Rin rolled over and stretched. Her limbs ached, but it was a good ache, the weariness that came with a hard aerobic workout that left her muscles sore, her skin slick, and her hair a tangled, sweat-matted disaster. She smiled up at her workout partner, a lazy, smug smile like a cat that had gotten in trouble but found the prize well worth it.
"That was wonderful, Rider."
She ran her hand along the long, sweeping curve of Rider's thigh. The lilac-haired woman was sitting up in the bed next to her, the Servant's material body not subject to such things as lying exhausted for five minutes after a senses-shattering climax. Rider looked down at Rin, her expression serious.
"I'm not going to leave your sister."
Rin couldn't help herself. She knew it was a stupid thing to do even as it was happening, but she simply couldn't hold herself back from cracking up with laughter.
"I was being serious," Rider drew back, affronted and, Rin thought, a little hurt.
"I know," Rin managed to say between the chuckles. "It's just...just..." She waved her arm, encompassing all around herself. "Under the circumstances, think of how that sounded!"
She had a point. The sordid environment, the tiny, cramped room, the sagging Venetian blinds that didn't quite close properly, the flashing red neon though the gaps from a sign on the building opposite, the coin-operated timer on the TV, the sad little bottles of gels and lubricants lined up on the dresser, the threadbare sheets which Rin had refused to touch without Reinforcing her immune system, it was all a testament to miserable and illicit sex. It wasn't like home in Japan, where love hotels were an accepted, even respectable offshoot of a society where privacy was at a premium. In England, getting a room by the hour usually meant you had a reason why you couldn't openly admit to meeting the other person in one or the other's residence.
Rin (who lived in a dormitory and didn't think bringing a Heroic Spirit into a nest of magi was a good plan) and Rider (who was staying with Shirou and Sakura in their suite and didn't have a room of her own because she didn't need a bed) had their reasons, just not illicit ones. But Rider's comment, under the circumstances, had just been too much for Rin to take.
The look in her eyes said that Rider didn't really appreciate Rin's sense of humor, even after she'd had the joke explained.
"I'm sorry," Rin tried again. "I didn't mean to laugh off what you were saying. It's just...I mean, I know that. You're Sakura's familiar. Of course you're not going to go gallivanting off to London to be with me. And honestly I'd rather not have to keep ducking all those magi at the Clock Tower and trying to hide what you are. Which is not easy, because you do stand out." She put a little bit of a purr into the last sentence and Rider flinched just a hair, getting a hint of color in her cheeks. Medusa might not have been much above average height in Europe, but her beautiful face, exotic hair, and spectacular figure would have turned heads at any size.
But that wasn't the kind of attention Rin was worried about. A Heroic Spirit as a familiar could lead too-curious magi back to her Master, and there were all too many in the Association who'd see Sakura as experimental test material. And after all Shirou, Rider, and I did to save her, there is no way I'm letting that happen.
"Besides, I don't know how well the familiar link works from half a world away. We can't have you drinking half of London dry to stay alive; that never works. Just look at Dracula."
"That isn't what I mean, either."
The humor drained from Rin's mood in an instant.
"What do you mean?" she asked, a bit hesitantly.
"One of the things the Second Magic does is provide you with a nearly unlimited source of prana, isn't it?"
"That's right. It can pull the mana from parallel worlds."
"So...were you thinking that one day, when you'd mastered it, you would take over my contract from Sakura, since you'd be able to maintain me?"
"I had thought about that."
"I thought you might have."
"And that's what you meant? That you won't go along with that?"
She nodded again, and Rin felt a sliver of ice seem to slide into her chest.
Even so, she still had to ask.
She hoped that the trace of a whine in her voice was only in her imagination.
"Sakura needs me."
"Sakura has Shirou," Rin accused. It wasn't fair at all. Her sister had gotten Rin's first love; why did she have to take away Rin's second love as well?
And what did it say about her that she could feel jealousy towards someone who'd had the life of Sakura Matou?
But she wasn't concerned about the past. Whatever hell her sister had gone through didn't matter when Rin was worried about the here and now.
"That isn't what I mean." Rider drew her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, and leaned forward, resting her head on them, turned to look at Rin. "You don't need me." She smiled a little sadly. "I'm not sure that you need anyone, really."
Rin opened her mouth to protest, but Rider cut her off.
"You want me," Medusa told her. "That isn't the same as needing. Sakura needs Shirou; she's been so badly hurt that she needs someone with that kind of devotion to remind her what she's worth. And he needs her, too. Having her makes him human."
Rin understood that one well enough.
"Because you can't have priorities, have one thing, one person more valuable than another without a sense of self."
"Mm-hm. But she needs me, too. Shirou loves her, but he doesn't understand her, not from the inside out. He understands about her, but he can't see it from the inside the way I can. He's never been a monster."
"You're not—" Rin started, then stopped. Stupid reflexive platitudes wouldn't help, and neither would lying. She'd just be disrespecting Rider and Sakura alike by ignoring the truth.
"She can tell me things she can't tell Shirou."
I can tell her things I can't tell you, Rin heard echoed in her words.
"I can relate to the problems she's having, the things she still feels, the battles she's still fighting. She needs that, even if it's not in words, someone that she can turn to."
I need that, someone I can turn to.
She wanted to protest, to scream that she needed Rider, too. But the words choked in her throat, because they would have been a lie. Rin didn't need Rider in her life to keep her alive, to preserve her sanity, to allow herself to reach some mental or spiritual or God-knew-what-kind of personal epiphany.
She just needed Rider for her to be happy. And even that probably wouldn't be forever. It was a relationship. They happened. People met, people fell in love. And sometimes people broke up. It was simple. Normal.
And her heart was in her throat, keeping her from saying those six simple words: Are you breaking up with me?
But she had to say something. She just didn't know what. It had to be something true, something from the heart, right? Didn't it?
It was moments like these where Rin wished dearly that one of her most pervasive character traits wasn't a raging tendency to choke in the clutch, to screw up only at the most important times of her life.
But didn't I just say this was something normal, something ordinary in my life? That logic sounded way off to her. Ordinary, normal relationships were still important things. The thought, though, gave Rin an idea. An inspiration, even.
It was probably crazy. But the perspective sounded right, somehow. Something she could actually say was true. And if she was going to go down in flames, she had might as well do it for the right reasons.
Then she said airily, even waving a hand to punctuate it, "Well, I guess I'll just have to accept that my girlfriend's career is as important to her as mine is to me."
Rider's eyebrows rose.
"Well, that's what it comes down to, isn't it?" Rin went on hurriedly. "You don't expect me to give up being a magus for you, do you? So why should I expect you to give up being a familiar for me?"
Rider blinked. Rin wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not, but she figured that (being in London, and all) in for a penny, in for a pound.
"Couples go through this all the time, don't they? Everyone's got more to them than just being someone's lover. A job, family, responsibilities of one kind or another." She tried out a grin. "I hope you didn't think I'd only be satisfied with a housewife just because my first crush was Shirou."
When Rider cracked up, Rin let out a long sigh that she really hoped got lost in the noise of laughter.
"You're an interesting woman, Rin Tohsaka."
"But that's why you love me, right?"
"Let's just say it keeps my attention," Rider chuckled.
"Picky, picky." She felt the smile drain off her face as she couldn't stop herself from saying, "Are we good?"
There was a moment's hesitation, probably while Rider processed that Rin had completely given away how nervous she'd been. But then, she said simply, "Yes, we are." And that was enough.
"Then let's get on to the make-up sex."
"We didn't have a fight," Rider snickered.
"Close enough. And besides, I may not see you for another six months after you go home and I'm not waiting that long for the opportunity."
Rider laughed again, shaking her head.
"What am I going to do with you, Rin?"
"Well, I have some suggestions, but since you're the more experienced person in this area I was hoping you'd have a few ideas of your own. Seriously, Rider, if you keep asking questions like that, you're going to end up losing all your credibility as a femme fatale."
Rider hit her in the face with a pillow for that joke. But since she followed up her advantage with other, more creative forms of revenge, Rin decided that she could live with the slur on her sense of humor.