"Sorry, Tohsaka. I know we rescheduled for today, but work hit a snag. It's going to take a bit longer than I expected."
"It's Sunday, Emiya. We're all out of weekend, you know?" said Rin, letting a little irritation slip into her voice to cover the disappointment. Her fingers curled against the hard wood of the desk.
"I know, but it's urgent. Look, I'll call you once I've got it solved, and we can figure out a day."
"I'm beginning to think you don't want to see me, Emiya."
She said it in a teasing tone, but the thought gave her a jolt of apprehension. She had not forgotten the distant look in the man's eyes at the arcade the other day, just before they waved goodbye.
"I do, but this really can't wait." The frown was audible in his voice. "Sorry, Tohsaka."
Rin huffed as she paced back and forth in the study, certainly not stomping. "Fine, but you're going to make it up to me." She considered for a moment. "A new Western-style teahouse opened up in Miyama's old town, did you know? They're supposed to have lots of exotic blends."
"... you're going to make me treat you to all of them, aren't you?"
"Well, since you're offering..." she smirked, and relished the groan she got in response. "But I'm a gracious woman. If you beg, maybe I'll leave it to just the most expensive one."
"You really are a devil," he sighed. There was a shuffle on the other end. "Sorry, I have to go now."
Before Rin could get another word in, the line went dead. She frowned at the phone's screen for a few seconds more, then morosely set it down on the side table.
"Well, he did say he could rarely go out to relax because of all his cases," she told herself as she sat back in her seat with a sigh. "This is normal, I guess…"
It was probably for the best, anyway. She had a lot of rituals to complete, the followup to the research she had brought with her from the Clocktower. The magic circle was already set up in the basement. Might as well get an early start. If she got too lonely, there was always the imaginary Archer.
Reaching for the box of gems in the desk drawer, Rin found herself pausing when the distant noise of a backfiring engine drew her gaze to the study's windows. It looked to be a beautiful day outside, judging from the sunlight shining through the edges of the curtains.
"Screw it." The box was firmly thrown to the back of the drawer. She stretched and rose from the desk. "I already freed up my schedule for today. I don't need that jerk to go out and enjoy myself."
That, and the lingering disappointment was already making it difficult for her to concentrate on the papers in front of her. Spellcasting was risky enough without a distracted mind.
She padded down the hall towards the front entrance, pausing to collect her bag and phone along the way.
"Maybe I should call Ayako… no, she and Sakura have a date by the river today."
Unfortunately, they were some of the only friends she still kept regular touch with here in Fuyuki. Most of the others — Makidera, Watanabe, even sweet Saegusa with her not-so-hidden crush — had tried to stay in touch, but eventually drifted off despite best efforts. It was to be expected, with all the hectic travelling Rin had done between Europe and Japan as part of her work with El-Melloi the Second. Another regret — once, she had made herself think of friends largely as accessories, cover for her public persona. By the time she could let herself honestly appreciate them, time and distance had pulled them away.
Which left her alone on a Saturday morning with no plans, no company, and a wallet full of cash.
Free, Rin told herself as she pulled on her coat and arranged her hair. These things are a matter of perspective.
"Where to go… it's been a while since I visited the pawn shops. I am running low on gems again, and they might have gotten new stock in."
Some of the poorer families that lived in north Miyama had originally come from wealth, and sometimes their heirlooms ended up traded away for desperately-needed cash. On rare occasions, such jewels might even contain a dormant elemental or other spirit. Rin might have been a proud woman, but she was also a magus, and not inclined to let the misfortunes of others get in the way of a good bargain.
There was a spring in her step as she left the manor, even if it felt a little forced. Gradually, she relaxed under the blue sky of an unusually warm autumn day as she made her way to the bus stop. No need for a taxi when taking it easy was half the point.
When the bus arrived, Rin took a seat near the back and settled in for the ride. It was a little hard not to lean up against the window as the streets flew by. The rumble of the engine and the vibration always made her a little sleepy.
But she wasn't so dazed that she didn't recognize the familiar head of auburn hair or the earnest face peering down at his phone screen as he boarded the bus.
"Emiya?" She frowned. "I thought he said he was working today. Where's he going?"
Instinctively she ducked her head as he came down the aisle, then cursed herself for it. Fortunately he seemed not to have noticed, still absorbed in his device as he took a seat halfway down. He was dressed smart casual, a sports coat slung over his dress shirt and trousers.
He doesn't seem the type to dress up just for a stroll, she thought, tilting her head as she considered him. But the courthouse is in Shinto, on the other side of the river. Maybe he's visiting a client?
Maybe, although she couldn't help but notice his attire was also suitable for a date.
That's fine, isn't it? Ayako said he was single, but she could be wrong. Maybe he's going on blind dates again, like she said he used to.
Her grip tightened a bit on the strap of her bag before she forced it to relax. If anything, that would be for the best. It would remove the temptation to seek anything more than a friendship, leaving her to concentrate on her duties.
Still, Rin found her gaze straying towards Emiya again. He was focused on the street signs flying past the windows, punctuated by occasional glances towards his phone. That suggested he wasn't familiar with his destination, whatever that was.
It's none of your concern, Rin, she chided herself, letting her head fall back on the headrest.
Magi were territorial people, and Rin had learnt at an early age the importance of respecting boundaries. In the Moonlit World, they were often enforced by threats of grievous bodily harm. But magi were also curious people, and Rin had spent much of her life struggling to control the natural inquisitiveness that had almost gotten her killed once, when she snooped among her father's books and crystals.
She wasn't that little girl anymore, but the old curiosity still made her fingers itch and powered the gears in her mind.
Where's he going? What's so important that he felt the need to cancel on me?
Conflicting instincts warred within her, but only briefly. T She wanted to know more about Emiya and satisfaction seemed within easy reach. She barely noticed when her stop passed by, keeping her eye on the redhead instead. When he got off the bus a while later, she quietly slipped after him.
Emiya took a few steps forward on cracked pavement before checking his phone again, glancing up at the street sign, then making his way down a narrow lane. Rin followed at a distance, careful to stop every time he paused to get his bearings. That gave her plenty of time to take in the sorry state of the houses, with their washed out facades and seedy atmosphere.
"What on earth…?" she muttered, then shook her head. She had come this far. No backing out until she got her answers.
If Emiya felt anxiety about the surroundings, he showed no sign of it. On the contrary, he didn't so much as flinch when his path took him through side streets and alleyways, the buildings growing ever more dilapidated. Clothes that might have passed for casual in an office stuck out like a sore thumb here, earning him suspicious stares from the inhabitants.
Rin bit her lip, all too aware that she was attracting her own share of unwanted attention. She briefly considered turning back, before curiosity and a flicker of wounded pride pushed her forward. Besides, she was a magus. She had little to fear from derelicts and day labourers, so long as she kept her wits about her.
Eventually they arrived at a slum proper, one of the rare few in Fuyuki. The road was a patchwork, bleached concrete lined with a spiders' web of shiny black tar. Weary men (there were very few women) watched her from dingy plastic chairs, or the stoops of houses held together by planks, tarps and desperation. The tension in the air thicked, an uncomfortable brew of failed dreams and simmering resentment. Rin had to resist the instinct to draw a charged gem from her pocket.
Emiya must have read the atmosphere too, for he didn't try to engage with his silent observers. Instead, he consulted his phone again, then strode across the grimy pavement towards a cluster of ramshackle houses.
He knocked on a door with peeled red paint. When no one answered, he tried again before glancing at the tar paper covering up the windows.
"Anybody home?" he called. Greeted only by silence, Emiya squared his shoulders and tried the door. It swung open with a low creak. "Excuse me," he said with a slight bow, then headed inside.
Rin counted out the seconds, then sidled up to the doorway so she could peek inside. She was just leaning around the frame when a hand roughly grabbed her shoulder.
Instincts honed by years of kenpo made Rin spin around and step forwardinto the hostile grip instead of trying to pull away. Taken aback, her aggressor offered no resistance when she yanked him off balance, then flipped him over her left shoulder.
There was a heavy thud and a yelp of pain. Rin moved back a healthy distance before cautiously turning around, her fists raised in a fighting stance. A stocky man was slowly picking himself up, groaning as he pressed a hand against his back.
"Tch!" She relaxed her guard a fraction, glaring down at him. "What do you think you're doing, grabbing a lady like that?"
A roar of voices echoed behind her, along with a clatter of footfalls.
"What's she done to him?"
Cursing under her breath, Rin moved so her back was to the crumbled stone brick. It was frightening how quickly the crowd assembled, men in worn labourers' clothing and stern-faced women called in possible defense of a neighbour. Rin might have appreciated the sentiment more if it didn't mean a mass of bodies cutting her off from the street.
Murmuring under her breath, she drew some mana from her circuits to stealthily Reinforce her limbs. Just a little bit, she told herself, in case things turned unexpectedly sour. She had to remember that these were ordinary people closing in on her, not trained magi or the skeletal familiars that haunted her dreams. There was no need for excessive force.
"No need to play so rough, girl," said the presumed Eisuke as he brushed himself off and shot her a look.
"You snuck up on me first," she said, trying to keep her voice level. She could vent her indignation later. "You can hardly blame me for defending myself."
"That was your own fucking fault for hovering around that door."
Rin allowed herself a glance at the crowd and almost breathed a sigh of relief. The worst of the tension was dissipating now that she and Eisuke were speaking to each other, albeit in an unfriendly manner. Curiosity joined suspicion on the surrounding faces, and even a few looks of grudging anticipation.
Eisuke's cough caught her attention. "So what do you want, miss? If it's muscle you've come to hire, you won't find any in that house."
And now the anticipation made sense. Well-dressed strangers must rarely come to this part of town unless they were looking to hire some labour, including the shadier kind. Silently trailing Emiya and poking around the house uninvited must have firmly placed her in the latter category in their minds.
Embarrassing, but hopefully it meant they would lose interest quickly once she corrected them.
"I was just passing through," she said coolly. "If you'll let me through, I'll be on my way."
For a shining moment, it looked like they would do exactly that. Eisuke snorted in disbelief, but moved away towards a crowd that was already starting to drift apart. A few of the men and even some of the women were looking her up appraisingly, crude propositions already half-formed in the lift of their lips. Irritating, but nothing she hadn't fielded before in her pawn shop forays.
Rin let out a breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding—
"No, fuck that!"
— then snapped her head around to see a rough looking man make his way through the crowd, broad shoulders outlined by a military-style green jacket. His mouth was set in a hard line that contrasted with the wet gleam in his dark eyes. People reluctantly stepped aside to make room, some giving him looks of uneasy sympathy.
Not a good sign. But trying to force an escape through the crowd now would only confirm in their minds that she was hiding something. Instead she forced herself to look him in the eye and wait.
"You came to collect more from Hina-chan, didn't you?" Green Jacket growled as he approached, hands clenched. "How's she ever supposed to pay you bastards back when you keep charging her more fucking interest?"
"A debt collector, then?"
"She doesn't look the type, but you never know. Maybe it's some trick…"
The crowd's mood was souring, the looks thrown her way growing more sullen. With the man's accusation, Rin was no longer just a stuck-up lady poking her nose where she didn't belong. Now she was the face of an entire system designed to grind down people already on their last legs.
Drawing herself up to her full height, Rin gave a small shake of her head. "I don't know that person. I'm not looking to take anything."
"Liar!" Green Jacket's face was a mask of grief and anger as he walked. He was less than ten feet away now. "You and that guy made a fucking beeline for her house, and you wanna tell me you're not looking for her?"
Emiya, what the hell have you gotten me into?
"There's a perfectly good explanation," she said firmly. "If you'll let me—"
"And you just happened to drop by now," the man cut her off with a snarl, "when her old man got dragged back to prison. When she'd be alone."
The crowd bristled angrily behind him.
"Too fucking late, aren't you?" Green Jacket came to a stop in front of her, then jabbed an accusatory finger towards the open doorway. "Unless you figured you'd snatch what you could from their place. Is that it?"
"That's not true," protested Rin, then jolted as a metal can hit the wall a short distance away.
Green Jacket looked surprised too, and even a little uneasy despite his anger. When a crowd got to the point of throwing things, it didn't take much for things to turn ugly, fast. The man clearly didn't like the idea. But he wasn't about to just let her go, either. There was far too much pain in his eyes for that.
Teeth clenched, Rin braced herself
Then the door next to her swung open, and Emiya stepped out onto the street. His sudden appearance made Green Jacket pause, along with the crowd at his back. Brows furrowed, Emiya quickly swept his gaze over the crowd, then startled when he spotted her.
"Tohsaka?" He turned back to the crowd, his eyes narrowing. "What's going on here?"
Ignoring the crowd's medley of shouted responses, Green Jacket whirled on him. "What are you doing in that house?" he growled. "You think you can just barge in and do what you like?"
Shirou glanced at Rin. "I.. we're looking for Ito Daisuke." He straightened his shoulders and offered the man a small smile. "This is Ito-san's house, isn't it? My name is Emiya Shirou." He gave a polite bow. "I'm his lawyer."
"Lawyer?" Green Jacket repeated skeptically, while the people talked among themselves and stared at Emiya as they digested this information. "Not a fucking chance. Old Man Daisuke could never afford one."
"The wolves got to give you one," offered a nearby woman with the jaded confidence of someone with experience on the subject. "You gotta be represented before they throw the book at ya."
Several people spat on the ground. Given the reputation of court-appointed lawyers, Rin couldn't blame them.
"That right?" muttered Green Jacket, looking a little disarmed before he glowered at Emiya again. "So you're who they gave him?"
"Not exactly," said Emiya with a pained smile. "Nakamura-san was assigned to represent Ito-san, but he's a bit stretched thin."
That's a polite way to say he doesn't give a damn, thought Rin as she stood by, hands still balled into fists. Not when he has private clients he could be billing.
The expressions surrounding her suggested it was a shared opinion.
"So I volunteered to take the case on," said Emiya calmly. "I came here looking for—"
"Yeah? And why would you do that?" Green Jacket cut him off and leaned aggressively towards him.
Rin tensed, but forced herself not to interfere. Not yet, not until there was no other choice. The War had taught her never to threaten violence unless she was prepared to immediately follow through. Around them the crowd stood in a half-circle, watching intently.
"Ito-san needed help," said Emiya as if that explained everything. "I'm was hoping to speak to his daughter Hinako—"
"I knew it!" yelled Green Jacket and grabbed Emiya by the lapels of his jacket. Only the lawyer's quick shake of the head in Rin's direction lowered her fist as the other man roared. "Come to get favours from her, yeah?"
The crowd erupted into angry muttering and jeers, though thankfully there were no further projectiles. Entirely calm, as if he hadn't just heard a half dozen people threaten to gut him like a fish, Emiya slowly but firmly pulled the man's hands off him.
"Not at all," he said. "But I understand why you're wary of me. I'm glad that Itou-san has people like you in her corner." He nodded towards the door. "If you let go, we can head inside and talk things over."
Green Jacket hesitated, torn between his fury and the renewed grief crumpling his face. "Not a chance," he growled at last, and Rin's fingers twitched anew. "You fuckers always talk a good game, but—"
"That's enough, Kaitou!" an older man's voice rang out from the crowd.
While the people had parted reluctantly to let Green Jacket—Kaitou, she mentally amended—through earlier, they looked almost relieved now as they shuffled aside to let the man through. His shoulders were narrow and rather frail-looking under his patched coat, his hair silvered with age, but there was a quiet assurance in his stance as he looked over both men in turn.
"Lashing out blindly at these people won't help," said the man sternly, though his eyes softened as they settled on Kaitou. "Let's at least hear what he has to say."
Kaitou's mouth twisted as the two stared at each other. Then he took a deep breath and reluctantly stepped away. The older man favoured him with a kind smile before looking expectantly at Emiya.
The lawyer let out a relieved breath. "Thank you. I came here today to check up on Itou-san's health." He looked a bit reluctant to disclose such personal information, but pressed on. "I promised her father I would bring her to the hospital if she looked unwell."
The crowd muttered among each other before a wave of the man's arm silenced them.
"That's kind of you," he said, "But Hinako-chan and her father are not citizens, and thus not covered by insurance. Educated as you are, I am sure you know that hospital fees are expensive when paid out of pocket."
Rin resisted the urge to bite her lip. A number of the fake priest's visitors had occasionally complained as much, but they always had the funds to pay anyway. For people who fell through the cracks without such funds…
"I'll pay for the fees," Emiya said resolutely. "Please tell me where she is. If what Itou-san said is true, then her condition—"
"She's dead!" snapped Green Jacket, then squeezed his eyes shut before continuing in a lower trembling voice. "F-fuck your fees, you bastard… she's gone, and I didn't…" He knocked away the comforting hand an older woman tried to put on his shoulder. "Where the hell were you last month, asshole? When it s-still would have mattered? Fuck you!"
Shakily he spat on the pavement in front of a stunned Emiya, then let himself be pulled away. He didn't even spare a glance at Rin as the woman awkwardly wrapped an arm over his shoulder and led him over the pavement. His broken wail echoed over the silent crowd.
"Dead? But that's not… that's…" said Emiya, blinking furiously.
"I apologize for Kaitou's outburst," said the older man after a moment. "He was her sweetheart, you see." He gave a deep sigh, then straightened as he turned to face Emiya. "Hinako-chan died last week."
Rin felt her heart lodge in her throat. When she glanced at Emiya, the man looked positively stricken.
"But Itou-san said…" he began haltingly.
"Nobody's gotten the chance to tell Daisuke yet, because the police won't let us in to see him," said the man with a tight-lipped smile. "Not even a phone call."
Emiya soundlessly moved his lips for a few moments, before he buried his face in his hands, shoulders slumping. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment, "I…"
"It has nothing to do with you, young man." The other's face was stern as he spread his hands. "Hinako-chan was sick for years, and her medicine was expensive. More than Daisuke could afford. Eventually the bills added up and he got desperate. He stole things to get quick cash." The man shook his head. "Too many things. Of course he got caught."
He eyed Emiya critically. "The first time, some lawyer took him on pro bono. But they never believed Daisuke was doing it for his girl, so they didn't try very hard. Daisuke went to jail, and that made things worse for Hina-chan. She took on…" the man grimaced, "odd jobs, that sort of thing. More strain on her poor body."
Rin's stomach lurched uncomfortably as the man spoke. She wasn't the sentimental type, but she knew all about watching a loved one waste away and being powerless to stop it. From the pallor in Emiya's face, she guessed she wasn't the only one.
"Each time Daisuke got released, he'd put her back in bed and start stealing again, twice as desperate. Each time he got caught, his sentence got longer. This…" the man's sigh carried over the hushed crowd. "This was inevitable. But…"
Emiya's eyes widened when the older man gave him a stiff bow, small but deliberate. "You took the time to come down and check on Hina-chan. That means a lot, even now."
Without waiting for a response, he turned and disappeared back into the crowd. As if released from a spell, it burst into a low roar as dozens of conversations overlapped. Still, more than a few glances turned their way, not all of them friendly. Time to take their leave before something could happen to turn the situation sour again.
Rin approached Emiya and gingerly patted his shoulder. He looked at her with empty eyes.
"Let's go, Emiya," she said in a low voice, then sighed when he didn't move. "We're intruding on their grief. Best to leave them to mourn."
She had the feeling that would resonate with him more than a common sense appeal to intact limbs. Her intuition proved correct when he nodded glumly and followed her out of the slum, back into the asphalt tangle of streets.
They walked silently for a little while, shoulders drawn in and gazes trailing on the ground. Then Emiya abruptly stopped and looked at her.
"Why were you there, Tohsaka?" he asked, cocking his head to one side.
"Ahaha!" she laughed stiffly. "I'm not familiar with this part of town, so I might have gotten a bit lost—"
His stare made it clear that he didn't believe her.
"—alright, yes. I saw you on the bus, and I decided to follow you." She crossed her arms and huffed. "Y—you can't blame me! Most lawyers spend all day in their offices, not running off to the worst parts of town. Of course I got curious."
"More like you were thinking something weird," he said, his lips twitching upwards.
"I wasn't!" she said, her cheeks reddening in outrage. "Hmph! Only someone who's weird themselves would think that…"
"If you say so," said Emiya, then pulled out his phone. When she glanced over his shoulder, she saw bus schedules displayed on the screen.
"I'm going to the police station," he said. "They've still got Itou-san in temporary custody before his trial date." He swallowed heavily. "I need to tell him."
He looked away, but she could see the misery written all over his face. Idiot, to get so broken up about something so out of his control, a tragedy years in the making. The magus in her sneered at so much wasted energy, when he should be focusing on his next case instead.
But her treacherous heart went out to him.
"Tch. Emiya, wait! I'll go with you," she said, brushing against his shoulder as she moved to his side.
"Tohsaka…?" he asked, his eyes widening.
"I've already gotten tangled up in this mess, thanks to you. And a Tohsaka always sees things through." It had come out a little more sharply than she'd intended it. Too sharply, from the way his brows crinkled. She hesitated, then gave up and added in a softer tone, "And you look like you could really use the company."
"I… yeah," he relented, to her mild surprise. "I think I could."
Rin waited outside the station while Emiya met with his client, seated on a bench with her pockets stuffed in her coat pockets. She always travelled with a book on her longer expeditions into the city, but today it sat untouched in her bag. There was too much to think about.
When Emiya emerged an half hour later, he looked like he was carrying the weight of the world along with the envelope gripped in his hand.
"Emiya?" she asked tentatively. "How did it go?"
"Not well," he grimaced, shoulders trembling. "Itou-san… he lost his daughter, after everything he did for her. There wasn't much I could say to help."
"I'm sorry," she said, and received a wan smile in return. After a while, curiosity overpowered manners and she gestured towards the envelope. "What's that?"
"Ah. A map of where he hid the money he managed to scrape together over the years." Rin hated the way her brain instinctively caught on the operative word. "Itou-san said that he… he didn't need it anymore. That I should just take it." Emiya shook his head. "I need to find out who's handling Hinako-san's funeral arrangements. Hopefully this can help a bit."
Rin nodded as she fell into step beside him, walking along to their mutual bus stop. Gradually Emiya stood a little straighter, and she felt the mood begin to lift. Not enough, judging from the stiff set of his jaw. She internally debated for a moment, then leaned forward to catch his eye.
"Well, I didn't expect our second outing to be like this," she said with a small smile.
Emiya looked a little sheepish even as he scowled. "Hey, I told you I was busy with work. You're the one who snuck along—"
"I didn't say I hated it," she interrupted, then grinned when he gaped at her. "You're a good man, Shirou."
Rin knew she would treasure the memory of his reddening face that night. Even if teasing him couldn't wipe away the grim events of the day, the distraction did relax his brow a fraction.
That didn't stop doubt from gripping her chest as she waved him off, watching with conflicted eyes as the bus pulled away from the curb. A good man, huh. That's why I should forget about him. Because by the standards of the mundane world, I'm rotten to the core.
She wrapped her coat a little more tightly around herself. It's not like I… okay, fine, I wouldn't mind going on a date with him. We might even hit it off for a little while. Her fists clenched at her sides. But it could never get serious. I'd have to tell him about my magecraft, the Moonlit World… it wouldn't work out.
That should have been the end of it. She told herself it would be, burying her nose in her book on the ride home to distract herself from the ache in her heart.
Two days later, she reluctantly rose from her bed, longing for the sweet embrace of the covers, to find a light blinking on her phone. Bleary-eyed, she tugged it over and struggled for a bit with the damnable password system. There weren't many people who still called Rin, but she could think of a few possibilities. El-Melloi the Second requesting assistance with some difficult bit of research, maybe, or Sakura about the white sage she'd ordered.
Her heart skipped a beat when she read the message.
"Sorry for the trouble this weekend. Can we reschedule to this Saturday?"
Their worlds were just too different. It couldn't work out, for a myriad of reasons.
I really am selfish, smiled Rin as she tapped out 'It's a date!'. The absolute worst. Because I want to try anyway.