Most important author notes of the entire story. Please read!
This is a different kind of project from what we usually write, though Linn's often done fanfiction of existing fic. We'll be completely honest: We were not happy with how In Flight handled Rin and Saber, and their relationship with Shirou. Since Gabriel Blessing has given permission for derivative fic of his work before, we are trying our hand at our own idea of how the Rin-Saber arc could have gone. Several things to be aware of with this story.
1. We are huge Rin and Saber fans. There will be lots of them in this story. If you do not like them, this is not the story for you.
2. We are trying very hard to keep the Sekirei crew in character, but we haven't watched or read Sekirei itself. If you see something that seems really out of line or contradicts that canon, let us know. If possible, we'll adjust. Thanks to Tenrou29 and SatireSwift for offering to be character betas for us! We are also trying to develop their characters some, and are putting them in different situations they've never been in, so they may start edging away from their canon representations.
3. This fic is IF compliant through the end of chapter 38. Some of the material in later chapters will be used, but a good portion of it will be ignored, particularly chapters 39-41. While it is not our intention to bash characters or In Flight itself, we will be countering some of Gabriel Blessing's plot and characterization, because it doesn't make sense to us. If this idea makes you uncomfortable, please do not read the fic. We want people to enjoy the story, not be upset by it.
4. We're going to try to merge some aspects of IF!Shirou's characterization with canonical UBW!Shirou, so this may not be exactly the Shirou of In Flight.
5. We are doing our best to remember everything that happened in IF up until 38 and stay true to it. We're also attempting to keep the forms of address the same. If you see something really off, let us know. There's a lot of information to keep track of.
6. We are far past slice of life here. We are on to pies and cakes of life. If this does not appeal to you, this story is not for you either. While I'm sure there will be some fighting in the future, our focus is on the relationships between Rin, Saber, Shirou, and Shirou's Sekirei.
7. How this will end is somewhat up in the air. It may depend on what happens in the final chapters of In Flight itself. We do have an ending in mind, but if Shirou's group ends up going with the 'run with the Sekirei' plan (which we're betting against right now) it'll have to change, more likely than not.
If this still sounds like it would interest you, please read on! This starts at the beginning of chapter 39, Monday evening.
Disclaimer: Sekirei and all associated characters and symbols are the exclusive property of Sakurako Gokurakuin and her associates. Fate/stay night and all associated characters and symbols are the exclusive property of Type-Moon and its associates. The story "In Flight" is written by Gabriel Blessing. No financial gain is intended or made by this story.
I stared, looking at the bristling women in front of me. This couldn't be happening. For Rin and Saber to be here was strange enough, but for them to have already encountered my flock… There was no way this could end well.
"Saber. Rin." I swallowed. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't think that's a conversation to have with so many other people about, Emiya-kun," Rin replied in a sugary-sweet tone that made me wince. She was beyond mad, then. She was enraged. She never called me Emiya-kun anymore unless I was in trouble or she was teasing me.
"I trust them," I insisted. My flock knew about magecraft, as well as many other of my secrets. They could sit in on whatever conversation I had with my former lovers — though to be fair, Rin didn't know who or what the other women in the room were, much less what they knew.
"Some things are best discussed privately, Shirou." Saber's voice was cool and distant, much like it had been when I had first met her. It seemed I'd managed to anger her just as much as I had Rin.
"…right." I capitulated, seeing the determined expressions on both of their faces. "Asama-san, I have the feeling this may take some time…"
Miya nodded in understanding. "I will handle dinner, Emiya-san."
I hesitated for a moment, unsure where I wanted to take them. On one hand, a public room wouldn't allow us the privacy Rin and Saber wanted, but I wasn't too keen on the idea of taking them to my room either. It would probably be the best option, though, since my workshop had been destroyed. "We'll be up in my room. I don't know how long we'll be, so go ahead and have dinner without us." I could always cook more if I needed to.
"Are you sure, Shirou?" Homura asked. Her body, as well as those of the rest of my flock, was tense, clearly ready to leap to my defense.
"They're right. This is really just between the three of us." And talking alone would hopefully keep a fight from breaking out in the middle of the inn. I turned, our two visitors falling in step behind me.
"Exactly what do you think you're doing?" Rin snapped suddenly.
I looked over my shoulder in surprise and saw Akitsu following us closely. "Akitsu, I'll be fine," I reassured her, and I believed it. "Please stay and have dinner with the others."
"…Yes, Ashikabi-sama." She didn't sound happy with the order, but returned to her seat as we left the room. I took my former girlfriends up to my room and slid the door closed behind us, fetching a few cushions before settling on the floor.
"Well. I can't say I expected to find you in this situation." Rin wasted no time in snapping at me, crossing her arms over her chest as she took a seat. "Here we come to find you to bring you home, and you've gone and gotten yourself new lovers. Not what I expected of you at all, Emiya-kun."
I winced. "It's kind of complicated." Seeking to change the subject, I repeated my earlier question. "Why are you here?"
"'Complicated'? I don't see how." Rin's glare sharpened. "To answer your question, though, I managed, at significant expense and with a number of favors, to get your Sealing Designation put into my care. Research on your case will be done under my supervision alone."
I stared at her — I never would have thought it possible — and shook my head slowly. Rin really was better at manipulating people than I ever would be. "That's… unbelievable."
"Not really," she said bluntly. "What's unbelievable is finding out our boyfriend went and got himself a harem! I never thought you'd be the type to cheat, Shirou!"
'Boyfriend'? My brow furrowed. "But we broke up—"
Rin exploded. "No, we didn't!" I reeled back in shock as she rose up on her knees to lean over me, shaking with rage. "I spent the last year trying to find a way for you to come home. I promised you I would! And Saber promised to come to your side. Did you really think we'd given up on you? You— you idiot!" She paused, her anger briefly overwhelming her ability to speak. "As if we'd give up on you so easily!"
"We chose you a year ago, Shirou," Saber said firmly. She was still sitting calmly beside Rin, but her eyes had narrowed, her gaze resolute. Where Rin's anger burned white-hot, Saber's was as cold as ice. I felt my shoulder slump a bit under her chilly gaze. "You refused to allow us to accompany you, but our choice did not change. We agreed that if changing your Sealing Designation was impossible, we would find you regardless and stand by your side."
"I can't believe you'd think we'd just sit in the Clock Tower and twiddle our thumbs, content to let you run around with a price on your head!" Rin continued to fume. "We spent three years with you! Exactly what part of our time together made you think you meant so little to us that we'd let you go because you were in trouble?"
I stared disbelievingly at the two women who had been such a huge part of my life and tried to shake the feeling that I'd make a big mistake. I almost couldn't comprehend it. I had never thought they'd go so far, and honestly the fact that they had made me feel uncomfortable. They shouldn't have tried to sacrifice so much for me.
I didn't deserve it.
"I… I see." I honestly didn't know what else to say. I took a breath and let it out slowly, feeling incredibly guilty. Had I known that they were going to come back for me, would I have allowed myself to care for my flock the way I did? I wasn't sure. On the one hand, I loved Saber and Rin; on the other, I had winged four Sekirei without knowing the true nature of the bond, and it wouldn't have been right to reject them outright because of my ignorance. I really had thought my relationship with Rin and Saber was over, and that was part of the reason I'd allowed myself to move on, but looking at it now I couldn't see that decision as anything but failing to believe in them and the promises they had made me. "I'm sorry." The words sounded weak and stupid even to my ears, but it was the best I could manage.
"You should be." Rin took several deep breaths, trying to calm down. She settled back down onto her cushion. Her face clearly still angry, but her explosive rage was contained, for now. "You have a lot to make up for, Shirou, so you'd better be extra nice to us for a while. And just wait until we get back to London-"
I winced a little, already knowing how badly they'd take what was coming next, but I went ahead and said it anyway. "I can't leave." Not at this point, anyway. Trying to do so without MBI distracted would be too dangerous. Even if Rin and Saber could get through the checkpoints, there was no way I'd be allowed to escape so easily, much less with my flock.
Though I had the sinking feeling neither Rin nor Saber intended for them to come with us.
"Why not?" Rin hissed, losing her hold on her temper again.
"Shirou," said Saber, "what would prevent you from returning to London with us? I cannot believe you would refuse over anything trivial." A little of her self-imposed aloofness faded. One of her hands smoothed the fabric of her skirt, a sign of unease she rarely let herself display. She seemed to pick up that there was something more going on.
I sighed. "Well, um, I got involved in another battle royal."
They stared at me, my words apparently briefly shocking Rin out of her anger. "…Only you, Shirou. Only you." Rin shook her head. "Well. In that case, we'll just have to help you. Again."
"You're staying?" The words escaped me before I could even think about them, but… well, honestly, mixing my past lovers with my Sekirei seemed like a sure recipe for disaster.
"Weren't you listening to me?" Rin snapped again. "I put way too much work into getting control of your Sealing Designation to just leave you here. I am going to be owing people favors for years. Besides, I won't go back without you."
I thought about that for a moment, coming to a realization that made my stomach sink. While I didn't know exactly what had happened after I left, it only made sense that Rin, my teacher, would have been closely questioned as a potential accomplice in my research. If, after everything she'd gone through to gain control of my case, she allowed me to escape, the Association would assume she'd been involved all along. That alone would be excuse enough to slap a Sealing Designation on her, giving them free rein to study Saber. Rin didn't have enough political clout with the higher-ups of the Clock Tower to be able to protect herself from such a fate, being both young and Asian. If this had happened maybe a decade from now things might've been different, but as it stood now, she had two options: return to London with me or face exile and a life on the run.
I wouldn't let that happen. Rin had dreamed of studying at the Clock Tower for years. I wasn't about to let my problems hold her back.
"Then we'll have to find a way for you to go back without that being a problem." I paused, thinking hard. It would be difficult. They'd need an excuse that the Association couldn't argue with, something that could be turned and used against them. "What if I refused to come with you and beat you in combat?"
Rin and Saber looked at me in amazement, and then Rin lost it, laughing hysterically. I stared at her as she doubled over, gasping for breath, and Saber shook her head, frowning slightly. "While I agree that the idea is inconceivable, Rin, it is not necessary to laugh that hard."
I reflexively straightened, feeling a little insulted. Yes, the idea was a bit extreme — Saber and Rin were both incredibly skilled in their respective areas, and had helped me refine my arts and knew my abilities better than anyone — but we had been out of contact for a year. They didn't know the effect the Sekirei had had on my circuits. Not only that, but I had beaten a Servant before. Even if Gilgamesh was pretty much my natural enemy, he'd been more powerful than Saber was now as a familiar.
Rin wiped at her eyes, her shoulders still shaking. "Maybe, but oh man, I needed that." She straightened up again, managing to calm herself with effort. "Beyond the fact that the very thought of you beating Saber in a fight is ridiculous, there's another problem with that idea." Her face was totally serious now. "Assuming we could convince them we didn't throw the fight, your Sealing Designation would become a top priority. You can't expect them to ignore someone who managed to beat their teacher and a former Servant in combat, can you?"
I froze. I hadn't considered that. Yes, Saber wasn't a Servant anymore, but she was still a highly skilled swordswoman. I knew that the odds of me beating them were minuscule, but there was still a chance. If I did manage it, though — if I became the Enforcers' number-one priority…
I suppressed a shiver and tried to strengthen my resolve. It didn't matter. Rin deserved the chance to go back to the Tower. I was already hunted. I wouldn't drag her and Saber down with me. It was bad enough my flock would have to follow me into danger, more likely than not, but I could save these two at least. "We're going to be on the move soon anyway," I said, avoiding Rin's question. "There're these things called the Jinki that we have to hide from MBI—"
"Beyond the danger to you, Shirou," Saber interrupted, "Rin's position is greatly at risk as well. She bargained for your case. If she returns without you for whatever reason, her reputation will take a grievous blow. Her word and abilities will come into question, and all of her current alliances will suffer."
Damn. There was nothing I could do there. The Clock Tower was as much a political organization as it was an academic one, perhaps more so. I had no power there, but Rin had been working on alliances and gathering favors from the day she had arrived. I knew the situation with me had been used against her even before I'd received the Sealing Designation. For her to become even more of a social outcast, to be laughed at as a failure… I could never wish that on her.
But still… "Maybe you could be a bit more forthcoming about my abilities, make it sound like I surprised you with them?" I suggested. There had to a way to make this work. The Clock Tower didn't know my true capabilities. Even when they had issued me a Sealing Designation, it had been on only the barest traces of illegal research. In fact, it was possible that if Rin had had more support (or the Einzberns a little less), the entire thing might have been forgotten after I was cleared of killing the Einzbern heir. Breaking into my workshop to get at my research had been very shaky ground for them in the first place, considering the precedent it set. Only the fact I wasn't a member of the Association had made it even possible. If I'd had a more powerful sponsor it would never have happened.
"Shirou!" Rin looked appalled. "I am not selling you out like that! You're good," she admitted grudgingly, glancing away, "but you can't handle the best the Clock Tower has, not by yourself. Sooner or later they'd catch you and kill you, or worse."
I winced. The fact my opponents underestimated me had already saved my life once. The Fraga had thought I was an apprentice and had treated Miya as the greater threat. While that was also true, she had been willing to show her trump card way too easily. If they knew what I was actually capable of, their tactics would be geared towards my abilities.
I had honestly been unbelievably lucky so far.
"You're right," I finally admitted, sighing. No, that plan wouldn't work, even if it had been a long shot in the first place.
"Hmph." Usually me giving in on an issue that was a point of contention was enough to get Rin calmed down and happy for at least a little while, but now she crossed her arms again, giving me a sour look. "You sure seem awfully eager to get rid of us, in any case. Are you really so happy with our replacements?"
"Th— they're not replacements!" I protested.
"Oh, really?" Rin's glare was unforgiving. "Why else would you want to get rid of us so badly?"
"I just want you to be happy!" All I had done since we'd arrived in London was complicate their lives. They both deserved better.
"How are we supposed to be happy without you, you idiot?" Leaning forward, Rin poked me in the chest. "In case you've forgotten, we. Love. You!" Each word was punctuated with another jab of her finger. "Why is it so hard for you to accept that?" I flinched, and her eyes turned sad. "Shirou… I know it's not easy, but try to remember what you mean to Saber. She stayed in this time for you."
"And I do not regret it," Saber added softly.
"A-and you mean a lot to me too." Rin flushed a little, but she met my eyes squarely. "Try to remember that, too." Her hand settled against my chest, right over my heart. Beneath my shirt lay the scar from Lancer's attack, a scar that had only been able to form because of the kindness of the woman touching me. "Don't let your distortion keep you from doing what you want. Your happiness is important to us."
I couldn't say anything to that. I tried, I really did, but sometimes it was hard to remember that what I wanted was important to them as well.
So I didn't answer her. Instead, I pulled her close and slipped an arm around her waist, tipping her head up and kissing her. Her hand tightened in my shirt as she kissed me back, almost agonizingly slow and sweet. It felt so good to touch her again…
We finally broke the kiss, and Rin gazed into my eyes for a long moment. "Saber, come over here and kiss the idiot, please."
With the ghost of a smile on her lips, Saber moved forward. The moment she touched me, Avalon shivered within me, almost as if sighing in welcome at its true master's return. Her mouth was warm, and her kiss just as sweet and soft as Rin's. My free arm wrapped around Saber's waist automatically, and Rin's encircled us both, holding onto us even after we finally sat back. It was an incredibly peaceful moment, all the more shocking for the tension that had just been there. I realized then how much I still missed them both. My flock had become very dear to me, but my relationship with them just wasn't the same as my relationship with Rin and Saber. They were my partners in a different way that I couldn't describe. The feeling of their arms around me again allowed some part of me that I hadn't even realized was tense to relax.
"I can't believe you found so many new girlfriends in a year, Shirou." Rin sighed, burying her head in my shoulder. "I never pegged you to be that smooth."
Considering that Rin had been the one who orchestrated the beginning of our mutual relationship with Saber, I supposed she wasn't exactly off base there. "It's complicated," I said lamely.
Rin rolled her eyes, but there was a hint of a smile on her face. "You keep saying that. Can't you give us a summary?" She pulled away from me and Saber, so I reluctantly let them go, and we all rearranged ourselves on our cushions.
I thought for a minute. "Well, they're a new Type, called Sekirei, that bond with humans. They're being used by a technology company called MBI in something called the Sekirei Plan to determine the best person to possess all eight of the Jinki, which apparently have extreme destructive potential. I can't understand them because they're completely alien." I knew they both would understand the significance of that last part.
"…okay, maybe we need something more detailed than that." Rin frowned. "We should have brought tea with us. Give us the long version."
"I'm not sure where to start," I admitted.
"The beginning is usually a good place," Saber commented sagely. "How did you come to be in Shin Tokyo?"
"Well, I was just planning on passing through, but I ended up meeting my birth mother at the airport by sheer coincidence."
"You have family here?" Rin looked surprised. "I never thought…"
"Neither did I." Honestly, my birth family had been something I'd long ago stopped thinking about. Kiritsugu was my father, and that was all I'd needed. Takami was a complicated situation. I had bid her goodbye at our last meeting, but I couldn't help but regret it. It had been odd having a mother for the first time that I could consciously remember, but at the same time, she was an interesting person, and the way she had cared about me had been novel but not unpleasant.
I was going to miss her.
"So that's why you stayed here." Rin nodded thoughtfully. "How did you meet them, those women downstairs?"
"Well, I met Akitsu in a park. She was alone, dressed in a lab coat with blood on her. I ended up helping her by taking her home. Homura and Musubi I met on the street. Kuu and Tsukiumi were both being attacked by other Ashikabi — people who've bonded with Sekirei," I added, seeing their confusion "—who were trying to wing them by force. Kazehana moved in here and ended up reacting to me."
"Trying to 'wing' them? What does that mean?" Rin asked, looking curious.
I couldn't help but smile. That was Rin all over: she wouldn't let go of a new puzzle until she knew how it worked or grew bored of it, and it took a lot for her to get bored of such things. "I'm told a Sekirei reacts to a person who can be their Ashikabi. They can then make a prana contract, and they fight other Sekirei in this Plan."
"It sounds a great deal like a Master-Servant bond," Rin mused, "but with fewer problems with having more than one."
"That's what I thought at first, but…" I swallowed. This was the awkward part, but they needed to know the truth. "They tell me the bond means the Sekirei loves their Ashikabi."
"So that's why they're all so attached to you." Rin nodded to herself. "A familiar bond, but intended to be lifelong." Her mouth twisted at that last part.
"Shirou." Saber was looking extremely concerned. "Does that mean you formed a prana contract with the child as well?"
Rin's eyes went wide, and they both looked at me in utter horror. "Tell me you didn't perform a Tantric ritual with a little girl," Rin demanded, her voice cold, "because if you did—"
"No! It was a kiss! Winging is just a kiss!" I quickly defended myself, and they both relaxed slightly. "If I'd known what it really meant, I wouldn't have done it in the first place."
Rin closed her eyes and tilted her head back, as if asking for patience. "Let me get this straight. You got into a prana contract without knowing what it really was?" She opened her eyes, glaring at me again. "I thought I taught you better than that!"
I winced, knowing this wasn't going to reflect well on Homura, but I needed to be honest with them. "Homura told me it allowed the Sekirei to control and fully utilize their powers."
"And not about the romantic bond?" Rin's voice was flat, but her eyes were livid — and Saber's face showed a cold anger I'd only rarely seen before.
"He was kind of catching fire at the time," I said hastily. Rin's expression was bringing back memories of a chase around school, running from her rage-fueled magecraft, and I really did not want to reprise that here at Izumo House. While I was sure Miya would calm them down eventually, I knew there'd be property damage before then, and I really didn't want to cause her more problems with that.
"He could have told you lat- wait, 'he'?" Rin's anger faded as she started to smirk. "Shirou, you have a boyfriend too?"
I swallowed hard. I had never wanted her to find out that little secret. "Um… not anymore?"
"Oh? What happened to him, then?" Rin's smirk had lessened slightly, and she seemed to have calmed down even more. I don't know if she thought I'd parted ways with him or what, but…
I looked away. "Actually, he's a girl now," I mumbled.
The dismayed look returned to Rin and Saber's faces. "I can't possibly have heard that right," Rin said. "You didn't just say he's a girl now, did you?" She sounded skeptical, and frankly I couldn't blame her. I wouldn't have believed it either, if I hadn't witnessed it.
"He, um, changed because of my preferences." The words were hard to force out. I hated the fact, and the very idea still bothered me more than I could say.
"From what you have said, Shirou," Saber said, her voice cool, "you have been trapped into at least two bonds without honor." Her hands fisted in her skirt. "Why have you not terminated them?"
That alone told me just how deeply Saber had been affected by my story. She loathed Rule Breaker for forcing her from my side and making her serve a master who had nearly killed me. Even if it had turned out to be a blessing in disguise in the end — had Saber remained my Servant, there was no way I could've supported her after the Grail War, and so Rule Breaker could be said to have given the three of us our time together — the events that cursed dagger had caused weren't something any of us were happy about.
"I thought about it," I admitted, "but I wasn't sure what it would do to them." To be fair, I had only really considered using Rule Breaker after the situation with Matsu's snooping, but… "One of the ways that a Sekirei can defeat another Sekirei is to destroy their crest, the symbol of their bond to their Ashikabi. It makes them go into a catatonic state."
"Meaning that if you used Rule Breaker on yourself or them you could have possibly killed them, and you of course wanted to avoid that." Rin shook her head, but she smiled fondly at me. "That's so like you."
"Indeed." Saber's smile was a mirror of Rin's.
"Well. We can't blame you for it if you didn't even know what it really was." Rin sighed and shook her head, her smile growing. "Getting mad at you for trying to help people is like getting mad at the sun for shining."
"I knew the truth when I winged Kazehana and Tsukiumi, though," I confessed. In our three years together I'd learned honesty was the best policy when Rin and Saber confronted me about things I'd gotten up to without them around; they were always madder when I kept important stuff to myself and they found out about it later. Even so, though, I didn't mention the situation with Akitsu. She had pledged herself to me long before I'd winged her, and I honestly couldn't regret having done so. Even if I hadn't thought my separation from Rin and Saber was permanent, I was pretty sure I still would've tried it. Akitsu's winging had been life-changing, and I was glad to have given her that happiness.
"What, did you decide by then that you already had five so what were two more?" Rin sighed in exasperation. "Well, at least they aren't children."
"Indeed." Saber shook her head. "I hope the child does not view you romantically."
"I'm just her 'oniichan.'" I shrugged.
"So we don't have to worry about that until she gets older. …That's going to be weird." A look of distaste crossed Rin's face. "Maybe we'll find a way to transfer her to someone her own age by the time she hits puberty."
"On to more important matters, Shirou." Saber shifted, turning to face me fully. "You spoke of a battle royal, and something called Jinki?"
"Yes." There were so much to tell them I didn't even know where to begin. This had taken a lot more out of me than I'd expected, honestly. "Recently Sekirei matches have been declared by MBI—"
"Are you likely to be attacked in the middle of the night?" Rin interrupted. I shook my head. "In that case, I suggest we tackle that tomorrow."
Saber hesitated, then nodded. I noticed she looked tired too — not really surprising, considering they'd just arrived today to a completely unexpected situation. This couldn't have been the reunion they were hoping for. "If you are sure it will not be an issue, I suppose that is acceptable."
"It shouldn't be a problem." One night really wouldn't make that much of a difference. Besides, with the rumors about the north — not to mention Miya's own presence serving as an effective deterrent even against MBI — we were in no real danger of being attacked. Unless some other magus with a grudge, or someone hired by them, managed to track us down.
Saber smiled. "In that case, I would not object to some dinner."
"Shirou…" Rin hesitated, her eyes meeting mine. "There's only one more thing we need to know now." She took a deep breath. "Do you love them?"
I hesitated. Honestly… I wasn't sure. I had asked myself that months ago, and I still didn't know. Was I attracted to them? Yes, and I was certainly fond of them, but love? I had thought I'd loved Rin during the Grail War, but I'd only really understood what love was later, after months with both her and Saber. What I felt for my Sekirei was different from that, but I didn't really know how to explain it. "I don't know," I finally admitted.
"How can you not know?" Rin snapped, tensing up once again.
"This from the person who tells me my worldview is distorted?" I countered.
Rin sagged a bit. "I guess you have a point. You've never been that great at realizing your feelings." She pinked a bit, turning her head. "But… what about us?"
"What about— oh." My own face heated, and I looked away. "Of course I love you," I said gruffly. "Both of you." I wasn't all that great at stating my feelings — especially when Rin surprised me with what was a pretty direct question for her, considering the topic — but the answer came easily. No matter what else had happened, I knew it to be true. "That hasn't changed."
"It is good to see some things remain constant." Saber smiled at me again, and leaned over for a quick kiss. "Now, let us go downstairs, get dinner, and meet your Sekirei."
"You're really going to stay, then? Even with— all of this?" I waved my hand as if to encompass the entire situation.
"Shirou," Rin said sternly, "you really need to try and listen more. I told you, I worked way too hard to give up on you so easily." She reached for my hand, that light flush returning to her face. "A-and you matter too much to us."
"I promised I would be at your side in your time of need. If you seek to protect these women, then my blade will also come to their defense," said Saber solemnly. Her hand came to rest over mine and Rin's.
"And the fact I'm… mated to seven other women?" That wasn't going to change. I did care deeply for my flock, even if it wasn't quite the same as I what felt for Rin and Saber. I wouldn't abandon them… and, if I was completely honest with myself, I'd miss them if I lost them.
They exchanged a look. "We're not happy about it, but we're not about to let some aliens run off with you like that."
"And we would not abandon you in your hour of need." Saber gave Rin a disapproving look, clearly not agreeing with her priorities. "We promised to stand beside you. Do not push us away now."
Rin reddened a bit in shame. "That too. Whatever comes, we'll face it together."
Seeing the determination in their faces, I could do nothing but nod. Even if they weren't happy with the situation, they were staying. I didn't expect things to be easy — there was going to be a lot of tension between them and my flock, and I didn't know what was going to happen — yet somehow the fact that they would be fighting beside me again made me smile. "Yeah."
Our conversation finished, we rose and left my room, heading back downstairs. The minute we entered the dining room, all of its occupants turned to look at us. Akitsu gave me a particularly intense stare, looking me over for damage. "We got everything worked out." I tried to smile reassuringly. "Everyone, this is Rin Tohsaka and Saber. Rin, Saber, these are my Sekirei." I quickly introduced the members of my flock. Both Rin's and Saber's eyes lingered on Homura. Clearly neither had forgotten about his — her — deception. "And this is Miya Asama. You'll need to talk to her about renting."
"They're staying?" Kazehana asked, her eyes narrowing.
"Well, we were supposed to bring Shirou home, but since he's involved with all of this, we'll be staying to help him," Rin answered. "If he wasn't so insistent on protecting you it'd be a very different matter."
I winced. Not subtle, Rin. Not subtle at all. Even if she had to all outward appearances calmed down, I could tell she was still upset. I hoped she wouldn't do anything drastic.
"We will protect him," Homura insisted. "We're his Sekirei. It's our job to take care of him."
"I can sympathize," Saber said. Her gaze flickered over Homura, her previous disapproval fading into a look of understanding. I'd noted they had some things in common before. Perhaps Saber sensed a kindred spirit. "However, to save and protect is Shirou's calling in life, and we are well aware of his tendency to place himself in danger to do so. Therefore we shall help you protect him."
"Matsu is curious. Rin-san said she was going to take Shirou-tan home, but Matsu thought Shirou-tan wasn't able to go back to London." She placed a hand under her chin, looking at Saber and Rin carefully.
"Heh. As if I'd let such a thing stay a problem. It took me a while, but I have that situation sorted out." Rin looked smug; I supposed she deserved to. Manipulating the Clock Tower was no minor feat, especially considering her age. She was going to be a force of nature in a decade or so.
"Because you love him!" Musubi spoke up, practically bouncing in her seat. "You love him, which is why you helped him!"
"Yes…" Rin gave her a confused look.
Musubi launched herself at Rin with a squeal, throwing her arms around her and hugging her tightly. "I knew it!" She looked over her shoulder at me, her whole face alight. "Didn't I tell you, Shirou-san? You love them, and they love you, and they came back to you!" Releasing Rin, she bounded over to give a rather startled Saber a similarly enthusiastic hug, and repeated the process with me. "It's so wonderful!"
I hid my smile at her eagerness. "Try to calm down, Musubi?" I noticed Rin and Saber both giving her interesting looks — Saber's a little concerned, Rin's thoughtful. Then again, knowing what I did of Rin's ability to sense power, the contact might've been enough for her to realize just how strong the Sekirei were. While Musubi wasn't the strongest power in the room, she wasn't a lightweight either, especially with her recently developed abilities.
Musubi's smile only widened. "But Shirou-san! We're all going to be together because we love you!" She turned back to face Rin and Saber. "Come on, we have to put you on Sunday!"
Rin blinked. "Sunday?"
"Yes, on the whiteboard!" Musubi waved her hand animatedly, and everyone reflexively turned to look at it, for all that we already knew what it said. Today, being Monday, was Tsukiumi's night, and she had kept it to herself. I had figured out earlier today what she was intending, and… really, it was only fair, since I'd already been with both Akitsu and Musubi.
Rin scrutinized the whiteboard. "You have a schedule." She gave me a disbelieving look.
"For who gets to sit next to him at meals and who gets to sleep with him," Matsu confirmed. She seemed amused by Rin's reaction.
"Kuu gets to sit next to Oniichan at every meal!" Kuu added, looking very pleased with herself. Then she pouted. "Kuu doesn't get to sleep with Oniichan at all, though."
"That is good to hear, little one." Saber smiled at the young Sekirei, clearly relieved I wasn't spending my nights with her.
"Ffffffff!" Kuu folded her arms, sulking. "It is not. Kuu wants to sleep with Oniichan too!"
"Maybe when you're older," I interjected quickly, trying not to think about that. At all.
"Indeed," Saber agreed. "Such young ladies should not sleep with men; it is not appropriate. For now, you must focus on growing up to be strong." She paused, adding, "I am glad that you sit by him at meals, however. Shirou cannot always take care of himself, and I am sure you help with that."
"Yes!" Kuu waved her hands excitedly. "Kuu feeds Oniichan sometimes." She beamed at Saber, then nodded to herself as if making a decision. "Sa-neechan is pretty! Please sit next to Kuu?"
"Ah…" Saber looked a little overwhelmed at Kuu's eagerness.
I nodded at her in encouragement. "We need to eat dinner anyway."
"Yay!" Kuu cried, zipping back to her customary seat. "Sit here, Sa-neechan!" She patted the spot to her left, where Musubi had been. Saber settled beside her, and Kuu immediately began trying to serve her the meal.
"And Sunday was a free day because it belongs to the winner of the shopping race, but now it belongs to Rin-san and Saber-san!" Musubi announced, not to be distracted from her topic.
I couldn't say I entirely liked the idea. While I didn't want to play favorites, it had been a very long time since I'd been with my girlfriends. The thought of being around them again for the first time in so long but waiting almost a week to spend the night together was distasteful in the extreme… but the whiteboard had been my idea in the first place. It wouldn't be fair to completely rearrange it just because I wanted to.
"That doesn't seem very fair," Rin commented. She'd moved closer to the whiteboard and was studying it closely. "There are two of us, after all."
"You can have Tuesday too," Homura quickly offered, looking relieved at the idea. She hadn't been happy having to dictate who got her day to begin with, and this would get her out of that chore. Not to mention that neither of us were comfortable with the idea of…
I firmly pushed that thought away.
Rin chewed a bit on her lower lip. "Hmm. It would be better if the days were a bit more spaced out."
"Oh?" Matsu asked. "Is it a magecraft thing?"
Rin gave her a sharp look. "I'm surprised you know about that."
"Shirou-tan didn't want us to, but when another magus blew up the dining room wall he had to tell us." Matsu shrugged. "Otherwise we probably wouldn't. Shirou-tan is very fond of secrets."
"You were attacked in this room?" Saber looked up from Kuu, her eyes narrowing. "Shirou, I thought you said we did not need to worry about ambushes."
"Not from Sekirei," I clarified. "It was probably a bounty hunter."
"And you're still here." Rin shook her head, not pleased. "You know they'll probably try again. Especially if they were linked to…"
The Einzberns, I silently finished. "Well, there hasn't been anything since then, and the city is in lockdown. MBI has checkpoints at every exit. I could avoid them, but—"
"You'd be tracked immediately," Rin finished for me. "Hmmm. And I'm guessing there's some sort of tracer on the Sekirei?"
"How did Rin-san know?" Matsu asked.
Rin tucked a bit of hair behind her ear. "Well, it's just common sense, isn't it? MBI clearly wants the Ashikabi contained, but the Sekirei are critical to whatever the final goal of their Plan is. You might be able to be winged again by a new Ashikabi, but if you vanished they probably couldn't replace you," she summarized matter-of-factly. Then again, she had plenty of experience with this type of mindset. Magi would probably do the same thing, minus the publicizing matches with television cameras part.
"…That's a little scary," Homura muttered, eyeing Rin with concern. I purposefully kept a smile off my face. Rin's intellect was, in fact, very scary. Maybe having her here wouldn't be an all bad thing. She wasn't really a magus at heart — the truth was she was too kind for it, and to be honest I was grateful for that — but she had the proper mindset. Sooner or later we would likely have to go up against another magus, and I was sure Rin, with her understanding of how her less compassionate colleagues would think, would be able to help my flock be prepared for it.
"In any case, we will need a full account of not only the Sekirei Plan but also the other threats you have encountered, Shirou." Saber's voice was stern. "We shall start after dinner."
"Not tonight!" Rin protested. Saber gave her a measuring glance. "I'll put up some protections before bed, if you want."
Saber only frowned slightly at that.
"Tomorrow," I promised. "We're safe here, as safe as I can be, anyway." Saber wasn't the type to wait where danger was concerned, but Rin was right — it would be better if we went over everything while we were fresh. "As far as that goes, Matsu, I'd like you to help with that."
"Sure, Shirou-tan." Matsu nodded. "We can show them the files in Matsu's room." Turning her attention back to Rin, she asked, "Why doesn't Rin-san want Sunday and Tuesday?"
Rin and I shared a glance, and I gestured for her to go ahead. While I had explained the basics of magecraft to my flock, Rin was much more of an expert. "Saber is a spirit. To stay in this world she needs prana on a regular basis. She takes a lot of mine, but Shirou can make supporting her easier on me by performing a ritual."
It was true that Rin could support Saber alone for limited periods of time, but then Saber would have to sleep and eat more than usual, to the point that she would be doing little else. Likewise, Rin would find herself unable to do almost any magecraft, with so much of her above-average capacity tied into supporting Saber. Once a week would probably be enough in times of peace, but if Saber had to fight, it would be better to have her as close to capacity as possible.
"And having the ritual spaced out makes it easier!" Matsu concluded. "Like charging a battery at regular intervals."
"Yes, exactly." Rin looked a bit bemused. I made sure not to smile. I had a feeling that these two were going to be interesting with each other. Matsu had been offended by my level of technological ability; just wait until she encountered Rin's.
"Well, Rin-san and Saber-san can have Thursday if I can have Tuesday," Musubi suggested. "If you're sure, Homura-san."
"I'm quite sure," Homura told her.
Tsukiumi looked between me, Saber, and at Rin for several moments, apparently deep in thought. Finally, she placed her hands firmly on the table. "Monday is my day," she declared. "As such, I have decided that Rin and Saber may sleep with Shirou tonight."
My eyes went wide in shock. For Tsukiumi to give up a day, much less a day I knew she had planned to be our first time-
"In that case, Tsukiumi can have Tuesday this week!" Musubi said cheerfully. "That's only fair." She picked up the whiteboard marker. "Um, Shirou-san, how do you write their names?"
I helped Musubi do so, then took my own seat, Kuu on my left and Tsukiumi on my right. "Thank you," I murmured.
"I imagine you must have missed them very much." Tsukiumi's voice was soft, but understanding. "However, you shall allow me to feed you tonight!"
I tried not to smile. "Yes, dear."
Rin ended up sitting next to Matsu, helping herself to some of the food, and the other inhabitants of Izumo House resumed their own meal. Matsu waited until Rin had her plate full, then asked, smirking, "So, is Rin-tan as bad with computers as Shirou-tan was?" I managed not to choke, but only barely. Oh yes, here it was…
Rin blinked at the changed suffix, then colored. "I am not bad with technology!" she retorted. "I can type an essay just fine. I just prefer to write it by hand. Penmanship is a dying art form."
"There's a lot more you can do with a computer than type an essay," Matsu replied. "Matsu has shown Shirou-tan all sorts of interesting things." Her innocent smile was definitely starting to look like a leer.
"Well, I don't need it," said Rin dismissively. "There's nothing you can do that pen and paper can't match."
Undeterred, Matsu cackled. "After dinner Matsu is going to have to show Rin-tan what she made for Shirou-tan."
"It can't be that interesting," Rin muttered as she took a few more bites of her food.
"It's a digital workshop," I interjected. Rin's eyes immediately lit up with interest. I smirked a bit. "On the other hand, it might not be safe, Matsu. After what happened with the fax machine—"
"What have I told you about that, Shirou?" Rin glared at me, crossing her arms.
"Now this is a story Matsu has to hear." The Sekirei looked quite amused.
"Well, too bad, because we're not telling it. Ever. Again." Rin punctuated the last two words with a jab of her chopsticks in my direction before crossly resuming her meal.
Homura glanced between her and Tsukiumi, then at me, an expression of dismay on her face. I nodded in confirmation of her silent conclusion.
"What?" Rin snapped, noticing the exchange.
"Nothing!" we said in concert.
Rin was clearly not convinced, but in the absence of any further openings simply nodded shortly. "Good."
An uncomfortable silence fell over the table for a few minutes. Miya was watching the entire scene with amusement. Kazehana continued to sip her sake, not saying anything. Tsukiumi was fully occupied with feeding me, relishing the chance to do so without the interference of Kuu, who seemed to be completely enamored of Saber. Musubi just bounced in her seat as she ate, pleased beyond words that my girlfriends had come for me. Matsu had retrieved her tablet and was doing something on it, probably preparing to shock Rin with the wonders of technology. Akitsu was keeping silent watch over me as usual, and Homura kept looking at Saber between bites of her food and fidgeting.
Saber finished her meal and then sat back, sipping her tea. "Can I do something for you, Homura?"
"Um… are you really King Arthur?" Homura asked, a bit timidly.
Saber nodded, and I wondered what Homura was feeling. Surprise that the most famous King of Britain was a petite, girlish-looking woman? Shock at her beauty? Disbelief that such a demure figure could accomplish the types of feats the legends and I had implied?
Homura's face reddened. "Can I have your autograph?" she blurted.
Well. I hadn't considered that one.
Saber blinked. "Ah… if you wish."
Homura beamed. "R-right! I'll be right back!" She jumped to her feet and made a beeline for her room.
Rin was grinning at the exchange. "Someone's got a fan," she teased.
"I do not understand why. I am not that famous." Saber shook her head.
Rin and I exchanged amused glances. No matter how we tried to change her mind, Saber was adamant about that. "Well, in any case, we should probably do the dishes," I said as I finished my own meal. "Let's gather everything up and get started."
"Come on, Tsukiumi!" Musubi said cheerfully. "Let's go! The sooner we get done the sooner we can start the party!"
"Party?" I blinked at her.
"To celebrate Saber-san and Rin-san coming back to Shirou-san, of course!" Musubi said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"I should not have to always do the dishes," Tsukiumi said, sulking. "Just because I have power over water…"
"I'll do the dishes if you make the water," I offered.
Tsukiumi pinked. "Very well. Then I shall dry."
"'Make' the water?" Rin echoed me, giving Tsukiumi a contemplative look.
"Matsu is going to stay with Rin-tan and start teaching her!" the hacker declared, putting a stop to that line of inquiry for now. Yup, she had clearly adopted Rin as her student.
"I don't need… wait, are those runes? What does this— oh!" Rin's eyes went wide as Matsu did something on the tablet. "And that's translating them?"
"Yup. There are a lot of search engines and translation programs on the internet." Matsu looked smug.
"Well, when Homura returns, tell her to come to the kitchen to heat the water. If I must use my abilities for such menial tasks, she must as well," Tsukiumi declared, gathering up a pile of dishes and heading off to the kitchen.
"They're using their powers for household chores?" Rin looked dumbstruck. Then again, magi generally held conservation of power as a priority and would never waste it in such a fashion. To be a magus was to live in both the mundane world and the mystical one at the same time, but the two were never to meet.
I was never much of a magus in that regard, regularly using my abilities for common household repairs. I shrugged, offering an explanation I knew Rin would accept. "Helps keep down the utility bills."
She nodded slowly in comprehension, gazing at the kitchen door thoughtfully. I smiled a bit at the mental image of what Rin would do with a flock of Sekirei of her own. No doubt she'd try to find every way she could take advantage of their powers. While Rin might be a magus, she was also extremely conservative when it came to money.
"As Emiya-kun is the only one in the building currently paying rent, it is important for the rest of the household to contribute towards Izumo House's upkeep," Miya added. "Perhaps we can do the paperwork for your lease before Matsu gets started?"
"Right." Rin leaned away from the tablet and stood. "I'll be back."
I nodded and followed Musubi and Tsukiumi into the kitchen, keeping a careful watch on Kuu as she stubbornly carried in Saber's dishes. This wouldn't take too long.
I stared out over the dining room, feeling more than a bit bemused. Whenever Izumo House had a party, I generally ended up being the center of attention. Perhaps that was only inevitable, considering the nature of the Sekirei-Ashikabi bond. This usually meant that things got out of hand pretty quickly, often resulting in Hannyas courtesy of Miya. Tonight, however, was different. Rin and Saber's presence was apparently enough of a novelty that most of my Sekirei were ignoring me in favor of them. While Akitsu remained faithfully at my side, everyone else had scattered about the room. Rin was currently flanked by Tsukiumi and Matsu, the former demonstrating her powers over water, much to Rin's delight. Saber, meanwhile, was surrounded by Homura, Kuu, and Musubi. It seemed Homura had somehow managed to convince Saber to talk about her childhood, and she was relating what her life had been like before becoming a king. Miya was relaxing in the corner, her tenants well behaved enough for once that she didn't have to constantly watch for improper behavior.
The only one worrying me was Kazehana, who was sitting alone on the side of the room, her usual sake beside her. I had waited a little while to see if she would join the festivities on her own, but so far she hadn't shown any inclination to do so. I hesitated for a moment, then rose, heading over to her. "Hey, Kazehana."
"Lover-kun!" she chirped. "Would you like some?" She held out her bottle.
"Sure." I sat beside her, Akitsu mirroring the motion a moment later. After pouring myself some sake, I returned the bottle to her. "Are you all right?"
"Worried about me?" Kazehana smirked. "Don't be. I'm fine." She arched her back, as if to emphasize just how fine she was.
I couldn't help but admire what the motion did to her chest for a moment before I forced my thoughts back on track. "It isn't like you to stay off to the side."
Kazehana shrugged. "I'm not that interested in socializing with them."
I frowned. I honestly hadn't expected my Sekirei to welcome Saber and Rin the way they had. Their open-armed reception of my human lovers was frankly a little strange, but I didn't understand why only Kazehana would be holding back. I sat for a few minutes, trying to figure it out, when suddenly it dawned on me.
One of the first things that Kazehana and I had had in common, before she'd become my Sekirei, was that we had both loved and lost. Now, however, I had regained what I'd thought I would never have again. Saber and Rin showed no signs of wanting to leave — they'd outright refused to do so. Perhaps if my flock had rejected them and the situation had escalated, I would've had to make a choice, but by and large my Sekirei seemed to be welcoming them just as they had Kazehana when I'd winged her. Tsukiumi's gift of a night alone was enough to demonstrate that fact.
Only Kazehana wasn't reaching out to them like the others, and I couldn't shake the feeling it had something to do with what she'd lost.
"Kuu doesn't want to go to bed!"
The cry of my youngest Sekirei distracted me. I turned to look at Kuu, who was clearly pouting.
"That may be," Saber allowed, "but nonetheless, it is time." She rose to her feet. "Come, Kusano. I will walk you to your room."
"Kuu isn't tired!" the little girl insisted.
"But I am, and I wish to go to sleep now," Saber said gently, and Kuu blinked in surprise. That wasn't what usually happened. Far more often she went to bed knowing that the rest of the household would remain awake. "If I am to be prepared to train with Shirou tomorrow I need my sleep." Saber held out her hand to Kuu. "Now, won't you go to bed as well?"
My hands twitched at Saber's words. It had been a long time since we'd trained together, and I missed it. "That sounds like a good idea." I glanced at Kazehana, who nodded, clearly telling me it was all right to go, and then I stood, moving to Saber's side. While I doubted she needed her sleep to keep up with me, I certainly needed mine to give her a decent challenge.
"We've had a long day," Rin agreed, getting to her feet as well.
"Saber-san is going to train with Shirou-san?" Musubi looked excited. "Can I watch?"
Saber looked at me. I nodded, knowing from past experiences that Musubi would be heartbroken if I denied her. "If you would like."
"Does Sa-neechan have swords too?" Kuu asked, her eyes wide with interest.
"I have a sword, yes," Saber confirmed. Kuu's eyes lit up. "But if you are to see us spar tomorrow you must go to sleep now. Otherwise you will not be awake enough to watch."
"Okay!" Kuu pulled on Saber's hand. "Come on, Sa-neechan! Kuu sleeps over here!"
Rin was smiling in amusement, a mirror of the expression on my own face. It appeared Saber really had been adopted. "Well, we're going to say goodnight too. We'll see you in the morning."
"Have fun!" Matsu smirked.
"We'll see you in the morning, Shirou-san!" Musubi said cheerfully. I turned and left my flock behind, even Akitsu, heading up to my room with Rin.
"Well, they're a lively bunch. It can't get boring around here, I'm sure," Rin commented as she helped me lay out the futon.
I smiled, thinking of Matsu's 'soap opera' comments. "Yeah. You looked like you were having fun."
"Hmm. The Sekirei's powers are interesting. I'm looking forward to doing some more research. Matsu's going to be a big help there, I can tell." Rin settled on the futon. "Even if I have to learn to use computers." She scowled.
"You don't want a digital workshop of your own?" I knew Rin had been impressed by Matsu's creation; the pair had pored over it for nearly an hour before Tsukiumi had joined them.
Rin pursed her lips. "It'd certainly be useful. I'm just not looking forward to it." Well, I hadn't exactly wanted to learn either, but in the end the benefits outweighed the negatives. Rin looked around my room. "I can see why you have a schedule. It'd be a tight fit to get them all in here."
"Kuu and Homura wouldn't be staying in here anyway, but Miya mostly insisted on it because she needed more money for rent," I admitted. "She'll take in anyone in need, but not all of them can pay. They do chores instead, but…"
"But the taxes and utilities have to be paid, not to mention food. So the Sekirei are using their powers to help with the utilities." Rin shook her head. I was surprised how tired she sounded. She normally didn't sound so exhausted this early at night, but I supposed it had been an extraordinarily trying day for her.
"I've been doing repair work to bring in money, but it's getting a little tight." Not to mention I was having trouble scheduling appointments. I didn't want to take anything more than a week out since I didn't know when I'd have a chance to escape Shin Tokyo with my flock. While I would abandon an appointment if I had to, I didn't want to. It was bad business.
"Repair work, hmm? It suits you." Rin smiled for a moment before growing serious again. "I suppose I'll have to get a job of my own, at least. I'm not sure we can find something that would suit Saber."
"Can you do that?" I asked. "How long can you stay here without the Clock Tower getting suspicious?"
"Oh, at least another two weeks. No one expected us to find you quickly. You'd done a fairly good job of hiding your tracks, though if you've been attacked before, I'm surprised they haven't made the connection yet." Rin looked thoughtful. "I think I might know why, though, and it would help us to be able to stay here for a while. Assuming you don't end up bolting. Tomorrow I want to look at these Jinki you mentioned and see if there's anything I can figure out."
I nodded. "How did you find me, anyway?"
Rin smirked. "Oh, I actually managed to convince Saber to use magecraft," she said offhandedly.
I stared at her. While Saber had the capability to become a magus, she had long insisted that she did not have the correct mindset for it. For her to have actually relented enough to allow Rin to teach her… "How?"
"Well, she knows Avalon better than anyone except maybe you, right? So we used that as a focus for scrying, through its connection to Excalibur." Rin tucked a bit of her hair back. "It didn't give us an exact picture, only information about the area, but it was enough to know we needed to come to Shin Tokyo, and what your neighborhood looked like. It was surprising it worked at all, considering it's inside of you."
The fact Saber had consented to learning magecraft — even if only one mystery — after nearly three years of nagging from Rin was nothing less than astonishing. It was almost more surprising than how they'd found me in the first place. I had never considered Avalon to be a possible way to track me. It was something I'd have to keep in mind in the future. "Huh. How long did that take?"
"We started practicing about six months ago, so that when I got your Sealing Designation handed over to me we could leave almost immediately," Rin said. She sighed at the look of surprise on my face. "Saber told you, didn't she? We always intended to come back to you. We never stopped working towards that, one way or another."
The door opened, and Saber stepped into the room, settling on the futon beside me. I quickly changed the subject. "Thank you for taking care of Kuu."
Saber nodded, a small smile on her face. "She is a sweet child, though willful."
"I never knew you were good with kids. Maybe we should set you up as a babysitter," Rin suggested. "Shirou and I were talking about jobs and rent while you were gone."
"I have no childrearing experience. However, I am familiar with the need to instill discipline." She turned to me. "That is very necessary at her age."
"I've been resorting to bribery," I confessed.
Saber frowned. "Well, that shall cease immediately," she declared. "You do not wish her to grow up spoiled. While we remain here, I will work with her." She looked back at Rin. "As for the other… I am not sure what profession would allow me to both earn income and be in a position to protect Shirou. It sounds as if he is in more danger that we suspected. "
"It isn't that bad," I protested.
"You're a terrible judge of that kind of thing, Shirou," Rin commented. "Stop while you're ahead."
Saber nodded in agreement, leaning a little against my shoulder. I wrapped one arm around her waist, the other going around Rin's, and for a moment just enjoyed their presence. "How was it, after I left?" I finally asked.
"Bad," Rin said with a sigh. Her voice had lost its liveliness again, becoming subdued and weary. "The Enforcers came and took me for questioning. Not that they got much out of me — they had nothing on Kirei. Once I was released, classes went back to more or less how they were when we first got there for a while."
Meaning she was shunned by most of her classmates and teachers. Once she'd demonstrated her abilities some were willing to open up to her, but it sounded like the scandal surrounding my departure had put her back at square one. Suppressing my guilt, I turned to look Saber. "And what about you, Saber?"
"Lonely," she admitted. "Rin was there, but…"
"But I'm not you," Rin finished. She kissed me lightly, then sighed. "I never thought I'd have to be put on a schedule—" she spat the word out like it was a curse "—to sleep with my boyfriend."
"Rin…" Somehow I'd forgotten how good her mask was. She'd been hiding her anger and hurt downstairs while Musubi had been chattering about whiteboard, but it was clear in her voice now. I'd caught brief glimpses of it from time to time, but the depth of it… that hadn't shown.
Just as clear was how exhausted she was. Had it been the trials of the day that had worn her out, or had it been masking her own feelings to get along with everyone downstairs?
"What? You can't expect me to be happy about it." Rin crossed her arms. "I'm sure Saber isn't either."
I looked at her. The swordswoman nodded in agreement, her expression grave.
"But having some time with you is better than nothing at all, I guess." Rin's arms tightened around me. I desperately wanted to help her, to stop the pain I heard in her voice, but didn't know how.
"Shirou," she said after a moment of silence, her face serious, "I've asked you this before. I'm asking again because I need to know. What do you want?"
What did I want? It was a question I had struggled with during the entire time I'd been with Rin. She'd pressed both Saber and me on the issue, because we shared a tendency to sacrifice what we wanted so that others could have what they needed. It was part of Rin's lessons on 'having fun and enjoying living your life' that she insisted we needed.
I knew from experience that when she asked me 'what do you want,' she really meant 'what would make you happy?' And she didn't mean the simple type of happiness that came from sparring with Saber or someone enjoying my cooking. She was talking about the type of happiness that defined a person's life, something I had struggled with for a long time, though I hadn't even realized it.
It was the kind of happiness Kiritsugu had had on his face when he'd saved me.
The answer for me had always been 'to save.' The word was on the tip of my tongue, but for some reason I hesitated. While it hadn't become any less important, there was something else I wanted as well. "I want…" I licked my lips. "I want tonight to be real."
"What do you mean, Shirou?" Saber asked quietly.
"Downstairs, when everyone was getting along," I explained. "You two were just putting on an act to hide what you were really feeling, but… I want that to be real. I want everyone to get along and be happy." I could feel my face flush a bit as I spoke.
Rin glared. "Wishing for happiness for others isn't making you happy!" she reminded me pointedly.
"No, it's—" I bit my lip, then plunged onward "—I don't want to have to choose." I struggled with the words. Akitsu, Matsu, Kuu, Homura, Kazehana, Tsukiumi, Musubi… all of them had found a place in my life. If I lost them, I'd miss them terribly, but now that I had Rin and Saber back, I couldn't imagine losing them again either. "I want to know I can have all of you, but you won't be miserable for it." There it was, stupid and selfish but true.
Rin stared at me for a moment, then let out a bitter laugh, burying her head in my shoulder. "You always want the most ridiculously impossible things, don't you, Shirou?"
"But he is being honest, Rin. That truly is his wish." Saber's voice was wistful. "He desires that perhaps more than anything."
I started at the words, frowning. No — I still wanted to save others. I wanted to feel that joy that I had seen in Kiritsugu's eyes the moment he had saved one life. The only way to do that was to follow his dream to the end…
"Yeah." Rin sighed deeply. "Maybe these Sekirei are good for you," she said begrudgingly, and lifted her head to kiss me fiercely. "Enough talking for tonight, though." Her mouth moved along my jawline to nip at my earlobe. "I can think of much better things to do."
It seemed she wasn't that tired after all.
"I agree," Saber said. Her hands slipped under the hem of my shirt, making me shiver. "Let us remind our errant apprentice of his obligations, shall we?"
I abandoned complicated thoughts for the ease of simple movement. For now, all I wanted or needed was to be with them again - and that, at least, I knew I could have.
Regarding Kuu's address of Saber: The appropriate diminutive formation would be "Se-neechan" or "Sei-neechan" in romanized Japanese. However, since "Saber" is an English word and this is an English-language story, we have chosen to stick with IF's use of "Sa-neechan." The difference when the two are spoken would not be apparent anyway.