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Definitely Not What It Looks Like

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The nature and variety of rumors which had begun to circulate around Waver Velvet's position as a lecturer at Clock Tower had surprised him at first. Initially, there had been some murmurings about his status as the only magus who had survived the Holy Grail War. However, the astonishing speed with which this particular issue had been swept under the rug by all but the El Melloi camp – those who would never allow him to forget his responsibility in the death of Kayneth and his subsequent indebtedness to them which resulted directly from his saving their family line from ruin and obliteration – had been underpinned by the plodding, irritating, and repetitive banality of the nature of those whisperings which had followed. Every new academic term brought the same sighing stares, requests for speaking with him after class, and blushing glances in the corridors. Lots of girls, a handful of discreet boys, and – quite unfairly – the disapproval of those boys, girls, men, women, and anyone else who presumed that he must avail himself of these opportunities. These things followed him like a persistent moth mistaking him for some source of light merely due to the paleness of his skin. When he had longed for recognition in the magi community, at Clock Tower, for all his innate qualities and concerted efforts, this had not been what he had in mind.

It had baffled him briefly. He had wondered how such a conclusion could be reached about him. He certainly hadn't had such a reputation before he had gone to Japan, and the Holy Grail War was greatly diminished as an affair after his return. It was far away, out of sight, and over. He had taken to looking at himself in the mirror before he would leave his run-down, strange apartment which he had begun occupying so as to balance out his indebtedness to the El Melloi family with some modicum of self respect and privacy. He would rub his fingertips along the slide of his nose and up to his forehead where he would scrub between his two reasonably well-defined, dark eyebrows. He would smooth them out a little when he felt them brush against the pads of his fingers. Then, he would feel that the process of doing all of his affixed an ever deepening scowl onto his face before he went out to the face the world.

Somehow, even that didn't help.

Years went by, and he had never figured out the art of avoiding unwanted, vaguely amorous attention short of pouring something unpleasant all over his clothes. He did not, however, want to do that, and so he didn't. He wondered, sometimes, if this was somehow Iskandar's fault. He wondered if Iskandar would be proud. Waver Velvet (still a virgin), the most eligible lecturer at Clock Tower. Waver Velvet (still a virgin), presumed philanderer. Waver Velvet (still a virgin), still a virgin in spite of all of his multitudinous opportunities – no, he knew what Iskandar's would reaction would be. A sound flick on the forehead.

All of this became a simple, annoying fact to him over time. One of many simple and complex annoying facts which accompanied the life he had settled into in London. This background noise to his life had very little real impact or consequence – how could it? – or even any real substance until one day, something like eleven years after he had left Japan. One day, inconveniently, this undeserved reputation of his had become a greater source of embarrassment than he had ever dreamed it would be possible to endure when he had taken no such advantage of his young and infatuated students and had never even been tempted to do any such thing. And it was, of course, her fault.

The first time he had seen her, she had been perched on the high and final column of an outdoor balustrade. Her legs had been crossed at the ankles and she had been gently bouncing them up and down while she looked left and right, referencing her surroundings with what was probably a map in a book she held in her hands. Black skirt, red shirt, and red coat kept her huddled against a cool wind that she seemed to find even colder than he did. She remained unperturbed apart from shamelessly taking advantage of her coat. He had looked up at her, feeling very small from his vantage point somewhere below in spite of how much height he had gained over the years. She never even saw him that he knew. He had wondered, after that, if someone else had seen him looking and if that had been the beginning of his woes and a very sizable misunderstanding.

It had not been lechery that had drawn his attention at all. Instead, it had been a nearly affronted sense of familiarity that caught his eye. Further, the red and black shock of her clothing against a dull gray and mottled-blue sky seemed to outline her as a harsh, slightly sharp interruption to the flow of regular and everyday things, even at this most irregular of places. His own clothing might be deemed ostentatious by some, particularly those of the outside world, but if his were ostentatious then hers were outright provocative. However, this was not why she had interested him for that brief moment where her image had impolitely burned itself into his brain so that when she showed up at his office door a few days later, he had been bowled over with a begrudging, sinking feeling of politeness long enough to let her through the door. After all, it seemed like he knew her even though they had never – officially – met.

Tohsaka Rin appeared one morning, exactly at the start of his office hours, and right when he had taken a seat at the chair behind his desk. His feet had been ready to prop atop some less-than-important papers when there came a clear, annoyingly dignified little rap at the door. He had little choice but to get to his feet and answer it. In protest, he kept his cigar between his lips, unlit but waiting.

“Mr. Velvet,” Rin's voice greeted him, stretched out across a charming, polite tone that seemed to be under her complete and absolute command.

“... Yes?” he asked, though he knew who she was before she said a word. There were not very many Japanese students at Clock Tower and she had been mentioned in association with the recent Holy Grail War which had happened again after a mere ten years. He tried to ignore the contemplation of a mild, insane jealousy that whispered in the back of his mind. He had considered it – going back, wondering if he would be able to do it again. He had thought about what would happen if he just took Iskandar back to the airport and left the whole affair. He had wondered, in fleeting moments, how long it would last. Instead, this recent winner smiled at him in a way he could not quite bring himself to trust, even if he had wanted to.

She looked familiar, and he couldn't tell if it was because of some impression he had lingering of her father, or if he'd ever seen her while in Fuyuki – how old would she have been? – or if there was some uncanny resemblance between her and another bright, rich magus who made her rounds about the Clock Tower with a high, trilling voice. At least Rin did not share this trait in common with her strange Doppelganger.

“I understand you're my custodian,” she said as she let herself into the room and moved a stack of books from the extra chair situated in front of his desk. At least she hadn't stolen his seat, he supposed. Something about the way she carried herself made this almost a little surprising.

“That might be true, but I don't know what you think—”

“I think that it's true,” she said, cutting him off as she plopped down. “That's not what I came to you to talk about,” she said curtly.

He touched the edge of his desk and rapped his knuckles against it. He looked and met her eyes, hesitantly, and then he was caught by them – not by their bright clarity but by the sharp focus in them. It almost hurt to look at. It almost scared him. He sat down behind his desk as if it might shield him from whatever came next. Then, hands braced in front of him, he forgot about his cigar and forgot to speak around it.

“What—” he asked. He paused to catch his cigar, drawing it up from his long lap. “What did you come to talk to me about?” he asked.

“Well...” she began, with the grace and ease of someone who would be here as long as she liked.

And so, behind his closed office door, a certain, strange relationship began. It took some time before the full topic was ever fully articulated or broached, and not without temporary embargoes on communication between two very stubborn, different people. It was also outside this closed office door that a rumor began to fly.

That one of his lovely, young students had finally gotten to him.

He never touched her. Much of the time, he wished he had never met her or else couldn't stand her. Her very presence, the accent that carried into her English, and the reality of who she was were all constant, nagging reminders of the battlefield he'd left behind. They had called him the winner in an official way here, but it was a way of wiping away a certain blemish on the record rather than granting him any recognition for his trouble. Not that it mattered anymore.

Every time Tohsaka Rin found her way into his presence, however, the circumstances that had led up to that one pressed on his mind. He wondered why she did it. At first, she was flippant at the mention of it – proud, using it as leverage, shrugging it off. It was a little thing, she had said. It was something she had been born to do. She owed it to her father, and she had wanted to do it all her life. She had survived.

All of it except the very last item on that list made Waver feel vaguely angry for reasons he couldn't put his finger on for a long time. He didn't really care about her. He had no reason to. Still, she was a pretty small, young girl, and he could see something about how stupid, small, and weak he had been then. How weak he still might be, through a certain someone's eyes.

One day, in one of the warmer months of spring when flowers in a small greenhouse to which Clock Tower students had access, Waver was alone and reading. There were a few places he went when he wanted peace and quiet during times of day when the students would much rather be somewhere else. Most of them. Most of them did, so he rose with a start when he heard the soft rattle of the door open and close behind someone.

There she was. Over time, her appearance had changed since she had come to London. Her features had already begun to elongate and thin a bit with the appearance of being a young woman rather than a misplaced high school girl. The thought of it touched a pang of frustrated empathy that brought the familiar scowl to Waver's forehead which he was prematurely aging with just such an expression. The view from the greenhouse was a little high up over the modern city and more aged shopfronts. The air was filled with the scent of blossoming and budding plants, and even he had the awareness to realize that some people might think it was romantic. It occurred to him only with the vaguest sense of dread that elicited a groan from his throat.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. The now was implied, of course. He rubbed just above his eyebrow as he studied her, a little warily.

“I was told I would find you here,” she said mildly, making her way over to take in the filmy view through the barrier of the greenhouse.

“By whom?”

“Someone,” she responded, infuriating as always.

“Did you need something? I thought we'd been over the fact that there's nothing I can teach you,” he said, pretending to regain interest in the book that remained open in his hand.

“I don't need you to teach me anything,” Rin replied. The barbs in it were familiar by now, and he supposed not entirely unwarranted. He had, perhaps, started it after all. Still, their mild antagonism had always seemed like an inevitable occurrence, a fact, more than anything either of them had chosen. He glanced at her, sidelong, and noticed how her gaze seemed to be fixed so very far away, even though the nature of the greenhouse limited her view like a hazy watercolor filter over the life outside and below. He noticed that she always seemed a little eerily at home, watching the world from above, even from the first time he'd seen her.

“My eyesight is terrible,” she remarked.

The comment startled him back into sitting up straight and focused. He turned to her and furrowed his brow again.

“What?” he asked, dimly. Then, he had to recover. “It's a greenhouse,” he said knowledgeably.

“I know that,” Rin snapped, but there wasn't a clever comeback that would restore so much dignity as her silence. She seemed to know that and played her hands along the edge of one of the tables which held up some of the small, infant plants. “... I meant it comparatively. Not with you,” she added.

It was gouging but far more vulnerable than anything she had volunteered to him before. He wasn't even in a particular mood to argue with her, so he didn't know what had brought it on. He hated that there was anything within him that took pause, that cared, when she seemed like she was on the verge of saying something that would hurt. Very few people in London had the power to do that, and there was certainly no reason that she should have gained it so quickly – never mind discussions of whether or not Tohsaka Rin and Waver Velvet liked each other or not.

“Comparison with what, then?” he asked. He had been goaded into it, but there was no easy escape. He leaned forward, elbows against his knees, inelegant in his elegant, formal clothing. He wished he had a cigar with him, but the greenhouse was one of the very few places he would concede that it was best not to bring them. He was unarmed.

“An archer,” Rin said mildly, so drawling and casual that it must have been rehearsed to come from the lips of a Tohsaka.

The word might have seemed random to any other person she might have shared any room with in the whole of London. For him, it triggered an immediate recollection – the rushing of a flood of information he had painstakingly learned and then done his best to forget except for the most pertinent parts in all the years since. The faint memory of a smell that would always be anything but faint – burning flesh – came into the strange center of sense memory until he very nearly wanted to draw out his handkerchief against perfectly sweet, clean air.

“That was your class, then?” he asked, trying to pretend he might have been talking about a game instead of something that had happened to both of them in their very real lives – for two weeks, at most.

“Didn't you know?” she asked, mildly accusing, protecting herself with that and the casual folding of her arms.

“I might have heard,” he said, sullenly.

“Yours?” she prompted.

“You mean you haven't heard?” he asked, bristling.

“My father never told me anything about his War. Only that I should be ready... when mine happened,” she said. There had been an if there once, and he could feel it in her tone. He felt... sorry, but it was an abstract, impossible to keep feeling. He didn't want it, and it wasn't his own. Further, he had nothing directly to do with the Tohsaka Master's death.

This was one of the many reasons he always hated being around her. He had known this was coming. Until now, he just hadn't known when.

“... Rider,” he said after a moment. It sounded different, naming the class rather than using it was an address, plaintive and astonished and astounded. It was only just now that he realized that, at some point, he had long-since stopped calling him Rider in his mind but by his true name. He wondered what had made the difference, and the sharp consideration made even the greenhouse seem unseasonably cool for an instant.

“... Must have needed the transportation,” she said, but it was a very weak, absent attempt at a taunt. Her voice, her mind, and her eyes seemed to be somewhere else – overlooking the landscape, looking for someone who was never going to be there.

“I needed a king to realize I was not one in my own right,” Waver said solemnly.

“I could have told you that,” Rin said.

“You were a little girl!” Waver practically shrieked, affronted that she had replied so flippantly when he had been lured into being almost heartfelt with her. He noted that her arms were still folded, that she still seemed to be guarding herself from something.

“So I was,” she replied vaguely. He wondered what had become of her after that. He'd never bothered before.

“You needed the Archer class as a cure for chronic nearsightedness?” he asked, following in turn.

“Farsightedness,” Rin corrected. He took it that she meant it in as literal a sense as she did it figuratively.

“Then you shouldn't have had any problem,” he suggested.

“He could still see better than me,” she said. The fondness that welled into her voice seemed unfamiliar, shaky, and almost heartbreaking. In that moment, he believed that Rin had a heart – more than he'd ever realized, however much she'd advertised its beating flesh with all of that red. Also in that moment, several students who were quite interested in herbs shuffled their chattering way through the door, only to freeze a bit like a cartoon when they saw Tohsaka Rin standing there, glancing over her shoulder quite whimsically at a seated Lord El Melloi II. Romantic, he knew someone was thinking, and the very thought of it made Waver feel mildly revolted.

He felt interrupted, but not for the reasons he could see playing out in their eyes. Rin didn't seem quite so alarmed, but the air felt strangely pregnant with an unfinished conversation. A long unfinished conversation. She took a deep, languid breath and turned around, momentarily facing him before she faced her fellow Clock Tower students.

“Out,” Waver demanded of them, vaguely and without any particular call to authority.

“We didn't mean to interrupt—” a bespectacled and mortified student replied.

“We didn't know you really—” another said, a look of scandal playing in her eyes.

“We're just here for the herbs,” said a flat, brutish third voice.

Rin began to make her way toward the door, and with an old money little ruffle of her shoulders and flounce of her hair, she stopped to regard the most scandalized of them all.

“We don't. And didn't. And never would. … And I have a boyfriend,” she remarked, the last added as if it were a pleasant and beautiful additional blade for her sharp tongue.

It surprised even Waver, who had found his feet, closed his book, and was ready to return to the solitude of his office.