Brand New Song And Dance
The old man took off his broad brimmed hat and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, taking away the sweat that had gathered. The summer heat was brutal, and even worse it was muggy. Such was always the case during Japan's rainy season. Even under the shade of the tree he stood under the heat seeped into his skin like syrup. The sound of cicadas simply worsened the stifling atmosphere, a never-ending drone that wore on the senses if you paid too much attention to it.
"It's been a while," he said softly, putting his hat back on his head as he stared down at the grave. It was worn and ill cared for, but the inscription still legible all the same.
He sighed and lifted some water with a ladle from the bucket he'd carried over, careful not to spill any on the suit jacket draped in his opposite hand as he splashed it on the tombstone. The dust washed away, he set up the incense and lit it, coughing a little at the smoke as he laid the flowers down.
"It's been a long while, Kariya. I'd have visited more often, but it's a long trip and I'm sad to say I'm not as young as I used to be."
He stood there in silence, praying for the young man as the cicadas continued their chirping song. It was several minutes before he spoke again, nothing higher than a whisper as he looked over the tombstone.
"Didn't even bury you with the rest of the family." His expression shifted, sadness bleeding away to a mixture of regret and anger. "I'm not even sure if you're buried here at all, you poor boy."
He knelt down again, waving the incense smoke away. Old joints creaked with the effort of doing this motion again so soon, but he ignored it. He was used to the various aches and pains. They were old friends he'd lived with for a very long time, constant companions to help remind him he was still alive.
"You tried so hard to redeem this rotten family, and look what you got for it. Nothing but pain and an early death." He tilted his hat over his eyes, hiding them as the tears ran down his cheeks. "I should have been there, Kariya. I shouldn't have been so far away. I learned too late, and I'm sorry."
He put a hand on the tombstone, as if trying to touch the man buried underneath. But all he felt was stone under his time worn hand, rough and unyielding.
"I'm so, so sorry."
The pain struck quickly, like flame on his flesh. He gasped and pulled his hand from the stone, clutching it to his chest as he fell to the ground. He didn't feel it as he hit, didn't feel anything except the torture wracking his body. It was his entire world, blocking out sound and blurring sight. His breath came in short bursts as spots danced before his eyes, and as the world spun a part of him wondered if his heart had finally decided to give out.
Wait, he thought as the agony died down and thinking became easier. That's not my heart… My hand?
Flat on his back, his clothes covered in dust from his fall, he looked at his hand.
"What on earth?
Waver Velvet grumbled as his pen slashed across the paper, correcting yet another essay his students had left at his feet while they gallivanted off to enjoy their summer break. He read further before marking another portion of the paper, his growling becoming ever more fierce as he chewed on his cigar, smoke filling the office before spilling out the small window on the other side of the room. He had to stop himself from tearing into the page with his pen, and with an extreme act of will set the utensil aside.
"Punctuation is important, dammit!" he muttered before leaning back, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off an incoming headache. He rested there for a few minutes, collecting his thoughts.
"You would think," he said to no one, his eyes still closed. "That the head of the Archibald clan, Lord El Melloi II, would be able to assign someone else to do this."
His chair leaned back with him, and he had to grab his desk quickly as the chair leg bumped into one of the many books littering his workspace. He glowered at it, taking another deep puff on the cigar as he observed his office. Bookshelves dominated the walls, and thick tomes covered every square inch of the large oak desk he sat behind. You could barely even see the floor, or the rug covering it, under the mass of leather bound paper. The only exception was his personal lab, a small thing, set in the corner near the window. That was as spotlessly clean as an operating table.
"Or at least be able to get a bigger office," he said with a sigh.
Of course, Waver mused to himself as he looked for his discarded pen. It's not like I'm really the clan head. Keaira wouldn't let me have that kind of power. He paused in his search, deep in thought. Though I guess it's not a bad thing, really. She gets to deal with most of the politics.
"Though it wouldn't kill her to spend some more time with me," he said aloud. "We're supposed to be married."
He spotted his pen on the floor to his right. The gold plated thing had rolled off the table when he'd jarred it earlier. He scowled at the offending instrument. It was out of reach, but he didn't want to wade through his office to go get it.
He lifted his hand, and with a pulse of power called to the iron core underneath the golden cover. It flew gently through the air and into his hand. He smiled a bit at it, reminiscing over where he'd gotten it.
"She does give nice presents, though. So I guess she really does love me."
The pen dropped from his fingers as the pain hit him, forcing Waver to curl up on himself as his muscles locked up. His body struck the desk hard, knocking several books over, but he didn't notice it. He didn't even notice when he bit through his cigar, the ash-laden tip smearing the table with a streak of black. The only thing he knew was the agonizing fire carving itself into his right hand.
After several grueling minutes that felt like an eternity the pain finally subsided. Waver gulped down air as the last few echoes of it faded and looked at his hand. His eyes widened in shock.
"That's not possible."
"Man, I'd forgotten how hot it gets in Fuyuki," Shirou whispered as he shaded his eyes from the sun. He'd only been walking for a few minutes out of the train station, but he was already sweating. He wiped an arm across his forehead and tugged his collar a little to let some air in, sighing in relief as it cooled him off a little. "The University isn't even that far away, so why is it so much warmer here?"
Naturally, no one answered, and Shirou smiled a little at the silliness of talking to himself. But it kept his mind off of the heat, and its not like there were too many people walking around to give strange looks at the tall young man muttering to himself. He hefted his bag over his shoulder and kept walking, his smile growing wider.
The bag didn't cause him any trouble, though it was packed with most of his clothes. He'd filled out over the years, growing taller and broader. Not to mention tanner, his skin darkened a little from working outside in the sun. He couldn't stay inside and study all the time. And most of the work he did to support his schooling took place in the open air anyway.
Although, he thought to himself. My skin tone only got noticeably different after that last trip abroad…
He cut off that line of thought quickly, not wanting to dwell on it. There were some things he didn't want to think about, didn't want to immerse himself too deeply into. This was supposed to be a happy time. He didn't want to taint it with bad memories.
He closed his eyes for a second, switching gears to something more pleasant.
"It'll be good to see Sakura again," he said softly, making steady progress toward the bridge that connected each side of the city to each other. "And Rin. Ilya too." He snickered a little. "I'll bet those two have been driving each other crazy while I've been gone."
The bridge was as solid as he remembered as he walked on it, looking off into the Miongawa river as he did so. He stopped halfway across, setting his bag aside and resting on the guardrail, looking out and sinking into older and more pleasant memories.
"Strange how a secret war became one of the best times of my life." He paused, his smile growing bittersweet. "I miss you, Saber."
His left hand erupted in light, burning like it was stuck in an open flame. He clutched it to his chest, his other hand gripping the guardrail. It was the only thing that kept him from falling flat on his face. He held back a scream, clenching his teeth so hard he could have sworn he felt them cracking. The sun was too bright in his eyes, the air not enough to fill his lungs. He was choking on pain, could barely think because of the force of it!
Finally, blessedly, the fury of it faded into a dull ache. Shirou released the guardrail and flopped down, barely managing to sit upright. He inhaled deeply, relishing the feeling of being able to breathe. When his vision cleared he looked at his hand.
There, in the color of blood, rested the familiar markings of the command seals.
He blinked, but it was still there. The command seals. The markings that labeled a magus as a candidate for the Holy Grail War, the symbol that granted absolute control over the awesome power of a Servant. The same symbol he'd seen years ago before he'd been sucked into a battle he'd never asked for. But a battle he'd fought all the same.
"That's… No way."
He struggled to his feet, his legs shaking a little as he got his bearings. His eyes never left the back of his hand, never faltered from the three symbols that made the larger whole, shaped like a sword drawn for war.
His mind was in turmoil, thoughts racing in a millions directions at once. But one in particular shot past the others, taking the forefront of everything else.
He ran down the street, bag forgotten. He stumbled twice, nearly falling over, but every second he ran brought new strength. And with that strength he pushed harder, forcing himself to move faster. He raced down streets, ignoring lights and jumping away from cars when he needed to. Curses and honking horns blared behind him, but he didn't care. All that mattered was that he made it home to see if what he so desperately thought, so desperately hoped, was true.
He slammed the door to his home open, panting and sweating from his exertion. He swallowed roughly, fighting the urge to sit down and catch his breath. He had to move!
He opened the door to the dining room, but it was empty. Biting back a curse, he ran to every room in turn, moving on when it did not yield what he sought.
"The dojo," he whispered, running off again. He just managed to check his momentum before he slammed into the entrance, instead skidding to a stop just a few inches away.
Hands trembling, he opened the doors.
She was sitting there, legs beneath her and eyes closed in meditation. The sun poured in from one of the windows, highlighting her golden hair. She wore the same simple white blouse and blue dress he remembered, the attire elegant in its simplicity. It suited her. It had always suited her. Her face was serene, lovely like a dream brought on in peaceful sleep. Slowly, she opened her eyes and smiled.
His breath hitched, and whatever he had wanted to say caught in his throat. She was there. This was real!
She stood up, looking down at herself and then at him as he moved closer. "You're taller, Shirou, and older. Has it been a long time? I'm not really sure what's going on. I almost thought I'd fallen asleep… Shirou? Are you all right?"
He couldn't restrain himself any more. He hugged her, enveloping her smaller form with his own and pulling her close.
"Saber," he whispered, holding her tightly. "You're here. You're really here."
His embrace tightened briefly as Saber slowly, almost awkwardly, hugged him back.
"Yes," she said, leaning in to him. "I am."
Still holding her, Shirou pulled away a little, looking in to her eyes. Green, like he remembered. A beautiful green. He leaned forward, bringing his face close to hers. She blushed slightly, her cheeks reddening, but didn't resist. She moved with him, their lips only a hair's width apart.
And then Saber pushed him back, sending him flying through the force of it, just in time to dodge the sword that embedded itself where he had stood just moments before.
Shirou gave out a startled cry when Saber pushed him, and another when he saw the sword. He got to his feet in an instant, turning toward Saber. But she was looking at the door to the dojo, her expression like a thundercloud.
"Archer," she growled. Shirou blinked and looked. There, clad in his bright red outfit, stood the gruff, pale haired Servant he remembered. He was juggling a knife, flipping it with one hand as he leaned by the dojo walls and smirking all the while. "What do you think you are doing?"
If anything, Archer's smirk grew larger. "Oh, relax Saber. I didn't mean anything by it. That's just how Shirou and I say hello. Right Shirou?"
Shirou's jaw dropped. He felt like it hit the floor when Rin came in and stomped on Archer's foot, making the taller man to wince.
"Archer! No stabbing Shirou! We discussed this, remember? We're not fighting him."
"Wasn't planning on it," Archer grunted as Rin twisted her heel into his foot.
Rin glared at him suspiciously, but said no more to him as she turned to Shirou and Saber.
"So Saber's here too? That's pretty much everyone, then."
"Wait," Shirou interrupted, finally recovering. "There's more than just Saber and Archer?"
"Take a look outside."
With no small amount of dread, Shirou walked to the door and looked outside. Sakura and Ilya were there in the yard separating the dojo from the house. They smiled at him as he walked out. Or rather, Sakura did. Ilya was much more exuberant. The smaller girl cried out in joy, rushing forward and leaping into his arms.
Shirou caught her small form easily. She hadn't grown much more than a foot and a half in the last six years. But this was done on reflex, for he was much more distracted by the two figures standing near by.
The first was a hulking, bronze skinned man with a thick mane of black hair. He held a broken stone sword in his hand, looking at everything with an expression so stoic it could have been chiseled from rock. In truth, he felt like a wild beast held back from charging forward at everything around him. But when he observed Shirou with those different colored eyes the familiar madness wasn't there, replaced by something else. It wasn't cultured by any means, but it was more the look of a man than an animal barely under control.
Next to him was a smaller, more petite person. She was dressed, barely, by a scandalous one-piece outfit that presented rather than hid her figure. And it was a fine figure, tall and beautiful like a goddess carved from marble rather than anything so mundane as having grown from childhood. Her long violet hair hung down to her knees, and she looked at Shirou from behind her purple visor. She stood near Sakura, hovering protectively over the girl. For her part, Sakura smiled back at the woman affectionately.
"Rider… Berserker? What?"
"You get it also, right?" Rin said as she stood next to him, Archer at her side. Saber joined Shirou at his free side, eyes widening at the two servants just as Shirou's had. "This isn't possible."
She walked a ways, getting them all in sight as she continued.
"After all, we dismantled the Grail four years ago!"
Everything was covered in shadow, the only illumination coming from the dimmed crystals set into the walls. Deep in that gloom someone chuckled. It was not a pleasant laugh, nor was it one that seemed particularly sane. It was a quiet, halting thing, barely restrained from outright cackling.
In truth, he had to hold himself back from crying out in triumph. He had succeeded! He could feel them, the other Servants bonding with their masters. Years of work, countless resources, had all gone toward this one moment! Everything was finally ready!
He laughter died off as he contemplated that, his smile fading away to his ever-present scowl.
Time, so much time lost in pursuit of his goal. Time. What a cruel thing, that eroding and unstoppable force! Time had taken much from him. But it was not time that had stolen what was most precious. Everything else was meaningless so long as he could get that back.
But now time, and the knowledge he had gained from his sacrifices to it, was his ally. For on this day the impossible had been accomplished. And if it could be done once, why not twice? As many times as needed so long as he reached what he longed for so deeply.
He walked across the rough stone floor, approaching the others hidden in the chamber's minimal light. There were many of them, of every shape and size. Some of them knew each other. Many did not. But all knew why they were there, even if they were confused as to how it had been accomplished. He drew his hands from his voluminous robes, drawing all eyes to him as he spread them out dramatically as he addressed them.
"It is time!"