Author Notes: This is another dare oneshot from old Beast's Lair stuff - to portray Shinji of all people in a sympathetic light while still keeping him in character. This is as close as I could get to making him a protagonist.

And he's still pretty awful.

This snippet assumes that fanon's theory that Zouken encouraged Sakura's "relationship" with Shinji (as a way to feed her worms, thereby keeping her alive) is correct.


And The Weak Do What They Must

I could have been a great magus.

Even Rin would have admitted as much, if the stuck-up bitch had ever deigned to notice.

Two days after my father explained the family "secret", I opened my first book about magecraft. I was young. I remember the book, too; the way its cracked leather binding felt in my shaking fingers. My eyes ambled through woodcuts of scrying-glasses, holly branches, and pentagrams inscribed in magic circles. Even then, I understood most of it.

Too bad I'd never use it.

See, I'm not a magus. It's a joke, really; another way the universe decided to screw me. Talent for study? Check. Ancient bloodline of magi? Check.

But no fucking magic circuits.

…Which brings me to my adopted sister. My replacement.

By the time Sakura came to the Matou household, I basically knew what to expect. She would be the heir. Me? I was her "big brother". Read: caretaker. A glorified nanny.

I didn't think much of the girl, at first. Sakura arrived at our door in a fuzzy pink sweater and a ridiculous hair ribbon. She was small and thin. What I noticed first, though, were those wide, staring eyes.

She called me "brother" in a voice so soft that it almost seemed like a whisper. I gave what I thought was a paternal nod in return. I figured I'd salvage a little dignity out of the situation, at least, and played the big brother role to the hilt. I tried to stop my lips from curling into a snarl.

Sakura had magic circuits.

Sakura would inherit the Matou Crest worms.

Not.

Me.

The little idiot didn't even realize that she'd been chosen as our heir. An oblivious, stupid girl had stolen my birthright, and she didn't even know it.

I hated the parasite right up until the moment I broke in on her "training". The stone basement was dark when it happened. At first, I only paid attention to the sting of cold on my bare feet. And then I heard a whimper. Just one. So, so soft.

I looked down the stairs. Sakura lay in the middle of a writhing mass of things. They glistened, and puckered, and made smacking sounds. The Matou worms slurped their way past each other as they did their work.

I couldn't move. It took a while before my father's hiss brought me back to reality.

"Get out, Shinji."

My father's eyes were wide. Jaw clenched. Anger or fear, I didn't know. Both, maybe? Grandfather just smiled in silence. I trembled as those black eyes scrutinized me.

I did what I was told.

I was a bit nicer to Sakura after that, as long as she stayed out of my way. Politely distant, I guess you'd call it.


The compromise continued until the Crest worms interfered again. We were teenagers by that time. My father had died years before.

The worms fed on sexual energy. Fed on it, and demanded it. I'd noticed the changes without much interest: the sheen of sweat that Sakura woke up with, the constantly flushed cheeks, and even the glances she would occasionally throw toward boys before she looked away with shame.

Like I said, I wasn't very interested in the whole process. It was Grandfather's problem. Let him deal with it.

Grandfather dealt with it by making it my problem.

That's how I found myself at the threshold of Sakura's room, leaning against the doorway. Hands in pockets. Half-grin forced into place.

Sakura lay on her stomach on the bed. She looked up from math homework. By now, her hair had turned a purplish color from the worms' attentions. Strands brushed against the paper. Sakura removed the pencil she'd been nibbling from her mouth. That stupid hair ribbon rested on her bedside desk.

Ever since her "training" had begun, my adopted sister had developed this weird stare. It seemed empty, somehow, and her dark violet eyes only added to the effect. Creeped me the fuck out.

But not as much as Grandfather did.

"So…" I said. "Sister. Crest worms giving you trouble?"

The blush that had become a constant feature over the past few weeks only deepened. She looked down. She didn't answer for a long time, but finally-

"Yes."

"See, here's the thing," I said. "Gramps told me to 'deal with it.' You know what that means?"

She froze. I swallowed and fought the urge to pull at my collar.

"Yeah, well, I prefer willing women, if you catch my drift," I said. "So you know what? I'm going to give you a choice. You and I both know that your worms need feeding, or bad things happen. And we also know Gramps isn't going to take no for an answer…You listening?"

"Yes."

"Come to my room whenever it suits you. Or find some guy at your school and hypnotize him. I don't really care. Just as long as Gramps okays it."

No response.

"Hey! Were you even—"

"I was listening, brother."

I pushed myself off the doorframe and turned to leave. And Sakura just kept staring at me like I was a point on the wall.

This was long before Heaven's Feel. My face hadn't been singed by thaumaturgical fire. I hadn't soiled myself while running from a thousand pounds of humanoid locomotive. And for that matter, I hadn't put a bullet into another master. Yet.

"Oh, and Sakura?"

"Yes?"

I smirked at her, and winked.

"I think you'll appreciate my experience, if you do come around."

It was a lie, by the way. I'd come close a few times, but I hadn't yet put the first notch on my belt. Looking back on it now, I'm not sure what was more pathetic: that I'd said it, or that I'd concealed my blush by turning away.

Sakura didn't come to my room that night.

Or the next.

Or the one after that.

In the end, I'm pretty sure Grandfather decided for her. At the time, I was relieved. I'd started worrying about what Grandfather would do to me if I held up the show any longer.

Sakura arrived in a silky white nightgown that only reached her knees. Her head was bowed. She laced her fingers together in front of her. This suited me just fine, since I didn't want to meet her eyes. They probably had that dead look to them. Or pity.

We finished up quickly. It was exactly as uncomfortable as you'd expect, for both of us. I mumbled something like an apology and left my own room to allow her to clean up.

Grandfather seemed more pleased with the results of our tryst than either of us did. We were ordered to repeat the performance from time to time. And I won't bullshit you: I started to enjoy it after a while…Which didn't exactly make me comfortable in my own skin, but I guess it was inevitable.

It took a long time, but we even started talking afterwards. That's how I learned that Grandfather's tool wasn't quite as placid as she seemed. She was smart, for one thing. More importantly, Sakura resented Grandfather – which I'd kinda expected – but she also had a bitter streak toward former sister, Rin. Not that I blame her. Not now, anyway.

At the time, though, I was still pursuing Rin (I mean, those legs…the girl was eminently beddable), and I defended Rin when Sakura mentioned her.

My "sister" didn't open up to me for a while after that. I avoided the subject in the future. Not that I cared much.

Besides, I would come to resent Rin Tohsaka soon enough.

Weirder still was Sakura's fixation on Shirou Emiya. Her voice became just a little faster and more energetic when she talked about him. I'd known the guy for a while: a big, red-headed kid. Nice enough, in a blockheaded sorta way. I guess I could call him a friend if I was being generous. His false modesty pissed me off, though.

Shirou was also OBLIVIOUS.

I stayed out of Sakura's way. If she wanted to chase the moron, it'd be one more burden off my hands. Though I admit I felt a spark of satisfaction every time Shirou ignored those subtle hints that Sakura threw out, and when I saw her hands clench against her dress.

As for me, I intended to win Heaven's Feel for the Matou family. Grandfather's Book of the False Attendant would allow me to command our family's Servant. I'd even acquired a rifle despite Japan's gun laws. I'd always had excellent eyesight and steady hands – which had made archery almost effortless – and I figured I needed all the help I could get.

Time passed.

A lot of time.

And Heaven's Feel arrived.


As it turned out, Sakura's Servant was a little…different.

Everything had been done perfectly. The circle's aftersparks still glowed red on the floor. Sakura was breathing heavily, supporting herself against the wall with one arm. Face sweaty. Blouse sticking to her torso. Her back was curled just a little bit from the summoning spell's drain.

But standing. See, my sister was a hard girl to wear down. Grandfather hadn't managed it in nearly a decade, and he was an expert.

The woman who'd appeared in Sakura's summoning circle wore a short leather skirt, high boots, and chains. A mask covered her eyes.

We explained the situation to her.

Sakura retired early that night. My adoptive sister chose to head for my room, even though her worms must have been exhausted.

That just left me and Rider.

I sat back in a cushioned chair. As I reclined, I looked the new Servant over. She was hot. Her long legs had just the right combination of toned muscle and voluptuousness. Her breasts nearly popped out of her mini-dress. Best of all, she had this docile expression on her face. Totally neutral.

I caressed her leg.

As I said, I've never been one for false modesty. I'm good-looking, athletic, and can even be charming when I want to be. That isn't just my opinion, either. Ask the girls I've run through like Kleenex.

So I was a little surprised when Rider recoiled. Even though her mask obstructed half her face, I could detect her disgust well enough. Like I was some piece of dirt.

"What?" I said. "Don't tell me you're shy when you dress like that?"

Rider's voice hardened. It was still quiet. Understated.

"Isn't your sister enough for you?"

"That's business, not pleasure. And she's not technically my sister."

Rider didn't reply for a while. At first, I thought she was going to stay silent.

"Tch."

…Which was just as dismissive, in its own way. I ground my teeth. Well, I guess this would be as good a time as any. Besides, it didn't look as if Rider was putting out.

"How much do you care about your new Master?" I said.

Pause. Rider stiffened a little.

"More than you do."

I rolled my eyes.

"Grandfather will get rid of Sakura's worms as soon she wins Heaven's Feel," I said. "Can you do it?"

Another pause.

Rider turned her head toward me, although her blindfold still obscured her eyes. I saw her eyebrows knit slightly.

"Can I…?"

"Win Heaven's Feel," I said. "'Cause I'm going to be honest: I don't have the circuits. I can maybe shoot another Master from a distance, since I don't have much of a prana signature. Hard to detect. But that's it."

And yet another long pause.

"…I can win Heaven's Feel," she said. "For her."

"Good enough," I said. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to check if your Master's worms are hungry."
I switched off the light.

As I placed a hand on the banister, a strange thought occurred to me: Would Sakura forget me if I failed? Like she'd forgotten Kariya?

I laughed to myself. At myself. Never mind; I supposed it was worth it anyway. We can't always choose who we want to die for.

I thumped up the stairs. Rider stayed in the darkness.