Author's Notes: Written because I was inspired by a certain stripe of fanart on pixiv and Fate/Zero does not have an active enough kink meme that I thought there was any chance of getting this written for me, so I opted to write it myself. Warnings for slashy pseudo-selfcest and spoilers about the fate of the Rider pair.
Two months later, and the police lines were still up, ribbons of yellow rippling like bannerettes in the windy winter gray. The young magus ducked them with barely a thought, eyes tracking the radius of devastation inward. At the edges beyond the tape, there were buildings still intact, though seared black at the street level, but here was where the real damage began. Roofs had fallen in under the weight of the season's snows, doors hung half-devoured from their hinges, and pathways of shattered glass, gleaming and delicate in the pale sunlight, lined the street where window after window had burst from the heat of flames. As he walked on, the corpses of architecture became skeletons, charred frameworks stretching away in a long curve like a nightmare forest line around some cold and barren field of hell. Beyond that, even the street was lost, everything melted to slag by a fire that had burned too hot and too hungry to be called a natural force. After two months, the police and the fire department still had no explanations and Waver, staring out across the desolation, knew they would never find one.
What made me think I'd find one? he thought bitterly as the cold wind snapped and tangled in his hair. It's obvious there's nothing left here. "I'm sorry, Council of Lords, but there was nothing there to find." I bet that's going to go over real well.
He made his way off the main road and into the crisscrossing barricade of wreckage, his footsteps loud and invasive in a monochrome world of twisted metal and broken, jagged wood. The fire had run across the ground like water; even Waver, whose mage affinity was to his long envy the farthest removed from the bright, fierce combativeness of flame, could see that it had been guided by someone's will, spreading across empty squares and wide streets where there was nothing but cement to burn, unerringly finding its way again to shops and houses, places where people had lived. It had been the middle of the night and they would have been asleep in their beds when the fire came and melted them down to less than bone. The thought reminded him of the sick-sweet stench of burning flesh in Caster's lair, and even now the memory turned his stomach.
Whose wish could this possibly have been, he wondered, gingerly picking his way through the remnants of an alley, bits of snow that lingered unmelted in the shadows of a lone standing wall crunching beneath his feet. Would Archer have wanted this? Surely not his Master, that unseen magus who had withdrawn him from his first fight when he'd used Gate of Babylon too openly. And definitely not Saber or Einzbern. Maybe Berserker or his Master. He shivered and drew his coat closer around him. Yes, he could see the black knight stalking through this ruin. If only he knew who'd won in the end. If nothing else, he'd have liked to know if it was Archer or if someone else had managed to beat what Rider had not, the Chains of Heaven and the Sword of Rupture. The idea of it left a bad taste in his mouth, but not a worse one than thinking of Archer claiming the victory. Which one would Rider have preferred?
Something was nagging at him. He looked up to see-a hallway? No, too broad. The double line of blackened pillars, latched onto as a brief oasis of patterned order in the chaotic aftermath of destruction, was a thoroughfare's width, and the pillars too large to even fit his arms around. Though marred by the flames, the red paint on the wood was a splash of vivid color compared to the scenery around it. The wind seemed lower here as well, died down to an eerie whisper. He felt the hair on the back of his neck standing up and fought down the desire to back away and leave.
It had to be shrine gates, he decided, and ventured further on. Twice he had to boost himself over collapsed crossbeams, their color scorched away to scattered, rust-colored flakes, but he'd fixed his eyes on the building beyond them, a husk left behind like the massive shell of some ancient beast that had been borne into the world on the backs of the dying and taken wing in the black smoke of the Fuyuki City Disaster.
Waver's skin prickled, his Magic Circuits flickering an erratic pressure that translated to the flesh. There was mana here. Of course, Fuyuki City was full of mana, that's undoubtedly why the Three Families had chosen it as the place to hold Heaven's Feel to begin with, but so near to the center of—the explosion, the fire, whatever it was that had happened, the mana of the land had been scoured clean, consumed to power whatever magic was driving the destruction. He hadn't felt a bit of mana, not a speck, since before he'd passed the police line, and now he'd just walked into a pool of it, stagnant and still, not flowing to the outside world at all.
He looked around, frozen in his tracks. It had to be the shrine, didn't it? Some kind of residual energy or spell that had seen it through the worst of that night two months ago. His fists curled at his sides. Surely that was it. And he couldn't back away after he'd come this far! Even aside from the fact that he was going to have to report about the events of the war to the Mages' Association eventually, what would Rider say if Waver had to tell him he'd turned back now? No, he would definitely press on.
"There can't be much left of it…" he muttered to himself as he reached a hand—shaking! How despicable could he get?— to the raised floor of the shrine entrance, where black fragments spoke of stairs that had been burnt to flinders and were now no use to him. He tugged at it, then pounded on it with his fist, and, when it failed to snap like dry straw, pulled himself up into the shadows of the room.
Patchwork light spilled through the broken lattice around the opening behind him and he surveyed the room—the burned lumps that had maybe been the altar, the wisps of fiber that might have been ceremonial rope, and the wet slurries of ashes pushed everywhere by the weather, untended now by any keeper. For as little was left of it, it didn't feel dead enough, and that chilled him.
Hesitantly, he shut his eyes, trying to feel outward and find the center of the pool of mana. Was it just especially strong here? Did the shrine have some kind of artifact? Further in, there was a stirring—nothing he could hear or see, but more like a ripple in the pool, like a fish moving around him with a passing flick of scales. He opened his eyes again and took the doorway to the left behind the altar.
Thin walls closed around him, the faint light of day left behind as he ventured into the murky shadows. He told himself that even as small as he was, he was more than strong enough to break through matchstick Japanese walls if he needed to. There was nothing alive here, he was sure of that, and he wasn't afraid of a bit of foreign mana. Wasn't his affinity water? This was just a drained local leyline point, or… Or something, but whatever it was, it wasn't anything to be scared of.
He could see gray light ahead on his left—the outside again, maybe a courtyard. He shuffled toward it. The mana source was getting closer now. Maybe he could influence someone to come and clean up in here. It might help the land to recover faster, and surely as a participant in the war that had caused all this, that was the least he could do. There had to be some priests or something in the disaster relief efforts who'd be malleable about it, who—
The obstruction at his feet caught him by surprise and he stumbled forward, arms pinwheeling for balance, hating his undignified yelp of surprise even as he made it. Angrily, he turned back and looked behind him.
Crumpled yellow cloth, visible even in the low light, and Waver remembered watching the firefighters on the news combating the disaster. For a moment, he could only stare as déjà vu struck him like a slap—the body twisted in pain, the dull reflection of light in glazed, dead eyes. But it was more than recollection that made him stumble backwards in mounting horror.
The corpse was that of a fireman, not a priest; dead, but not burned up. Then, even an idiot could see he hadn't been killed in the fire, but had come here after, and something here had killed him.
He was just starting to curse his own idiocy when the ground disappeared beneath Waver's feet.
"Dammit, I—waahh!" The splash and the impact rattled through his teeth as he landed on his back in water—cold water, and he flailed as gravel shifted beneath him when he tried to sit up. Shivering, he looked around in a panic. He was sitting in a shallow pond lined with stones, burned trees surrounding it like sharp charcoal drawings. And somewhere near, somewhere close, somewhere close—!
He looked down, shaking.
At his side, as close to his hand as if it had fallen from his own pocket, something golden shone in the water. Mesmerized, he watched his fingers twitch and move toward it, pause, then close over the shard. It was metal, and cold, cold as winter, as ice, as death, as surrender, as despair, as—
He heard someone whimper, and everything went black.
The earth is hard and cold, grassless, and against it the blood is fresh and dark; the smell of it fills his nose, something's lifeblood all over his hands. He stands back—the circle is closed and complete, and the golden shard lies at the center, wrapped in red cloth—and begins to chant.
"Fill, fill, fill, fill, fill!"
His voice is ecstatic and sharp, and he laughs as the familiar wind begins to scream in the bare tree branches. It's hot against his face, smelling of leather and horses, and it makes his head spin. He keeps laughing, joyous, uncontrolled, and feels the grin pulling away from his teeth as the huge shadow takes shape in the circle.
A final blast of air, sharp with ozone, crackles by him, and he raises one thin arm, clad in black, to his eyes. His skin is so pale, and there's something on his hand he wants to look at longer, but then Rider steps out of the circle, and even at the confused, serious look in his king's garnet red eyes, he can't stop smiling.
"Are you the one who summoned me?"
"I am," he hears himself respond. "You remember me, right?"
He beams, walking closer, and doesn't falter even when Rider's hand goes to his sword. He can feel the smile on his face still, alien in the face of Rider's dismay.
"What did you do, Waver?"
"I brought you back." He looks up at Rider, voice worshipful and proud. "My king. There's no Archer to stop you this time. No other Servants to beat first, no stupid contests. Just the world, waiting for you."
Rider scowls, and he expects a flick to be unleashed from that huge, strong hand, but it doesn't come; Rider's hand stays on his sword.
"What have you done to yourself, boy?"
Waver laughs, tinged with affront. "I made myself worthy to fight with you! I know you want a body, my king, and I promise I'll find you one soon, but until then, don't worry. I have so much prana now it's unreasonable. You can fight to your fullest, and I can fight with you, so—"
He reaches out a hand. His sleeve, even his skin, is streaked in red, not blood, more like the Command Seals, but with no coherent pattern, just wandering lines running up his arm, and he wishes he could look down at himself—but then the sound of drawn steel rings in the clearing, and the Sword of the Cypriots is pointing at him; he looks at the sword, the scarred length of Rider's arm, the grim disappointment in Rider's eyes, he looks at all of it and he grins.
The next few moments are almost too fast for him to follow. He reaches out to touch Rider's sword and his king brings down the blade faster than he can see. His arm drops to the ground, severed at the elbow, but it barely hurts at all, and already he has lunged forward and fallen onto his side to seize Rider's cape with his other hand. Alexander half turns, and there is pain but no mercy in his face as he raises his weapon, and Waver knows he's going to die, he's going to die for whatever this is, whatever he's done. Then Rider goes stiff. He looks down, and Waver does the same, slowly, languorously, taking in the sight of every inch of his erstwhile-Servan, before his gaze settles at the very edges of Rider's long cape.
The fabric is darkening with spreading dampness, but stranger than that, the color of the fur lining it is fading, leeching bone white as his cape turns slowly black, black veined with red. Rider jerks away and Waver falls back onto his elbow, his laughter coming thin and short of breath as his mind races.
Rider tears off the cloak and hurls it away; it lands in a dark, sodden pile. He turns to glare at Waver, and his voice rises, resonant and thundering.
"This isn't what I ordered you to do, Waver!"
The magus climbs to his feet—he has a fleeting glimpse of his hair, white, bone white—and spreads his arms—whole again, and where his severed limb had fallen there is now just a puddle of water, water that runs against gravity across the uneven ground to pool beneath his feet.
"You're wrong, Rider—Alexander! I'll live my life to the fullest with you! Don't worry—I'll make you understand!"
He sweeps up his arms and from somewhere behind him, water answers, a wave of it, dancing and ink-black, more mobile than he's ever been able to manage before, washing across the field in twin crashing arcs. Alexander without his chariot is not anywhere near agile enough to dodge it; he doesn't try to, but charges across the field straight at the mage.
Waver want to scream as the sword plunges through his thin chest, and when the lightning courses through him he does, wheezing and clinging to Rider's arm. Tears blur his vision, but to his horror, mirrored in the Heroic Spirit's eyes, the scream chokes off into laughter as his blood pours down Rider's arm and turns up, coursing over the tanned skin and across his chest. His own narrow fingers clutch at the Heroic Spirit's gauntlets as Alexander tries to fling away the sword.
How can I hold on? How can I be stronger than him? This is all wrong…
Rider drops to his knees with a heavy thud and Waver lets go, falling limply at his side. Twitching and spasmodic, he wraps his hands around the handle of the Sword of the Cypriots and pulls it out of his chest. He examines it, the blood running thin and fluid over the discoloring blade, then looks up at Rider, who is staring blindly into the middle distance, breathing hard, clawed fingers digging furrows in the wet earth.
Slowly, the wound closes; he can feel it in the way his own breath evens out, even as he despairs at the sight of the corrosion stealing away Rider's healthy flush, his hair turning white as if with the onset of age. He longs to press himself to Rider's chest and tear at the water, using every spell he knows to draw it off of Alexander's form. Instead, he just kneels at his king's side, embracing his sword, an affectionate smile playing at his lips.
The Heroic Spirit looks up, finally, and meets his gaze. His eyes are red, red as Archer's were, scarlet red, and when he grins, it's predatory and wild.
No. I couldn't do that! I couldn't beat him! This is all wrong…
He holds up Rider's sword in both hands like an offering. Alexander takes it, examines it himself for a moment—the metal has gone jet black, its golden emblem now a blood-colored disc—then sheaths it. He looks at Waver and nods acknowledgement. Exhilaration fills the young mage, as choking and foreign as the first time he tried a spell to breathe water, as Rider wraps his arm around his summoner's hips and stands.
This isn't me; I'd never—!
Of course you would. It's your wish, you stupid me.
His arms encircle Rider's neck and he can feel the jubilant smile on his face, but inside he trembles at the hard edge of cruelty and anticipation shining in the spirit's eyes, at the sound of his own voice ringing delighted and strong in his mind.
That isn't Rider; it isn't me!
He bows his head, smile widening, and Rider's chin lifts in a challenging tilt. He can feel his king's breath on his lips, and they part, and—
That ISN'T ME!
The world jolted and he crashed back into his own body, twisting and struggling as his mind took over. Long, narrow fingers wrapped around his wrists and pulled them apart; he yelled wordlessly as he looked up into red eyes, white hair falling short and straight around a narrow face, twisting red lines flowing over the sharp curve of the jaw.
His jaw. His face. He stared up into the wide grin, momentarily shocked still, and the other him laughed and leaned in to press a kiss to his lips.
Waver jerked back, screeching, "What the hell are you doing? Let go of me!"
His white reflection drew back, hands still wrapped like a gargoyle's claws around Waver's wrists, and the young magus could finally see properly. He wasn't back in the shrine garden; he was sitting hip-deep in water, clouded water that he couldn't see through and that didn't have a visible shore, and the sky overhead was black with thunderheads. Buildings—half-fallen, pocked with gaping holes or sporadically on fire—stretched away in every direction and somewhere far off was there was a sound of shouting and gunfire, and the long, low gallop of horses, the direction distorted by distance and echo.
His other self laughed, a jarringly pale specter against the great blackness of the city. He wore clothes that Waver recognized in theory, but his own green was gone; in its place was mostly black, the splash of a white vest, the vividness of a red tie, and all over the pants, thin pinstriped red. Over his shoulders, slashed into many long sections as if its maker had gone insane with no one to take away the scissors, a black cloak drifted in the smoke-scented wind, floating as if suspended in water.
"It's London," the other Waver said, and smiled like the curve of a scythe. "You can't see Clock Tower from here, but we went there first. I insisted."
Waver tried to pull away again, eyes firmly averted. This wasn't London; it was some kind of crazy vision he'd fallen into when he stupidly picked up an unidentified magical artifact. "Let me go!" he snapped up at the definitely-not-real other him.
"I won't," the other rattled back. "I'm showing you our wish, and then we're going to make it real."
"Who would wish for this?" the young magus spat, glaring. "You, you're just trying to look like me, but all this is just some old spell that got twisted around in the fire, and I'm going to break it right now!"
"Go ahead and break it then," the spirit answered, and tightened its grip.
Gritting his teeth in fury, Waver screwed his eyes shut. He knew what this was, and how to break free; all he had to do was reassert his own prana, circulate it in his system and flush out the invasive magic just like water down a drain. Even apprentices learned that spell, and as a water-aligned magus he was especially skilled with that sort of magic.
In his mind's eye, he saw the doors of Clock Tower, huge, ancient wood inlaid with magical symbols, closed before him, and in his mind's eye they were thrown open, the gateway to ever-stronger magical power, a promised land of—
Nothing was happening. His trigger, his association with magic since before his Magic Circuits had even been activated, wasn't working. Ugly shock tore through him like a wolf's fangs, and his eyes flew open.
His other self laughed—laughed, and Waver was getting so sick of that sound!—and rubbed his fingers in circles around the bones of Waver's wrists. Waver's stomach sank as the water pooled around him froze solid. He knew the spell, could perform it himself, but not at instant-level, without an incantation. He struggled to cling to his anger.
"You can't," the illusion above him surmised. "You're too weak the way you are. But it's fine. You're going to turn into me, and then you'll understand." He smirked, brushing his hand over Waver's dark hair. "You're a fast learner. It's like this: you want Rider back so much you'll find a way to break the Grail cycle to get him. You'll do it, because you always find a way to get what you want, and then you—me, since you'll be me by then –will do what the king ordered you to do."
He leaned down close and every inch of Waver tried to sink further into the ice and away.
"Tell the world about our king," he whispered, and the hushed fervor of his next words raised goosebumps all down Waver's arms. "The entire world is going to know about 'the spirit of our Alexander.'"
The specter kissed him, and water filled his mouth, stagnant and stale. He choked and coughed, throwing back Clock Tower's doors again and again in his mind to no avail as the water—mana, mana, it's foreign mana and I have to get it out!—ran down his throat.
"We're going to share Alexander's dream with everyone."
The hands, cold and deft, had left his wrists and were skating beneath his shirt and up his chest.
"Oceanus will cover everything."
The white lips whispered feverishly at his temple, the voice pitched with desperate joy.
Open, dammit, open!
"He'll see it everywhere he looks!"
The water had reached his stomach, a chill emanating out from his center and seeping out to every part of him.
He was going to lose. He could feel the cold futility of tears on his cheeks, but his limbs were going numb; he could imagine the creeping stain of water seeping up his pant legs and sleeves, heading for his heart like it had taken Rider's.
Rider. Rider, red and gold Alexander, turned into some black and white bloody mockery of himself—he couldn't stand it!
This isn't Alexander's dream! I'd never wish for this, ever!
Again, he saw the glow of pride in his Servant's eyes. Again, saw the descent of that broad palm, reaching down from heights Waver could only dream of reaching. But, as long as he had that dream, a dream of glory beyond the horizon…
I'm going to live on and I'm not going to let any stupid magic trinket beat me!
His king's hand was a heavy weight on his shoulder, and it was, Waver knew, a weight he would carry like a banner for the rest of his days.
Somewhere inside, the damn broke.
His own magic, clear and clean, tumbled and rushed and poured through him, circling, cleansing, declaring. It washed away the dream of London drowning like a tidal wave stripping a sand castle from the shore, and with an eddying scream of rage, the other Waver was borne away.
He jackknifed upright, hacking up fouled water. On his shoulder, beneath his sodden clothes, he could feel his Thaumaturgical Crest pulsing. He wrapped his hand over it, looking down at the shard in the water.
It felt malignant now, like it was watching him, and he hurriedly climbed out of the shallow pool before kneeling back down near the rim and lifting a hand out over the water. Briefly, he closed his eyes and opened the doors in his mind.
Nothing. Telling himself the heat in his cheeks was just the flush that accompanied magecraft, he pursed his lips and once more let in the memory of Rider's hand on his shoulder.
"Vrēsen," he muttered, and blinked back the stinging of tears at the corners of his eyes, concentrating on the blue glow that sprang to his fingers. "Idiot…"
He'd never heard of a magus's trigger changing before, but it wasn't something he'd ever read much about. Could major life events cause something like that? Did it matter? He was changed now, irrevocably, inarguably. A reminder, forever… And Rider had told him that there was no guarantee the Grail War would be the most important event of his life.
Rider, you idiot… Like anything like you is ever going to happen to me again.
He shook his head as the shard bobbed up to the surface, encased in a ball of ice larger than his fist. There'd be time to think on that later. He pulled the scrap of metal out of the water and set it on the ground a few feet away, frowning at it. A Grail shard… So the Grail had been broken—maybe without ever getting to grant the victor's wish. Was that the cause of the disaster? He'd have some reading to do, obviously—later, after he dealt with the problem in front of him.
He struggled out of his jacket, shivering. The wind outside the shrine was going to be vicious, but a soaking wet jacket wasn't doing him any good anyway. Wrapping up the ball of ice in the cloth, he tucked it under one elbow and boosted himself back up onto the walkway around the courtyard.
Get it out of the shrine first. Once it's away from a mana source, it should dissolve on its own. And I've got a spell or two to help it along, the perverted thing.
Destroy the shard. Report the dead fireman. Get some warm bloody clothes. Keep busy, that was the thing. Don't stop. The figure of his king was a long way off, and the only way to reach him was to keep moving forward.
Author's Notes 2: This was written to fit as much into the canon as possible, as a possible consideration for why Waver is the one sent to dismantle the Fuyuki Grail system five years after (certain routes of) Fate Stay/Night. Of course he's been to Fuyuki before, and was involved in the education of the current head of the Tohsaka family, but it seemed to me that a bit more would be required of a not-so-very-powerful mage being sent to take apart one of the world's stronger magic rituals. Hence a brief personal experience with the Grail itself, as well as a minor water affinity that would support Waver having a head for cycles and manipulations and power flows, and how to disrupt and resettle all of the aforementioned things.
If I had any grasp whatsoever on how to write the Fate Stay/Night cast, I would lovelovelove to write an epilogue to this, where Lord El Melloi II shows up, is grouchy and temperamental but shockingly competent at the job he's been sent to do, engages in a lot of mutual needling with Rin as they cooperate to alter the flow of Fuyuki's leylines, and is eventually introduced to Shirou and Saber, the latter of whom is rather surprised to see him when she eventually works out who he is. Alas, I will never write that fic. Please feel free to imagine it exists as an unseen postlude, though.
P.S. Also feel free to imagine that the shift in Waver's trigger is the sign of a deeper spiritual change, not just in his psyche, but also in his soul, a sign of his link to Alexander beyond space and time. If the reader wishes to extrapolate this to imagining Lord El Melloi II having a place in Ionian Hetairoi, well, this author is not going to contradict you.