I Am Not There
"You're an idiot, you know that?"
There was no response, though it was not as if Rin expected one. The location was silent and sullen—like even the breeze refrained from intruding on her grief.
"You could have at least had the decency to not die so easily."
She stood on a small hill that was within sight of a town, though it was a good hour long hike from the nearest road. The wooded area surrounding the place looked like it had suffered from recent logging or was recovering from a forest fire, though one singular tree had survived where others had not, near the top of the mound. Rin had decided to place the marker beneath that tree, wished it looked somehow more elegant than a simple headstone beneath a gnarled plant that had bark chipped away and a scorch mark along one side.
If she could have placed the grave exactly where he had died, she would have—but there was nothing left to recover of his body. The marker did not even truly mark a grave, as nothing was buried beneath. So it stood at the site of the last battle, empty in more ways than one, overlooking a town that was not his own.
A town that he had saved, and that would have to do.
The little farming community had little more than two hundred occupants, though numbers had not really meant much to him in the end. He could do it, so he did.
Rin had not known what else to put on the stone—all of her jumbled thoughts had seemed too trite and annoyingly cliché. In the end she had come to realize that he really had nothing appropriate to be signified with: no family, few friends, not even the legacy of a magi. Even the people he had saved would not remember him, the truth of what had occurred covered up as per the standard practice of the Association.
Nothing to show, nothing to leave behind.
"I'm sorry that it's such a pitiful thing," she said, beneath her breath.
Everything about the situation sat wrong with her, boiled in the pit of her stomach and infused every nerve in her body with the desire to shake. She was still not sure why, though, whether it was because of anger or sadness, frustration or regret. She'd heard of the stages of grief, but everything was still so new and raw, she was sure she hadn't even settled on one yet.
"You really…" she sighed, curled her arms around herself as if to ward off a chill, "you should've left me with a better idea of what you wanted if you died, you know." She inwardly kicked herself. Not that she expected him to die. After everything she had witnessed him survive, it was probably some deeply seated idea in the back of her head that he was somehow invincible. Immortal. A force of nature, like the thing he aspired to.
Empty grave, empty stone, empty location…arguably, even an empty reason, though he would not have thought so. Unaware of loss, nor aware of gain. Words that upset her too much—why she refused to consider marking his life with the aria he lived by.
But still, it all seemed too simple, too devoid of character. And while he might have claimed to have no sense of self…
There were many things about him she would always remember, and she wanted to say so.
On impulse, she moved up to the tree and reached out her hand. Whether it was a gesture to herself, a sentimental touch to what otherwise felt barren and empty to her, or if she thought it really could have meaning, she was not sure. But she brought to mind the blade she had given him long ago, the Azoth sword that had taken Kirei Kotomine's life, and Projected its image.
It was, of course, nothing like what he could have done, but it would last a few minutes. Long enough to do what she needed.
She stabbed the blade into the scorched bark, carved lines into it. Those lines became letters, until she had formed words, in English—words she recalled learning about in school. School she had not needed to attend. For the first time, she felt she had garnered something irredeemably important from it, and not just the memories of spending it with him.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
The tree, though damaged by the battle that had painted the earth around it, was still hardy and hale—to have survived as much, it would have needed to be. Cutting into it took much longer than she expected. By the time she was starting the comma after weep, however, the spell failed and the knife disintegrated in her hands. She could, of course, make another blade and continue, but by then she had lost the impulse, lost whatever inspiration had struck, and she once more felt like she could not get away from this place fast enough.
So the young magi fled the hill, muttering to herself how even in death, the one she had left there still made her more frustrated than anyone else could. "I'll get back to it someday," she said to herself, though even those words somehow felt empty.
Rin Tohsaka left that hill, so she would not weep at his grave.
It was spring, and Sakura had come as soon as it was possible.
Rin had long since explained to her the circumstances, described the location, and when the winter snows had cleared and the frost no longer hardened the soil, she had come bearing two young trees. It probably looked odd to the villagers nearby, an outsider showing up one day carrying gardening supplies and plants from a nursery out of her hometown. But when she had explained that a friend was buried nearby, nobody had questioned her further, and she was left to her own devices.
The grave was, as Rin had described, inelegant and simple, a single stone beneath an old and damaged tree. The signs of battle and fire had receded somewhat under the new spring growth, and Sakura intended to add to that vision.
So, without preamble, she settled the trees down, took a large trowel out of her day bag, and worked on digging.
It took her the better part of two hours—the earth had softened but was still quite hardened beneath the topsoil—until she was dusting herself off and regarding two little blossoming trees no higher than her waist. One was for her sister, who had refused to come visit with her: a maple tree, one that would turn a deep red. The other was for her, the cherry blossom, and it was already a pale white in hue. They would eventually flank the grave, though it would probably be years before they looked the way she imagined them to.
Once Sakura was finished, she made her way over to the grave and knelt down before it. She had considered the variety of things she wanted to say and the numerous feeling she thought might overwhelm her, but now, sitting there, she felt less sure of the preparations she had made before as everything assailed her at once.
"I…don't really believe in a religion, you know," she said, already berating herself mentally for starting that way. "I know your father was buried at the temple, and To…nee-san made a Christian marker, but…" She sighed, tried to collect her thoughts. "So…I'm sorry I didn't bring incense or an offering."
The one thing she was glad for was the peaceful setting. Rin had described the place as burnt and damaged from the battle, but the time since had been good to the earth and the spring bloom was in full effect. Grass had drifted up through the scorched dirt and the tree standing over the grave had a shot of green about its branches from budding leaves. Now, her plants would only add to the faint color that began to reclaim the site.
"I brought things to make it look better, though. At least, I hope it looks better. Nee-san didn't want to put things here unnecessarily, but…graves are more for the people left behind, aren't they? I thought it would be okay. You were important to us, so, I wanted to show that."
She knelt down in front of the headstone, ran her fingertips along the engraving to his name. They still marked the doorway to his house, but here the characters felt more like a presence, the only thing she could speak to that carried him with it. A part of her was glad there had been no body, nothing to view for a funeral service—it would bring it all down to a physical level, tangible and real. Here, instead, he could exist up in the ether, an image or an idea. Probably something he would have appreciated.
"I hate magic," she said, absently, distractedly. The same kind of tangent one might have in everyday speech. "I hated everything about it and the life it gave me. I hated how it was all that became important to nii-san, how it seemed like it was more important than I was to nee-san."
She spotted the carvings on the tree beyond the stone, the words her sister had began but had found too difficult to complete. So the young woman made her way over to the tree, to the unfinished poem.
"But…it also brought me you. And watching you struggle with it, make it yours…and use it to try and save others…"
Her voice trailed off into the afternoon, from the sentiment she wanted to express to him in life but never had the chance to say. His eyes had always been on the horizon, and she had known he would eventually move somewhere beyond the everyday. Still, that everyday had been enough for her, enough to give her something else than hatred—
She could not have said it, or break that mundane life. But now, it was broken regardless, so she could try and let him know: I was saved because of you.
She used the trowel to carve the next line, though she couldn't remember the entire poem. She thought that maybe, it was alright the way it was, though. She was just one of the people in his life—it might as well be that she left it, in case…
Or at least, she hoped. She hoped that somehow, he had done that for others, that his horizon had given some what it had given her.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
He was one of the villagers, one of the few that knew.
The battle had been fought, and all of the village had known at one time. It was impossible not to know. One minute, perfect peace. The next, some kind of entity had rained terror down on them, had enveloped the entire town in unspeakable horrors. Monsters out of nightmares, out of storybooks meant to frighten, out of the history of the land. Wraiths that pulled people into the shadows to terrorize until they died. Dragons that swam out of streams to pull buildings apart and eat those within. Ghosts from wells and the darkest corners of every house, cursing the living until their flesh began to melt. People had screamed, fled; some went insane and others died.
The entity, formless, but with presence, had hovered about the town like a parasite feeding on a larger animal, microscopic in size yet infecting the body in horrible ways.
And one man had come, had destroyed it.
The villagers did not know what the man had done. But when the creatures swarmed him, the beasts had died with inhuman screams of their own. It was like this stranger had an invisible army with him, shooting down the creatures as he moved, cutting a swath through the village and into the wilderness. The nightmarish ghouls and dragons and demons had followed after him, enraged as a displaced nest of hornets.
And golden light had bathed that night.
Nobody knew what happened for sure.
A woman that had accompanied the man had then spoken with the townsfolk as the night had receded, and the next day it was as if nothing had happened—
Though everyone remembered the lightning storm that had burnt a swath up in the hills nearby, that had set fire to a couple of the houses and killed the occupants.
He could remember, though he did not know why. It might have something to do with ancestry, since members of his family had once upon a time maintained a shrine nearby. Whatever the reason, he could still remember, could still see those creatures in his nightmares, see a neighbor eaten by the shadows, could hear the footfalls of people as they ran like headless chickens.
He could still remember the single man that had saved them all.
So, when Obon came, when the day to honor the spirits of the dead was upon him, he ventured out to where the battle had ended. The villagers had no explanation to the gravesite that had turned up there, though the popular explanation was it memorialized a firefighter that had helped stop the blaze. Kids in town had other views, of course, from a long-forgotten grave of a dead warrior to a vengeful spirit trying to haunt the locals.
A single stone on a hill. Newly planted trees flanking an old, scorched giant.
He made to pray, to offer a candle to this fallen hero, when he spotted the marked-up bark from the survivor. He didn't recognize the words, though he knew they were English. Curious to the origins, he did what he came to do—offered his wishes of wellbeing and a tiny light of the soul—then returned to his home.
And after a few days of searching on his computer, of etching out the unfamiliar lettering in practice, he returned to the site, to offer his addition.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
The township remembered the storm that had raged through their countryside. He remembered the divine wind of their savior.
Sella made sure the grounds were well-kept.
It was not within her personal impulses to visit the grave over the sentimentality that the Matou had visited for, or the Tohsaka had created the location to begin with. But it was within her to do so for the sake of one who no longer could, one that might have wanted to make sure at least that his final resting place was maintained.
So she had received directions from the Tohsaka girl and went to the remote town. She purchased a water pail, filled it in a nearby brook, and trekked out to the site to water the young trees planted there. It was a short, simple task, and one the homunculus had finished within five minutes of arriving.
Which…distressed the maid.
Though Sella was doing this in the name of another, though she had no personal attachment to the boy that had changed her master's life around, the shortness and simplicity of the visit seemed to undermine the very purpose she had come for.
Thankfully, one further opportunity presented itself. She found it when examining the health of the vegetation, discovered the out-of-place carvings on the elder tree. A poem.
I am the diamond glints on the snow,
Sella had memorized the poem beforehand, a poem that the one buried here had evoked at Illyasviel's funeral. Despite the fact that she was not in any way attached to the man this gravesite memorialized, the fact that these words were in the name of a girl born in the winter, who had met the one that made her happy in the winter, and had died in the winter…
It felt appropriate to contribute to its continuation in this way.
He had saved her from death, and she came to pay her respects.
It was one of the first things he had done, apparently, in pursuit of his dream. He had rescued her from the otherworldly, from the unusual. Magi that carried out experiments in pursuit of knowledge did terrible things, but so long as they did not disrupt the peace, those terrible things were excused. So she and a handful of others had suffered, and nobody was the wiser—
Except him, an aspiring hero.
She never had asked him how he found out, what had told him there were lives he could help. But he had come regardless to the secrecy.
Time had since passed, and she had been returned to the realities of normal life, but she had never forgotten. She sent him letters of thanks every year at New Years, hoping he would also know that his actions had meant something, somewhere, even if he himself forgot about them.
When the return letter came that he had passed on, she had sent another letter to his family, inquiring his final resting place. She visited at the turn of the next year, delivered the letter she always wrote herself. When placing that letter, she noticed the tree, and the poem, and used her house keys to carve in a line.
I am the sun on ripened grain,
She returned every year for many years, giving him letters as she always had before.
He was the supposed savior of the noble house El-Melloi, a renowned lecturer at the Clock Tower, and a survivor of the Fourth Holy Grail War. He, too, was not the most sentimental of people, nor did he feel exactly obliged to come. But he did, for a myriad of reasons. He was Waver Velvet.
Though a teacher of magi, he had not taught the one buried there. Though a participant in a war, he had not fought the one buried there. He had only met the deceased once, and they had little enough to interact over—their situation one of life and death.
To destroy the Greater Grail.
Nominally, Waver had been there to counter those that would misuse the system and taint the world with the evil it housed. Personally, Waver could not help but be glad that there were other magi out there unwilling to sacrifice lives in the pursuit of knowledge and power. For Waver, sudden leaps in advancement were no trade for hundreds or thousands of lives—not when, eventually, a person could get to the same results through hard work and determination.
The fact that this Shirou Emiya was a magi that worked hard rather than a talented prodigy did not go unnoticed, nor the fact that the magi was close to Waver's best student.
"Although she expressed it differently, Rin Tohsaka sends her regards," Waver said.
They were the only words he felt he had to voice, and he understood them to be empty anyway. If the deceased was like any other human, he would be reborn into the cycle of life and death that ruled over the world. If not, if he had somehow accomplished his impossible goal, he would reside elsewhere, far beyond the reaches of any but true magic to reach.
Still, Waver accepted that there was magic beyond the spellwork he had dedicated his life to. It was, after all, the words and presence of another that had turned his life around.
That though ran parallel to the desire he had to visit the grave. If Shirou Emiya aspired to heroism, he was born in the wrong era. It was an impossible desire, but one he had apparently pursued to his dying breath.
He was remarkable, in his own way.
A poem marked the nearest tree, in place of a missing epitaph marking the headstone itself. It was something Waver had read in the mundane schooling he had received prior to entering the Clock Tower, and after a bit of pondering he could recall what was still unwritten.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
It was a sad thing, really. No storybooks would speak of him, no civilizations would sing him praise. But perhaps, the determination that had made up a magus capable of winning the Holy Grail War paved the way for something else. If one could no longer reach the throne where heroes resided by heroism and praise alone…
If success as a magi could be made by hard work…
Waver contemplated these things to himself, wondering where they would take him, wondering where, if anywhere, they had taken the boy with aspirations beyond anything Waver could comprehend.
The locals believed them a simple family of tourists, visiting the remote Japanese farmlands, an infrequent but not otherwise unusual situation. The town was on a thoroughfare between major cities and remote temples that were a common locale for foreigners, and the occasional family or tour group would stop by the community and take a look around. So when a group of five—a couple and their pre-adolescent children—came bearing Japanese translation dictionaries and speaking in broken phonetic speech, it was nothing to pay much attention to.
It was a little strange of them, though, to step outside the beaten path and wander out into the hills.
There, the family found it, a single headstone atop a hill, beneath a tree. The grave had a name they could not read but had looked up and copied to serve their needs. The parents of the family had taken a long while to investigate the name of the one that had saved them, had gone through the same processes one might in searching for lost ancestral records or an adopted child might search for biological family.
He had saved them from captivity, from execution. In the Mediterranean, pirates had taken them hostage to ransom their government. Yet somehow, the seven armed men that had captured the family yacht had all been killed or driven off. Not by the French military of their home, nor UN forces: but by a young man in black and red. One minute they were kept in the sleeping quarters of the boat, the next they were looking upon this savior as he unbolted the door and released them in time to see the sunrise of their fifth day away from port. He had said little to them—unable to communicate beyond hand signs and a bit of broken English—but they were able to at least learn a foreign name that they insisted he write down. They wanted to look him up and someday, with words he could understand, thank him.
They found he had died some years later. His hometown temple kept his death records, though he had been buried far away from home, for reasons the family could not find.
Still, it was enough to go from. They tracked down his final resting spot, came to offer flowers to the grave.
And found an unfinished poem carved into the nearby tree.
Bored and with the excess energy of youth cramped up in a car for too long, the children took direction from their parents and carved new words into the tree with broken twigs they could scrounge up from the surround.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
"Thank you for saving us," said the eldest, a boy not yet ten. He said the words with the sincerity of a child, though he clearly could not quite comprehend the severity of the situation since he could only vaguely recall what had occurred.
But his mother put arms around the boy's shoulders, while the father ran a hand through his son's hair. They knew, and it was enough.
Taiga Fujimura was not one to dwell over the past, and she had not even visited Kiritsugu Emiya's grave after his death. But this was a special occasion, and she wanted to share it at the least.
"You should meet your uncle, at least once," she said.
The baby in her arms, a little boy with a tuft of hair resembling a tiny Mohawk, merely yawned in response.
Taiga grinned at the child, then down at the headstone. "Yep. Meet my little one. He's six months old." The woman turned her child around in her arms, as if to hold him out for another person to take. "Say hi!"
Of course, the stone said nothing, and the baby said nothing in return. It did kick a foot once, flinging a loose booty up over the grave like it were a soccer goalie.
"Aww, why'd you do that?" Taiga returned the child to a more comfortable spot at her breast, grinned sheepishly down at the grave. "He's real energetic. I think we're quite a match." She thought for a moment, then nodded to herself. "You're probably wondering who the daddy is, but I have a confession to make. I'm still not married." She stuck her chin out, as if he would somehow object from the beyond. "No, no, it wasn't out of wedlock or anything. See, I guess Kiritsugu always did inspire me when he took you in. I've always admired that about him, and he did a good job raising you. So, I thought, why not me too?" If she did not have an armful of infant, she would have taken up a superhero pose. "I've got plenty of practice for when this one is older, at least."
She circled around the gravestone to pick up the discarded footwear. At least it would not be too dirty—though out in the middle of nowhere, the hill Shirou was buried at seemed to be well-maintained. After talking to the people in town, Taiga had found out that some of the locals deemed it necessary to keep the place looking nice, despite the fact that nobody had personally known Shirou.
"Anyway, I thought I'd come up here, let you see him. I brought a packed lunch—sorry that you can't have any." Taiga had set her things up against the tree, and when she went to retrieve the bag she had brought with the food, she noticed the carvings. "Hey. I know that one…how does it go?"
She mulled over the words as she settled in for her meal, her little boy lulling about next to her, napping like he was related to his mother by blood. When the new mother finished the first of the sandwiches she had brought, she sought out something to carve with as well.
She thought it was something like: I am the swift uplifting rush…
"Thank you for watching over our professor."
There were three of them. Young men, students of the Clock Tower. Students of a new lecturer there. Students that looked up to the woman from faraway Japan.
They came because of the whispered rumors. Rin Tohsaka had apparently known a magus killer. He was said to have gone against the teachings of the Clock Tower, to regard magecraft as merely a means to an end. This heresy supposedly cost him his life defending simple farmers in a backwater country.
Like their beloved teacher, however, these three were determined to live their life by their own rules. The one buried here was only a source of inspiration to that.
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
They wrote out the next line in silence, wondering at the timing of their entry. Though no birds flew here—the fall weather had sent many southward—they themselves hoped to some day take flight as magi of a different sort.
"You carried many sins on your shoulders. More than any one man should have tried to bear. For that, you are foolish…but the Lord does watch over fools, too."
Caren Ortensia came to pay her respects. She would have visited earlier, had the magi of Fuyuki been more forthcoming. It had taken more time than it was probably worth to wheedle out a confirmation of Shirou Emiya's death, and more time still to be told where his grave rested. The Tohsaka and Matou girls seemed to believe Caren might do something improper with that knowledge.
For the work he had done, helping the Church behind the scenes on the occasional exorcism or mage-hunt, Caren had considered moving his grave to the proper cemetery. But, as he had professed no interest in truly joining the order, nor had he seemed to consider giving up his secular stance, it was, in the end, something she gave up on.
She allowed instead for the thought that this small little monument to his life, one dedicated to service, was at least somewhat fitting.
She did, decide, that it was certainly the will of something he probably did not believe in that brought her to his grave when the next line of his tribute poem should be written.
I am the soft starlight at night.
For, at the very least, she was one who believed in the existence of a promised destiny, of the Lord's promise to Abraham: descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
And she was certainly one of the few who knew that he carried with him a light that few other people in this world even hoped to aspire for.
It was a mere rumor, a short little story she had found online, that led her here.
As a student pursuing a journalism degree, Gwen had basked in the challenge. It was a curiosity that often came back to her time and again, a mystery that perhaps had driven her into the career that she now pursued.
Gwen's mother would not have lived to bear children had it not been for a stranger. A devout Christian, her mother had been tripping through Israel on a religious pilgrimage of sorts. Despite the rising tensions in the region. Despite the frequent fighting in nearby Gaza. Despite the suicide attacks that were almost a daily sign. It was important to her mother, so she had gone.
The freedom fighters, terrorists, soldiers, fundamentalists—whatever you wanted to call them—had targeted a bus her mother was on. The bomber had charged where the vehicle had stopped to let passengers off for lunch, and it was clear people would have died. Gwen's mother had said it was a cold sort of resignation, knowing you were going to die, and that the locals were all so desensitized to the situation, hardly anyone flinched.
Their savior had been a man in black, a man with stark white hair in contrast to his choice of clothing. Though he was most apparently the one responsible, Gwen's mother still to this day had a hard time explaining what the man had done exactly. "It was surreal, really. You're so convinced that you're going to die, what happens is like out of a dream. You know what happens when you're there, but recalling it is too confused by everything else you think of. The fear of never going home, of not saying goodbye to your mother, your brothers, or arguing with your father again. I can remember the feeling…a sort of shiver that locks up everything. I can remember a sense of light—but I don't even know if that's real, or just picked up from all those people that say you see life flashing before your eyes before you die."
When the dust had cleared, the man had not made it to his destination beside the vehicle, instead exploding in the middle of the street. It hurt sensitive ears and rattled bus and building, but no casualties came from it besides the attacker himself.
"Still," Gwen's mother had said, "that man had seemed so sad, even for the terrorist."
The man had not given his name, not spoken a word. With the danger clear, he had simply left when nobody was looking, though his appearance had apparently stayed with Gwen's mother.
The story had always fascinated Gwen, sometimes keeping her awake at night.
Ever since she had a computer of her own, she had wandered the internet looking for stories that might fit this mysterious Samaritan. She would idly wander sites dedicated to stories of hostage takers and negotiators, firefighters and policemen. She would bookmark a few, follow up with questions if she could find an eyewitness, and move on when it turned out to be something or someone else. For years she did this, not truly obsessed with the idea, as each story she investigated was interesting itself. It became habit, though, and certainly it made her proficient at her intended job.
The story itself was a mere footnote. It was tied to how folk tales began, how real stories evolved into local myths and legends, how in certain superstitious cultures things might be exaggerated toward the supernatural. Gwen always paid a little more attention to Asian-based stories, since her mother had said the man had appeared a lot more Eastern in looks.
Local myths in Japan. "Town protected by a god of storms" was the title of the anecdote. Evil spirits that started a forest fire cleansed by a man who could bring a rainstorm. It was something that probably started with children of the village making up tales, or parents trying to give their kids some kind of bedtime story that explained everything. The strange part that led Gwen to the story, however, mentioned a gravesite now standing where the fire had ended, and the way the children apparently described their hero:
A man who wore black, had white hair, and carried light with him.
It had taken a while, but she had searched down the source of the myth, had ventured to the village while on a vacation between school semesters. She came for many other reasons, not just to visit this site of supposed battle, but she did plan to look into it.
The gravesite was secluded and small, out in the middle of nowhere. Trees flanked the headstone, blooming red, white, and green all around. With the clear blue sky beyond, it was definitely a pleasant sight even amidst a country of pleasant sights.
"I don't know if you're the one that saved my mother," Gwen said when she regarded the grave: a simple gray slab with nothing but a foreign name on it. "But if you are…then thank you. Because I'm alive now, and I'd like to think that's a good thing."
Since it had been a bit of a lengthy hike, and she had time before she had to catch a ride back into the city for the rest of her trip, she lounged about the site for a little while, eventually noticing the poem carved out on the largest tree. She did not recognize it, but had brought along the convenience of modern-day technology to aid her in a search.
"If you are him, and this poem is about you, well, I'd hope you'll somehow find out that I won't, at least. I've got too much to look forward to."
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
It took some doing and the passage of many years, but Rin was finally convinced to return.
No words from Sakura had ever managed to convince her, nor the words of those that had known him in life. But eventually, in the years that had followed, it had been at the urging of those that had not known him—her husband, her children, students that she taught in London—that finally dragged the promise out of her. It had been years, they said, and she was a different person now: why not go back, say things left unsaid, face the darker days of her youth with a different expression?
Sakura arranged for the both of them to take their families and meet there, and though Rin had once or twice attempted to dodge the commitment, Sakura had used the one thing that always guilt a response from the elder sister: "We've already bought the train tickets, so unless you want us to waste all that money…"
So Rin was coerced and convinced, though she grumbled the entire way. It did not help that gathering up the family was also a pain in the neck: what would take two adult women a few minutes took them a good hour with their offspring behaving as children did. It also did not help that Rin's children seemed to take great delight in making their mother fume—the witch sometimes thought that if Shirou had been reincarnated, he'd done so into one of her kids, since nobody else had ever frustrated her so.
One long train ride followed by a short bus ride made for antsy kids, and by the time they were setting out of the nearby town to their destination, the energy could no longer be denied and all those under the age of twelve were running off ahead. Whereas Rin and Sakura took their time and spent a good hour trekking to the site, the children probably could have made three laps to and from the village.
What they found was a little unexpected.
It was not the site itself that surprised them. The trees Sakura had planted were growing full, though they still were dwarfed by the old survivor, the canopy of the larger tree eclipsing even the shadows of the smaller ones. The grave itself was still as plain as Rin had made it, and the ground was green with grass up to their ankles. Taiga had told them of how the poem Rin had started was slowly being filled in—by who, they didn't know—but even that was not something to startle them with.
By the time they reached the hill, their kids were playing alongside a group of local children, all of them battling away with sticks or chasing each other around in a game of tag.
The oldest of the locals, a boy that had clearly yet to reach full adolescence, stopped in front of the women and bowed. "Uh, we're not doing anything wrong, promise."
Rin, the natural teacher and parent that she was, immediately caught on. "Then why apologize? We're just here for a visit."
Sakura hid a laugh behind her hand. "We're not here to check up on you. Just visiting the grave."
"Huh." The boy eagerly went for the more amiable of the two adults, trying to ignore the suspicious look the one in red was still giving him. "You know the person buried here?"
"Not really," Rin said, before Sakura could reply. "Why, do you?"
"No." The boy looked baffled, his eyebrows converging out from beneath the fringes of his hair. "Then, you're here cause of the legend?"
Sakura asked, "What legend?"
The boy seemed to recant on his eagerness for the nicer of the two women, giving her a well duh look that only kids could manage perfectly. "The legend. You know, about the god that rescued our town, and how he could only do so by becoming mortal, but because he became mortal, he died. The legend."
Rin and Sakura were silent at that, staring at the boy like he had grown a second head. Their children, who had gathered around to hear this all, grew once more bored with their parents. Rin's son and Sakura's youngest daughter decided to interrogate the other children for more information, while Rin's daughter and the rest of Sakura's troop decided they would join in on tag.
The boy watched the women, wary of what he was going to get in response.
"Well, I guess it works," Rin said, finally. She crossed her arms and for a moment looked as surly as her mentor. "If he was gonna do everything wrong in life, might as well be wrong with what he leaves behind too."
A fake legend. If one could not make a true legend in the modern era…
"So, do you know who finished the poem carvings?" Sakura asked the boy.
He looked confused again, followed where she pointed to the tree. "Is that what that is?"
"People come here, like you. Cause of the legend. Maybe them." He looked at the carvings, then motioned to the last line. "Ahh, that's new I think. It wasn't here last week when we were up here." He glanced up, hopefully, at the adults. "Do you know what it says?"
Sakura smiled. She looked to her sister, but Rin was looking up and away, her thoughts wandering off into the distance. If Sakura had to guess, probably to the day she had last been at this very spot.
Thankfully, the expression Rin wore was not one of sadness, anger, or regret. It was not exactly a happy look, though—more contemplative.
That was fine, though, as Sakura could be the one to smile. She nodded to the boy. "Yeah."
I am not there; I did not die.
Poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.