He collects knowledge about Kiritsugu Emiya like marbles or pearls. Marbles, because the little glimpses he gets are to be stashed away somewhere in the soft and empty case that is his heart, not displayed for the world; they only come out when he needs material to play his life by. But pearls, instead, because the brief little things he learns are not cheap toys, but something precious.
He never gets many. Kiritsugu kept himself locked away from the world (and so the boy he adopted, the man who took on his dream, learns to do the same), and it turns out that everyone who truly knew him is dead. Sometimes Ilya drops the name, perhaps by accident, with a look in her eyes like she bit into a bitter fruit when she was expecting the sweetest cake, and he knows he would ask her more if he were brave enough to bear her tears, but he isn't. So he learns things more by accident than anything—
Kiritsugu Emiya summoned Saber in the Fourth Holy Grail War, but they didn't get along.
Kiritsugu Emiya used guns, not swords, and sometimes whatever was at hand.
Kiritsugu Emiya had a family once, but no one wants to talk about what happened to them.
Kiritsugu Emiya made people think he was cold like a machine…
The man that became of the boy that adopted Kiritsugu's dream isn't sure what to make of these glittering marbles, these precious pearls, but he takes them anyway and stores them inside of him in the places where he is void of anything. He decides not to question them. His father, like the Servant Saber (named Arturia Pendragon, the greatest of heroes) and the beautiful sword she once wielded, is too perfect to be questioned.
And so, when he can't convince Saber to abandon her wish in the end, he remembers that Kiritsugu never really connected with her either—isn't that right? So when everything he sees becomes material inside his head to be projected out later in the shape of a weapon, he remembers that Kiritsugu also was said to have used everything as a tool for his dream. So when his lover leaves him before she has to watch him die, he remembers that people who knew of Kiritsugu's family looked sad when they mentioned it as well. So when he realizes that the people sending him to his death have no sympathy for him, he remembers that people also saw Kiritsugu as cold…
It can't be so bad. His father would understand.
In the end, when the ground of the hill of swords feels more real against his hands than the executioner's face looks to his eyes (even though the latter is real, and the former inside his head), for just a moment he feels bitterness where he should be embracing the sweetness of the role that waits for him after death. It isn't the brief glimpses he gets of what Kiritsugu before he met Shirou was like that are the pearls. He's the pearl, the layers of shiny meaninglessness built around the single grain of irritating sand that's a hopeless dream. There used to be flesh and blood and a spirit like a shell encasing that pearl, but it's all worn away now and in a moment it will be gone.
It goes, and he learns: that moment of bitterness was only the beginning.
Dad, did you know? I followed your dream into Hell. You aren't here, are you?
The normal and solid memories of his life wear away into dry facts, leaving only the most brilliant of things remaining as images in his head. Saber standing over him. Kiritsugu smiling over him. People saving him, and leaving him with a curse: save others as we saved you. He's certain that he eliminates more of himself every time he fails to fulfill the terms of that curse. How did he not recognize while he lived that it was a curse?
So, in the end, he has only one thought.
Kiritsugu Emiya, are you aware? Your dream goes to Hell. It's fortunate that you aren't here.
Archer doesn't remember the false priest. The face means nothing to him. But something about the man speaks to him of lies and pretending, and the name Kirei Kotomine sends up warning bells. He hunts it slowly through the shadowed and shattered pathways of his mind as he stands silent and invisible at Rin's side, watching her speak to the man.
After a while, he thinks that he remembers a battle. Was it the first fight he used a dirty trick in? He remembers that there was no fair way to win it; he was outmatched and had no weapon or shield that would suffice on its own. When was it?
He doesn't know until later that this is the last time Rin will speak to the priest who's only pretending before the war begins in earnest. Even if he did, he wouldn't know any reason why that's significant.
"Fine, then if you're sure this war will still be as usual—" Rin tosses her hair and turns to go. "I didn't need to involve you at all after introducing that idiot to you. I'll go now. Let's leave. Archer!"
He fades into visibility at her side, surprised that she would call for him in such a simple situation, but showing nothing of it on his face. "What is it, Rin?"
"Watch my back as I leave," she says, casting a significant look at Kotomine as she turns to go. "This priest has gotten bad at watching over me, I think, so I don't trust him to do even that much here."
The priest ignores that jibe with a smile on his face that's too serene and pleased for someone who was just insulted. "There's no reason for you to think this war would go any differently."
"I'm not listening," Rin mutters as she heads for the exit.
Kotomine seems to be speaking for someone else, though. "This boy is barely a Master. Nothing like the great threat of the last Holy Grail War—the Master of Saber."
Archer feels a chill from where his heart might once have been. He keeps following Rin, though he wants to stop.
And the priest keeps speaking. "I expect he could even still cry if he needed to." It sounds like he's still smiling. "That is hardly Master material."
"This priest talks too much," Rin complains as she reaches for the doors. But she hesitates. Archer lingers with her.
And then Kirei Kotomine dismisses them with one more comment. "Well, my apologies. I shouldn't have said anything, but your Servant had a look in his eyes that reminded me of old battles I used to hear about."
"Hmph." Rin shoves the door open. "Don't compare my Archer to stuffy old men you knew once." She all but flies out.
Archer vanishes again to the sight of others as he follows her. His body departs from the material world, as usual. But it's almost as if he can feel sensation. It's almost as if he feels flames licking at the back of his neck, and something cool rolling in his fingers like a marble or a rounded pearl.