WARNING: SOLOMON TIME TEMPLE SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU'RE NOT CAUGHT UP OR DON'T MIND SPOILERS.

Obligatory Disclaimer: I do not own any aspect of the Nasuverse

Smile of the Stheno

"Hmm … I see, I see …"

Sitting at a desk inside his room, Ritsuka Fujimaru perused a book. He had two others on the desk, not yet opened.

So engrossed he was, that he didn't hear someone walk by and stop at his open door. He never really had his door closed, especially after the Time Temple.

A few seconds later, small hands covered his eyes. "Guess who~?'

Ritsuka sighed. "Yes, Perfect Goddess Stheno?" he deadpanned.

"Boo. That would have been a passable greeting without the sigh."

The Servant removed her hands from his eyes. Ritsuka glanced back momentarily to see her lean against the back of his chair. "Need something?" he asked.

"Not really. I had nothing to do so I decided to come spend some time here."

"Should've guessed."

"Hmph. Be grateful, human."

"Yeah, yeah. Where are your sisters?"

"Let's see … Meduseless took her other selves to the library, to try and get them interested in her hobby."

"I hope Gorgon fits."

"Hey now, don't be rude," Stheno chided lightly. "And Euryale and Asterios are on a date."

"You're gonna make her mad by calling it a date."

"She's not here to hear that, so it's fine! … They left me alone. Rude."

"You could've just lazed around like normal," Ritsuka pointed out.

"Tried that," she waved off. Stheno sat on the back edge of the chair and lazily kicked her legs. "Didn't work."

"So?"

"So~ I. Am. Bored!"

"Oh no. Whatever shall we do," Ritsuka said as tonelessly as humanly possible. He didn't see it as he still had his back to her, but he knew Stheno pouted at him for a moment.

"What has you so engrossed anyway?" she asked, peering over his shoulder.

"Sun Tzu's Art of War," he answered.

"Hmm," she uttered non-committedly. She walked over to his bed opposite the desk and plopped down on the edge. "That's a book about fighting tactics, yes?"

"Yeah. High time I gave it a read. I was lucky to find it in Chaldea's library."

"If you wanted advice on that … you could've asked the genuine King of Conquerors. All it would take is a short walk to the recreation room."

"I do plan on that. I just don't want to look ignorant when I do."

Stheno stared disbelievingly at the back of his head and sighed. "Idiot," she said, "you've waded through seven singularities and come out the winner. You went up against Beast I alone. Just trust your instincts."

Unseen, Ritsuka frowned. "… My instincts didn't save Mash," he muttered. "It didn't save the doctor."

The disbelief faded from Stheno's gaze, replaced with comprehension and the tiniest tinge of visible concern. "… So that's it," she muttered. "I've been wondering since you got back from the Time Temple. I even asked you and you said you were fine." She stared at the back of his head with a chill gaze. "You're still beating yourself up over it," she flatly stated.

"… I can't help it. We lost the doctor and it was an actual miracle that Mash came back," he admitted.

Stheno sighed. "Ritsuka. It is not your fault. Romani Archaman and Mash Kyrielight made those choices on their own. They chose to sacrifice themselves for all of humanity, and for you. True, it was a miracle that Mash was brought back," she said, looking at the door as she saw Fou walk by. "That doesn't change what she intended to do. You should be happy that Mash came back in the first place."

"I am. Just … I can't help think that if I'd done something differently, neither of them would have needed to go."

"There was nothing you could have done. To expect a victory without losing something is folly, Ritsuka. Count yourself lucky that a miracle saved Mash. That is not the kind of thing that happens often. I would know."

"But if–"

"Mash Kyrielight saved you," she interrupted. "Romani Archaman saved all of humanity. Both of them did very foolish, very noble things. They did the only thing they could, because they cared. Come now. If you're going to associate with someone like me who took too much for granted, you should recognize that. If neither of them had done what they did you wouldn't be here listening to me annoy you."

"… That might have been nice," he joked. Stheno smirked proudly. "Do you miss him?"

"Of course I do," she huffed. "Doctor Roman was my favorite plaything."

"You realize that since he was Solomon, he may have been just pretending to be hypnotized by you."

"Of course! That's exactly what made him interesting!"

"So you didn't give a damn about him before?"

"Hmph. I may have become nicer since coming here but I'm not that nice … although he was a little interesting before, too," she admitted. "That a powerless man like him would work so hard for the sake of the Grand Order … I'd probably never admit it a month ago and I still won't to anyone but you, but well, I admired that part of him."

"The great goddess Stheno admiring a human. Color me surprised."

She tossed a pillow at him. "And they certainly didn't save you just so you could keep being rude."

"Can't change that part of me, sorry."

Stheno smiled. "Be more confident, fool. You are a veteran of several battlefields and you've come out of all of them the winner."

"I had help."

"And you still do. Haah. Honestly, I of all people should not be saying such sentimental drivel. The entirety of Chaldea is ready to come to your aid, Ritsuka. Even I will grudgingly help you out should you need it."

"Only grudgingly?"

"Be grateful I'd do anything at all. Well? I'm not hearing enough gratitude!"

"Right, right … actually, now that I think about, there is something I need your help with."

"Hmm? What is it?" she asked. Stheno blinked and raised an eyebrow in curiosity as Ritsuka's ears turned red.

"There is … one other thing that the Time Temple made me realize."

Slowly Stheno's lips curled up into a teasing grin. "… Oh. My, oh my."

"Don't," he protested weakly, attempting to hide his head between the desk and his arms.

"Oh my. Are you telling me that you two are finally tying the knot?"

"Wait, who are you – what do you mean, finally?" he demanded, looking up and finally turning around.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," Stheno waved off innocently. "You've finally realized that you only have eyes for one person. Marvelous deduction. You have this goddess's praise."

"Thank you very much," Ritsuka responded sarcastically. "So you know who I'm …?"

Stheno sighed. "Yes, Ritsuka. I know that you have feelings for Mash Kyrielight. I and most of Chaldea have known for a very long time."

"Wait, for how long? I've only started liking her fairly recently, haven't I?"

She stared at him pityingly. "Ritsuka Fujimaru," she began slowly. "You have been in love with Mash Kyrielight for almost as long as I've known you. Since, hmm … I figured it out around America but maybe even before that?"

"I-In love?!"

"Oh, yes, that's a strong word. Apologies. Maybe at first it was just infatuation but it's only grown since. Honestly, it's quite annoying, seeing you two dallying around obliviously."

"And everyone knows?"

"I'm certain almost everyone knows, at least. Even Kiyohime knew, but it was only yesterday after Merlin helped lighten her Madness Enhancement that she accepted it. You're quite lucky to admit it know. It seems that keeping me at your side has done you good, no?"

"As if I could just absorb your EX ranked luck like a sponge…" Ritsuka muttered. "If everyone knows, then … does Mash know too?"

The mirth slowly slid off Stheno's face as she quietly stared at him. "What?" he asked.

"For a second I almost forgot. You are a complete idiot," she said flatly.

"What's that for?'

"Oh just go confess your undying love to her," she sighed. "I guarantee that it'll work."

"You make it sound so easy."

"Is it not? Just go up to her and say 'Mash Kyrielight, I am madly in love with you. Now follow me to a room and let's have mad s–"

"No! NO!" Ritsuka protested. "That first sentence is one thing, but there is no way in hell I could ever say the second one!"

"Oh? You're not denying the madly in love part?" Stheno pointed out.

"Guh … damn you."

Stheno giggled. "Really, don't worry too much about it. You just think about confessing and I'll take care of the rest."

"Just checking, but you're not going to make Medusa do it for you, are you?"

"Oh please, I'm not that lazy." Ritsuka stared at her skeptically. She rolled her eyes and added, "Anymore."

He paused for a while, frowning in thought. "… Should I?" he finally said.

"What do you mean?" she asked, confused.

Ritsuka didn't speak for a while. He got up, turned his chair around and sat down again, leaning forward. "… I'm really happy that you, and everyone else, has gotten to stay," he began. "But … I don't think the world is that sentimental. Look at Shiki for example. She should have been sent back to her own time once Goetia was taken down, but she's still here. You're all still here. Doesn't that mean it didn't end with Goetia? That there's still something out there? Merlin was summoned here just over a day ago. If all of your help is still needed, then the job's not yet done."

"I never bought that. Euryale is one thing, but what kind of help does a weak Servant like me have to offer?" she said. Ritsuka opened his mouth to protest but she cut him off. "But enough of that. What does that have to do with anything?"

"I still have to Rayshift. I still have to go to many places. But Mash can't come with me. Whatever miracle brought her back, it left her an average human. She hasn't been able to manifest her armor and shield. Unless she becomes a master herself, she can't accompany me. And I … I haven't forgotten how dangerous the Singularities can get. I don't want to leave her hanging on me when I could die any second."

Stheno digested that quietly. Finally, she sighed. "Overly selfless to a fault, aren't you?" she said. "Think about yourself for once. That's not so hard."

"For you, maybe," he said.

Long, long ago, that may have insulted her. Not anymore. "It's easy for you, too, idiot. Alright, think about this: Mash walking hand in hand with … I don't know, Fergus? Fionn?"

Ritsuka frowned. "If that makes her happy, I'd back off."

"That's not what I'm asking you fool," Stheno groaned. "Would you be happy with that?"

"… No."

"There! Was that so hard?" Stheno demanded. When Ritsuka didn't answer, she sighed. "Geez, Euryale is the one who plays cupid, not me. Ritsuka. Isn't it exactly because your lives are short that you owe it to yourself to be happy? Just look at us. Euryale and I made so many mistakes that what should have peaceful eternity for all three of us ended like that. I'm not saying you'll end up like that. Putting others aside, I'd personally drag you back from a pit like that.

"Don't make excuses. Don't just think about what makes Mash happy but you as well." And they're both the same, anyway, she refrained from saying. She suddenly clapped her hands together. "Oh. There's an idea. Us Gorgon sisters, plus you and Mash; let's Rayshift to the Isle and live out our lives there."

"I don't much fancy being an insect, thanks."

Stheno blinked. "Ara, who said anything about that? For you – and, by extension, Mash – I would do everything in my power to find a loophole."

"I'm touched. Really … but, I can't accept that offer."

"Oh? Why not?" she asked curiously.

"I have a duty here. There's no way I can ever abandon that. For anything."

After a second, Stheno smiled. "Good answer. I expected no less of you. Just so you know, had you accepted, I would have made your life a living hell."

She got up from the bed. "I'll leave you to study or whatever. Oh, and the next time I see you and Mash, you better be holding. I want to see you two mess up amusingly … Oh my, I let that slip. How embarrassing."

"Funny, I hear zero embarrassment in your tone," Ritsuka deadpanned.

Stheno giggled again. "Fufu. Don't worry. It's you two: you will only mess up in very silly ways. That in itself is amusing." She walked out the door. "I'll go bother Meduseless. Have fun."

"Don't tease her too much," Ritsuka said.

Stheno scoffed. "I wouldn't do that. It's a library. If I annoy them there, I'll be breaking the quiet. Once we're back in our room, however…"

"Don't go too far," Ritsuka said as casually as one would say goodbye to someone they see regularly.

Stheno glanced back with a slight smile. "Of course not. I would not want to disappoint you after all."

*~B~*

I realized halfway through writing this that I was basically writing Rin. I could replace Stheno with Ishtar and around 90% would still make sense.

But anyways. The bigger question.

Why on earth did I write this?

I have no idea.

I have a bad habit of reading between the lines even when there's nothing there. So when I rolled Stheno near the beginning of this year and looked through her profile and lines, my brain started extrapolating from almost nothing. I then had a random thought and this is the end result.

Your mileage may vary – a whole lot, since this is all just my interpretation of a couple things:

Bond 10 Stheno, but she and Gudao have a sibling relationship

Stheno gets a lot of character development over her time in Chaldea.

The end result feels … very much not like Stheno, doesn't it? It's also very in medias res feeling.

I might continue this. And by continue, I mean I may write more one-shots that can all be pretty much read separately, and may be completely anachronic in order.

Oh well. It's something.

Punitor567 out. El Psy Congroo.