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“Ah!”

Shirō groaned and lifted his head half a centimetre from the pillow, lidded eyes barely taking in her back. “T’saka? Wha-?”

“Emiya, you’re hurt. Lie back down right now,” Rin said, scowling into her mirror.

Shirō just blinked for a second, apparently either too fuzzy to understand her, or just baffled by the fact that she was awake before him. With his brain unable to respond, his body took over and yielded to the three great animal needs of Rest, Comfort, and Obeying Rin, dropping him back onto his pillow.

Even faced with this display of the inevitable natural order, he still protested. “It’s fine, Tōsaka. I can even get the bandages off this evening. Everything’s been healing up great.”

As Rin opened her mouth to retort, a blonde head emerged from beneath the sheets next to Shirō, Saber unburrowing from her nightly cocoon of warmth to join the morning’s impromptu discussion. Her voice, though clear as ever, was wrapped in the softness and husk of waking. It was a precious, exclusive tone, and one which still made her partners shiver with desire when they heard it.

“Do not be foolish, Shirō.” A yawn briefly interrupted her, but a vicious glare put paid to the adoring smile on his face. “Your body may seem whole now, but you are still weak, as any human would be. You must be patient with your arm – or would you like to criticise my experience in war? Even I was resting to recover from the battle.”

Leaving him to mock-cower on the other side of the bed, she sat up, took a moment to smooth her nightdress, and turned her attention to her Master. “Now, Rin. Tell us what’s the matter.”

The grin that had been curling the edges of Rin’s mouth dropped away, and she dropped her gaze from the reflected image of her lovers. Her shoulders slumped and an ashamed pink gathered in her cheeks.

“I-i-it’s, um, nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“Rin?” Shirō’s voice was gentle and kind, and it made her all the more embarrassed.

“Please. You know there is nothing too trivial for you to tell us.”

Ugh . Could you two be just a little less … Um, w-well. I -.” Rin took a deep breath, turned away from the glass to face them, and squared her shoulders in defiance before blurting it out. “I think I’ve got my first white hair!”

The room froze for a moment, and she cringed as Saber and Shirō stared at her.

They slowly turned to look at each other, and then immediately span away again, eye contact proving a serious problem. Their shoulders shook, and hints of snickering escaped to fill the otherwise total silence which had descended on the room.

“A. A white hair, did you say?” Shirō asked, struggling to force the words out. “Well, I guess it is kind of unusual, Tōsaka.” He paused, obviously controlling himself, but it made his finish all the more devastating to Rin. “Most women would have got it about thirty years ago.”

Saber picked up the torch and continued, without mercy, in the exact same, pointedly guileless way. “I understand that, as a magus, you are used to ageing less quickly, but I don’t believe this experience will be outrageously novel to us. Shirō has borne the hardship for quite a few decades by now. We swear we will love you no less for it.”

Shirō shifted, winced, and then instead brushed his left hand through his ashen hair, bashful amusement crinkling the corners of his eyes.

Rin’s face had gone from pink to a bright red during their careful sympathising , and she span back to her mirror again, folding her arms and tilting her head back. This completely failed to win back her dignity, and in fact just set her partners off, their howling laughter filling the room. She pouted briefly, before their humour infected her, and a wry smile crept in instead. A white hair! What a silly thing for her to feel vain about, for her to even mark as a milestone - but it was normal too, and even if it was embarrassing, Rin wouldn’t give that up. If they’d learnt anything, the three of them, it was that there had to be time to be human too, in amidst great magical discoveries and acts of heroism and the recreation of ancient legends.

Saber caught the smile, and met her gaze in the mirror. She recited, deliberately and solemnly and tenderly,

“But you were something more than young and sweet

And fair,--and the long year remembers you.”

 


 

Rin wasn’t sure she’d ever been more frightened in her life. Not when the demigod Herakles himself had been charging at her with an aura of bloodlust so thick it was nearly physical; not when her treacherous Servant had trapped her in a cage of magic and razor-steel; not when Gilgamesh of Uruk had unveiled himself in all his ancient might and majesty; not when she’d been clambering through cancerous flesh while fighting off the curses of the Grail and desperately trying to ignore the doomed battle just metres away.

Shirō was lying on the floor of their flat. His breathing was shallow and rapid; his skin bloodless under its bronze overtone; and his hair – his hair was white .

She’d spotted the first strand in the morning after that lunatic fight in Ryūdōji, when a boy had faced down the ages of arrogance and power that the first of all Heroes had gathered, and thrown out his soul to meet it.

She’d leant in close, enjoying just how badly he was flustered by her even while her own cheeks burned, then curled her finger around the hair and yanked it out. She’d smiled at his outrage, teased him, kissed him gently, kissed him passionately, and not thought much of it. If a single, pale fleck, easily discarded, was the only mark he’d take away from his impossible victory, she’d be grateful for it to the end of her days.

Later, in situations less desperate – though sometimes still very, very lethal – he’d repeated the feat, drawing on her energy to manifest the world of infinite swords. And each time, afterwards, she’d found a little more of his hair gone white. One strand became two. (This time, when she plucked them out, she actually kept them to see what experiments could show. She found nothing that made any useful sense, and gave up in a huff. Impossible boy). Two became four; four became a lock; a lock became two.

But, this time, she’d felt nothing. Not a hint of her power drained, what was left from keeping Saber manifested. (And she really should get to work properly on a less burdensome solution – but it bound her and her and him, and she wasn’t sure she could let go of that rope yet).

So what inconceivable, reckless, bone-headed, heroic thing had he put himself through to end up like this?

“Emiya! Shirō, you absolute moron , what did you do?”

Miraculously, Shirō’s breathing stuttered, then deepened. His lids cracked open, and her heart skipped a beat when she saw a hint of the familiar amber peering up at her, even if it seemed duller than it should be.

“Tōsaka?” His voice was distant, and its timbre odd – a deeper, more resonant cast to it. But, but, he was alive, and sane, and knew who she was. The tide of relief and helplessness and anger and love rolled over her, and she drowned in it.

Shut up, Shirō! Just shut up! You dolt!” Rin cursed at him in four different languages, an effort undermined a little by the fact that she knew he was completely incapable of understanding at least two of them. And made even more pathetic by the fact that she knew she was sniffling while she did it and, judging by the way her eyes were blurring, probably crying too. It didn’t even make her feel better.

She thought for a split-second about hitting him but decided it wouldn’t help either. The guilt over punching her boyfriend while he was some sort of invalid - even if it was probably his own fault - would kick in too fast. Maybe later.

Instead, she slumped over from where she’d knelt by him, and buried her face in his chest, hiding her tears and listening desperately for his heartbeat. She started crying even harder when she heard it, shallow and fast, but there: the proof of life.

Shirō was obviously baffled by the entire situation - he still didn’t properly understand how much he meant to her, damn him - but managed to raise his arms and loosely wrap them around her anyway, surrounding her with warmth. It should have been reassuring, but his grip was so weak that she couldn’t help but shake in his embrace. What had he really done to himself, trying this? How deep did it go?

He squeezed her gently, kissed the crown of her head, and whispered into her hair. “It’s okay, Tōsaka. You don’t need to worry. I won’t have to rely on you any more: I won’t be a burden. I can do it by myself now.”

It wasn’t any comfort.

 


 

“And in the midst, in peaceful power,

She saw, of kings, the lily-white flower”

 

A lily, Rin thought, gently stroking a hand across her sleeping lover’s moonlit skin, and then smiled a little to herself at the pun. But, as much of a cliché as it might be for the English poets, she couldn’t think of a better way to describe the soft, glowing paleness of Saber’s colouring. And poetic it might be, but if you couldn’t be poetic about King Arthur, who were you meant to be poetic about? A hero out of legend needed words out of song to describe her: it wasn’t flattery or fawning, it was just what fit. Camelot was a court of bards even in its own time, its king patronising the arts as a way to restore the pride of a Saxon-devastated land, and it had inspired centuries of poets since. It was only natural that their verse went so well with her.

And, they hoped, this was both a lily and an unfading amaranth, weathering even more centuries and millennia, flowering as long as there was magic in the Earth. (The pseudo-formalcraft spellwork to tap Saber’s Grail-woven body into the deep places of the Greater Source had been horrendously complicated, frighteningly dangerous, enormously illegal - and, in the end, bizarrely easy, as if the world welcomed Arthur’s touch. Rin still wasn’t sure what to make of it).

Rin could rarely help the hint of envy that sparked at the thought of her never-wilting lover, that compared Saber’s skin to her own, gradually drying and wrinkling and ageing, in spite of her sparing but powerful use of vanity magics. And yet the flickering jealousy never survived long, smothered by an ocean of love and the knowledge that she and Shirō had chosen this. Chosen to let Saber free of any tie to them, and rejoiced when she’d come back to them all the same, to be with them as long as she could.

Besides, if you wanted to contrast Saber’s youthful glow, Shirō was far more at odds with her than Rin probably would ever be. She just obeyed natural processes, admittedly at a somewhat delayed pace. His body had, over the years, become more and more a reflection of his soul, each time he pulled it from within and made it without. His hair, ash-white; his eyes, iron-grey; and his skin, bronze, tarnished by forge-smoke.

That much, they’d expected, though not wanted, after seeing the Archer of the Fifth War. Less so, that ‘bronze skin’ was, in fact, starting to become a simple statement of reality now, not just the poetic description which was so right for Artoria. A deep cut by his shoulder, one which had confined him to bed for some days so he could heal, had left behind a scar formed of dull, dark metal. He swore it didn’t hurt and didn’t get in his way at all, but it had been a sobering reminder of the consequences that came with the power they used.

What a trio they made. A perfect, royal lily; a lump of steel being slowly hammered into its fated shape, the sword coming closer day by day; and - and just a woman, for whom, like so many others, time would not stand still.

And Rin wouldn’t change it for all the jewels in the world.

 



 

Blue

 

Rin turned down a corridor, saw blue and gold, and her heart jumped in her chest. Just a little, of course, but the uncontrollable reaction still sparked anyway. She was still so new to this, so new to Saber’s … participation with them, and that meant her body hadn’t stopped flooding her with a rush of happiness and embarrassment and arousal whenever she saw her ally-familiar-friend-Servant(-lover).

Then the shape at the far end of the Mineralogy Department’s fourth-floor corridor came closer, and her upturned lips curled down. The blue was too bright, an artificial cobalt instead of royal navy; the curling hair goldenrod instead of Saber’s paler blonde.

“Miss Edelfelt,” she said, her icy politeness conveying the exact opposite of courtesy.

“Ohohohoho!” Ugh, when would the hyena learn that she needn’t cackle like she’d just found a lion’s three-day-old leftovers? “ Miss Tōsaka, how wonderful, you’re acquiring the rudiments of some manners! I must congratulate you on overcoming your considerable natural difficulties to progress so far!”

“Listen, you carrion-eating, corpse-thieving, mercen-” Luvia really could set her off like no-one else, even if they’d grudgingly allowed that carrying on their families’ feud in the Association’s halls was going nowhere except toward getting them both expelled.

“Oh, Miss Tōsaka, please, remember yourself. It would be such a shame to throw away your hard-won progress.” Luvia’s eyes suddenly sparkled. “Why, my very own butler has taken to his training so excellently, in spite of being from your benighted backwater himself. Wouldn’t it shame the Tōsaka if their head were less civilised than a mere servant?”

Rin was pretty sure her face was red by this point, and steam was probably starting to hiss out of her ears. “There’s nothing about him that’s ‘mere’ and definitely nothing about him that’s yours, jackal,” she hissed. “He’s from my country, which you apparently dislike so much; he’s sponsored by me; and he’s my lov-, l-, l-.”

Luvia smiled as she stuttered, and Rin knew she’d lost the point, though the Edelfelt breezed on without doing anything so crass as gloating over it. “Well, Miss Tōsaka, I do believe I’m the one who holds a formal contract with him. Am I not? What a shame that the house of Tōsaka has fallen on such hard times as to be unable to keep even a single servant, and to force him to make his wage elsewhere. You needn’t worry, though. I’ll be only too glad to provide for him in every possible way.”

Luvia’s tone left her meaning in no doubt, and Rin gritted her teeth. “Exactly like a wild dog, for you only to be able to think about rutting. I suppose it’s a good thing to want to live up to a title your family’s so proudly earnt, Miss Edelfelt. I should congratulate you.” The insult was blunter and cruder than it should have been, even in response to Luvia’s insinuation, but Rin wasn’t having this fake petty noble in her fake blue-and-gold even think about stealing Shirō from her like that.

Luvia remained cool, just a hint of ice her in eye when she continued, “I would, of course, take your compliment in the spirit in which it was meant. And one good turn certainly deserves another, so I should praise you in turn for your academic achievements. Your essay on the properties of haematite has been widely admired in the department, I understand.”

Rin was halfway through opening her mouth for a snide comeback (back to their normal grounds, thankfully, instead of the unthinkable territory they’d started encroaching on) before she stopped and cocked her head. That essay actually had been excellent, as far as she remembered, raising the issue of iron in other elemental magic systems, and perspectives that could bring to the Association’s study of the ore. What was Luvia’s point?

“I discussed it briefly with my butler, and he had an almost learned perspective on it, for a servant and a minor apprentice. Of course, one might expect it, given the unique tang that’s always in the air around him. Metallic, I suppose one might say. Iron and steel.” Luvia trailed off. Meaningfully.

Rin felt her face go from heated red to frozen white in an instant. No. Surely not. Luvia couldn’t. Of course not - she’d barely hinted … But. But she’d said it with so much weight behind it: she wouldn’t have done that if she didn’t think it meant something, meant a lot.

“I. I. Ah. Um. He - you …”

“That kind of insight is a valuable trait, you know, Miss Tōsaka?” Luvia bulldozed on, airy snobbishness back in full force. “I’d hate for it to be lost. And, of course, as an Edelfelt, I will do my best to prevent that from happening. It would be a true shame if the carelessness of the Tōsaka were to cost me such a useful butler when I could protect him.”

Rin breathed out, slowly. Luvia would … help? Keep their secret?

Luvia stepped closer to Rin, bent her head in so she could nearly whisper in Rin’s ear. Her voice was quietly, unbelievably, serious. “Good luck with him, Tōsaka. You’ve got love there. Proper, unyielding love. Hold it tight.”

And just as quietly, just as unbelievably, just as seriously, Rin murmured back to Luvia.

“Thank you.”

 


 

It had been a long labour of love, finding the right sheets for this bed.

Shirō, to Rin’s total lack of surprise, had been baffled pretty much throughout the process, and she’d occasionally caught him muttering under his breath that there surely wasn’t that much difference between ocean blue and sky blue. She’d twisted his ear for that.

Because, as she’d told him, it did matter. She needed the right shade: a colour that wouldn’t drown her dark hair, but also wouldn’t clash with his own ridiculous bright one; one that would bring out their skin but not swamp it.

She still wasn’t sure he appreciated it, not even now. But as she gazed with lidded eyes at his body against the sheets, and ground her hips down into his, she certainly did.

She felt the rapid rise and fall of his chest under her fingertips, the hammering of his heart, the heat in his blood. His breath rasped in the air, a counterpoint to the little whines drawn from her throat with every press and thrust.

Shirō’s own hands, wonderfully rough with sword-callouses, swept up over the muscle of her thighs, glided over her ribs, making her breathe in sharply, and then settled down at her hips. His thumbs stroked carefully, gently, thrillingly over the soft skin of her sides and belly, building the charge that was gathering deep within her.

But she still needed more. Tightening the grip of her legs (and drawing a gorgeous groan from Shirō when she did), Rin raised her other hand from her sheets to her breast. At first, she closed her eyes and just tried to wring the pleasure out of herself as fast as she knew how, fingers pinching and tugging at her nipple, looking for the electric jolts that swept right down to her core. But then it was too much - she couldn’t go without the image of Shirō held beneath her, couldn’t starve herself of that pleasure as powerful as anything her body could produce. She looked down: and he gazed back, his eyes fixed on her like she was a treasure more precious than anything found in Babylon’s vaults.

And, oh, the heat that stirred in her. How glorious it felt that even a sight he’d seen so many times before still had this power over him, still transfixed him so utterly. She gave him a wicked smile, and clamped down on her urgency. Her hand retreated from the raw sensation of her peak, and started to tease. She cupped her breast, stroked a single fingertip along the outer curves of her chest, spiralled slowly in toward the areola without quite touching, slipped away again, then came back to just graze over the hard little pebble that was demanding her attention. And, as light a touch as it was, it couldn’t help but thrill her right down to her belly, and wring a throaty moan from her. It should have embarrassed her, would have at any other time, but in this moment, she couldn’t be ashamed of her body’s honest response to their shared love.

Shirō didn’t reply in words, maybe even couldn’t by now, but there was no mistaking his reaction. Underneath her other hand, he bucked, control disappearing. His grip on her hips, so gentle up until then, tightened, and his thrusts came harder, deeper, each of them accompanied by a quiet grunt of effort. The desperation she’d driven him to shone clearly in his flushed face, the little trickles of sweat drawing lines over his body. He was coming to the brink, and she wanted nothing more than to dive over with him. She leant back, scraped her nails down his body, and found her clit. Her efforts were as wild as his now, but even sloppy and uncoordinated strokes were enough when the pleasure was running through her body like fire.

And … there. He arched, froze, and spilled within her, and she followed him over the edge.

 


 

The huge, bearded man drew lines in the air with a speed born not of simple practice, but of experience. He hadn’t studied at a wisewoman’s knee, hadn’t joined a circle of magi, hadn’t sat in a temple listening to the chants. He had crossed the seas in a dragon-headed boat as soon as the first hair had appeared on his chin, and gone to war. He had mastered his power because it was that or death, and no soft peace-time child had ever stood against him and lived.

His runes burnt themselves into the air in lines of searing blue, then twisted and span themselves into a barrage of icicles: sharp-edged spears shining with their own strange glow that had nothing to do with the bright moon above.

Then he spoke a secret Word: ancient, terrible, and powerful, said to be learnt from the gods themselves. In it echoed battlecries long-forgotten, and the sound of iron horns, and the spilling of blood. His javelins shot forward, so fast that they were almost invisible, instilled with an unquenchable thirst for the life of their master’s enemy.

They hit Saber and dissolved instantly.

Rin had to desperately suppress a giggling fit, if only so that she could hold onto her own magic, keeping False Caster’s summoner from interfering. The other Servant looked utterly dumbfounded, jaw slack and eyes wide. And that was the last expression his vessel ever wore on its face, before an invisible blade took him through the chest, even his last-second reflexive twist unable to match the speed of Arthur Pendragon, the Britons’ Lord of War.

Did I look like that, she wondered. When I first saw Saber and threw my magic at her and it did absolutely nothing - did I look like a total idiot too? She really hoped not. She remembered it as clearly as she did anything in her life: there had been a chill in the air, the parting gift of winter as it gave way to spring, and the moon had been bright overhead just like it was tonight. And Saber had stood above her, silhouetted by that pale light, looking cold and proud and heart-breakingly beautiful.

It’s really rather pathetic to fall in love at first sight, much less to fall in love with an enemy about to put their sword through your heart. But Saber seemed so impossibly perfect in what Rin had thought was her final moment: radiating magical power, wearing the aura of a king like a cloak, embodying the ideal of a valiant knight. She’d even complimented Rin on her spell, like no small matter of an attempt at annihilating her would stop her chivalric code recognising skill and giving it its due. On one of these moonlit nights, when Artoria Pendragon went to war in all her majesty, Rin challenged anyone to not fall in love with her.

Rin certainly was, all over again.

When Saber came to stand by her side, Rin brushed a kiss over her cheek, ending just at the corner of her mouth - a little, teasing promise. Then they turned stern eyes together to the second of their enemies.

She’d all but collapsed where she lay in Rin’s snare-circle: none of the binding or power-transferal spells were even being tested. The False Servant’s death had broken her, to all appearances. Rin was tempted to gloat - but they needed to get to Shirō, and provoking the other magus would undermine what they really wanted here.

“Lady Cynthania, of the Family Cholmondeley-Featherstonehaugh. Your Servant is defeated. Your Authority to Command,” - here Rin clicked her fingers, and reduced to ash the crude imitation of the Matō’s Book of False Attendant - “is dissolved. But you have a Right to Mercy - just once. You are no longer part of this War. Return to the Clock Tower and there will be no enmity between us. If you so swear, I shall too so swear, on my honour and my Crest.”

It was pure theatrics, all Capital Letters and important language that meant absolutely nothing when you really got down to it. There were no rules in this pseudo-Holy Grail War, even insofar as the real one had had any either. Rin had no time to enforce a geas, despite her circle being in place. If Lady Cynthania had the presence of mind to remember those facts, and the will to defy the people who’d just so comprehensively defeated her, she could turn right back around and rejoin her side. Maybe even get another of these False Books, however they were being created, and a False Servant to go with it. But, ruthless as magi were meant to be, the Clock Tower also ingrained them with a certain sense of (pompous) style, and Rin was playing right into that.

Cynthania whispered it, but she whispered it all the same. “I swear it, on my honour and my Crest.”

Rin nodded, swore her own oath, and released her trap. She and Saber turned their backs with a careful deliberation that scorned the mere idea of trying to take them by surprise, and walked away.

One more battle won. One more step on the road to winning one more War.

 



 

Red

 

Saber began, as was their tradition, in Welsh.

 

Trywŷr a ddug tair a wen

Y tri oferfardd hardd hen;

Arthur aestew a Thrystan

A Llywarch, pen cyfarch cân.

Three men who bore three poetic gifts;

The three magnificent princeling bards:

Arthur of the strong shield, and Trystan,

And Llywarch, lord of address in song.”

 

It had been a strange sight, when Rin had discovered those four little lines, one summer during a little side project to look at the detail of how Arthur was remembered. Rin had started them all on it when she decided it would be necessary, and magically worthwhile, and plain interesting, to go beyond the things everyone knew, and into the full breadth of the traditions. A few weeks in, the triad had popped up. She hadn't really thought it could be that important at first, and had waited to finish that particular book, before casually calling Saber over to ask if she’d ever composed poetry as well as sponsoring it. She'd been startled to suddenly provoke one of the most ferocious blushes she’d ever seen on her lover’s face. Even more peculiar than that, given how much Saber hated being embarrassed, there’d been a smile in the corners of her lips which she couldn’t seem to control at all, one that spoke of flattered pride.

Rin hadn’t managed to get many more details than that out of her, though Saber had afterwards allowed herself to be a bit more obvious about her interest in poetry, and had slowly, nervously, made it part of their everyday conversation. Rin and Shirō had the unique experience of being introduced to writers - English, American, Welsh, more than a handful of Japanese despite the fact that they’d begun to speak English even in their own home - by someone who’d lived centuries before any of them had ever been born.

Eventually, between that little revelation and a lot of the other bizarre ideas they'd turned up, right and wrong, the summer project had resulted in a ritual for their household. Maybe once a month, as long as they were together, Saber would tell Shirō and Rin the truth about her old life. Sometimes she just talked, sometimes she recited prepared prose or verse for them, and sometimes, hesitatingly, she sang.

Today, it looked like, was a day just for talking, though coloured by the old bardic rhythms and phrases. And so a lilting accent laid it out:

“We marched to the Usurper’s castle under the banner of a red dragon. It was magnificently made: a great square of emerald-dyed silk, on which the ladies of the court had embroidered the crimson symbol of our country, proud and fierce. Merlin laid spells on it so that even if the day was as still as a millpond, it still fluttered in its own wind. Whenever the trumpets sounded for the charge, he made it roar - a sound that filled our hearts with courage and our enemies’ with dread.

“My army loved that banner, more than me, maybe even more that their country. “Britain” was an idea, and I might as well have been too, for all they knew about me. But as much as that dragon stood for - freedom, defiance, the old traditions of our magical isle, the prophesies of victory - it was something concrete too, something they could understand. They could touch its staff, heft its weight, and it never failed their expectations as it waved overhead. When my soldiers bellowed their warcries, they named justice, and righteousness, and their kingdoms, and their lords, but they fought for that banner. And they fought like lions.”

Her smile said she loved her men for what they’d done, that she was proud of how they’d met the challenge, but she still couldn’t keep the wistfulness from her voice. Shirō and Rin reached for her hands at the same time, each trying to give her what comfort they could. She thanked them with a flicker of her eyes, and went on.

“That day, when we went to defeat the final Briton who still made common cause with Saxons, I wore a gift from one of my oldest allies. Leodegrance of Cameliard had heard about the banner we marched under, and he’d had his royal daughter make a cloak of the same colour for me. He sent it to me as a token of his affection, he said, and that of Guinevere.”

Saber smiled nostalgically. “It was the first I really knew of her. She admired me, he wrote, for my courage in standing up to old Vortigern, and for the fairness with which I ruled. She hoped for my success in all I did: that I could unite the Britons and defeat the Saxons, and then reign as well and as justly as she knew I could. That was a Britain she dreamt of, she’d said, and she thought I dreamt of it too.”

Saber went on, describing the skirmishes as her troops approached; and the castle of the White Dragon, made all of black rock; and the battle that was eventually fought in his throne room. Rin just sat back, closed her eyes, and let it wash over her, unfocusing so that she no longer heard the meaning behind the English despite Taiga’s tutoring and the years she’d now spent here. There was nothing except the soothing sound of her lover speaking, and she needed nothing more than that.

 


 

She sensed them just before the rap on the door, their power calling out to her: a hammer ringing against the anvil, and a far-off dragon’s roar.

She should have stalked over to the entrance, glowered at them coldly, then dragged them inside for a blistering lecture. They were a week late, they hadn’t called, and she’d been worried sick. But - they were back, and that was what mattered She yanked the door open and threw herself at them, smothering them both in a tight hug. Admittedly, she reinforced herself so she could squeeze hard enough to hurt, but that was the least of what they deserved.

When she was done with her chants of “I love you” and “I hate you” and “Use your damn phones, you idiots!” her brain began to catch up with what she was actually seeing. She froze.

“Ah,” Shirō said.

“Well,” Saber said.

Shirō was in his usual body-armour, a light, self-repairing set that the two of them had spent an inordinate amount of time putting together and enchanting. Worn on top of it, though, was something else familiar, except not on him. A red overcoat.

She swallowed.

“Where?” she asked. “Who? And - what is it?”

Saber and Shirō exchanged looks. Shirō lost whatever competition they had to not be the one telling her, and ventured into the breach. “Um. You know we were following up the Dead Garden incident, right? Well, the Burial Agency were on the same case.” Rin sucked in a breath. The Burial Agency were some of the Holy Church’s best. If they’d had to fight one of them, had maybe even killed one of them - because how else did you get a relic off those fanatics? - then they were in real, serious trouble.

Shirō continued. “We’d worked out that it shouldn’t be a hungry spirit - whatever was going on, it was swallowing all the mana in the area, and that was what was killing everything. Wasn't any sort of Blood Fort, with life force being eaten up directly.

“Anyway, we were on the trail of whoever or whatever this thing is, when we found that every time we ended up in a new town, this other girl would arrive at about the same time. Sometimes a day after us, sometimes a day before, so she wasn’t exactly following us, but there was no way it was a coincidence. We guessed maybe she was a free-lancer, or just someone who was interested, like a conspiracy theorist or something. We thought we’d meet up with her, try to see what she knew.

“Long story short, we ended up somewhere totally desolate in the Swiss mountains fighting a swarm of vampires, because apparently a Dead Apostle was responsible for the whole thing. She was long gone, as it turned out, but she’d left her ghouls behind. Our new ‘friend’, who’d been telling us she was just some curious reporter, then turned out to be a nun in the service of the Church, armed with a genuine Holy Scripture.”

“Oh. The fight didn’t last long then.”

“Not really, no. When we were done, she said this incident was her responsibility and she’d probably have to kill us if we kept chasing the Apostle. She was … really scary, and we were pretty convinced of how competent she was by now, so we agreed fighting her would be a waste. We’d got other problems of our own to look into anyway, what with Mons Graupius and everything, and said we’d leave it to her.

“I guess she hadn’t been expecting that, because she looked totally shocked not to end up trying to murder us. She sort of ummed and ahhed a bit, and then gave me this. It’s a saint’s burial shroud, originally, something to protect you from outside influences, like the Apostle’s draining magic. She said it was totally inappropriate to hand it over, but that was really the Church’s fault for hiring heretics. And apparently my curry was really good?”

Rin gaped. Shirō looked at her and shrugged awkwardly. She supposed it didn’t make any more sense to him that it did to her.

“Burial Agents aside, what does this mean?” she asked, eventually. “We know about the path Archer took, where it led him. You fought him, defied him, and you both learnt what his mistakes had been. We’ve taken our own path, totally different - he never had someone to stand by him like this, never understood where exactly he was going.”

“And, after all that, you’ve still ended up with his coat.”

The silence that followed wasn’t a comfortable one.

 


 

The hangover was finally gone.

It was well into the afternoon but she’d finally got rid of it, with a mixture of plenty of water, a solid lunch, and a cantrip she’d learnt in her student days from some English magi who’d been astonished she didn’t already know it. Just a basic twist on reinforcement, something so minor it wasn’t even worth naming. And yet, as far as Rin knew, it was still the single most used spell in the Clock Tower.

She and Saber and Shirō had been up far too late last night, toasting her new fellowship. Buffered by the incoming pay rise, she’d ordered some disgustingly expensive whisky from the Tower’s cellars, and they’d made a very merry time of it. Enough that she couldn’t remember at all how she got to bed, though she assumed Saber ended up carrying her there, and that a fair bit of the rest of the evening was a blur in her memory.

They’d definitely had fun, anyway, but now it was time to be serious and sober and able to stand the light of day without cringing. It really wasn’t fair - Saber not only sat through enough royal banquets in her time to be nearly immune to alcohol’s downsides, her superhuman constitution could take her the rest of the way. Shirō wasn’t quite as tough while actually putting it away, but he always woke up the next day without so much as a wince.

Now that there were finally three members of the household inhabiting the land of People-At-Least-Theoretically-Capable-Of-Handling-Life, she had something to do. She’d finished the preparations a couple of weeks ago, but that hadn’t meant it was time to rush on into the thing itself. There had to be an opportunity, a moment, a perfect instant of time.

‘I’m finally sober after my lovers and I got seriously drunk together last night - or at least I did, and the other two indulged me’ probably didn’t make for a perfect anything, by anyone’s reckoning, but it was enough for Rin. She’d finally found her place: her ability to teach was well-recognised, her academic insight lauded, and no-one even considered threatening her as a way to get her on their side in the interminable Clock Tower squabbles. (She was perfectly happy to hand out her own threats about ‘trialling your theory in a practical environment’ when anyone tried to interfere in her business; and, after everything, there were now very few who wanted to test her combat prowess). Her bizarre relationship with a childhood sweetheart and the ghost of a legendary king had stood the test of time, and was firmly bedded down. Her finances were even just about stable, despite the presence of two total freeloaders who only occasionally came back from an expedition with a priceless artifact, usually covered in blood. So … yes. This was the moment.

She sat up on her bed, where she'd been covering her eyes, and went to her dresser drawer. She took out the garnets on their chains, one of the strangest proofs that she really had summoned a sarcastic future version of Shirō who’d become an immortal servant of the World and wanted to kill himself for it. The heirlooms she’d inherited so long ago weren’t dull and empty any more: their depths sparkled with energy, finally refilled years later.

She hung one around her neck, and then clenched her hands behind her back.

“Artoria, Shirō?” she called.

“Rin?” Saber poked her head around the door, blinked for a second when she saw Rin’s new accessory, and then came closer, examining the gem with unabashed curiosity.

“Where’s Shirō?”

“He’s working on one of the motorbikes.”

Rin’s face went sour. That wasn’t in the plan. “And by ‘one of’, you mean yours, don’t you? You really need to remember how fragile they are when you can’t put magical energy all the way through them.”

Saber looked at the floor, but Rin just sighed and said, “It’s his fault too. Can you tell him to come in? And get him to tidy himself up, too!”

Shirō subsequently retrieved and degreased, they both stood in front of her, shooting each other unsubtle questioning looks. Rin gulped.

“Last night was … wonderful. But, the thing is, I think it wasn’t complete. There’s something more, something I think would make it perfect.”

The looks were now suspicious.

Rin glared. “ No, I don’t mean more whisky. Could you two stop treating me like an alcoholic?”

They dropped their gazes.

“A-a-anyway. Shirō. You know Archer gave me this. It was empty, more empty than yours, but it’s just as good. So I filled it back up, like mine. It’s what it should be again, before I had to use it up making you a new stupid heart. But, um, I hope you’ll keep it as a reminder, of how we really met, and of what we’ve done for each other.”

She thrust out the hand holding the second pendant at him, and Shirō took it. He was clearly pleased, but his forehead creased in confusion.

Now here we go …

“And. Saber. Um. You don’t have any sort of connection to this, I know. But, I think, that can be part of the point too. We didn’t end up together all as neatly as that. It was luck and coincidence, and it could have gone so many other ways. But we found this road, and we chose to walk down it, chose to be together. So I hope that you’ll chose to be together with us in this too.”

Rin extended her other hand from behind her back, which had a third pendant. She’d had it made, to the absolute best of her ability, to be identical to the other two, down to the finest detail of the silver etchings. And she’d poured her power into this one too, filled it up just like the ones that had belonged to her father, in this time and another.

Saber reached out carefully to take it, and put it on with a quick, graceful motion. She looked flattered, and probably like she’d already started to figure out what this was, so Rin plunged on. Shirō wouldn’t get it until she said the words, and probably still wouldn’t understand until she’d repeated it several more times, but she had no intention of being anticipated by either of her partners.

So she took a deep breath and came out with it, “I’m giving you these to mean something, beyond what I just said. Shirō, Saber. Would you do me the honour of becoming my husband and my wife?”

 



 

Black

 

“What do you think Saber’s getting?”

“I don’t know, Rin. I thought that was the point of it being a secret. You were really really strict about that.”

“Don’t be silly, Emiya. Of course it’s meant to be a secret, and that’s what makes guessing about it fun. Sheesh.”

“Well, it’s Saber, so it’s probably something practical. Especially since you’re paying. Even if it’s a present for her birthday, she wouldn’t like to waste money.”

“If she gets some kind of weapon, I’m totally going to punish her afterwards.”

“Um.”

“Emiya? You had a thought?”

“Thanks for noticing, Tōsaka. But … do you reckon she thinks food is practical?”

“Oh no.

“It’d be a lot of food.”

“Or really good food. Though it’s kind of sad, isn’t it, that even a king from her time can be amazed by how much food there is for us today?”

“If you look at it another way, you could say it’s a really happy thing. What we get to eat now, what we can buy in a supermarket that everyone can go to, is just as good as what a king used to eat, or better. And she’s here with to to enjoy it now, isn’t she?”

“That’s exactly like you to say, Emiya.”

“Just because you’re always a decade behind the modern world, Rin.”

“Hmph. Some things used to be better. Like empresses feeding impertinent slaves to lions if they got too full of themselves. You should consider that, Shirō.”

“Huh.”

“Shirō? Hey, pay attention!”

“No, no, that’s an idea. Stuff Saber likes that’s not practical. Lions.”

“Lions are pretty practical. For feeding you to when you’re being dense.”

“Do you know how many heroes went lion-hunting with their weapons, Tōsaka? It’s a lot like wild boar. There’s a point at which you’ve got so many legendary hunting spears and arrows and everything in your head that you just can’t get that afraid any more.”

“Maybe that’s something you shouldn’t tell Saber. She does really like that plushie you got her. But I don’t think even she could manage to spend all her money on lion dolls today.”

“Wait, hey, is that her?”

“Where - oh. Oh wow.”

“That’s …”

“It is … practical. In a way. But I’m not definitely punishing her for getting it.”

“Um …”

“Oh-ho, Shirō! You’re red. You like suits, do you? I always thought you and Issei were a bit close at school.”

“T-t-tōsaka! Stop it! And stop cackling. People will work out that you’re a witch, you know.”

“And now you’re parroting your old boyfriend’s words to your girlfriend. I really should be jealous.”

“Are you really going to go on about Issei when Saber’s ten metres away, wearing that ?”

“For once, Emiya, you have a point. Come on, I want to get her home. Now.”

 


 

They wore black.

The funeral was in London, so of course they did.

Rin didn’t think it was disrespectful to say that Shirō’d had very few true friends. Magus or civilian: either way, it didn’t really change the number of secrets he had to keep. Against the forbidden magic of his Reality Marble, the ancient hero who was his lover, the truth behind the Holy Grail Wars and their ending, his co-operation with Holy Church, the facts of the Aylesbury incident or the Avignon campaign - well, the simple existence of the supernatural itself wasn’t even that big a deal by comparison.

But, as always, he’d had many people who, if they didn’t really know him, appreciated him. They liked him for his kindness, for his willingness to help, for his sincerity. They owed him, sometimes, their lives, for reasons ranging from killing a predatory Dead Apostle to catching an apprentice’s mistake as he wandered past in the library.

And so many of them had turned out today.

Rin wasn’t quite sure why, and didn’t think they really knew either. She liked to believe it was because they marked, at least subconsciously, the death of a truly great man, of a hero. That they recognised just how much good he’d done and how much more he’d still wanted to do. But, she thought bitterly, that was probably just vanity talking. Of course her husband had been special and wonderful and all that. But wives and husbands all over the world thought the same thing about their partners, rightly and otherwise. She wasn’t any different to them.

Suddenly, a warm hand wrapped around hers. She noticed with a start that she was shaking again, and that her eyes were burning with a pressure which still wouldn’t release itself.

“Rin. I’m here.”

It was Saber, of course. Rin had a moment’s awful desire to rip her hand away, but she couldn’t. Couldn’t defy the quiet strength in those small fingers. And couldn’t hurt her wife, who stood there with her back so straight, but her face so pale and drawn. Her wife, who’d still had the presence of mind, and still had the courage, to try to comfort her.

Rin’d expected a fight. Both long before this, both when she’d first begun to admit the reality that someday Saber would come back and Shirō wouldn’t, and when that day came, when her wife walked in without their husband. Rin had, in fact, thrown bitter, cruel words at Artoria which she wished she could take back. But she’d gone on, in spite of everything Rin had said. When Rin had been staring dead-eyed at the wall of her professorial suite. When she’d been lying in bed for a week, ignoring all her lectures and students, and had barely eaten anything Saber had patiently brought her. When she’d taken one look at the letter accidentally left out on the kitchen table, had just barely caught the words “will” and “probate” before running to the toilet to be sick.

Rin wanted to say she was sorry: for then, for now, for not following them to their battles, for always being so weak. But the words wouldn’t come. They just lodged in her throat, unformed, choking her, and she could have died for the shame of it. She couldn’t even manage saying sorry to her wife.

Saber just grasped her hand tighter and shook her head.

“I love you, Rin. He loved you. Without any reservation. Never doubt that.”

And then she said the words that Rin hadn’t heard until now, whether because Saber hadn’t wanted to say them yet, or because she’d been sunk too deep to hear. Words that cut painfully deep, right to her heart, but words that still meant everything.

“He got them away safely, and he made no contract. I was with him to the end, Rin, and I swear to you on all my honour as a King: he made no contract.”

Rin looked up into the black clouds hanging overhead. The rain poured down and, at last, she wept.

 


 

Rin’s teeth are gritted, her shoulders knotted, her hands clenched to the point that her nails must be about to draw blood. A despairing scream is welling up in her throat, and she’s not sure that she wants to stop it.

She hates this little rock.

She’s put it through every single test she can think of. Then, a couple of hours back, she started making more tests up, just for the sake of having something to try on it, and maybe an excuse to take a hammer to the damn thing.

Nothing. It has no discernable elemental alignment, no resonance pattern, no sympathetic trace. Every single identifying ritual she’s learnt as an apprentice here is completely useless.

She starts composing the rant in her head. It’ll be a good one, she can feel it, and she doesn’t care in the least that she’s going to be addressing it to a stupid, dull, inert gem. It’s got it coming. It deserves it.

“Tōsaka?”

Rin leaps half a metre in the air and spins around in a panic.

There’s a single ray of light streaming into the small, cramped room she’s designated as her lab, coming through the door Shirō’s opened a crack.

She’s gratified that she’s trained him well enough to not just barge in, and mortified that she didn’t notice his presence or the door opening until she actually spoke. A lack of paranoia isn’t a survival trait in magi.

She’s also suddenly aware that there’s a reason she doesn’t like Shirō disturbing her, beyond the possibility of delicate experiments getting messed up. She's got ash smeared across her face, coal dust all over her hands, and probably smells of six different enormously unpleasant chemical solutions.

“Can we come in?”

Rin stutters, hesitates, prevaricates, and then lets her shoulders slump while muttering, “All right. Fine.”

Shirō enters cautiously: he’s always careful around the lab, partly because he’s still nervous about entering a room so definitively marked out as hers , partly because she gave him an extremely thorough lecture about how he still wasn’t nearly enough of a magus to do anything in here except break her things. He’ll still look around curiously, but touching is forbidden.

Saber, who follows in after him, is bolder. She hangs on to her own chivalrous reticence about entering a lady’s private chambers (which Rin finds hilarious and sad by turns), but her scattering of arcane knowledge is actually a bit better than Shirō’s. It’s got an awful lot of bizarre trivia in it, that she just happened to learn because Merlin had been in the mood to lecture her about something totally irrelevant or because some questing knight had to deal with an absurdly specific curse, but it’s enough that she’s less likely to make things explode.

“What is it?” Rin asks, shortly. This stupid project has worn her down, especially because Professor du Seringapatam had insisted that there was to be no collaboration and no visits to the library. ‘Pure, intellectual research,’ he’d called it. ‘Pure, unmitigated sadism,’ Rin called it.

“Tōsaka,” Shirō begins, “you’ve been in here for twelve hours straight. You haven’t eaten all day. You’ve shouted at your cauldron twice, your azoth dagger once, and that rock seven times. You need to get out of here, get some fresh air, and have a proper meal. You’ll turn yourself grey.”

Rin raises an eyebrow at his own hair and he blushes, but Saber fills in for him, undaunted.

“Shirō was worried enough about you that he didn’t even do the shopping.” Oh, damn, Saber’s ‘why won’t you feed me?’ pout. That’s not fair, Shirō! That’s too cute! You can’t use her like this! “We’re going to have to go out, and we aren’t going to leave you behind to starve and ruin your lovely hair. Shirō says there’s a really good seafood parlour a few streets over that he wanted to visit and see if he can get tips from them. So leave all this behind, and you can come back to it when you’re fed.”

It’s obviously all been planned out for her already, and Rin doesn’t have any choice other than to acquiesce with a smile. It’ll take a while for her to get cleaned up, a process both Shirō and Saber are determined to help with, mainly by way of very carefully washing her hair and petting it while murmuring protectively. It ends up being a giggly, slippery, silly process that takes far longer and involves far more kisses than it should, though Rin for once can’t feel the least bit upset about their poor time-keeping.

At last, they’re ready to leave, Rin’s stupid rock abandoned for some other day (or never, she thinks, how about never?) What matters is today, right now, this instant: what matters is the golden sunset flooding the streets as they open the door, the scent of shampoo, the anticipatory taste of fish on her tongue, the laughter still bubbling up from within all three of them, and the feel of their hands in hers.