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Unlucky Gambler

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It was a meeting that, unlike a lot of other ones, left him feeling like something had been painted onto his back, center his shoulder blades, like a big red target. Somehow, he had become the mark, some kind of landing point, for the same singular figure to bounce off of. Again he'd find himself right under the eye of that particular servant. That particular one who seemed to be constant whenever he made a trip to this world—in whatever form he was summoned in, in whatever time, in whatever place.

This fragmentary meeting and beating that passed in little blips of a jumbled history where time was a little less than the stable straight line he might have otherwise assumed it to be. In that scattered mess there was one near consistent element—a face he'd see again—going by no name of his own. At this point he could feel him moving in just by the sort of energy he dragged with him on the battlefield—like the sort of baggage that came out in a couple years and put a strain on something that could have lasted longer. That's sort of what the red Archer was like: baggage personified.

Of course this dirtbag would come in flying—descending like some kind of angelic wolf-in-sheep's-clothing deal, his eyes always so focused forward. Lancer himself didn't miss the way his shots hit his marks, his higher ground leaving him obvious but unchallengeable. Even getting in range was dangerous. He tore through the remaining ranks that were holding Mash, himself, and the rest back.

It pissed him off. All of it pissed him off so much.

There was not going to be one conflict he could step into where the red Archer didn't show himself. Without fail, he seemed to appear, always with the same attitude. The same problem attitude with a little smugness that waned and waxed with the cycle of the moon—or his mood upon being summoned—or some other vague shit Lancer couldn't suss out. Lancer wasn't even sure he wanted to do the dance that it took to work out what his mood was right then. There were bigger problems to deal with first—namely, way too many dragons. He could deal with that bastard being summoned too later. He would have to reprimand his master. How could they both be summoned at once? Again?

Despite all of this, despite hating seeing that flare of red on the battlefield, things were going smoothly—more than before with the added hands. He would have accepted other hands, but it was a little late now. And there didn't seem to be much of a choice in who was summoned. It was all pointless inner grumbling that he didn't have much of a chance to vocalize. They would take a break on the road and obviously travel from battle to battle, but Archer seemed to be making a point not to cross paths with him then. A piece of Lancer wanted to track him and give him a good shake down but he had a feeling he knew where that would go. It tended to go one way. Just the one.

So for the time being, they stayed dodgy of each other—working plenty well as a team, but neither said a word to the other—stubbornly cinched into their unwillingness to be the first to “give up.”

It took some self-assuring of course, “if it has to be this way,” and “like this is new,” or more commonly “he started it.” It only took the entirety of resolving the dragon issue and wrapping up the singularity for all of the excuses to bubble up to something much worse. This asshole had time to shoot out dragons, but no time for a “hello.” It seemed like a stretch. The more Lancer thought on it, the more he wanted to sort Archer out. He let himself stew on it—he knew that, but that didn't make him any less angry with it all. Once things were closed up he could afford to take the time. That was when it seemed appropriate—or at least as appropriate as it was going to get in this mess.

Back at Chaldea headquarters there was a little celebration of their success and a small piece of time carved out for rest after, but nothing that held Lancer for long. That downtime left him mostly with space to wander the facility or lay around. In either state he didn't last long. It didn't take much to convince him of the need to seriously track down that red Archer bastard.

The glum repetitive hallways took awhile for him to be able to navigate—not that knowing where he was himself helped. Staff were little help in tracking the man he needed down—it seemed he was still keeping to himself. It seemed so typical. So annoying. So exactly what he would do this time. That he was making this harder on purpose (because of course Archer would get in the way despite being unaware) only served to leave Lancer more steamed as he made his way down the halls.

Shoulders tensed, he could sense his own irrationality. Why get so worked up? What did it matter? That he was too good to even seriously acknowledge him? There was no way he forgot—more likely he knew something even Lancer couldn't yet. He couldn't even afford him a smug look about it?

The piling questions plagued his head as he sought the source of his mounting frustrations. It seemed like each bend in the hall was only another hurdle in his way. This man had to be somewhere—he had to be. It wasn't until that frustration started to hit a frantic point that a hall door opened and a familiar form stepped out. Lancer halted dead a few paces from the open door, the servant cloaked in red stepping out casually—as if he hadn't been hiding (and, perhaps, he had not been). Archer's gaze turned toward Lancer as soon as he scanned that direction. Somewhere wavy between casual and tense, he finished closing the door behind himself. That done, his full attention fixed on Lancer who had somehow forgotten the first thing he wanted to say.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Archer got away with saying first, only partially as smug as Lancer had anticipated.

“That's it? How long have we been seeing each other already?” he blurted back at him, already more immediately annoyed with him.

“I'm trying to avoid tracking that at this point,” was Archer's snappy answer as he shrugged one shoulder.

“I meant since you got summoned here,” Lancer corrected him quickly, not willing to let that hang. He actually wasn't sure what they were at either—also for the same reason. Whenever they wound up together in the same time and place they couldn't avoid one another. It was like some sick twist of fate that edged on Lancer's nerves in a way he didn't quite like and didn't have a good word for.

Archer didn't answer so fast this time. His gaze averted, his stance a bit more tense now. He always seemed tense, but this was noticeably more so. A straight posture and a clenched fist gave him away. “A few days then. But I've been focused on the mission. It seemed like the best idea to leave you to that. Better than letting you get distracted and angry.”

“Who says I was gonna be angry?” Lancer shot back.

“You're angry now. It was wise to put it off.”

Of course that was the reality but that didn't mean Lancer had to sit back and just take that. He straightened up in place, not quite ready to call his spear, but he could have been. He had enough cool to hold back for the time being. Getting angrier played into Archer's game—he just needed a moment. He had time for a breath before Archer kept talking.

“If you just want to be acknowledged, I know you're here. Was that as satisfying as you hoped it would be?”

Plans about keeping cool could go to hell.

Lancer strode up a few steps closer, now only a pace away from the red Archer—their eyes nearly level as both refused to back down or show a shred of weakness. There was enough macho posturing in the hall that it could probably have been felt from across the facility. Chances were high that someone was going to pick up on the fight starting to simmer. They would have to make it quick. It was like the both of them sensed it and braced, but neither made the first move.

“You're still the same no-pride bastard you started as, aren't you?” Lancer said through a strained grin, his eyes still fixed on Archer's—waiting for any signal that he might make a move.

Archer didn't flinch. “Maybe. But I already know you came here for one thing. You're an easy read, Lancer. You're just an old dog who's hungry for a fight.”

Lancer wasn't sure if he heard a hint of affection in that latter part or if he just hallucinated it in the midst of his own stewing. There was kind of a look in Archer's eyes he had a hard time reading. For some reason he seemed pretty amused with all this. Did he plan for this or did he want it? Or was it he got off on pissing other people off?

The grin on Lancer's face split a little wider, just crooked enough to show gritted teeth before he answered. “If that's the case you seem pretty eager to feed me. Are you any better?”

“I never claimed to have any higher moral ground here.”

“Like you ever have any higher moral ground.”

Their gazes parted as Archer looked away. His shift in tone was somehow something Lancer anticipated and yet it still struck him. So offhandedly he replied, “So that's the case. Shouldn't you give up on me already?” A part of him was playing surely, but the rest was pessimistic enough Lancer couldn't tell for sure. He wasn't sure exactly which half of the story Archer really believed. Maybe he didn't know which version of the question suited him himself.

It dug into something deeper than Lancer wanted to go. He wanted to let out the bottled frustration—to take this to blows. Another question rattled the inside of his skull and blurred his goals.

Boiling over, Lancer grabbed at Archer's collar—just to do anything besides fumbling through words in his head. Inevitably his mouth opened too. “Why the hell's it always gotta be you? You with the same damn attitude problem!”

Archer stayed within Lancer's grip, not moving or retaliating. A strange smile settled on his lips and toyed along with a tone so sardonic it made Lancer uneasy. “It must be some kind of sick destiny someone likes to see played over and over. Maybe someone has fun watching you get riled up over nothing.”

“It's not nothing! You can't just ignore me and pretend we're cool like that!”

“Humanity is basically doomed right now. It's not really the first thing we need to deal with,” came Archer's flat answer. He remained unphased by Lancer's grip, hardly acknowledging it. Lancer's hand twisted slightly—that too going unnoticed.

“I know that! Whatever you're thinking, I'm not that stupid! But the last time you were—hell...! You're not gonna say anything to me?” Lancer said back, the words seeming to spill out on their own before he really had the time to process what he'd said. Much of that he might have wished to hold back. Most of it even. Too late now.

Archer's expression turned darker, eyes narrowed. “...I don't know what you're expecting to hear. I'm here now. I have no excuse. Are you any better?” he challenged instead—likely to shift attention.

“I'm...! I'm here too. It's the same as always. This is just what we do—that's not gonna change,” Lancer said with some struggle. Prying into “here” and “now” was always a good way to unearth something a little more unpleasant. The both of them had been summoned more than once at the same “here” and “now.” So no version of either felt permanent—existence in this way was a transitory thing. A series of blinks that would come and go and come again—but always with this Archer. This same bastard who didn't even bat an eye when Lancer's shoulders tensed up.

“No. I guess it isn't.” A long pause punctuated that fact as it hung over the both of them. “I will tell you what I intend to do this time, Lancer. If it'll calm you down anyway. I'm going to see our master to the end of this mission—whatever it takes. You want this job done too, don't you? We shouldn't see any trouble with each other this way. You should be grateful,” Archer finished and straightened up himself. His hand reached slowly for Lancer's, intending to pry his fist away from his collar. His fingertips met Lancer's knuckle before he could pull his hand away himself. That faint sensation that came with skin-to-skin contact lingered on Lancer's hand after, the feeling something of a distraction.

“Fine. This is the last time I show you any concern. That's all you're getting,” Lancer eventually said, taking a step back, less ready to fight it out now.

“You're showing me concern?”

“Oh shut up. I'd have to be a real ass not to at least make sure you're not summoned more messed up than usual.” Lancer paused as he realized something about their last outing. That did make sense in the end didn't it? “Besides, You had to have been out there covering my back for some reason. You think I got weaker this time around or something?”

Archer looked honestly surprised with the assessment, guilty for a flash even. “We're working as a team right now. I've merely been doing my part.”

“Yeah? I can't really recall taking any hits, even when I was surrounded. I had someone sniping off my problems. I know I'm pretty good, but it was a little too easy out there,” Lancer continued, looking progressively more smug as it became more obvious that Archer was being called out and couldn't hide it. The accusation obviously ruffled him up just enough Lancer could catch it. There was something kind of endearing about it—seeing that facade of not giving a shit fall as Archer did in fact have a shit to give.

“You're pulling this out of your ass. I have better things to do,” Archer started, looking like he might turn away.

Lancer stepped back in, stopping Archer from getting far from the door by placing his hand on the door's face, his arm effectively blocking him from backing out. It left them a little too close and an outside viewer would probably jump to conclusions, but Lancer wasn't one to back down or worry about optics too much. The suddenness and casual way Lancer leaned in left Archer wide eyed. It was clearly a battlefield he didn't know how to navigate quite as well. A surge of confidence cracked open a grin on Lancer's face. It was good to know he could best him here too.

“What's better that you're gonna do? Why not chat for a minute?” he said in a lower voice, eyes narrowed. That seemed to be just enough to stall Archer for longer, especially now that his back was literally against the wall.

“This isn't much of a chat. What would you even want to talk to me about?” Archer asked back. It was a fair enough question, but it wasn't like they'd never shared company. As far as Lancer was concerned once they'd fought enough it was basically a sort of companionship—even if it were a rocky one. That was at least how Lancer was rationalizing it. He didn't like thinking that hard to begin with.

“Tell me about you. Let's actually talk. You're not so afraid of me you can't do it, right? I don't bite,” Lancer said, leaning in just a hair closer. All of it was enough to seemingly unnerve Archer quite a bit more than he anticipated. Was it the biting comment? It was definitely the biting part. A little bit of glee sparks in Lancer as he realized he could add onto that. “Too hard anyway.”

He tried to hold Archer's gaze, just to see him squirm—and squirm he did—the effort and somewhat juvenile addition just enough to do the trick. Uncomfortable wasn't how Lancer would describe Archer right then, but maybe more on the side of “Surprised-and-Unsure-How-to-Handle-That.” It only lasted a moment as Archer was smart enough to turn his gaze away and straighten up a little. If it put him closer, so be it. Giving Lancer any kind of edge was a mistake. He could try to play it cool , but it did come at the cost of meeting that unwavering grin again.

“There's nothing to say,” was Archer's rather flat answer.

“Oh, colder than ever, huh? Then tell me why you were protecting me out there,” Lancer said to counter the freeze, leaning a bit more into his hand still on the wall near Archer's shoulder.

“I have less to say about that. It's my job. There shouldn't be any questions.”

“Oh? Then I want to go back to the other question. Take that one, Archer...Oh that's a problem isn't it?” Lancer paused for effect, even letting that grin slip to throw Archer off. It seemed to work. “There's a couple other Archers around. I can't keep calling you that.”

“You can just fine.”

“What? And confuse them? Just say your true name. You know mine, what's the problem? You don't want to admit it?”

Lancer could admit to himself he kind of enjoyed getting on Archer's nerves like this. Of course he wanted to hear the answer for himself, but he couldn't get that, he could enjoy that twinge of annoyance in his face, the twitch at his lips, the slight way his eyes would avert away leaving Lancer the opportunity to really look over those features in a little distress. Even if it were small, it was a look that paired well with the focused battling sort of look he usually saw on him. Maybe he was too much fun to play around with.

“That's a different matter. 'Archer' is fine. You shouldn't need to call me so much anyway,” Archer answered after a second of searching. It did seem to make him uneasy though. He wasn't one to use names much as it was. It didn't seem fair that he could leverage Lancer's own name over him so easily. Was he really the last to say it? Maybe it just left an impression on him.

In all honesty, he just wanted to hear it from Archer's own mouth. Some kind of stake rode on this, one he couldn't articulate very well.

“Maybe I want to call you sometime. It might be important you know.”

Archer looked a little confused with that answer, the slight soften of his usually intense look was a small victory again. Lancer wasn't sure he had the patience to keep whittling away, but curiosity kept him fixed for now. He'd not found himself drawn anywhere else at least.

“What would be 'important' to you?”

Lancer let his gears turn, actually trying to think about his answer for once. “If I was looking for you. Or something was coming for you on the battlefield. Those are pretty good reasons, right?”

“You can call me Archer then too,” he said in the end, the question a bait all along.

“You and every other Archer! Come on!”

An odd grin spread at Archer's lips as Lancer was groaning about the answer. “Very well. Red Archer.”

“Color coded now? Shit, that makes sense...until another red one pops up. Then what?”

Archer set one hand at his chin, his brow furrowed. It seemed like he honestly hadn't considered that possibility. It didn't even seem like he was willing to answer that very soon either. When an answer did come, the power of it nearly threw Lancer to the floor.

“One of us is going to have to change,” Archer said, completely deadpan.

“What? No, just use your name! It's not gonna kill you here. You make yourself infamous fast enough it's not even gonna matter when we fight other servants,” Lancer explain rather rapidly, hardly believing this conversation was real. There had to be a way out of it. And he couldn't exactly back away from Archer after all of this too. They were still stuck in each other's faces. No retreat though, not like this.

“Infamous? I'm not the one always running out to create a problem,” Archer countered his voice raised just a hair to match where Lancer was reacting from. He didn't seem phased by his own comment before, but that was perhaps to be expected.

The both of them froze for a split second as they heard footsteps coming from down the hall. In unison they panicked. They were too close together, yelling about something no one would believe if they explained it. In that moment of fear, each grabbed at the other and tried to open the door and pull one another into the room Archer had come from. It took an extra second of fumbling, but since they did have the same idea, they made it inside, Lancer with his back to the tail of the door now shut behind them. The room within was the same sort of sterile room normal to HQ—the lights out since Archer had left. The pair didn't really breathe or move for a few moments; each was listening to hear the footsteps eventually go past their position and on further into the depths of the halls.

Only once that was over they both sighed and glanced at the other. Archer still had his hand on Lancer's wrist, Lancer's free hand still grasping at Archer's shoulder. With some awkwardness, they let each other go, glancing aside.

“I don't want to explain this to our master is all,” Archer began before the question was ever posed.

“What? That you want to just be 'the red bastard' for the rest of this? And who even said that was them?”

“I don't want that. And frankly with your luck it would have been.”

Lancer crossed his arms over his chest, an offended tone clear in his words. “My luck? You're gonna blame it on me?” Something struck him before he let Archer tear into him. “And even if it is crap, your lot is cast in with mine, you might as well get used to it.”

A bewildered pair of eyes met Lancer's like he'd said something unbelievable. “Cast with your's...? How exactly?”

“Well we always see each other. I'm basically stuck with you. So you're stuck with me.”

“I don't have to be 'stuck' with you. Why would I even want to be?”

At that moment, Lancer felt himself much more prepared to strike. He didn't have the advantage of pinning Archer to the wall anymore, but he did have a few more tricks up his sleeve. He shifted to set one hand on his own hip, the other hand free to playfully tease a finger along and under Archer's chin. It was worth it for the look that was greeted with.

“You're not gonna find another servant who's better than I am. You might be a red bastard, but you can see that much, right? Why else would you cover my ass out there? Unless you were into the view?” he said smoothly, almost overwhelmingly so.

Or at least Archer's reaction could have been called overwhelmed. He looked like he'd been backed into a corner, trapped in some sort of horrible web spun by an idiot. It probably wasn't that often he managed to play himself, but there he was—caged by his own stupid off-hand question.

That was not precisely what Lancer was anticipating. He expected some backlash, to have his hand slapped away or something. It wasn't that unusual. Not every hit landed in that way. He'd get that figured out someday, but he didn't expect it to be the day he dragged another man into a dark room in a fit of desperation to avoid a sliver of shame. Especially a guy he told everyone he hated.

Archer was kind of an annoying shit.

And he called him names earlier—egged him on on purpose.

But here Archer was anyway, his face obviously burning as he tried to deny it. “I didn't say anything about that. You're...just drawing your own conclusions out of nothing.”

Lancer leaned over Archer's way from his side, a shit-eating grin on his face. “Yeah? You sure? I don't blame you, you know, if you're taken with me. I get it enough. It's alright. I'm just a big heartbreak waiting to happen,” he chatters on, managing to further drive Archer up the wall.

Just to finish him off, Lancer added one more thing. He gave Archer a grin and a wink, oozing with all the charm he had. “Sorry if you're next, Red.”

It was kind of a impure heart, but it seemed like Lancer had hit his mark. He marveled at the great unraveling of Archer's cool, all of that broken by a little flirting and pushing his buttons. He had to admit he had fun doing it too. It left him feeling like there was something more he could still have however.

Best not to dwell.

Archer, in that time, had managed to take a few defensive steps back, one hand up as if it would stop all this. Eventually his frustration prevailed and he straightened up, his glare more unfriendly than usual. Lancer missed the playful smirk already.

“I don't appreciate being messed with.”

“I bet you don't.”

When Archer looked his way expecting more, Lancer only shrugged one shoulder. The red bastard shook his head and sighed away his flustered lapse. Still just a hint of the heat in his cheeks lingered in such a way that Lancer couldn't glance away. He didn't need to be this cute.

“I don't get what you're saying, but if you're done...we should go,” Archer said eventually, a sort of dismissive inevitability sounding from his voice that led Lancer to tougher questions.

“Just messing with you is too much huh?”

Archer didn't answer right away, giving the side wall a good glare. There was a tension in his shoulders Lancer could trace across the rest of his body—an uncomfortable look, to be sure.

“You're a flirt. I simply didn't anticipate being a target of that. That was my mistake.”

“It was. You're about cute enough.” Lancer hardly blinked through his own answer, but it was enough to toss Archer right back into his own chaos—stewing in his own inability to believe this was still going.

“Since when was this the case? And 'about?' What does that even mean?” Archer snapped at him.

A bigger laugh got away from Lancer before he could manage any words. The reaction didn't seem to ease Archer's nasty look. “Since whenever. I don't get the chance a lot. You and me one on one and we're not killing each other? I mean, this has gotta be a better outcome, right? Although I'm not gonna lose at this either.”

“You didn't even answer all of that. And it doesn't take much to be better than killing each other.”

“Even if it's fun?”

“For you,” Archer answered bluntly, faster than he had before too.

“So you definitely prefer the flirting,” Lancer said, his assurance set.

The speedy answer to be snappy was perhaps not helping him in most cases. Lancer was fine speaking off the cuff. Whatever happened, happened. If Archer melted into a puddle right there he was fine with scooping him up. If he got pissed and stormed out that wouldn't be much different from their usual so that was fine too. He was a little more invested in Puddle Archer however.

Archer groaned and turned away, unable to really stand the face and source of this angst much longer.

“I can't believe you're still this much of a dense idiot...”

Sensing an opportunity Lancer slipped in closer, putting an arm around Archer's shoulders and leaning into him just enough he could speak in his ear. “You wanna spell it out for me then?”

The few seconds of pause were enough to leave Lancer lowering his guard. That down, Archer turned his head and shoulders enough he could catch Lancer's chin in his hand. He only peeked at Archer's look long enough to be surprised by it—a determined, if a little embarrassed look that immediately hit him square in the face. That impact deepened by the moment he felt his lips—Was that a shaky anxiety touch or purposely light to tease the idea?—by the end he couldn't tell which way he was supposed to be getting pulled except that he was definitely being dragged into it.

That same look lingered on Archer's face in a way that froze Lancer in place. “I don't want you so sure you're not going to lose.”

That look and touch told him a thousand other stories, but the words accompanying them were so very much what he should have expected he couldn't help a laugh. This kind of conversation turned to quicksand around them. Retreating to this room was part of the plan too, wasn't it? It seemed like he was going to trip up and slip in eventually. Might as well go in face first.

“If it's a challenge...then show me. If you can do it,” Lancer said in a lowered voice, somewhere between coaxing him and making it a fight. Somehow it felt like both. That kind of familiarity felt good in a strange room.

Archer's fingers slipped away from Lancer's face, brushing the length of his arm to go for his wrist once more. This grip was different, especially as he turned and started to lead him back toward the bed. He knew exactly what this signaled, he wasn't an idiot. Maybe he was, but he at least got this, he just wasn't going to worry about it. If Archer wanted to play this game, he could play along. Where that would put them in the end, he couldn't even guess. He didn't want to. He had a feeling he'd know in a couple hours.

Chapter Text

Neither of them anticipated any kind of whirlwind romance or anything good coming out of this. By the time they’d finished partially unraveling the other with challenges issued through lower voices and heated tones barely hushed, neither knew what to do with himself. In the heat of the moment it seemed like a good idea, but now both were left sitting at either side of the bed in a state of half-undress no one knew what to say.

Lancer thought about wanting a smoke and lingered idly on that thought rather than on Archer’s silence.

Eventually it annoyed him enough that he stood and started to straighten himself out. He felt Archer’s gaze working over his back, eyes boring into flesh soon covered again. Maybe they had rushed--he wasn’t even sure he’d really seen that much of him--besides what he had to see considering where his mouth wound up. Another time, maybe. Then again, he hadn’t really let himself think about what came next.

He heard Archer sigh heavily and glanced back over his shoulder toward him.

“I imagine you’re re-acquainted with me well enough now?” he said in the usual tone, but not the sort one would expect after any sort of romp. Lancer turned properly and caught a lot less tension in his figure, his back rested against the wall, face still looking a little warm.

“That’s all you got to say, huh? Kinda snappy for the one who gave out soon,” Lancer said with a grin in return.

It was enough to send Archer’s gaze fleeing--obviously unwilling to look at him straight on. “I don’t recall you keeping time.”

“If I didn’t you were gonna say you lasted longer. Come on, I know better.”

Perhaps the comment was stupid enough to draw Archer’s eyes back on him, obviously trying to judge the truth in that.

“It doesn’t really matter. You’re satisfied, aren’t you?”

Lancer shifted his weight, hand following suit to rest on the same hip. Quite literally, he was fine. It had been awhile so he definitely wasn’t going to complain but at the same time, something irked him and he couldn’t put a finger on what that was. “You did fine if you’re worried about it,” he says instead of bothering with anything substantive.

“...I’m not concerned with my performance.”

“You could be if you really wanted to, but you could just say what you’re actually concerned with since you haven’t chased me out. Is it round two? You don’t want me to leave?” Lancer said, hedging that actual question with some taunting laced around it. Maybe that would feel normal enough for the both of them.

Archer’s eyes turned away again, his shoulders no longer so loose and relaxed. The pause lasted a bit longer before he started to belt his pants back properly, fixing his top so that hint of defined flesh Lancer’s fingers had slipped up over no longer peeked out. It felt like a loss somehow.

“If I'm ‘stuck’ with you I thought this would be easier if it were just… a physical thing.”

Lancer stared for a moment, mostly noticing Archer seemed a bit dumbfounded with himself too. It was maybe not the most thought out escalation of events. As he worked out what he meant he felt the right words hit his mouth.

“So it's a friends with benefits deal. Oh it's a thing even, how about that?” He said with a laugh, more amused than anything else.

A dry sigh left Archer’s lips, his shoulders sagging. “We’re hardly friends to begin with, it isn't a ‘thing.’”

“You won't say friends after almost choking on me like that huh?”

“An associate maybe.”

“An ass is what you mean.”

Archer smirked. “You finally admit it.”

“A nice ass. A nice, hot ass, right? That's what you've been thinking this whole time. You're kind of a pervert but I guess I expected that,” Lancer replied, his grin toothier every second that Archer failed to answer him with actual words instead of gawking.

“...I see this was a mistake,” Archer finally said after an uncomfortable silence.

“It wasn't a mistake fifteen minutes ago when you hadn't finished.”

“I thought this would at least resolve whatever you want to call what was going on between us. It’s settled now; you can stop being so moody about me now,” Archer countered, quite happy to change the subject. Was his face burning? Lancer wasn’t sure, especially since he turned his head away.

“This was all part of your plan then huh?” Lancer said, eyes up for a minute. “You were gonna blow me and then we were all good?”

“...Not in those words…”

“Sort of in those words though? I don’t have any problem if you just want to get laid but you can at least admit you’re into me if that’s there too.” Lancer kept a close eye on Archer, waiting for any kind of reaction.

What he saw was a slight burning still in Archer’s face and an expression that told him he was struggling with how to answer that in any form. It was different from the sort of focused look he was used to seeing in him on the battlefield. The intensity was there but without any of the same confidence; or maybe not confidence so much as the air of it. Archer stood up straight because he had to at this point, not so much because he was necessarily good at it or even a natural. He seemed more at home being a busybody over their master’s health and well-being or helping put Mash on track. Archer projected on the world, but held individuals painfully close for those projections to work and just perhaps Lancer had seen up too close under the veil.

“I don’t hate you, Lancer...Seeing another servant I knew in this situation has been something of a relief. But I don’t want to rely on that. We have individual jobs to do and the state of the world is more important than simply having company I can relate with. However sad that is,” Archer finally spoke, breaking the silence with a lower voice and only a short glance Lancer’s way when he was done.

Lancer lets that sink in for a short time, he wasn’t even sure he understood it all anyway. Archer thought too much, that was usually his opinion of him anyway, but he took it to extremes and even if Lancer didn’t get it entirely, he could sense out when he’d gone too far. “You don’t want to get caught up in anything too deep and want to focus on world saving basically right?” He worked out in the end.

Archer nodded once and rested forward, his elbows to his knees. “If you have to put it like that, yes essentially. Has this been enough for you?”

Lancer didn’t really let himself mull that one over. “Not really, no.”

An honestly shocked look set over Archer’s features as he sat up properly again. “No…?”

“I’m gonna come visit again sometime. When I feel like it. If this is the only way to you’re gonna say hello to me you better just be prepared drop your pants when I walk by,” he says, only half joking but maybe not so clear on that until he started to laugh.

It was surprising enough that Archer didn’t even respond; he got a flabbergasted look plastered over his face like he might have died frozen that way.

“Or don’t blow me, fine. But I’m not going to spend this whole war not dealing with you. Besides, you’ll work yourself into the dirt if no one keeps an eye on you.”

“...I don’t need to hear that from you,” Archer got out finally.

“But you apparently have to hear it from somebody and I’m the somebody who knows you best here. You’re stuck with me, Archer,” Lancer proclaimed, finding it in himself to give the other man a big grin. Surely the charm of it all would outweigh Archer’s own embarrassment.

Archer turned his gaze away again but this time couldn’t quite hide the small smile on his face. He let out a sigh. “If you insist… I could stand to see you again.”

“Good. When you’re not busy laying waste to whatever enemy is next or hovering over our dear master you can see me. It’s a deal,” Lancer said decisively.

“I don’t hover…” was the only objection Archer had.

Lancer found himself laughing again, eventually taking a few paces toward the door. “We’ll see about that. I’ll ask the master what she thinks once you’re done in the kitchen again.”

There was a huff out of Archer and he certainly wouldn’t look Lancer’s way. “None of that will be your’s if you keep that up.”

“Aww don’t be that way. It’s just the truth, you could try embracing it you know.”

That earned Lancer a longer pause and an eventual rough look but somehow it was softer than usual. “Ask me another time. When I haven’t gotten sick of your face again.”

“Hey, I’m tired of your shit too! Great! Let’s do this again sometime,” Lancer said trying not to laugh harder as he nearly missed grabbing the door to get it open. He peeked out and stepped through when it looked clear. Once he was past the door and out he poked his head back in, catching Archer almost relaxing again. He gave him a quick wink and slipped away right after. If he had to take a guess he was fairly sure he saw Archer’s face starting to burn up all over again. Much better than letting him leave thinking he’d gotten himself under control.

Lancer paced his way back toward the room he’d been occupying, his thoughts a little muddy but he expected as much. Archer was still a pain in the ass, that much didn’t change at least. However, this time he seemed a touch different. He seemed less singled minded, still so to an extent. That he saw Lancer at all was a good shift. At least Lancer chose to read him this way. This place seemed a bit healthier for him, mentally. Lancer wondered if he himself came across that way as well. He felt a little freer after all that mess but couldn’t convince himself if it was the act, the confession, or simply existing with a longer leash than usual that did it.

A part of him lingered on the feeling of Archer’s hips grasped in his hands, the way he looked so riled up just to have someone at his belt getting him loose. He tried not to think about it but a portion of his mind had burned in that image of Archer’s face as he started to feel too good to hide it. It pissed Lancer off and yet he wanted to see it again already. He didn’t mean to work himself up over it and yet there he was in the hallway, mad and thinking filth.

He stalled in place, tilting his head back and letting out a hard breath. It helped to cool him off a little and give him some space to prepare when he heard a group of footsteps coming down the hall. He had guesses about who it was and he certainly isn’t surprised to see Ritsuka and Mash rounding the corner, both of their faces lighting up when they caught him.

Ritsuka waved first, picking up her pace with Mash and Fou right behind her. “Cu!” she began with a small smile as she approached him. She was a small thing but energetic and forward. She’d made a good first impression on Cu and he couldn’t help but smile a bit back when he was addressed.

“You’re here! We were looking in and checking up on everyone,” Ritsuka continued, looking more pleased when she received a smile back.

Mash nodded at her side, her form so relaxed compared to the sort of firm posture he’d gotten used to seeing her in when she held her shield up so steadily. “Senpai insisted. We won’t be long,” she said softly.

“Is that right? Well you see me now, I’m in one piece. Just strolling around. Nothing strained or anything,” Cu answered with a reassuring grin. It was a white lie. He was strolling around and he definitely didn’t strain anything; there was just more he wasn’t going to mention. Ever.

Ritsuka glanced him over and the looked up at his face. She paused there for a moment before nodding twice herself. “So you are. If you say you’re feeling alright, then I trust you. Let me know if you need anything though, okay?”

Cu stared at the pair for a moment, only blinking before cracking and laughing. Both of them seemed confused, but he stopped soon enough. “Nice of you to offer. I’m supposed to be looking out for you though, I think.”

“It works both ways, maybe,” Ritsuka answered, maybe slightly less confident now. Her inexperience was clear, but somehow that part didn’t make Cu worry too much.

“Alright, keep an eye on me, Master. Not too close now,” he decided in the end, pairing the answer with another broad grin.

That seemed to be more than enough for the young master, her shoulders relaxing a little and some warmth returning to her cheeks. “Of course. But I’m glad. You seem happier now. If things out there stress you out, let me know,” Ritsuka said.

Cu felt that one almost like an arrow right to the chest. He tried not to pause, instead laughing it off as best he could. “Don’t you worry about it. I’m just getting back into the swing of things. Go check in on the rest, yeah?”

Mash seemed less convinced now, like something was bothering her, but she leaves the answer to Ritsuka, who minded less at least. “Alright, take a break still. We’ll see you a bit later,” she said.

With that they parted with a short wave each, the little group carrying on, probably to see if they could find Archer next. Once they were gone he let himself slump a bit and sigh.

Was he happier? Did all that make a difference so obviously? How could she cut through to that so easily? It had to be a coincidence. That lighter feeling was definitely something else. He wasn’t going to credit that red bastard for shit. Not like this.

Chapter Text

It felt like the next Rayshift came quickly. There was just enough time to enjoy some of limited comforts of Chaldea HQ before the next Singularity became clear and ultimately pulled them away. Lancer had a certain expectation when it came to seeing Masters wandering into strife--or causing it--and to see this young girl brave into only gods knew what gave him a sliver of pride, but also more work to do in the end. Mash and her dear senpai earned a few stripes in their last encounters; however, things would be ramping up from there. Just a feeling.

Lancer had a pretty good gut instinct, if he’d stop long enough to listen to it anyway.

The Rayshift took the group to Rome herself, glorious in picture but wedded in war. The lovely ruler of Rome they soon met left a familiar impression on him, but he wasn’t going to say what. There were more important troubles--namely waves and waves of warriors constantly hounding them and the Emperor’s troops. Lancer wasn’t all that keen on fighting non-servants, but somewhere at the end of the line would be the actual threats. They just had to get so far.

War like this had a way of lasting--stretching itself out ages longer than anyone would like. As a servant this hardly impacted his energy, but it did wear on his patience and nerves. Protecting their Master, Nero, the rest--it was sort of exhausting in a different way. When they did have evenings of rest or camping on the road, he found himself picking a spot away and getting some rest outside any of the other comforts that could be offered in such a case.

It felt strange to be able to guess this much, but he figured Archer was doing the same.

They had been in contact since that first time they made their deal, but not any deeper so. Lancer caught Archer once or twice almost waiting around for such a chance and took it back at Chaldea, but as soon as they were deployed things shifted.

The battlefield wasn’t really the place he’d typically get into this kind of game.

And yet.

And yet it irked him. Not even a teasing word or a moment of play with this guy. Archer looked as stoic as always on the field--too good to pass him much more than a glance. As much as Lancer gave him hell for it, Archer really did pick off enemies he didn’t himself, backing him up with a well placed shot here and there; a dive to the rescue now and then.

Whatever the hell that expressed--instead of using words like a normal person.

It plucked at his nerves. Lancer got this odd feeling it was on purpose. Eventually Archer was going to play him into whatever his hand was and they would wind up somewhere. Right into paranoia about it and resting in camps alone--if that were any good for a plan at least.

After a particularly lengthy series of battles the party camped out on the road, human soldiers too resting in their tents and attending to all the things an army must. While Mash and Ritsuka were socializing with some of the rest, Lancer let himself wander the camp and look over the work being done. Standing out as a servant he was used to, but here most were so busy they hardly paid him any mind.

Somewhere in the sea of swaying tents and campfires he spotted a familiar flash of red. Despite himself, he followed after that glimpse--weaving between soldiers and spears to try and find where in the waves that man had gone. After nearly tripping over a stray rope, Lancer picked up his pace, legs carrying him faster around milling soldiers and packs of supplies. He wasn’t sure how he missed Archer even in all this, but he seemed to have just vanished. Right as he slowed, ready to let it be a hallucination, he felt a grasp sudden and tight at his forearm.

Immediately he tried to jerk away only to find the grip tighter still, coming from the open flap of the tent he’d crossed in front of. In only the edge of sunset cast over the field it was hard to see at first, but he soon realized who had a hold of him. Quietly he stepped into the tent, led by the arm, letting the flap of the tent fall behind him. It left him in near dark with the man who had led him around.

They traded barely seen glares for a moment before Lancer opened his mouth first.

“Have yourself some fun that way?”

Archer cracked a small chuckle, eventually shuffling in the dark a moment before getting a candle lit. With the light under his face it brightened and shaded his features in a stark way--ominous and yet endearing with that sort of crooked almost-smile. “I couldn’t think of a better way to avoid drawing attention to us,” Archer said, sounding the slightest bit amused.

Lancer took a step back, his arm now free to be crossed over his chest with the other. “You got something to say to me you can’t in front of the rest, huh?”

There was a flash of surprise on Archer’s face--one quickly covered with a more serious look heightened by the flickering fire under his chin. “Something like that. The timing was never right.”

The phrasing of that caught Lancer’s attention. He’d been joking of course, and maybe it was just the darkness and that single light between them, but something seemed actually serious in that moment. Lancer tilted his head aside, like the look would spur Archer to go on, but he didn’t in a very timely manner so he answered. “Well, we’re alone now. Tell it to me.”

A silence filled the space, like everything going on outside the tent had stilled too. Archer sat back on a crate in the corner, light unwavering in his hand. He glanced aside, like he would find the words he was looking for there before turning that gaze back on Lancer.

“Do you think this master will be fine?” Archer asked in a hushed tone.

It took Lancer a few seconds to recover from how badly he misjudged the mood. This wasn’t exactly about the two of them at all. Then again, he couldn’t exactly be mad. Archer was awfully doting with this master--maybe that was just how he was dealing with all this. Distant, until he was asked for and seemingly trusted by Ritsuka. She seemed to have won him over rather quickly, considering how standoffish Archer could be at times. Then again, she probably warranted the worrying--this was a lot for a single young lady.

Lancer let out a heavy sigh as he shook his head. “I’m not a fortune teller here. I don’t know how she’s gonna do. But she’s handling it well enough so far. You’ve been hanging around more. You tell me.”

It wasn’t exactly uncommon to find Archer in the Chaldea kitchen at this point. Every so often he made something to treat Ritsuka and some of the other servants. It kept spirits up and it seemed to put Archer somewhat more at ease too. It was more in the sort of element he looked healthier in. Surrounded by those appreciating him for something other than the skills he would typically be summoned for. In a way, beneath that surface, Archer was almost too normal compared to some of his counterparts. Like a stronger thread of humanity held tight and too close in his heart. The space between the two of them felt wider for a moment, Lancer watching Archer’s face in the low light as he contemplated his answer.

“I think she’s capable. Even with lacking skills in many areas she has something about her. The way other servants and outstanding people of the places we’ve been deployed to treat her… I don’t know what to call that quality,” Archer admitted.

“Then why are you worrying? Whatever it is, it’s taking her somewhere. Wherever that is, we’re gonna be there anyway, right?” Lancer found himself answering without thinking too hard. It just felt natural off the end of his tongue.

Some of the shaded worry over Archer’s features fell to something like mild surprise. Like he couldn’t necessarily be offended with the simplicity of it all, and yet here he was.

“You don’t question what that is or where this goes?” Archer asked back with his gaze finally fixed on Lancer’s.

Lancer shrugged one shoulder. “How can I? This is a hell of a lot bigger than just one Grail War. The scale’s huge. I’m better off focusing on what I can do.”

“And what can you do in that case, Lancer?”

The question wasn’t an expected one. Maybe one lingering on Lancer’s mind, but not one he anticipated having so directly. Thinking too hard on the answer would just make it more difficult. Going with the flow of things felt better. “If I’m summoned someone probably needs my spear. She can just point me where she needs me, and rest easy if I’m on watch. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”

“And it will somehow work out all fine if you do that?” Archer said with a more pointed look.

Lancer took a few steps closer, placing his hand on Archer’s shoulder. “I can’t know that. But I do know that’s what I feel like doing. And how I fit in with this mess. Whatever kind of mess it turns out being. Aren’t you doing the same thing?”

“Essentially...that may be the case,” Archer was willing to admit.

“You’re worrying too much then. Act in the heat of the moment, sort out the details when it makes sense,” Lancer suggested, patting Archer’s shoulder once, just to help drive it in. He didn’t seem much less tense for it, but it was still something--however slight.

The look on Archer’s face turns somewhat annoyed and yet in a way there’s almost some affection in his tone. Perhaps he didn’t want to be read so easily, even as he spoke. “You take these things so lightly. But you don’t seem stressed. Even with so many other Servants around.”

Lancer shrugged, a crooked grin on his face. “Sure, more people to split the work with. Not that I couldn’t handle it, but you don’t mind having a break here and there, do you?”

“I’m on guard anyway. It hardly makes a difference.”

At that Lancer steps in closer, too close for a casual conversation between two simply talking of battle. The hand at Archer’s shoulder shifts down and rests at his hip, the touch enough to jolt Archer into looking more closely at Lancer’s eyes. The pair exchanged looks for a short moment, all still while the shift in tone settled over them.

“You’re not so on guard you’re shaking me off,” Lancer points out in a lower voice, leaning in a touch closer. Archer certainly wasn’t pushing him away, but he did tilt his face away from his lips to avoid temptation a moment longer. Through that, Archer cycled through a pair of expressions, at first surprise then annoyance. They did this little song and dance number nearly every time they physically got near each other and yet Archer was still sort of terrible at it.

“‘She’s with the others’ or maybe ‘Just a minute longer,’ right?” Lancer said through a toothy grin, this time at least not imitating Archer’s voice as he put words in his mouth.

It has only grown darker outside, leaving them mostly lit by the candlelight Archer had set aside behind himself. Even in light so low, he could see the warmer color in Archer’s eyes as he started to consider changing his mind. There was just a look he had, like he were softening ever so slightly to whatever idea Lancer had next. Some affection for it had built up in Lancer’s thoughts as Archer ran over that cycle a bit more than usual. Here there was more to worry about, battles on the horizon, and plenty of prying people around, however in the end he seemed to make his choice well enough.

“Only this once. So you aren’t pouting around between battles,” Archer said like this made some sort of sense.

“What pouting? Who’s pouting?” Lancer started to ask but his companion soon had his arms around his waist and his lips pressed at his jawline like it were a test of how little it might take to shut him up. He elected to talk through it, even as Archer kissed up from the end of his chin making his way toward his ear.

“It isn’t pouting, for the record, you know,” Lancer carried on somewhat awkwardly.

“Brooding then,” Archer replied before pressing his lips gently at Lancer’s cheek.

“Me? The broody one? That’s you.”

“You looked the part, sitting alone away from everyone like that.”

It took a second for Lancer to work that out, paused as Archer’s hand made way for his hip in a slow stroke down.

“You were watching, but couldn’t be assed to say hi.”

“You never want just a greeting.”

“You have time to talk to me.”

The back and forth continued, even as Archer reached more toward Lancer’s rear, his grip almost too obvious and too ready. That naked desire almost did enough to grasp Lancer’s thoughts away but not quite. He gave Archer an expectant look following his last remark, more serious despite the heat starting to build up between them. Archer read that face clearly enough and relaxed his hand somewhat more chastely at Lancer’s waist.

“I wouldn’t like anyone prying into this. Our Master has enough to deal with,” he answered firmly.

“It’s between us. Besides, everyone knows we already know each other. You don’t have to pretend I’m some new face to you, right?” Lancer suggested, hopefully getting to the root of the issue.

Archer let out a sigh, his head lowered a little. “I suppose they do know that. It’s only my preference that this… whatever this is doesn’t interfere with our work.”

“Then don’t let it. You know, for a guy who likes to motherhen everyone else, you kind of terrible with your own responsibilities,” Lancer said with a short laugh.

“I’m perfectly responsible,” Archer answered briskly, not insulted but unwavering in his assurance of that.

“You’re awful in a relationship,” Lancer laughed.

“This is no relationship,” Archer insisted anyway, looking less and less in his own element, his grip at Lancer’s side growing more tense despite that.

“Friends with benefits, yeah yeah. But at least be my friend here and there, come on now,” Lancer said with nothing but the intent to tease him further. He deserved at least that much. Lancer himself tried to take this whole deal between them as casually as he could. However, that call for a bit more company still echoed in his skull from time to time. He liked the other servants plenty and yet still he wanted to hear things out of Archer’s stupid mouth. Maybe being summoned here broke something in his head too.

Archer struggled clearly with that answer for a moment, his eyes searching the ground beside Lancer for an answer, like it might be there or simply that it was easier to avoid his gaze. Eventually, he spoke up in a quieter voice. “I don’t mind talking with you when we’re back in Chaldea but this is a battlefield, not a playground. I’m not here to have fun with you Lancer.”

Lancer shifted to point a finger at Archer’s hand still firmly at his waist. “Your body says otherwise.”

The look on Archer’s face shifted from almost cool to completely embarrassed with him, cheeks burning and all. “You started this…”

You did. You pulled me into this tent. Alone.”

Next came a groan out of Archer, his shame enough that he lowered his head, resting his forehead directly on Lancer’s shoulder. The move shocked Lancer enough that he didn’t pester him right away, leaving him to seemingly soak in his own embarrassment. There was something oddly intimate about this touch that struck Lancer as automatically he pat his hand at Archer’s back soothingly. Before being sent on a mission again, they had mostly fired each other up, wound up blowing the other, and mocking it off. It was odd how that was sort of normal, but this felt too exposed.

“I’m… tempted at times to do more than greet you,” Archer admitted in a lowered voice after a short period of silence.

“So you just skip on it all together?”

“That seemed the responsible thing to do given our situation here.”

Lancer gave it a moment of thought before just saying whatever popped into his head like usual. “Didn’t want to be caught in an alarm with your hands down my pants huh?”

Archer raised his head, giving Lancer a dead-eyed look. “Remind me again why I’m supposed to even want your company?”

As always, Lancer just laughed it off, unbothered all over again. As cute was Archer was wallowing there he couldn’t exactly keep him down forever. With a little more space between them now he should shift position, his hand going to hold gently at Archer’s chin, making sure their eyes met properly this time. Despite himself, there was affection in his tone, however small.

“You wanted to see me, didn’t you? Maybe you know better than I do,” Lancer suggested with a lowered voice. As cool as he might have played it, he found himself starting to swim a little in Archer’s eyes--silvery and sharp at times, but relaxing to a warm gray as the pair remained close.

“I don’t know,” Archer was willing to admit given some time. A shame too, his gaze turned away after he spoke again. Lancer leaned in just a hair closer, just enough to purposefully draw him back.

“Do what you want to sometimes, not what you have to. Even if you don’t know why you want to, come see me anyway,” Lancer said low on breath, watching carefully for how that suggestion might land.

“What happened to chastising me for being irresponsible?” Archer answered after a moment, more actively watching Lancer in return.

Lancer’s lips split into a wide grin, terribly amused at how well he knew his own answer. “Be irresponsible with me now and then. Feel it out, find a space between work and hovering over her to let yourself go for a minute. It feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Even if it feels good it isn’t necessarily the right thing to do.”

“But you wanna do it anyway, right?”

Archer’s expression soured somewhat as he eyed Lancer, not rushing to answer this time. Lancer couldn’t tell if he was buying into it yet or not. As cool as Archer tried to act about all this Lancer started to get concerned that maybe he wasn’t so good at even a casual relationship. He sort of anticipated something like that getting himself into this mess, but now that he was here he noticed more and more of the wear in Archer’s armor. It led him to about one conclusion:

Archer was absolutely hopeless in a relationship.

The man himself let out a long sigh, closing his eyes and drawing his face away from Lancer’s grasp. Lancer let him go--assuming the worst at this point. He expected their fun to take a backseat to their work, he was efficient in that sort of way himself, but he was feeling a little more like he was tossed in the trunk at this point.

“I’ll do it,” Archer said a bit suddenly in their silence.

It startled Lancer enough he didn’t reply right away--instead watching Archer and expecting a “but” or some other qualifier. But none came.

“You’ll do it? Just like that?”

Archer nodded. “You’re asking. I can pull back. I should. This fight isn’t all mine alone in the first place. It isn’t mine to carry.”

Lancer found himself staring in disbelief. Rather than let Archer’s hard-thought answer be left that way he catches his arms around him again, laughing a little. “There you go. Relax here and there. They’d all tell you the same thing you know.”

There came a smaller sigh this time from Archer, a very slim smile on his face. “I can’t exactly deny that.”

“You wouldn’t be modeling yourself as much of a big brother to them if you burn yourself out,” Lancer teased despite attempts to clamp that down. He couldn’t help himself.

“I’m not trying to be anyone’s big brother,” Archer grumbled, but did still put his arms around Lancer in return. They hadn’t exactly done well at just holding one another, but now that Lancer was here he was comfortable--oddly. He didn’t want to be too obvious so only lets himself hold that little bit more tightly. Just a little. Only a short, simple, yet intimate touch. On a basic level--stupidly basic--it felt good to be held.

“Archer,” Lancer started, unfinished.

A low rumble in response was all Archer bothered with.

“When no one’s looking, you know, you can do this whenever.”

“Whenever then,” Archer murmured, seeming to actually agree without a fuss.

“Yeah,” was all Lancer felt like saying, muffled as he tucked in closer and kissed Archer’s neck just below his ear. It was just an idle touch, something small, but this close Lancer could feel a very light shiver up over the other’s body. He might have caught him unprepared or he hadn’t quite cooled down from earlier. Either way he found it in himself to easily ruin a slightly more tender moment without much remorse.

“I can give you more than that right now, if you want,” he offered. Part of him started to worry he would have to be more blunt, but he found Archer’s lips on his own in a second flat. What seemed to be a spur of the moment kiss, Archer parted from it quickly only to try again as Lancer was more ready for him this time. They met more evenly this time, pressing closer and deeper, faster than Lancer anticipated. They split again only for a breath this time as Archer met his lips again, this time his tongue meeting the other’s. Somehow he wasn’t expecting so much so suddenly from Archer like this, but maybe that agreement between them opened something up. He did advise him to go for more of what he wanted--this could have been it.

It didn’t feel bad to be wanted after all.

The next time their lips parted Archer let out a longer, more heated breath--his eyes a little more clouded with that sort of stormy look, like he could dive back in at any second. Lancer felt his own breath catch to see him like this--a view behind a locked door he could almost imagine swinging wide on its hinges some day. He ached to unravel Archer completely, to get a the very heart of that expression and drive Archer so far into it he couldn’t get back out. The second it got a little too hot between them Lancer caught himself clawing for extremes in a rush and yet all he could bring himself to do outwardly was grasp at Archer’s back and push him closer up against himself as their lips met again, tongues searching the other deeper.

Maybe that was just getting lost in the moment. Maybe that was all.

Archer let out a low rumble as Lancer’s hand found a place at his hip, fingers toying for his waist, to pull at clothing. It didn’t really matter where or what at this point--he was intent on having a little more. Archer seemed to be on the same page, his hand finally just going for Lancer’s rear like he’d obviously wanted to earlier.

Hands worked faster and hotter over the other, each feeling more of the other even as clothing got in the way. It was doubtless coming next.

“Cu Chulainn!!”

The sound of his name made him freeze, Archer doing the exact time--either of them wide eyed. Lancer’s shoulders tensed as he heard the call again--the voice obviously Ritsuka’s.

“You haven’t checked in today have you,” Archer whispered at him accusingly.

“What? I have to that often?” Lancer muttered back in an equally low and quiet voice for their safety. He’d nearly gotten Archer’s pants down and he was quite obviously ready for that much.

“Of course you have to; it’s dangerous not to account for every servant,” Archer continued in the same almost nagging tone.

Lancer swore and pulled away from Archer’s grasp, running a hand up through his hair like it might help him cool off. He paces the length of the tent a couple times, trying to will himself to cool off. Archer watched him, also sort of flustered still leaned up against the crate behind him and frozen in place.

There was another call of his name and this time Lancer took a calmer breath. His face still felt warm but he could work with that. Clear he was going to split, Archer straightened up and gave him a look that was hard to read in the dark.

“I’ll find you later...Another time,” Archer decided for them.

Lancer nodded and reached for the tent’s flap. “Later, Archer,” he said, letting that be somewhat final.

“Later,” was Archer’s answer in agreement, even if he did seem a fair bit put off by all this.

It happened. What could be done anyway? Lancer let it be, sneaking out of the tent and looking around for Ritsuka. He spots the young master soon enough, her sunset colored hair hard to miss even in a place this crowded. He hurried up to her side, laughing slightly.

“Thought I heard something. What’s going on, Master?” he asked just as casually as he might.

She tilted her head and gave him a long, concerned look. “Are you alright? I hadn’t seen you since we were in combat earlier.”

Lancer gave her a lighter smile. “All fine here. Didn’t mean to worry you. How about I come check on you after any battle while we’re out here?”

Ritsuka nodded this time, giving him a small but tired smile in return. “I’d appreciate that. I kept seeing you alone before then too. If anything’s bothering you, you can come see me.”

For some reason Cu never expected himself to be one of the servants Ritsuka would be concerned with. His name spoke enough for him, didn’t it? He wasn’t a stranger to Holy Grail wars either--why was she so concerned then? It took him a second to realize she probably did this with all the servants and everyone else. No wonder a girl like Mash stuck so closely to her side. Despite the master’s lack of strength she took care of those around her. It felt oddly familiar.

“I was thinking through this whole mess. I think I’ve got it about sorted out now,” Cu answered honestly enough. It took a chat with Archer, but they seemed to have it hammer out now. “I’ll tell you about it sometime. Another day though. Isn’t it pretty late?”

Ritsuka looked surprised before straightening up with a more serious face. “I was about to get some sleep, I just wanted to check first.”

“Then check no more. Get some rest, Master. You’re already working too hard,” Cu said more gently this time. “Take your breaks whenever you can get them. You never know in a situation like this.”

“You’re right...Thank you Cu. You rest well tonight,” she offered in return with a short wave. Cu found himself waving right back without much of a thought, trading a pair of “goodnights” before she took off to her own tent.

Once she was gone he let out a long sigh. It might have been relief or just some of that tiredness creeping up on him. Still, he left a thread hanging and had to see. When he returned to the tent Archer had pulled him into the bastard was already gone, leaving no sign he’d ever even been there.

“Later,” Lancer muttered to himself in reminder and took off to find a place to rest. Archer would cash in that “later” whenever he was damn well ready--there was just no telling when that would be. Part of him hoped it would be that night, but he wasn’t quite so lucky. Things in this mission picked up quickly leaving little time for such things, however important they were.

After one battlefield was cleared and all were headed back, Archer made a few casual strides Lancer’s way--like he only just happened to be passing that direction to rejoin the others. When no eyes were on them as they crossed he felt Archer’s fingers grasp his own, their hands weaving together almost naturally. The smoothness of it all brought Lancer to Archer’s pace--the pair walking together for what was only a short moment, but one that lingered on Lancer’s mind and skin for a long time yet.

Chapter Text

Making it back to Chaldea base never actually felt “normal” even after a couple times, but it was at least a relief. The last singularity wrapped up as well as it could, and for a little while they could expect some rest back at HQ. It looked like the group would need it. Each of these excursions was going to push and pull on the young master in all sorts of ways--it was obviously only going to ramp up--so it was best she rested while she had the chance. There were a lot of servants already for her to wrangle as it were.

Cu Chulainn could tell Archer’s focus was on making sure Ritsuka rested and was actually doing alright. Although she had Mash, the doctor, and everyone else already doting on her, maybe the help of such a servant would be good for her too. So Cu didn’t get in the way--as much as he was tempted to remind Archer to stop hovering so much. He was dealing with this mess in his own way. For now it would be alright and until then there were even more folks around to balance that support. As just a “spear” and combat-inclined servant, he wasn’t of much help in times like this anyway. He had his job. He could cut it there. He didn’t have to pick up anything on the side.

That was his intent anyway, but a walk through the facility one night shortly after the successful Rayshift and return brought him face to face with his “boss.” There was more on the table than just cutting anyone down now.

They had chatted, sure. Idle things, battle plans, small bits of himself, but never a longer, proper conversation. Other servants always interrupted. Them or battle. That would not last however.

Ritsuka was seated at one of the outer wall benches, watching out over the hall--seemingly lulled into a gentler state by the soft humming of equipment that powered the base. She looked peaceful, like she was nearly ready to sleep, yet not quite there. It took her a few seconds to recognize Cu coming down the hall toward her. That sleepy look faded and she turned a bit more his way, her hands pressed to the bench at her sides.

“Cu Chulainn. You don’t have to check in when we’re back home,” she said, her tone teasing.

The teasing surprised him a little, but he wasn’t one to pass up the chance to get in that kind of tangle. He stopped his wandering in front of her, leaning down slightly to give her a big grin. “Wouldn’t you miss seeing this face every night?”

Ritsuka laughed lightly and nodded in the end. “I guess I would. I’ve gotten used to seeing you pop by. You usually say something right when I need to hear it too.”

Cu tilted his head to one side, like the idea had to slide the rest of the way through his skull before it made any sense. “I do that, huh? Wasn’t aiming for poet, but I’ll take it I guess.”

“Not quite a poet. More like a coach. I think anyway,” she chatted back, kicking her legs under the seat.

That was a new one, but in the end, Cu would just take that too. “Well, I don’t think I got any advice for you tonight. Except maybe get some sleep. You looked ready to pass out. At least put your head down somewhere warm first,” he said despite himself. Did that sound like a coach? It sounded like someone else somehow…

Ritsuka rested her legs, her heels just barely kicked into the tile floor. She glanced aside before finding the words she wanted. “I had a lot on my mind so I was sort of walking it off. But I ended up thinking again and stopped,” she admitted.

Cu straightened up and gave the young master a more serious look. “That much, huh? Keeping your head that full’s gonna slow you down when you end up on the battlefield. Better to clear it out now.” With that said he took a seat at her side on the bench, resting with his elbows at either knee. He could look her way a bit easier that way and already see the look of shock on her face. The shock soon melted away to an expression he had some trouble reading. Was it regret or something else?

Ritsuka gathered and picked at the edges of her skirt with her fingertips, her eyes downcast. “I keep thinking about how many servants have shown up...how many of them are counting on me when we Rayshift…”

“Ah, the master’s burden, huh?” Cu said casually, if just to help lighten the mood. “Not that I’m guessing it’s any fun, but at least you got the burden right? You feel how heavy it is to be counted on. That’s better than some asshole throwing around that power like it was a game.”

“I can’t imagine taking this lightly. All of you are working hard to help. I can’t be so careless,” Ritsuka said with a lower voice.

She was earnest, Cu would give her that. It was nice to have a decent master--or at least one with these kinds of problems. However fleeting this existence was, she cared about them. That much he was certain of from her voice, the sting of tears nearly in her eyes.

“Then keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve seen some terrible masters in my time, but you’re a pretty good egg. If you’re worried about it, you’re probably doing fine,” he answered in the end, sure and calm.

Ritsuka let out a small sigh. “I’ve heard that twice now...Maybe you’re right. As long as I keep trying maybe I can keep you all safe.”

“Keep us safe, huh? Don’t go worrying about keeping me safe. Keep yourself in one piece. I’ll be just fine. You won’t find a servant hardier than me,” Cu proclaimed, even flexing one arm just to show her how tough he was. She certainly seemed impressed--at least until she was laughing.

She calmed her laughter a moment after, shaking her head. “I can’t really argue with that, can I? Even if I’m still sort of inclined to. I’ll still want to keep you safe too Cu Chulainn,” Ritsuka answered earnestly.

“And I’m saying you don’t gotta dote on me so much. It’s cute, but you got your hands full,” he replied. However impressed he was, that was a lot of pressure on one young lady. This was a long haul, not a one shot thing. He couldn’t help but sigh. “I think I get why that guy spoils you so much. Birds of a feather and all that.”

Ritsuka tilted her head, her eyes wide at the latter bit. “Who is that?” She had some guesses, but many of her servants were quite kind to her. It was hard to say what exactly Cu would categorize as spoiling.

Cu knew he probably shouldn’t talk about that guy, but he couldn’t stop his tongue either. “Archer. The red one. Always cooking for you, making sure you’re totally taken care of and all that. That’s some serious spoiling. I get the feeling you’d be doing the same back if anyone let you.”

Ritsuka laughed again, this time a bit nervously. “I can’t do that much housework. I’d get exhausted. I do wonder if I wouldn’t mind cooking for everyone though. You think he might be willing to teach me?”

“You take an interest in it and he’ll feed you all the instructions too. He’ll act tough about it, but you can bet he’s gonna do it,” Cu said with a reassuring tone and grin. Maybe normal hobbies like that would be good for her. Work out some of that frustration she was probably building up with all that protecting business.

Ritsuka gave him an easier smile and a nod, content with that reassurance. She kicked her legs under the bench and let that happiness hang a few breaths before gathering the question on her mind. “You and Archer knew each other then, right? Before Chaldea.”

Cu swore internally at himself--already hearing Archer nagging him for talking too much. What was Archer even talking to her about himself? Just cooking? Housework? Nagging? Not about his obvious interest in Lancer? Nothing? Cu let the swearing settle for a second before he answered. “Yeah, we’re plenty familiar.” It was at least not a lie.

“Were you friends or…?” She drifted off, leaning forward to try and catch Cu’s gaze. The expression on her face said she was deeply interested in hearing more.

“Not exactly. Same Holy Grail war. Hard to make friends there, but we have an understanding. So you don’t have to worry about us,” Cu insisted at the end. He was pretty sure that would knock out any confusion. Ritsuke seemed more curious and more confused, but she settled back on the bench properly.

“I see. Then I hope you two have the chance to really get along this time. It looked like you two always did well together when you fought so I sort of wondered,” she admitted after a moment.

Still green, but she wasn’t blind to it all. Cu had to give her that much. She seemed to have a pretty solid intuition. He started to wonder if she already knew about them tangling, but at least she wasn’t giving off the outward appearance she thought so. Archer would probably kill him if she sussed it out in just a short conversation.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping. He’s sort of a pain in the ass, but...well, we keep getting stuck together for whatever reason. Must be for something.”

“It’s not like fate or something?” Ritsuka suggested, not clear if she were joking or not.

A sound something like a snort or maybe like he was choking got stuck in Cu’s throat--mangling into this horrible laugh that was probably way too much for such a question. “Hell no, nothing like that. Stuff just happens sometimes. Believe me, I wouldn’t mind if it were somebody else, but I’m not that caught up with that guy.”

Ritsuka squinted at him with her brow furrowed. She sort of worried he actually choked at first however, clearly, he was fine. “Whatever the case… I’ll just be glad I have the both of you together on the same side.”

Cu rolled with that pretty quickly. Immediately even. “You are! Two experienced servants at this kind of thing. You’re a lucky girl,” he said hurriedly, grinning just as hard as he could. He could fake it until he forgot all about that garbage. Fated to be with Archer? Ridiculous. Stupid.

The young master seemed willing to let that be despite her own curiosity. “I guess I am. Thanks for looking out for me. I’m glad for the both of you, you know? You both have been trying to keep on top of things for my sake, I can tell.”

There was a sincerity to her answer that Cu couldn’t very well ignore. “That’s what we’re here for. But, that other guy would probably be pretty pleased to hear something like that.”

“You think so?”

“The way he hovers over you? No doubt.”

Ritsuka laughed lightly, in a way that said she’d relaxed. “Then maybe I’ll tell him next. Thank you.”

“Not a problem.” Cu hesitated a moment before he moved on. “We should get you to bed. Get some actual sleep.”

“Yeeeees,” Ritsuka replied in a sort of sing-song voice, but she did at least get up with a slight sway at first. Once she was steady, she started for her room.

“You gonna make it okay?” Cu said before she got too many strides out of his reach.

“I can do it. I’m not that sleepy. You don’t have to nag me too,” she replied, stalling her pace to stick her tongue out at him for a second.

“You couldn’t even begin to compare me to him,” Cu insisted to try and brush that off as fast as he could. It probably ended up sweeping the accusation further into the air around them.

Ritsuka laughed and waved him off with a simple “goodnight.” He gave her a “goodnight” back, but what else could he do? It left Cu alone on the bench for the time being, slightly rattled with his own thoughts. It was a ridiculous conversation mostly, but maybe it put the young master at ease. She was pulling a lot of weight here. She would eventually know he and Archer were closer than initial appearances let on. If he could just control that descent maybe it would be okay.

He personally didn’t think he cared too much if she found out, but Archer seemed pretty protective of that information. At this point, he wasn’t ready for all of this to fall apart. Whatever it was. If it was anything. It definitely wasn’t fate or anything stupid like that. Not seriously. In jokes maybe, but hearing that out of someone else did a number on his head. It sounded too complicated and they were keeping it simple. Some fun to break the tension, help on the field. A distraction to work out whatever the two of them had going on.

Lancer looked into his right palm with heavy eyes, the usual hum of the hall the only thing making any noise. No footfalls, no voices--just the usual quiet night of Chaldea. Some empty part of him hoped Archer would turn the corner and he could bother him--pick on him until any worries scattered. He hated it, but he was thinking about holding his hand first this time--just for a moment as he pulled him into a room and teased him to a climax. Daydreaming like this was a dangerous sport so he forced himself to his feet and marched down the hall.

Better to just find Archer and actually do it. No worries, no questions, no anything else. Just whatever would spring in the moment.

It would be just then that he wouldn’t find him in any of the usual places. Not that room, not any of the usual lounges or kitchen. He had to be hiding away somewhere. Was he always going to be stuck chasing him down in one way or another? The least Archer could do was show up when he had him on his mind--as frustrating as that was to consider.

Cu made a turn for a room he didn’t think he’d find Archer in, but figured he might as well check it at this point. It was usually used as a breakroom for some of the staff so the coffee pot was basically always full or brewing something fresh. If someone wanted a drink this was the place to be. However, instead of finding a group of sleep deprived staff or the Archer he was looking for, he found someone else, who nearly stabbed out his cigarette on the table when he heard the door open, but apparently stopped when he recognized his intruder.

The other man let out a huge sigh and turned the burning end away from the table to let the stick hang between his fingers more casually. Only after he was leaning back in his seat did he really give Cu a proper look. “Thought for a second there was an emergency, way you busted in,” Robin said casually, leaning full back into his chair, one leg crossed over the other.

Cu took much more calm steps into the room after, heading for the coffee pot and pouring a cup like that was what he meant to do. Had he been in that much of a rush? He had to have been really out of it…

“No pressing situations yet, far as I know,” he said as he poured a cup, watching the brown brew fill steadily by his hand. And yet, he felt his gaze turning over his shoulder to get a better look at this comrade obviously smoking where he shouldn’t be. Robin seemed fine enough--not exactly incredible in combat--but reliable enough to keep helping out. But it wasn’t like they talked and now it was sort of hard to avoid it. Cu took his cup and leaned against the back of the gently worn off-white sofa so he could face Robin at the table.

The two servants nonchalantly sized each other up as Cu finally got to talking. “Do you usually hang around here?”

Robin made a shifty glance toward the door before he relaxed back again. “Not exactly. But I’m not about to go outside either; what choice do I have?”

He could probably go into spirit form but that probably wasn’t what he was saying. Lancer wasn’t one to be too particular about that anyway. He had a feeling he knew what Robin meant. “You can only hide away so many places,” Cu figures, putting two and two together. It did put him in a particular place however. He pointed a finger at Robin’s cigarette, then himself. “Got any to spare?”

The look on Robin’s face was relief at first but some annoyance shortly after. He fished behind his cloak and produced another, holding it out Cu’s way, as much as he didn’t want to. The man understood a request for a hush bribe when he saw one. Cu left the end waiting as Robin did him the favor of lighting his too, leaning back after once more. That sour look stayed steady on his face as the exchange took place. Cu got the feeling he probably wasn’t even the only servant to bum a cigarette off Robin. Where he was getting them was suspect too but the Archer seemed to have a lot of tricks up his sleeve.

Some questions were better off not asked.

Once both of them had a moment to smoke without interruption, Robin broke the silence first. “You take well to this kind of thing, huh?” He commented vaguely. It seemed like he was still sizing him up. That or Robin just had the sort of gaze, careful and calculated to some extent. Like he always needed the precise measurement between himself and any unfamiliar party should anything go awry.

“The smoke?”

Robin rolled his eyes. He brought that on himself. “This whole crazy Chaldea war thing. You always shoot straight out there, no matter how weird the thing we’re fighting is.”

Cu shifted his weight against the back of the sofa, resting more on one leg over the other. “Is that what I’m doing? It’d be real sporting of any enemies off themselves first but no luck there. Someone’s gotta do it for them.”

“How pragmatic. I guess so far we haven’t really been in a position to avoid any of this combat.”

“If someone’s got the kind of powers we’re looking at they’re not gonna just back off because we ask nice,” Cu pointed out with an even tone. He had a feeling Robin was going somewhere but he wasn’t exactly on the ride yet.

“No, I get that. Believe me, I could find a way to worm out of it if there was one. I was just thinking you’re the kind of servant who’s suited to this kind of situation,” Robin finally explained, the two points clicking for Cu now.

He just had no idea how to take it. Was he good at this? Point him at a target and chances were he could take them out—was that all it took to be suited to a grail war? For some reason the idea sat poorly with him. He’d been looking for a decent match for his spear for the time being mostly. To be in active combat suited his interests fine as well, so he had no complaints that he’d been called to fight. There was still something else—not regret precisely but something adjacent. The echo of a desire.

I’m not done yet.

Or something like that.

He snapped out of his thoughts to give Robin a crooked grin. “If you’re worried about pulling your weight I can cover you, you know,” he said jokingly.

“Very funny,” Robin muttered. His shoulders sagged under his cloak as he took another drag of his cigarette. “But I’m doing what I can. I’m only saying you seem like you want to be here.”

“You don’t?”

“What else do I have going on?” Robin said with a wry look, somewhat amused with his own joke.

Cu gestured with the cig between his fingers, no mind for any falling ash. “I get nobody likes to talk about this but whatever it is, you’re here right? You got a chance to do something.” Whatever that something was.

Robin shook his head, his gaze more on the table than on this Lancer who was obviously trying to pry some conversation out of him. “I get it. I’ll figure that thing out as we go. For now I’ll just curse the luck that brought me here.”

Cu tilted his head, having a little bit of trouble following. This guy really was kind of negative. Or a hyper-realist. “What luck even gets you here?”

“What are the chances any of us are gonna end up summoned here? What kind of luck do you have to have to be the one pulled out? Even once, with everyone else vying for whatever your ‘something’ is it seems unlikely. So I don’t know why it’s us,” Robin went on, obviously venting a little.

“You’re saying it’s bad luck to get called out here? What kinda attitude is that?”

“I’m saying it’s not exactly a winner’s lottery here. You’re here but what’s the prize? I get it, saving the world and all the glory you’ll be forgotten for. It’s not good luck that gets you a spot, it’s being really unlucky,” Robin carried on, leaning with one elbow to the table. “More than once getting summoned? You couldn’t be less lucky.”

Cu felt that one stab right into his gut. He didn’t exactly feel like he had a stellar record in that regard. He got the feeling things couldn’t go worse than they had already at least. But maybe that was some aspect of luck involved. Will and desire to be somewhere only went so far.

“I don’t really wanna chock it up to chance. It just happens,” Cu said more seriously than he wish he had. He didn’t want to use that word. Not after that little chat with the master.

“Just happens. You and I and everyone else, we don’t have any kinda impact on it huh?” Robin answered as his eyes gave Cu a quick glance over. He was looking for some weakness to crack at, probably. There was something off about Lancer. Something way beyond Robin’s fairly decent guesses.

“You don’t have to put it like that,” Cu argued halfheartedly.

“Then it’s something. Something about you and I and whoever wound up here. If you won’t quantify it at least say there’s an ‘it’ to consider.”

“That still doesn’t sound good.”

“Was it ever going to? Look at this mess,” Robin said and gestured out toward the door, now getting a bit of ash on the table too. He dusted it away with the back of his unoccupied hand.

“Look, I’m not the kinda guy who thinks hard on this crap. I’m gonna stick to keeping the Master in one piece and maybe keeping the world together here,” Cu decided in the end, standing his ground there.

Robin laughed slightly, his tone more darkly amused. “You don’t think hard at all.”

“Hey—“

“It’s a good thing for you. Suits your type right? The Master needs hard-headed idiots for this kind of work. They’re the ones who get heroics done. That’s not for me. I’ll support you though, how about that?” Robin ended that with an odd smile, one Cu had a hard time reading. The guy had sort of a weird expression in general. Maybe they just didn’t jive well.

“I guess someone has to be the snakey one doing who knows what back there,” Cu relented. This was an argument he wasn’t going to win—if it were an argument at all.

“There you go. Leave the backstage stuff to me. You keep throwing yourself right into the thick of it. You and that red Archer can handle it,” Robin said with much of the same tone. This time Cu very directly felt him waiting for the reaction Robin was about to get because Cu had made the mistake of trying to hard NOT to think of that Archer this whole time.

“He’s the biggest idiot here. Don’t lump me in with him,” Cu argued on cue, his mind wandering other places though. He was hunting down that bastard and thinking too much about him enough already.

“Makes a hell of a good omelette though,” Robin said through a crooked grin.

“He made you an omelette? I didn’t get one,” Cu started to complain but held off the worst of his tone.

Robin shrugged one shoulder. “Guess you had to be there. I was working with the Master at the time so I guess that’s my reward.”

Somewhere Cu wanted to whine he definitely didn’t get anything. He really did have to be in the area for Archer to make him anything. He usually left him to pestering Ritsuka or the other servants to keep up appearances but still…

Wasn’t being cooked for a reasonable benefit to expect of his “friend?” In the depths in Cu’s thoughts awakened something terrible: he wanted to be treated to a meal. Something home cooked with him mind. How domestic that sounded made him want to wretch. He considered for a second maybe he was an idiot.

As he took to mental flips Robin just watched him, one eyebrow raised. Robin was pretty sure he was an idiot at least. Someone there had to be sure about something.

Cu only got as far as a groan into his egg-related contemplations before the door snapped open. Both of them froze, eyes wide, as none other than the red devil himself stood there.

“What are you doing?” Archer asked accusingly.

Robin and Cu scrambled, Robin putting out his cig on his glove, Cu dropping his into his untouched coffee cup. Both of them made a beeline for the bin like throwing away the evidence would somehow make Archer forget what he saw or the smell of smoke filling the room.

Neither got far before Archer started in on them. “You can’t just smoke wherever! I know the both of you know this!”

It left the two of them no choice but to take Archer’s orders and do a sweep up of the mess and help get the room ventilated and aired out. They earned themselves a short lecture on smoking in non-smoking rooms before Archer finally sighed and shook his head—clearly at the end of his patience with this.

“It’s as good as it’s going to get. I just don’t want to catch the two of you doing this again,” Archer said with some finality.

Cu glanced at Robin and grinned. “This is what I get for hanging around delinquents huh?” He said jokingly.

“Sure, I’m the delinquent,” Robin muttered.

“I’m willing to believe Lancer talked you into it. You’re still both to blame,” Archer answered, his arms crossed as he added a sagely nod to this.

“Me? I don’t even know where the smokes came from!” Lancer blurted out.

Archer only sighed once more and turned toward the door. “You can come try and make your case but you’re typically the source of that kind of behavior.”

Cu could see Robin struggling not to laugh, the strain on his face terribly obvious. He started to even duck under his cloak, pulling his hood up over his head even, like that would help somehow.

Cu grumbled something and followed after Archer as he started out the door. He tailed only a pace behind him down the hall, failing to say anything meaningful. It wasn’t like he could think anything close to that either. His head still had rumblings of all the previous conversations in it.

They get a good distance down the empty hall before Lancer had anything at all. “Seriously though, where does Robin get the hook up. Cigs and omelettes and all that…” he muttered mostly to himself.

Archer turned rather suddenly to face Lancer, ending with them standing terribly close. Lancer took a step back toward the wall without thinking. As much as his usual inclination was to be up in Archer’s face, here in the middle of the hall seemed like a poor place for that. Rather than just understanding this wordlessly, Archer took that step back as an invitation to follow after Lancer another step closer.

Before he could process it Lancer had his back against the wall, Archer a step too deep into this as he leaned in closer still, that stupid smirk on his face.

“Did I hear you correctly? Were you so hungry, Lancer? ” Archer said in a lowered voice.

Lancer balked at the closeness not far from where they definitely left Robin behind. He had a hard time balancing that concern and his desire to wring a meal out of Archer.

“You know I’m not hungry but Robin—“

“So you’re jealous? You could say it. Tell me what you want,” Archer continued on in the same tone. It was great he amused himself so much, but the smugness was overbearing.

His back a little firmer against the wall, Lancer slinked back away from Archer’s face as much as he could but Archer was quick to press one hand to the wall, trapping Lancer from that side. Nervously, Lancer’s gaze went up to meet Archer’s. That place was a death trap—he couldn’t exactly look away now that he was getting caught up in his eyes. It was stupid and sappy to realize and almost made him more frustrated than the omelette thing.

“I’m not just gonna tell you what you want to hear. And besides we’re—“

Archer butted in again. “You could be honest with me. As a friend.” The smirk on his face probably warranted punching out but Lancer both couldn’t look away and couldn’t bear to see it any longer. He kept thinking about the lounge just down the hall. Just down the hall where Robin might still be.

Where they definitely left the door open to ventilate.

“Archer, look—“

Lancer only started to fail again, this time stopping because Archer’s hand went from the wall to the back of Lancer’s neck, soon slipping down to toy with his hair. In the second he noticed the sort of mood whatever he had said caused. For all Archer’s smug attitude, the touch itself felt oddly affectionate. Lancer assumed he’d be a lot more upset about the smoking thing but here he was.

Usually he’d try to find some way to turn it on Archer but his eyes scanned down the hall where they had come from. He felt some heat in his face and couldn’t help it either.

“If this is about the omelette thing…” Lancer tried again in a quieter voice.

“I never took you for the jealous type. Just ask me to make it for you. I might think about it,” Archer went on, his fingers still playing through Lancer’s hair.

That small touch could have ignited so much more. It took all the will he could muster not to grab Archer by the ass and drag him into next room—consequences be damned. He couldn’t very well ask to be cooked for now—his pride was on the line. But he could do whatever else he desired with Archer.

Just not right here.

With complete disregard for the hallway situation, Archer swayed a bit closer, enough their lips grazed. Not a kiss but dangerously close. Lancer felt his lungs shoot into this throat. He knew exactly what he wanted, but how was Archer so calm out here in the open?

“Archer,” Lancer tried again, more hushed as he felt Archer’s breath on his own. “We can’t here…”

“It’s the middle of the night. And I would hear the door if it were him,” Archer said almost soothingly. He sounded good that way, more tempting.

Lancer hovered one hand over Archer’s hip, now lost with what to do with any part of his body as he made himself finish the thought. “We left the door open…”

Archer jerked upright and to attention, spinning around and bodily covering Lancer like it would protect him somehow. From what, Lancer had no idea since he was still visible from behind Archer anyway. Lancer scanned the hall, seeing nothing but Archer didn’t let his guard down.

“Why then…”

“To air the room out,” Lancer piped in from behind Archer’s arm.

“Not that. I thought there was someone…” Archer said slowly, like that someone might appear in his process of saying so. No luck however as the hall remained silent save for the two of them. Lancer was grateful it shook him out of whatever mood he was in. He could plan an escape and maybe he’d forget this whole omelette mess.

Archer lowered his arm cautiously, soon turning to look back at Lancer still pressed to the wall. Lancer put his hands up, like it would clear him of any guilt or trouble this interruption caused. That second was enough for Lancer to slip away from the wall and ahead of Archer.

“It’s fine then. Do you wanna head back?” Lancer offered instead in a casual tone. It was sort of a shame to see Archer on his guard again instead of so playful. He’d just have to tease it back into him later. Preferably somewhere they wouldn’t have to worry about any watchers.

“The room,” Archer said shortly as he led the way. Lancer walked at his side this time, trying to get a feel for where Archer’s head was now. Probably all over, considering how quick he bounced mood to mood just then.

Their path brought them back to the room Archer had been using and it wasn’t until the door was safely shut behind them that Lancer let out a long breath.

“What was all that about?” Lancer asked Archer’s way as the other paced up and down the length of the bed a few times.

“Nothing apparently. Or do you mean before that?” Archer asked, pausing his steps.

Lancer found himself waving both hands. “No no, not before. I mean the hallway. We’re fine? Nobody there, right?”

“Did you see anyone?”

Lancer shrugged one shoulder. “Nobody. So you can relax now,” he said, moving to take a seat at the side of the bed.

There was a second of hesitation out of Archer--like he wasn’t sure of what he saw, but he did eventually take a seat next to Lancer. For that moment neither of them said anything, just eyeing the other and searching for the right words to start again.

“What were you doing in there with him anyway?” Archer asked first, his tone level enough.

“With Robin? I bumped into him and we ended up chatting for a minute,” Lancer said honestly.

“About what?”

Lancer tilted his head slightly before deciding to lay back on the bed, his legs still hanging off. He made himself comfortable that way before he replied. “About whatever. About this whole Chaldea and war thing.”

Archer turned slightly so he could look down over him, his expression disbelieving. “You had this conversation?”

“Yes, I had it! I can have it just fine. Not that we had a good idea for how all this turned up like this or why we wound up at the front of it,” Lancer said in an annoyed tone. Why was he getting picked on so much that night?

“That question…” Archer started but didn’t finish. “My own answer is probably different, but it’s best answered for yourself.”

“Kinda lax way to take it,” Lancer commented more offhandedly this time. He shifted to rest his hands behind his head, closing his eyes.

“Then what did the other archer say?” Archer asked.

“He said something about it being bad luck.”

“Bad luck huh?” Archer repeated like he could test the idea by saying it himself. “Maybe it is.”

“You too?”

Archer sighed and laid down at Lancer’s side, his fingers netting together to rest just above his waist. He closed his eyes and almost looked peaceful for that brief second Lancer caught him. “If things were going well we wouldn’t be here, would we?”

“Huh...I guess so. I wonder about why it’s us. You know, us both again,” Lancer said with a shred of hesitation.

Archer tensed a little beside him, his brow furrowed to completely do in that calm look. “You’d come running at the first chance to get into serious trouble.”

“Would I? Don’t you do that too?” Lancer countered with a cool tone.

There was only a grumble out of Archer in response. He let that sit for an uncomfortable moment. It was probably more complicated than either of them were willing to put it. Whatever “it” was. Lancer heard another sigh from him before suddenly Archer was on top of him, his hands pressed at his chest. A crooked grin spread his lips.

“Lancer, I have a deal to propose to you,” Archer began, already sounding like he’d cooked up something dangerous.Lancer was left stunned underneath him, arms out to try and push himself up, but wasn’t getting anywhere with Archer’s weight on him. “I’m willing to make you that omelette you want so much...for a price.”

“I don’t even want it that much!” Lancer said despite absolutely wanting it that much. “...What’s the price?”

Archer just kept grinning and soon shifted himself lower, closer, his lips soon nearly on Lancer’s like they had been in the hall. It felt that much hotter--slowly climbing hotter as Lancer braced himself for whatever was coming. Archer turned his head and kissed below Lancer’s ear, making a path down his neck. It crossed his mind that maybe Archer was really just in the mood tonight. It seemed like it in the hall. Lancer was about ready to relax and let him move on when Archer’s lips came back to Lancer’s ear to whisper.

“Tell me how much you want one.”

Just like that Lancer was all peeved again, letting out a frustrated groan. “I want one! Okay? Treat me this one time!”

Archer only laughed and sat himself up. He gave Lancer a friendly, almost affectionate pat at the middle of his chest and then stood himself up. It left Lancer sprawled on the bed, frazzled and more worked up than he wanted to admit he was. “That’s it?” Lancer asked.

“For now. You want one right? No one should bother us about it if we go now.”

There, at some absurd hour in the morning, the pair took to the kitchen alone, chatting a little as Archer made omelettes--as agreed. This time just Lancer could watch him work--how deftly he folded the egg over, how practiced every little move was, how easy he made it look. How cute he was in his apron. There was something soft about that early morning--something Lancer hoped he could hold onto for a long while yet.