basic, cheap appearance of a disposable. "C'mon."
"You expect it to talk back?" Shiki asked, his breath still fast.
"No, I expect a call. Ugh."
They had crossed through a smaller park along the way, empty at such an early hour. At least, it should have been empty. But one person sat on a bench along the path Rin had chosen, blond hair and dark clothes contrasting in the otherwise green backdrop and grey light.
Jane was one of the Enforcers that had captured Shiki initially. He was one Rin was familiar with somewhat, as she tried to avoid him like the plague: the intense way he stared at her was unnerving, creepy even.
He did not move from his spot on the park bench, though. Nor did he even bother to remove a cigarette from his mouth when he spoke. "Fraga is back in town, so you know."
Rin stared. "What's your game? Stalling until people get here?"
"Just warning you." He blew smoke out from the side of his mouth not occupied with the cigarette. "She had a trace put on him," he motioned to Shiki, "probably one of her runes. She'll know where you go. The others are out here somewhere too. One of them has guns and hasn't been able to shoot something in a while."
Keeping her eyes on the Enforcer at all times and keeping herself between the man and Shiki, she moved them from one side to the other like one might avoid a dangerous animal. "And you?"
Jane scratched at stubble marring his chin, but his eyes remained on Rin as well. Though nothing in his gaze seemed to change, his voice lowered somewhat. "I'm on a smoke break."
They kept running, through the park where Jane had been, up some alleyways and down some side streets, long enough that real morning light was evident even despite the cloud cover. More people were starting to make appearances, though still few enough that Rin did not want to drop her guard at all.
"What was…that about?" Shiki asked, still winded as they moved.
"I'm…not sure." Rin felt one sense of tension dissolve from her as they crossed the last street and made it to the larger Regent's College area, a place big enough to truly get lost in. The trees and bushes were thick enough that even after only just stepping foot into the place, she was certain the noise from nearby streets would be muted or gone altogether. "I think he might've been trying to help."
Shiki seemed relieved that they were letting up on the pace somewhat. "Then you should thank him someday. I'm sure he'd accept dinner and a movie from a pretty girl like you."
"I keep telling you—"
"And I keep telling you, it's a guy thing. We know."
There was a faint sound, like the snapping of a ruler against a desk truncated so no echoing occurred. It came in bursts timed perfectly with small explosions in the grass near Rin's feet.
"Shooter!" Shiki tried to motion to a cluster of trees, but was yanked in another direction.
Rin pulled him as fast as she could. The clearing they were in offered absolutely no protection for a good twenty meters. Bullets followed in her wake as their aim was adjusted. No matter how fast she ran, she could not beat the path they took to the cover of more foliage—
The storm of bullets halted. No, it was not that they stopped, but their progress suddenly fell off into nothingness. Bullets still whizzed through the air and the faint cracking noise continued, but—
If one had their ears beyond superhuman sensory level, the sound of the bullets passing through the air halted a meter or so before Rin and Shiki, as if the faint noise they made caved in on itself like a space devoid of air.
If one had their eyes beyond superhuman sensory level, the sight of the bullets bent inward upon themselves about a meter or so before Rin and Shiki, as if the light carrying their vision was pulled into a black hole.
Caleg, the Enforcer that had been shooting, cursed. From his perch atop a branch big enough to support his generous frame, the man made to reload his weapon, an L85 assault rifle in use by the British military, a suppressor over the barrel. He did not understand what had happened to his shots as his aim should have been true. Tohsaka had not activated any kind of magecraft besides the Reinforcement of the body, so he was confounded by the defense that had appeared in front of her—
When Caleg lifted his weapon to jam in the new magazine, something hit the weapon from below. The force was great enough that the Enforcer had to steady himself on his perch; he pulled out a sidearm to address his new attacker, instinct and experience allowing him to fire before he had even consciously identified their location.
The attacker hunkered down behind a barrier—a boundary field at first glance. Unlike most others, this field had a visible presence, a faint red starburst of light. His bullets rebounded from the shield without any effect.
Caleg spared a glance at the L85. It was skewered by what impossibly looked to his eye like a claymore-sized sword.
When he glanced back to his attacker, he saw three identical blades flying his way. These, he understood and recognized—recognized too well, his mind warning him of incoming unpleasantness.
Black Keys struck him, and his confusion became a lesser concern.
They grouped up under the cover of a different cluster of trees, ones with a couple of animals actually chirping away despite the cold—a good sign that they were in fact alone. While Shiki regained his breath, he tried to catch on to who they were, the two people that had come to meet them. One was most certainly male and around his height, maybe a bit taller, while the other was female and slightly shorter than Rin. The familiar way Rin addressed them, however, was a sign of their allegiances.
"What went wrong?!" Rin hissed. "You were supposed to call when you were in position at the exit!"
Sakura Matou managed to somehow look annoyed and amused at the exact same time. Shirou Emiya did not—he merely scowled. "You didn't give us any directions," Shirou said.
"I told you the British Museum!"
"Um," Sakura smiled, nervously glancing about. "We don't live here, remember?"
"I can't even read the signs," Shirou complained.
"And finding transportation from the hotel at this hour was a little more difficult than usual."
"Plus the stingy amount you gave us couldn't tip the cab driver."
"Didn't know what you would be wearing."
"The visibility around here is terrible—"
At this point, Rin was clawing at the space above her shoulders like she could rip their words right out of the air, keeping them from reaching her ears. "Okay! I get it!"
"Converting weight measurements from stones to kilograms."
"My stomach will cave in from the food here."
If it was clear to Rin that they were now just giving her grief, she made no sign of it.
"Your…family, I take it?" Shiki asked.
Rin growled. "Nobody else in the world can make me so ticked off, yes."
"I'm Shirou," the male introduced himself. "This is Sakura, Tohsaka's—"
"Sister. Yeah, I think I can tell."
All three of them looked momentarily baffled.
"She smells like Rin."
Though Shiki could not see it, Sakura blushed brightly enough she might have been blooming. Rin blushed as well, though she was clearly less surprised by the odd observation. Shirou just remained baffled. "Are you part bloodhound or something?"
"Well, I can also tell that last night the two of you must have been going at it—"
"Alright! We need to get clear of this mess," Rin shouted, louder than necessary, warding off further commentary. Also sparing her any graphic details Shiki's mind could conjure up of her sister's love life. "So you came to the other place I mentioned."
Shirou nodded. "Big park is easier to find from a high vantage point. I don't know what the British Museum even looks like. Anyway, Rider went out then in spirit form to try and find it, since she can move a lot faster."
"Where is she now?"
"Just arrived here now," a voice from nowhere said. She materialized before them, a phantom ghost with long, flowing hair. "Magi are now leaving the grounds in search of you."
While the others nodded, Shiki nearly fell back from shock. "Where'd you come from?!"
The woman, wherever she had come from, apparently decided it was unimportant to explain. "Different from the ones that were chasing you before."
Rin sighed. "That'd be the lackeys from the departments that want this one's head." She jerked her thumb in Shiki's direction. "Probably trying to impress upon their leaders' good graces."
"Back to the original plan?" Shirou asked. "Distract and dissuade them until they give it up?"
"If you must." Rin did not sound happy. "But if you see a woman, reddish hair, about this tall, in a suit? Run like hell. Even you, Rider."
It might have seemed strange, in hindsight, to tell a Heroic Spirit something of the sort. Rider smiled, though. "I will be careful," she said, taking the remark as intended.
"We'll head now in the other direction," Rin explained. "Toward the river, in case you were still lost." She scowled at Shirou, who grinned and held up his hands in surrender. "Give me a call when they start to turn in, or if things get hairy."
The three nodded.
"Um," Shiki raised his hand. "Do any of you have something I can use? Even a pocket knife would be fine."
"This may sound…like a silly question," Sakura said, "but how can you use, um, anything?"
Rin was the one to answer. "Just let him have something, I'm sure he can give you a nice, long-winded answer some other time." She seemed to address Shirou instead, though.
The redhead smiled.
"When I said that magi aren't fair when they don't risk their own families, I didn't mean for you to do this," Shiki said. "You shouldn't have brought them here."
"I'm just full of screw-ups today," Rin muttered.
They took a path that gave the areas they had just been in a wide berth. If the Regent's Park was to the north of the British Museum, they made a crescent path from there to the southwest, keeping roughly the same distance from the museum, circling it like a compass. They stuck to back alleys and lightly traveled streets, though it was getting harder and harder to avoid eyes on them as the early morning gave way to daytime in earnest. Rin made as if she were guiding her blind companion, lightly holding his arm and guiding.
"It's not like I did it just because of that," Rin said. "It…well, it was related a bit to what you said, though." She shook her head. "Obliquely."
"Oh good, a straight answer."
She smacked his arm. "I'm serious. Or trying to be."
A police car went by, siren on. Rin eyed it as it passed, hoping it was entirely unrelated to them. "I know what it's like, trying to protect your family. Sakura…she's my family. And there are things about her that if the Association knew, it would cause trouble. More trouble than even this."
He turned his head her way, as if to give her a disapproving look. "Yet you called her here."
"You ever think that maybe, just maybe, your sister might have found a way to handle the people sent for you?"
"Nope. As much as Akiha is scary, that Bazett is scarier."
Rin sighed, long and deep, regretfully. Regretful of what she clearly did not want to say. "Even so, you might have just put your faith in her anyway."
Shiki did not exactly frown, though his lips made a strange pursed expression.
"I think, if I'm going to screw up," Rin glanced back over her shoulder in the general direction of where they had parted from her family, "I might as well do it around them." She snorted. "Though even at that…they might surprise you and turn the tables."
Because, as much as Rin hated to admit it, she would never be able to protect them entirely on her own. She should have known that by now—all things considered. If it took a Heroic Spirit, a homunculus girl from a rival family, and an idiot boy with an impossible magic all just to make the chance to save her sister, Rin knew she would need just as much to save this stranger next to her.
"Oh damn," Shiki said, his breath escaping with a gasp.
It was not even a back alley. They would not have thought it initially to be a good place for an attack. They were still next to a one-way street. The block they were on was dominated by a large church. Nobody else passed by. Bicycle racks were empty nearby.
Bazett Fraga McRemitz came up toward them. She gave no warning. No sign. The charge came and was faster than even Rin could manage on Reinforced legs.
It was her job, after all. Even if Bazett set it up for Rin to care for Shiki, even come to the compassion of attempting a breakout, Rin knew this would have come eventually.
She did not know that her rescuee would be the rescuer.
The miss was of the just-barely type. Shiki gave Rin a hard shove with one hand and Bazett's punch flew through the space created between them. Shiki's other hand came up with the Azoth sword Shirou had made for him, the cut aiming for Bazett's opposite shoulder. The Magus Killer was already twisting out of the way, spinning around, the same arm Shiki would have cut coming up. The back of her fist collided with Rin's raised arms, sending the younger girl flying.
Shiki continued his own motion, his shoulders going down and his leg curling up behind him with the same scorpion-tailed kick that he had performed before. It caught Bazett just above her left kidney, but the noise Shiki's foot made was akin to hitting a metal bulkhead rather than a body.
Bazett continued her spin, brought her right fist back down to strike Shiki right between the shoulder blades. However, Shiki sprung himself up to a one-armed handstand from his ineffective kick and Bazett's blow hit the pavement instead as the young man contorted himself oddly and flung himself in the opposite direction of where Bazett had struck Rin. He skidded to a stop a good handful of meters back, flipped the dagger around in his hand, turned his head in Rin's direction.
Rin was clutching her arm—it was most definitely broken—but was on her feet, watching with wide, shaking eyes.
Bazett moved after him, once again faster than a mere human should.
Shiki raised the alchemist sword and cut through the cloth over his eyes.
It was not the sheer inhuman power and speed of the Servants, but it was the kind of fight that Rin knew she would never bear witness to again in her lifetime.
The unnatural glow of runes to Bazett's clothes. The unnatural glow of strange light to Shiki's eyes.
Bazett moved like a speeding train, charging with hands and knees set to maim or kill. Her blows would punch holes right through mortal men.
Shiki moved like a cheetah, crouched nearly on all fours and dashing faster than he ought to. His slashes drew lines in the air like razor wire.
Bazett would miss just barely, the pure muscle of her strikes actually tearing the coat Rin had given Shiki right off. One punch missed his face, grazed his cheek, tore his skin by utter force.
Shiki would miss just barely, the precision of his cuts making neat little slices into Bazett's blazer. The intense glare he gave her suggested he was not happy with the results.
At their fifth—or was it sixth?—pass at each other, Shiki barely dove out of the way as Bazett stomped her foot down on where his head just was. The impact punched a crater into the pavement, white dust kicking up into the air. Bazett turned on her heel and was after Shiki, suddenly moving faster, faster, their shared destination to an undamaged part of the sidewalk, Bazett so much faster that she would reach it before Shiki, who stared his dash sooner.
Shiki seemed to disappear.
Bazett's punch toward the ground this time did not crater it—instead a flash of fire shot out from her glove like a shockwave. Rin could vaguely see an F-shaped rune glowing at Bazett's wrist.
Back in the direction of the crushed sidewalk, back to the other side of it, Shiki reappeared, his eyes wide, vibrating in an inhuman manner. He crouched low for another pounce.
Wasting no time, Bazett was charging again, once more even faster, her feet a blur. Instead of a direct line to strike, she came up with a roundhouse kick—
Shiki swung his weapon through the pavement at his feet.
The pavement beneath Bazett's planted foot gave way, coughing up shards of concrete. Her kick went off-balance. Shiki flipped the Azoth sword in his hand, made a thrust toward the Enforcer, then dove clear. Bazett's recovery was immediate, as she nearly drove her foot into his body anyway.
Bazett turned in place. The glove on her right hand fell away.
Before she could respond with another attack, the dagger Shiki was using flew toward her. She raised her other hand, batted it away—and that glove fell apart.
Above her, inverted, Shiki thrust a hand down. Between his thumb and first two fingers, a piece of concrete shaped like a narrow guitar pick.
Rin was running the moment she saw the flying dagger. She dove for where Bazett knocked it aside, rolled over the weapon, came up with it in hand. Rin dug it into the earth as deep as she could and smacked the pommel with her palm.
The jewel within released its prana. The entire sidewalk rumbled, then exploded. Like the tower grounds had from the Jewel Sword, the street was engulfed in a wave of dust and dirt.
Rin dove through it all to where she estimated Shiki to have landed and managed to find him by nearly tripping over him. She hauled him up by his collar and half-shoved, half-ran him to the other end of the street. Despite the fact that she knew they now needed to run as fast as they could, Rin could not help but glance over her shoulder for pursuit.
Bazett cleared the dust cloud perpendicular to their escape, nearer to the building wall opposite of the church. She watched them flee but did not give chase, both her hands empty and clutching at her own shoulders, her blazer gone.
"What did you do?!" Shiki coughed through the smoke in his lungs.
"What did you do?!" Rin returned. "I just made your knife explode. That's what it was meant to do in the first place!"
He coughed again. "Ugh."
They crossed another street, made it around a corner. Some pedestrians were looking at them oddly, but others were heading in the direction of all of the noise and excitement.
Shiki coughed a third time, then made a noise like his mouth was dry and he was in desperate need of water. "I just…killed…her motivation."
Rin, puzzled at his phrasing, glanced back. They could not see the place of the fight, of course, but it made visualizing easier to her.
Bazett, gloveless—she understood that he was removing her rune-enhanced weapons. She had lost her blazer too, and Rin thought they might have had some kind of armoring enhancement on them.
But—clutching her own body?
"It sure is cold, isn't it?" Shiki said. "I just lost my coat, you know."
"No, you can't use m—oh no." Rin's eyes went wide.
She gave Shiki an evaluating look. He was not smiling, though his tone had been light enough. It seemed that despite his little joke, he was still unhappy. "I thought you would have killed her."
He blinked, looking up at the sky. With the shroud gone, his eyes did seem otherworldly, even more than Rider's despite their normal shape. The blue light in them almost had an aura that extended beyond their physical boundaries, hovered just outside, a colored steam. "One good turn deserves another, don't you think?"
Rin wondered at that. The world…she knew it did not agree. In fact, that was her next concern—Waver Velvet's explanation of Shiki's Mystic Eyes and what they were doing to his brain flittered through her consciousness. "You lost your blindfold."
"It was starting to not work anyway," he admitted. "The lines were appearing in the darkness." He sighed. "Better to know what they're lines of."
He finally turned his gaze onto her. They slowly moved over her, clearly trying to assimilate what he knew about the Rin Tohsaka he had in his mind's eye to the one that now stood before him. She expected him to make a joke, make a comment about how he was right or wrong about her appearance and the sixth sense males apparently shared on the matter—
—but she was wrong.
"C'mon," she said. "Let's get clear of this mess."
By the time they had crossed the river to the south, it was long past afternoon. Shirou and Sakura had called her, let her know that the search was either stalled or called off. They were unsure as to why, though they passed on from Rider that things were going too public for the Association to move hastily. The fact that one of their Enforcers had been found unconscious and pinned to a tree by Church weapons, while another had apparently been involved in a road-destroying fight that called down a lot of attention probably had a lot to do with it.
It was likely that it was still somewhat dangerous for them to do this. After all, though in a public location, they were isolated from the eyes of a crowd—a wily magus could still reach them, whether by boundary field or long-ranged spell or familiar—but Rin had decided to risk it. With the revelation that Shiki's conceptual weapon was no longer working on his Mystic Eyes, she decided they should at least once before leaving.
He had brought it up before, after all.
The passenger car they had arranged was private. It was not a difficult sell to the operators, a couple wanting to take the London Eye trip alone together, still young enough to be impulsive and unable to think about getting tickets ahead of time. They boarded the giant Ferris wheel without issue, were given a clear sight of the city and the Thames from the giant capsule windows.
"Akiha is going to be real mad," Shiki said. "Not only did I skip out on her, I got to go on a famous foreign ride."
"I'll remember that you owe me three hundred British pounds." She decided to blame it all on frazzled nerves. No way in her right mind would she have spent so much on a mere thirty minute sightseeing ride.
"My sister is good for it…well," he seemed to reconsider, rubbing at his temples. "Er, she is. But now that I think about it, I might not want to owe her."
Rin snorted. "Your sister sure has you whipped into shape real good."
"Yeah." He settled down in place next to her, his eyelids somewhat lulled. The toll of his sight was clearly giving him a headache, though he had not complained. By midday, though, he was cringing from constant pain. "Can't wait to explain all the rest of it to her."
"Just," Rin stared out over the Thames, thinking of the river that parted her own hometown, "leave your sister to me. I'll talk her down." It was not even a concern for her anymore—she knew that this would end with her tripping back to Japan, returning Shiki to his family. From his descriptions of his sister's attitude, she had even resolved to put up with the inevitable accusation that this was out of some kind of reverse-Stockholm Syndrome love. "You should see me with Shirou's…older sister."
"I don't know," his voice was quieter than before. "I told you my sister makes it hell when I try to bring a girl over."
"Mm, Taiga didn't much care for me either," Rin said.
Shiki thought about the name he did not recognize, then his thoughts drew an obvious line to the people he met earlier. "So, your sister and that guy. Married? Engaged?"
"Permanently involved, though not legal yet." Rin leaned back on her hands. "Already sizing up more women, huh? I guess Rider is unattached."
Shiki's lips came up to touch hers.
It really was nothing more than a touch, shy of even a brush of fingertips or a whisper of breath to the skin. Rin could not even move back before he was away, the pale light in his eyes causing her to wonder if it were a mere illusion cast by some otherworld's fey. "Sorry, no man could resist." Despite the words matching his jokes before, his tone was still quiet, sincere.
She looked at him dumbly.
He let out a small laugh, retreated back into his own space, leaning back on his own hands, though his left and her right had come to be entwined. Rin could not recall when that had occurred. "And thanks."
Finally managing a scowl, Rin said, "For stealing a kiss?"
"Eh." He did not elaborate, seemed to settle down in his seat, leaning against her faintly since there was no back to their bench.
Rin let him. She reminded herself it was not a reverse-Stockholm Syndrome situation.
Instead of poking at his uncalled-for familiarity with her, she thought back to the various conversations they had, first to his sister and family, then to all the rest. She considered that he was simply thanking her in general, but everything he said always seemed to have that double-meaning, even if it was often a joke. She thought of the random-yet-justified complaints he had, the comments about food and entertainment, his horror over her need to regularly draw blood for her magecraft. She thought of his shiver-inducing words about killing everything he could and tearing the Clock Tower apart with his power, thought of his melancholy over the romance he had lost, thought of his strange-yet-not strange powers of perception. She thought of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and his inability to keep them straight.
Motion outside the capsule caught her eye. "Huh. Snow white. I mean, outside, not the fairytale."
Shiki was quiet.
"Okay, sleeping beauty?" She thought he might appreciate the joke, watched him for a response.
His eyes were still open, though only just; he could have been asleep. She followed his gaze down to where their hands were joined.
She thought of the conversation they had before her decision to break him out. About fearing death.
It was starting to snow in earnest outside, lending the city a wintry feel that reminded her more of home. Rin let her head lull to Shiki's, her cheek settling into the fringes of his hair. There, she waited, wondering if the operators would allow her to take another circuit around the wheel.