Once she’s done steeping the tea (English breakfast, with just a touch of honey in it), Saber leaves Shirou cooking in the kitchen. She carries the steaming mug to the door, and knocks. No response. Saber pushes it open.
“Good morning, Rin,” Saber says softly to the lump of blankets in the center of the bed. Rin growls an incoherent response and Saber can’t help but smile. Some things never change, and Tohsaka Rin’s hatred of mornings is one of them.
Rin has taken advantage of being the last one to wake by spread-eagling herself across the entire bed, claiming dominion. Her long black hair is a tangle, and her blue-green eyes peer up at Saber reproachfully from a mass of blankets.
Rin is not like Guinevere or Irisviel, some delicate lady that Saber must protect. At the beginning of their relationship, Saber had tried to treat her like one of the gentle ladies she’d known as a knight, but Rin quickly put a stop to this. “You’re my girlfriend now, not my Servant or my knight, so stop treating me like made of glass." The only element of chivalry that Rin allows is the morning cup of tea. Truth be told, Saber is glad for it. It taught her to treat Rin like a human being rather than an ideal.
An arm reaches out to snag hers, and Rin drags her into the blankets. Saber is only too happy to oblige. It’s a while yet before they all have to leave for their various commitments.
Rin wraps her arms and legs around Saber. Saber leans into the touch, her eyes closing with pleasure. There is one thing that’s sure to wake Rin up and leave her smiling all throughout the morning, and Saber is all too happy to oblige.
Shirou flashes them both a knowing, happy smile when they emerge from the bedroom with flushed cheeks and tousled hair. Rin kisses him on the cheek in greeting as Saber sets the table. There is something new in the living room, something that wasn’t there yesterday. A small altar, with the statue of a calm-looking fellow with his hand raised as if to bless anyone who stands before him. The statue’s half-lidded gaze seems to rest on Shirou as he places a tiny bowl of rice before it, whispering a few words that Saber can’t quite hear. Rin eyes him, sipping her tea. “Why do we have a butsudan now?” A butsudan. So that’s the word for this new apparition in their house. Shirou turns, rubbing the back of his head and gesturing shyly at it. “We’ve been doing so many renovations to the house, I figured one more wouldn’t hurt. I’ve always wanted an Amida altar.”
Rin rolls her eyes. “I still think it’s cheating. Cheating at enlightenment, I mean. You can live however you want, break whatever precepts, and then just go crying to Amida when you’re about to kick the bucket.”
“You don’t go crying to him, he just lets you into his Pure Land.”
“But you don’t even bother with enlightenment! You just get to have a nice cosmic vacation, and….”
They continue like that for a while. Saber watches them with wry amusement, digging into her breakfast. At first she was disconcerted by their constant bickering - it seemed too similar to their conflict during the Grail War. Slowly Saber has come to realize that it serves another purpose: Shirou likes to get a rise out of Rin, and Rin likes to make Shirou stand up for himself.
Saber has learned that there are many different ways to say I love you. You can say it in words, by bringing tea, or by showing faith that your partner can keep up with you.
Saber savors her food. When she was alive, there were constant food shortages and famines, and even when there weren’t, the diet of the average Briton didn’t contain a lot of variety. Even when food was plentiful, Saber hadn’t allowed herself to eat much. She had too many other important things to do. Now, though, things are different.
Shirou rolls his eyes as he digs into his own food. “What do you know anyway, Rin? You’re a mage, not a Buddhist.”
Rin makes a little sound of offense. “I’ll have you know that I’ve studied it quite rigorously. A working knowledge of comparative religion is a necessity for a competent magus.” She sips her tea primly, as if to punctuate her point. “What I’m saying is, you don’t have to do any work with Pure Land. You don’t have to put in the effort. You don’t have to study. You don’t even have to meditate, for goodness’ sake, and how are you supposed to be a Buddhist if you don’t even meditate?!”
“I think it’s nice,” Shirou says, with an unusually sullen look on his face. Rin seems to have gone too far this time; her barbs have hit a vulnerable place. “I think it’s nice to know that there’s someone who will save you no matter what.”
Rin and Saber share a tense look. They know who Archer was. They know what Shirou is capable of becoming. They think they can prevent it, especially given their combined efforts, but they’ve never been entirely sure.
“Well,” Rin says, eating her breakfast, “I suppose I can agree with you that it’s nice.”
Saber takes advantage of the break in the conversation to ask, “What’s a Buddhist?”
The question sparks chaos. Rin and Shirou talk over each other to explain the term to her, their food woefully forgotten. Rin is using terms in some language Saber has never heard, like anatta and nirvana, and Shirou is going on about compassion and something called a bodhisattva. The Grail didn’t see fit to imbue her with more than the awareness that Buddhism is some kind of major world religion, and Shirou and Rin aren’t helping the situation at the moment. Saber calls a halt to the chaos and asks Rin to give her a recommendation from the library.
The library is a new addition to the house. When she moved in with them, Rin brought with her a number of jewels, an assortment of beautiful old furniture, a few outfits, a complete lack of kitchenware, and a truly incredible amount of books. So many, in fact, that the three of them had decided to turn one of the house’s spare rooms into a library.
The books in the library (Rin’s books mostly, with a few of Shirou’s tattered young adult novels thrown in as well) spanned a truly stunning number of genres, from fiction to nonfiction to dusty unclassifiable tomes bound in leather.
“I read a lot when I was a kid,” Rin had said on the day she’d moved in, surveying the shelves with her hands on her hips. “Especially after Father died and Mother was in the hospital. There wasn’t much else to do.”
Saber understands. Rin had been a lonely child, and books eased that somewhat. If Saber had been born in a different time she probably would have done the same.
Now, though, Saber has a chance to make up for some of that. Rin delights in giving her recommendations from the library, and Saber finds a quiet pleasure in hearing Rin’s opinions on the various texts.
“This one should be good to start,” Rin hands her a dusty tome. “It’s somewhat outdated, but it should give you a good overview.” She sticks a bookmark in between a few pages, to mark off the correct section. “And don’t listen to what Shirou says,” she adds conspiratorially. “I still say that Pure Land is cheating.”
After this, it’s time for them all to depart for the day. Shirou heads to his job, Rin to the Tohsaka mansion, where she retains the office she uses for magecraft matters. Soon the three of them will move to London as Rin makes her official entrance into Clocktower Society, but that is still several months away.
Rin and Shirou share a deep kiss. Saber watches them and feels contentment bloom in her chest. It is a very rare thing indeed to have found the kind of love that the three of them share. She’d wondered at first how it would all work, this thing between the three of them. Whether there would be crushed feelings or confusion. She’s been stunned how easily it has come to them, like a dance in which you were born knowing all the steps.
Saber receives her own kisses and then heads to her job. After no more than ten minutes of walking until the sign comes into view. LAWSON.
After the Grail War, Saber had insisted on finding a way to contribute something to the household. Her honor as a knight forbade her from being a freeloader. She already requires a steady flow of mana from both Rin and Shirou to maintain her current form, and she refuses to place further burdens upon them.
It hadn’t been easy to find work in 21s t century Japan as a foreigner without any educational credentials. Saber’s skills – slaying monsters, battling Saxons – weren’t exactly in demand. Fortunately, one of Taiga’s father’s friends had a connection with the owner of the convenience store. The owner had been skeptical, but Saber’s candor and determination had left an impression on him. Nor had she given him reason to be any less than delighted with her as an employee: after every one of Saber’s shifts, the shelves were stocked perfectly, the inventory meticulously recorded, the register accounted for down to the last yen.
The owner asked her name when she started. She paused for a moment before saying “Tohsaka-Emiya Saber.” The man stared at her in puzzlement. Hyphenated names are not common in Japan, and even for a foreigner “Saber” is pretty unusual. Saber, however, stood firm, and that was the name he wrote down in the ledger. She has proven to be as good an employee as she’d promised, and after only a few weeks she was granted the coveted midday shift, much to the envy of her co-workers at the store.
It took Saber a while to understand why the midday shift was so desirable. It was quite boring. Most people in the neighborhood worked during the day, and the only people who came in were a few retirees. The first day, Saber went through all of her store tasks twice, even lining up the edges of every box of candy perfectly, but there were still hours left of her shift. She thought she might die from boredom.
After a week of this, she cornered the owner once again. “Sir,” she said. “I need more duties to perform during the day when there are no customers.”
The owner, a middle-aged man who looked perpetually tired, shrugged. “You’ve been getting everything done.”
“But sir, what should I do during the middle of the day? There are too few customers.”
The man smiled wearily. “Nice isn’t it?”
Saber frowned. “But what should I be doing?”
“Whatever you want, as long as you pay attention to the customers who come in. Play games on your phone. Bring a book and read,” he shrugged, waving a hand. And so that night Saber had asked Rin about her book recommendations, much to her girlfriend’s delight. The next day Saber had arrived at work with a book under her arm. On that day, despite frequent trips to sweep the floor and check the coffee machine, she read nearly a quarter of the book. It was quite entertaining. Best of all is when Saber comes home and discusses each book with Rin. Sometimes Shirou joins in as well.
Saber settles in. She puts the bento box that Shirou has prepared in the fridge, dons her work apron. She cannot resist going through her rounds of duties (sweeping, checking once more to see if anything needs to be restocked) before opening the book Rin gave her.
She learns that the Buddha was born a prince in India more than two millennia ago, and through focus and meditation found enlightenment. It is very different from the Christianity she remembers from her life in Britannia. This is a religion of wandering monks who sit in quiet focus, training the mind (she can see why parts of the religion appeal to Rin.) It is also based in compassion for all beings (she can see why this appeals to Shirou).
One part catches her interest:
The most startling thing the Buddha said about the human self is that it has no soul. This anatta (no soul) doctrine has again caused Buddhism to seem religiously peculiar. But again the word must be examined. What was the atta (Pali for the Sanskrit Atman or soul) that the Buddha denied? At the time it has come to signify (a) a spiritual substance that, in keeping with the dualistic position in Hinduism, (b) retains its separate identity forever.
Buddha denied both these features. His denial of spiritual substance - the soul as homunculus, a ghostly wraith within the body that animates the body and outlasts it - appears to have been the chief point that distinguished his concept of transmigration from prevailing Hindu interpretations.
She doesn’t stop to ponder what Hinduism is, because something about the ideas expressed in this passage disturbs Saber - perhaps the description of the soul as homunculus, which brings to mind Illya (so much like her mother) buried in an unmarked grave in the woods. Or perhaps it is the idea that the soul, the prime concern of the Christianity of Saber’s childhood, does not exist at all.
Saber decides to switch to the other book she has brought, though to call it a “book” would be a stretch. Technically, it’s a draft of Lord El-Melloi’s new manuscript, lent to Rin (one of his star students) to edit. Saber had been curious about the work of the man who had been Rider’s Master in the fourth Grail War. She remembers him as little more than a boy. It is strange to think he’s a man now, and a professor of magical theory no less.
She opens the pages and reads:
An illustration of this theory can be found regarding the true identity and composition of the Servants summoned for the Holy Grail Wars. “Summoned” may in fact be the incorrect word, for it is my contention that they are in fact not summoned from anywhere at all but instead generated - that is to say, created, developed, and brought into existence by complex formulae and based on the myths and legends associated with these historical personages. It is not in fact the historical personages who are fighting, but instead their mere imitations, chimeras of ideas developed from the magical generator that is the Grail. The Grail seems to take an active role in shaping the expression of these concentrated myths; thus, we have Servants who physically appear very different than the records of their historical personages might suggest.
This sentence sends a jolt through Saber. It is as though she has been struck by lightning. The ideas blur and fuse with another – the idea of anatta, no soul, the theory of composite Servants. She is Saber – she is Arthur, king of the Britons. But how does she know that? It might be only an illusion implanted in her mind by the Holy Grail, entity that has already amply demonstrated its malevolence.
What if she’s nothing more than a chimera of ideas, something that didn’t exist until Kiritsugu called her into being? How can she ever be sure that her memories aren’t another dark miracle of the Grail War, a fictional narrative implanted in her mind?
She remembers leading battles, she remembers Camelot’s white walls, she remembers the faces of the knights of the Round Table. But are those memories even hers?
She’s read some books on King Arthur from Rin’s library. They are full of inconsistencies, and some of them argue that King Arthur might not have been a real person at all, but instead a legend or myth. Saber’s own memories diverge from the records that do exist in important ways, her sex being only one example.
Saber stares out the window of the store at the cloudless sky, the axis of her world strangely shifted. King Arthur staved off invasions and slayed monsters As a Servant in the Grail Wars, she fought against other heroic spirits and evil mages, and finally defeated a darkness that threatened the entire world. Now she is working at a convenience store. How could she possibly be the same person?
The day wears on, but the sense of dislocation and unease does not depart. Saber leaves work when it is time to leave and goes to the only place she can go: home. Taiga has decided to come by for dinner, and the evening is so lively that no one notices how subdued Saber is. The Taiga of Fuyuki is a force of nature, but she seems rather delighted at the fact that three of them have set up home together. (Not that her opposition would have mattered – she had ceased being Shirou’s legal guardian a few months ago when he turned 18) Saber manages to make it through the dinner before staggering into their bedroom and falling asleep. Rin and Shirou wake her briefly when they come in, and she spends an unknown number of hours staring at the shadowy ceiling.
The next morning is no better. It is as though some dark cloud has descended upon Saber. It is Rin who wakes her up for once, concern in her blue eyes.
Saber drags herself out of bed and picks aimlessly at her breakfast.
Shirou notices. Shirou always notices such things. Perhaps it is the original bond they shared as Master and Servant, or perhaps it is just his nature. “Saber, don’t you like the food?”
Saber glances up at him. “Shirou, your cooking is delicious as always. I’m simply not very hungry.”
A look of alarm passes between Shirou and Rin. In a second, Rin’s hand is on Saber’s forehead. “Hmmm,” Rin says, “you don’t seem feverish. I don’t think a familiar could catch a cold, but in terms of magical theory we’re in uncharted territory here.” Her hands are on Saber’s throat, prodding gently for swollen lymph nodes. “Does your throat hurt? Would tea help?”
“I do not feel ill, Rin. I am merely...” Saber trails off, gesturing vaguely.
Rin looks unconvinced. “I’ll do some research and see if there are any viruses you could be vulnerable to. There doesn’t seem to be any problem with the flow of mana you’re receiving from me and Shirou.” Rin’s hand lingers on Saber’s cheek, her eyes bright with concern. “I’ll cancel my flight.”
Saber shakes her head. The movement, like every other, seems almost impossibly difficult. “No, Rin. You’ve been waiting for this meeting with the Clocktower for months. It’s an important step.”
“Not more important than you,” Rin replies softly.
The words almost pierce the dark cloud that hangs over Saber. Almost. “It’s really alright, Rin. There’s nothing wrong with me. I will be fine.”
Shirou gets up and sits between them, taking both of their hands. “If Saber’s sick, I’ll take care of her until you come back.”
“Oh now I’m even more worried,” Rin replies, but she laughs as she says it.
Saber almost smiles. Shirou notices. He looks at her as though he can see through her. His golden eyes are pools of concern.
Saber looks away.
It is quieter when Rin isn’t here, and not in a good way.
Still, Shirou and Saber get by. Shirou cooks another incredible dinner, but Saber can hardly seem to taste the food. Shirou talks about his day but Saber cannot bring herself to give more than the briefest of answers, so their conversation soon lapses into silence.
“Want to do some fencing?” Shirou asks finally, breaking the silence. It’s their favorite activity. Saber enjoys crossing swords with him, has enjoyed continuing the lessons they began during the Grail War. He’s even picked up some actual technique, finally.
Usually he still struggles to hold his own against her while, but today it feel as though she’s moving in slow motion. He actually disarms her today, but he doesn’t look pleased his victory.
“Saber,” he asks gently as they put the practice swords away. “What’s going on?”
Saber opens her mouth, then closes it. How can she put it into words? Words were never her strong suit, in this life or in her perhaps-true, perhaps-false memories of being King Arthur. “It’s nothing,” she replies, shaking her head.
Shirou looks at her for a moment longer. He knows her, understands her, to a degree that frightens her sometimes. It’s clear that he is unconvinced and worried about her, but he knows not to push her before she is ready to talk. The bond they shared – still share, together now with Rin – connects them deeply in ways Saber is still trying to understand.
Kiritsugu, she knew, viewed her as nothing more than a pawn (and a flawed one at that) in the Grail War, but Shirou never did.
They take a bath together, and for a little while Saber is able to forget about the crushing weight of her identity. It comes back though, as they are laying in bed, Shirou spooning her as he falls asleep. Saber stares into the darkness for hours.
Work is an eternity, and then it is time to go home. The next night is the same. A quiet dinner. Shirou is starting to look really concerned now, and to stop him from asking uncomfortable questions, Saber asks him instead about the Amida statue and what it means. The book she is reading mentions a few different sects of Buddhism, but nothing about Pure Land.
Shirou flushes with pleasure at the question and launches into a long, at times rambling, explanation. Saber listens with quiet curiosity as he awkwardly tries to explain the details of this sect to her. Central to it is the idea of the bodhisattva. “They’re like a Buddha, but they’ve decided to stick around to help everyone else get enlightened too, or else to just help them out when they’re in trouble.” Shirou’s eyes are shining, and his food is going untouched. Amida, the central figure of Pure Land Buddhism, is one such bodhisattva. He rules over a realm detached from time and space, which is not part of the wheel of reincarnation. If you call out to him, you will be reborn in this peaceful place, this Pure Land, where you can work towards your own enlightenment - so difficult to achieve in the ordinary world of change and suffering.
Shirou continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re good or bad or rich or poor, you can still get into the Pure Land. It’s like a respite, a little bit of peace. That’s why Rin thinks it’s cheating but it’s not. The point is to eventually become a bodhisattva yourself.”
What would it feel like to be so at peace, to be removed from struggle and conflict? Save for the past year, Saber’s life has been nearly constant warfare, even in the memories of her life in Britannia that may be only an illusion of the Grail.
“I can see why you like it,” Saber says, almost smiling.
“It’s not just that,” Shirou looks thoughtful and nibbles at his salmon. “My parents - before Kiritsugu found me - they had an Amida shrine. I remember the chants they used to do. It’s weird, I can’t remember what they look like anymore, but I do remember that. So I guess it’s just familiar. Sorry if my explanation was confusing.” He grins at her.
Sometimes Saber forgets how much they have all been through, despite the fact that they are all only their late teens (or appear to be, in her case). It’s times like this that remind her.
The next night, Rin is home. Things are brighter, just a little. Rin is full of descriptions of London and rants about the machinations of the Clocktower mages. It’s a strange world, but a fascinating one. It’s only a few months until they move there, but somehow it seems an eternity away to Saber.
Later, at night, they all get into bed together. It’s far too early to fall asleep, but they’ve missed each other, missed being all together like this. They want to feel each other, touch each other.
It’s looking to be one of those nights when they all entwine together, the flow of energy crackling between them. This is one of the most efficient ways for Rin and Shirou to provide Saber with the mana she needs to maintain her physical form, but that isn’t the reason they all do it. It’s for the pure pleasure of it, the give and take of mana and sensation between the three of them.
Shirou is kissing Rin’s throat. Saber knows quite well how sensitive she is there, and she wants them both, so badly. But another thought has entered her mind – if she has no past, does this mean she has no future as well? Her body isn’t an ordinary human one; she won’t age the way that ordinary humans do. Will she retain the same supernatural teenager’s body even when Shirou and Rin grow old? What will happen when one of them dies? Will Saber disappear like a wisp of smoke, or will she continue on, eternal, never-changing, forced to live on without the people she loves until the end of the world, endlessly seeking the Grail….
Slowly, subtly, Saber extricates herself from Rin and Shirou. Rin’s skin has taken on a slight flush, and Shirou’s eyes are hazy with desire. They look up at her in confusion. Saber tries to imagine a life without them and finds that she cannot.
“I am, ah, feeling a bit unwell. I think I will read a book. Please carry on without me.”
Before they can reply, she is gone.
Saber wakes at some point in the night from one of her dreams of death and blood. She has fallen asleep on a futon in the guest room because she did not want to bother Rin and Shirou, but now she does not have their warmth to guide her back to reality.
She stares at the ceiling. Even now the details of the dream are fading, but Lancelot was part of them, Lancelot as he had been when she had faced him as Kiritsugu’s Servant. Hair that had once been neatly-cropped had grown long and wild, and his teeth bared in a snarl.
He had seemed so real, so much like the person she had known during life, or thought she had known. His hatred had seemed real enough, anyway.
If her memories of her time as King Arthur are false, perhaps these are the first real memories that she has. Maybe this was all she’d ever really known.
She thinks of Lancer from the Fourth War, the charming Diarmuid, whom she’d always wished she had gotten to know better. She remembers how he died, cursing all of them as blood streamed from his mouth and eyes.
If these are her only true memories, why are they so horrific?
Saber continues to read about Buddhism. She learns that it is a religion founded on Four Noble Truths: that life is suffering; suffering is caused by attachment; if attachment can be severed, then suffering can end; and following the Buddhist way can severe attachment.
Saber is not so sure about this negative cast on attachment - it is only her attachment to Shirou and Rin that makes her get up in the morning. But the first part, that life is suffering...
Saber thinks about Mordred and Camlann. She can remember these things so clearly, yet she has no proof they are real. She can feel the pain of the sword in her guts, feel the softness of the grass when Bedivere lays her on the ground.
Life is suffering. She cannot disagree with that.
The part about the lack of a soul, though, still bothers her. Shirou mentioned reincarnation, and the book describes this belief as well. These two concepts seem at odds, but Saber is too tired to puzzle it all out.
Saber pauses a moment in the doorway after she comes home from work. There’s a subtle lemon scent in the air and the front doorway is neatly swept. Rin and Shirou must have done some cleaning. Saber pauses in the doorway to listen to their bickering for a moment.
“Ugh, I still don’t understand why we need a squid for this.”
“It’s a kamidana! You need to have a squid. If you can set up a butsudan, I can set up a kamidana.”
“I’m not saying you can’t, I just don’t get why the squid needs to be there.”
“It’s an offering!”
“Why would the kami want a squid?!”
Saber steps in. Rin and Shirou are leaning over a small structure arrayed with several small bowls, a few apples, and the aforementioned squid. “What are you doing?” She asks.
Rin and Shirou brighten at the sight of Saber. “Setting up a kamidana,” Rin puts her hands on her hips and surveys her handiwork. “Shirou had it stored in the shed, that troglodyte.”
Shirou throws up his hands in exasperation.
“It’s New Years,” Rin continues. Saber had nearly forgotten; no wonder the store had been so busy today. “So we’ve cleaned the house and I thought we’d set up the kamidana too. It’s a Shinto thing.”
This is another religion, the native religion of Japan that views all things as endowed with soul and awareness. Saber knows that much. Walking through Fuyuki, she has seen the torii gates and small shrines associated with it.
Saber tilts her head in puzzlement. “Shirou, I thought you were a Buddhist?”
He grins, rubbing the back of his head shyly. “I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do Shinto stuff. It’s just tradition. Rin gets way more into it, though.”
“Do it right or don’t do it at all,” Rin crosses her arms.
Shirou eyes her. “You’re quick to criticize Pure Land Buddhism but then you want to do stuff like this?”
Rin shoots him a glare. “It’s tradition, Shirou. This is what you do on New Years.”
Shirou’s attention turns back to the kamidana.“Those apples and the squid are making me think… I wonder if I can make a nice fried-“
“WE ARE NOT EATING THE SQUID.” Rin sounds personally offended. Finally she throws up her hands. “Oh, this is taking too long. Let’s just go to the local shrine.”
Saber recalls the Christianity of her native Britannia, what she ostensibly fought for when she was alive. It seems so far away now, something that happened to another person. She wonders if she’s betraying the faith of the stern God of the church, but then dismisses the thought. If she’s no more ephemeral than a wisp of smoke, what does she have to lose?
“You know,” Shirou’s voice breaks the silence on their walk through Fuyuki, “I never knew why it was called Shinto. Not the religion, the area where I lived until the fire. That was what the neighborhood was called, Shinto.” The flames that killed his birth family, the parents whose faces he can’t even remember anymore, seem to be reflected in his eyes.
Rin and Saber move a little closer to him, offering what comfort they can. Rin says, “It makes me think…I haven’t been to a shrine for New Years in ages. My father always thought it was stupid, but my mother insisted on bringing me. But after Father died, and Mother’s accident, I just...didn’t anymore.”
“And I’ve never been before at all,” Saber says.
Shirou’s face splits into a grin and he throws his arms around them both. “Well, you’re both going to now, because that’s what families do on New Years!”
Saber soon begins to see why. It’s a festival atmosphere, with food vendors and children running everywhere.
Suddenly, Saber catches sight of someone. A bald head and an orange robe. She knows that Buddhist monks shave their heads and wear saffron garments.
In a flash, she is gone. Rin and Shirou don’t notice at first, given the crowd and all the excitement. Saber dodges and runs around bystanders until she reaches the monk. “Excuse me, sir,” she says breathlessly. “I apologize for interrupting you, but since you are a monk I need to ask you some questions about reincarnation.”
The man blinks. “I’m not a monk.”
Saber’s eyes widen. Now that she’s closer, she can see plainly that what she thought were saffron robes are merely a warm jacket. He is an older man, nearly bald. She is mortified by the mistake and begins to back away.
“But, uh,” he scratches his head, looking at the strange girl in front of him. “I’ll try to answer your question, I guess?”
Saber nods. “My question is - if there is no soul, what is it that gets reincarnated?”
This is something that Saber has thought of over the past few days, the prime retort to the doubts that plague her. Surely there must be something substantial at the core of any human, even one created by the Grail such as herself?
The man eyes widen, as if Saber has asked him to remember what he had eaten for breakfast on the day of his seventh birthday. He opens his mouth, then closes it. “Uh, I have no idea. That’s a real philosophy question. But I can tell you what I think,” he smiles a little. “I think it’s not important what you are, or who, just the choices you make. I read a quote once: ‘‘It’s our choices, not our capabilities, that make us who we really are.’”
Rin and Saber have caught on to Saber’s sudden disappearance, and Saber sees them pushing their way through the crowd. She has time for one last question. “Did the Buddha say that?”
The man in the orange jacket smiles. “No. J.K. Rowling did.”
The center of the bed is usually reserved for the person who has had the worst day, and Rin and Shirou, in wordless agreement, bundle Saber into this coveted place.
“Saber,” Rin says in a tone that brooks no refusal. “What is going on?”
Her conversation with the stranger seems to have eased some of the weight in her heat. Saber tries to put the strange emotions into words. “I-I don’t know if I am Arturia. Arthur.”
Two concerned faces peer at her, perplexed.
Saber forces herself continue. “In El-Melloi’s notes, there’s a theory that the Grail doesn’t summon the spirits of heroes, but instead it creates new beings out of the history and lore associated with them. They’re not actually people at all-“ She finds she has to stop talking. Something is blocking her throat. She feels tears sting her eyes.
Rin pales. “Oh fuck, I forgot about that part. I’m sorry, I -”
Saber squeezes her hand. “It’s alright, Rin. It’s not your fault.”
“Saber,” Shirou says softly, his golden eyes locked on hers with melting sweetness. “I shared dreams with you. I saw Camelot. It all seemed real enough to me.”
“And even if it’s not,” Rin says earnestly, “Even if the worst-case scenario is true and – we’re delving into unexplored magical theory here, but the function of independent consciousness might-“ Rin stops herself, catching Saber and Shirou’s bewildered glances, and heaves a sigh. “Oh, just let me grab something.”
Rin reappears a moment later, dropping a slender volume onto the bed. The Meditations, by someone named Rene Descartes.
“I know you don’t have time to read it, but…basically, this was a man who asked if all of his memories and perceptions might be an illusion, how would he know? But then he realized that he could think. All of his other attributes might be false, be he knew for sure he could think.”
Rin is on a roll now, eyes flashing. “How can you be sure you exist? Because you think. And why would the Grail create familiars - Servants - that are so independent? If the Grail was creating constructs for a battle, it wouldn’t create familiars that could defy or betray their Masters. Though I suppose you never know for sure with that malevolent cup,” she adds as an afterthought.
Shirou’s hand closes around hers, and Rin continues to expound on her theory. Something about this is balm to Saber’s soul. Between Rin’s razor-sharp analysis of the situation and Shirou’s gentle sweetness, Saber is starting to feel an ease that she hasn’t experienced for days.
“And even…even if we’re wrong, even if you were just a construct of the Grail - which of course is patent nonsense, but it’s always best to plan for the worst-case scenario - YOU are still real,” Rin holds Saber’s face in her hands, her beautiful eyes filled with fierce conviction. “You are here. Remember that time we went to try on glasses and you ate the fish cookie? And we put those glasses on Shirou? That was...it wasn’t when I realized that I loved you both, but it was when I realized that I could, that I wanted to, that we’d find a way to make it all work.”
Saber smiles, a little. Rin grins back.
“I was thinking, Saber,” Shirou says, wrapping an arm around Saber. “It must be very strange to live such a peaceful life after everything you’ve been through.”
Saber is taken aback. Perhaps that’s the heart of it, the inability to reconcile the person she was with the person that she is now. Even if she hadn’t read what she had read, she might have been seized by the same worries. The gap between the life she had lived and the life she was living now was too great.
Saber suddenly feels lighter and very very tired. She says so to Rin and Shirou, and the three of them turn off the lights and snuggle into bed. Saber gives and receives a number of kisses.
As she drifts into sleep, Saber marvels at the strange but lasting happiness that she has found with this woman and this man. That they all continue to find in each other.
She falls asleep that night feeling a peace that she has never known before. A respite.