|The Rest of the Story
Author: Annwyd PM
At the end of a journey, two knights meet in Avalon. Saber and Archer, after Fate route.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Archer & Saber - Words: 1,851 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 37 - Follows: 8 - Published: 12-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8773287
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Heroic spirits don't dream, and if he had dreams, they would be dark and full of bloodshed. So he doesn't have any idea at all what's happening, or why it feels familiar.
The memories of the war he just left remain with him. He knew they would from the moment he invoked his Reality Marble in its disguise as a Noble Phantasm. In the great expanse of swords and heat, everything imprints itself on his mind: every attack he makes and every wound he receives, they don't go away. But they should fade now, shouldn't they? They should fade to dry facts pressed into the bent and twisted metal of his soul, not stay fresh in his mind as images and sensations. He shouldn't still vividly recall the regret on Rin's face as she turned and fled with the weakened Saber and that stupid boy at her side. He shouldn't still be able to see the merciless killer's face of that snowy-haired girl he once cared for and tried to protect, or feel the pain of the wounds from her Servant that took him down.
But if it were only that, the memories still clinging to his thoughts, Archer would think of this as only a passing moment before he fades. It's not. He's not disappearing on the floor of the Einzbern castle as the scenery of his mind fades with him. He's lying somewhere, somewhere warm.
There's a breeze on his face, and he feels grass beneath him. His eyes are closed, but he can feel sunlight on them. There's something else, too. Something he can barely acknowledge.
His head is on someone's lap. Isn't that impossible? Who would hold him like that?
Pain flares at the side of his face. That's more like it. He'll open his eyes in a second, and the sweet scene he can sense around him now will vanish, and he'll be in hell again. He'll call his swords back to his side, and he'll kill again, and it'll be just like it always is.
It's strange, though. The sunlight on his face feels like something he knew a long time ago. And there's a scent in the air of apples. He shouldn't recognize it, but somehow he does. More importantly, the pain on his face isn't from a blow aimed to harm. Someone is pressing a cool cloth to a wound. That's almost as impossible as the idea of someone holding him in their lap. Why is all of this familiar?
Archer dares to open his eyes, knowing that all of this will go away. But the gentle light comes to him green and red and gold, and it doesn't go away.
There's an apple tree stretching its branches above him. He's lying with his head on the lap of someone leaning against an apple tree. What kind of mistake landed him here? He shifts and starts to get up. He knows without question that he has to leave; he doesn't belong in such a peaceful place.
"No. You're injured, and you'll stay here until you're well." For some reason, he expected the voice that comes to him now from above. But that's absurd, because it's impossible. Saber is long out of his grasp, beyond salvation, trapped by the wish he couldn't get her to abandon. So why does he hear her now in this warm land that smells of apples? And why does she sound so gentle even though her voice is firm?
He can't bring himself to look at her face, so he stares at the leaves of the tree above, and at the apples hanging from its branches. "You're mistaken. I need to leave this place."
"I'm not certain how you're here, Archer." He realizes that his chest is bare except for bandages, one of which she now leans over to check in the calmest and most business-like of fashions. For some reason this makes his face go hot. Maybe it's something in the balm she was using on it a moment ago. "But I have my suspicions. If they're true, Avalon welcomes you for a reason."
How long has it been since he heard that word? How long since he struggled to tell Arturia Pendragon that if the sheath of her sword, the thing that calls forth for them both this warm island, could save even someone as lost as he had been in that fire, then surely she had never abandoned her ideals? How long since the confession had frozen up in his throat, because how could he try to tell her that saving someone as worthless and empty as he had been since that day meant anything? So long that when he tries to recall what her face looked like then, all he can remember is his fists clenched helplessly at his sides.
He closes his eyes again. "Then Avalon is mistaken. I don't belong here."
She does something inappropriate: she rests her hand in his hair. "If you can say that…we both went wrong somewhere."
He flinches at the sadness in her voice, the sadness he never wanted to hear, and immediately he regrets saying that thing. It's one thing for him to know that the ideals that make up this beautiful land will always betray him and cast him out in the end, but for him to tell Saber that the path she follows is mistaken? He should have known better. "I…of course you're correct in one matter." It's something he should keep to himself, close to whatever's left of his heart, or the swords that have replaced it. "The path I followed was the wrong one. But you…"
"You are a knight like me, Archer. Are you not? Then our paths—"
That's too much. He sits up abruptly, which is fine, because he shouldn't have been resting his head on her lap in the first place. "Don't speak of you and me as if we're the same." He knows the moment he says it that it's a foolish thing. Hasn't he spent all this time trying to live up to the perfect example she set for him? Doesn't he see now how she can have that wish? But he still can't bear to hear it.
She says nothing. Instead, she reaches out. He glimpses her hand at the corner of his vision, slender and pale, and then before he can stop her she's pressed it against his cheek, and she's turning him to look at her. "There's something I must see. So I can be certain."
He knows what she's going to do. He knows, and he wants to stop her, but he's powerless. He can only stare at that serene face, so much calmer and more at peace than he last remembers seeing her, as that hand tilts his face so she can study it. And then she reaches out the other hand as well, and she ruffles his hair down over his face.
Saber sighs and lets her hands fall back to her lap. "I see…I don't know how it happened, but somehow, somewhere, I failed you."
This isn't how it's supposed to go. He always pictured himself confessing failure to Saber, of course, but it was his failure. Not hers, never hers. "No." The pain of hearing her say that pushes him too far, and he says something else. "You were always a perfect knight to me."
"Then it's true," she says, and there's something strange he can't pinpoint about her expression now. Is it that calm? No, it's something more. "We are both knights, you and I, as I suspected. But Archer, there is one difference between us—" And before he can stop her, she's saying it. "I was saved, even if, somehow, you can't remember it. But you never were."
He sits there, frozen. His healing wounds ache somewhere in the distance. He can barely feel them. "I can't be," he finally says. He wants his voice to be cold, but somehow it's impossible for cold to exist on the isle of apples.
She looks down, a glimmer of weary regret passing through her face and stabbing him in the heart as it goes. "Shirou—"
If he thought her regret stabbed him in the heart, he was mistaken, because hearing that name from her like this is so much worse. "Don't call me that." The rest comes out before he can stop. "Saber, I am not the boy who saved you."
She looks up again, and her eyes are suddenly strong and clear once more. "No," she says softly. "But you're the man who tried, Archer. So let me give you one more thing."
"What—" He loses his voice. He loses his voice because of one thing.
She's smiling. She's smiling like the sun as it came through the leaves of the trees above him, gentle and perfect and at peace. "My gratitude. Thank you, for everything you did."
"Saber…!" Archer should stop himself. He should sit up straight and alone, refusing her touch. But instead, he finds himself starting to fall from the force of those words and that smile, and when her arms wrap around him he can't pull away.
A thought betrays him. If she can say that, was it truly all for nothing? Even though it's a treacherous thought, it's also a warm one. He should get up, he knows. He should pull himself away from Saber leaning on the apple tree; he should rise to his feet and leave this place where he doesn't belong. But she has given him heartfelt thanks, and it feels like receiving a key.
It's not until several minutes later that she finally shifts. With her hands resting on his shoulder now, Saber climbs to her own feet, and she holds out a hand to him. "Let's go, Archer. Let's meet this land of Avalon together, for a little while."
He can't disobey. So Archer stands, and his bare feet dig into the grass. Before he can cut the sound off, laughter escapes him.
He can't quite bring himself to smile. Not like she does. His regrets still cling to him too strongly. But he thinks that perhaps the look he gives her is kind. "I just realized, Saber. My boots are gone...well, you have my apologies. I suppose I couldn't have left even if I'd tried."
And she gives him that smile one more time. "Of course. Is it such a surprise? I expected nothing less than the best of manners from you."