Actions

Work Header

Do no Guile nor Treachery

Chapter Text

Your fingers skimmed the pages, the tiny bumps whispering of complex magecraft and summonings, of how to bring forth familiars. You re-read the lines, certain that pieces of context were missing. Perhaps the braille converter wasn’t perfect or you hadn’t managed to get the last bits of text out from the embosser? Nonetheless, this was the last book in the pile you had collected and the most promising one at that. You weren’t well versed in familiar magic, but ever since it had been mentioned you had been feverishly researching all the methods you could get your hands on. If you could simply materialise a companion to guide you as needed, you were sure that independence would be nearly entirely in your grasp. You could be free from the pitying, patronising stares that had plagued you since the accident. You could watch dawn rise over the horizon, see the faces of your loved ones again...You wanted something small, maybe a mouse you could hide in your pocket. But you were against using living or recently deceased animals on principle, preferring a magical construct instead. Unfortunately, said constructs were significantly more complicated than what someone specialised in "healing" was used to. Your artificial sparrows withered in your hands.

You took a deep breath, packing your items and heading out into the forests. You’d never know if you didn’t try, tenth time the charm. Besides, best to embarrass yourself in private as opposed to accidentally wrecking your room. Channeling mana, you replicated the sigil onto the ground as best you could. You might not be able to see, but perception magic allowed you to be aware of your surroundings enough to get around on days you chose to forgo your walking stick. No details, but outlines and edges, surfaces. But more than that, it let you draw what you could visualise at the cost of mana. You pause, on the precipice of changing your mind. Maybe you ought to consult someone first? This was pretty advanced stuff. But you’d been relying on others for the past few months already, for once, you wanted to do this on your own. You felt reckless, impulsive but weightless as you drew a knife. You could do this. Hesitantly, you let your blood fall into the circle.

Fill, fill, fill, fill ,fill...

The surge of energy at your feet makes you flinch, blinding had you not already been so. You could feel something etching itself into the back of your hand, heavy and deeper than a mere cut. No, it dug into your circuits like liquid flames, engulfing you, settling in your heart as fear fluttered alive for the first time tonight. There was something else now too, a presence.

Trust, devotion, loyalty, honour.

You felt it first within you, a burning that settled into warmth in your chest, then heard him as he spoke.

“I ask you, are you my Master?”

You froze, not certain how to respond to such a strange question. You assumed that your were successful, because there was clearly something or someone here but you hadn’t been expecting a person. You merely continued staring in their general direction, tense and confused because no familiar should be another human. Then again, any familiar you summoned would need to be able to speak to you if they couldn’t share their sight. It wasn’t uncommon for magus constructs to talk, so this thing could be in any form. That relaxed you slightly, which they took as a prompt to continue.

“My lady, your Servant Lancer has answered your call. Henceforth I pledge to you my loyalty and my spears, our fates are as one.” he clarified respectfully, although it explained nothing to you.

“Um...thank you. But uh...who exactly are you?”

A moment of silence, surprise you think but he recovers swiftly.

They didn’t use a catalyst…

“Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, son of Donn, and first warrior of the knights of Fianna.” he introduces as you shake the quiet voice, a single thread from your mind. “I am at your command.”

“Ah, okay. There’s no need for such formality, but thank you for that. I’m (Name)...”

This was awkward, you knew you had made some kind of terrible mistake now and your brain was coming up blank on ways to fix this. You had somehow summoned this person here, and he seemed to think you were his boss or something. What should you even say? Hey, so I was trying to make a construct but messed up. Thanks for coming though, I appreciate it. Feel free to return back to the void from whence you came, sorry for the inconvenience. The longer he lingered, the more certain you were that he was some strange entity. His mana fluttered and twisted like nothing you had sensed before, even other familiars were not like him. In any case, there was no way you would have been able to summon something this powerful on your own. You were certain that he was drawing his energy from elsewhere, and that whoever had really called him here was about nearby. You swallowed, glad that your sunglasses hid at least some of your face because you were probably wearing a pretty big ‘oh crap’ expression right now.

“My apologies, I fear that you have been subjected to the curse, my lady.” he says suddenly, and the last thing you expect is how much contriteness is in his voice.

“What?”

“Any woman who gazes at the love spot beneath my eye is condemned to instantly fall in love with me. Seeing as to how you did not use a catalyst, this wasn’t an outcome you could have expected.” he elaborated guiltily, as your bewilderment grew.

Then it clicked. Oh, he was joking! You must have been staring (A+ in the eye contact department) and combined with your panicked expression, he must be trying to lighten the mood. He sounded so serious you had barely detected this. Had you had your sight, you would have seen that he had taken to kneeling and that you had been very clearly staring at the space over his head. Instead, you laugh belatedly.

“Sorry if I was staring, but you need not worry. I’m completely immune to your curse!” you reply brightly, before unfolding your walking cane. “Also, you can just call me (Name), no need for this ‘my lady’ business.”

“I...how...As you wish, my-- (Name).” he responded, stumbling over his words in confusion and it seemed to you that no one knew what was happening.

Well, best get it over with then.

“So, this is kind of embarrassing but I think I made a mistake. Um...if you will, I’ll explain it back in my room.”

“...Of course. I apologise if I have displeased you.”

While his tone was even and calm, you didn’t miss the sudden drop of disappointment you felt. It made you grow still. Those were not your emotions…

“What? No! If anything, I hope you’re not going to be mad after this for wasting your time…” you muttered as you started heading back, too drained from the ceremony to use your magic and sweeping your stick ahead of you.

"Of course not! I am here only to serve you." he informed you promptly, no judgement in his words.

You didn't know how to reply to that, so you just started heading off. When you didn’t hear him follow, you stopped, turning your head briefly.

“Are you coming, Diarmuid?”

“I am here, my lady.” came his immediate response from close behind and you jumped.

“Ah, okay.”

You couldn’t hear his footsteps, not even the softest crunch of leaves. It felt eerie, but he must be particularly familiar with moving quietly if that was so. Just what kind of summon were you dealing with--?

“...If I might be so bold as to ask, how are you unaffected by my curse? I do not sense any magic resistance around you.” he suddenly says, as you two make your way through the undergrowth.

You incline your head in the direction of his voice, not sure if he was still playing this scene. You decide this time that he isn’t pulling your leg.

“...Because I’m not in love with you? That’s what you said it did right? Or is this some kind of game?” you ventured, giving more questions than answers. “I’m blind so I can’t ‘gaze’ at you in any case.”

Is that the correct answer to this riddle? If he was joking, it was a little conceited to keep pushing the point and if he wasn’t, then you didn’t exactly know what to do with him. Give him the address of a modeling agency?

“No, my lady. I would not trifle with you in such a manner. I should have realised sooner that you had visual impairment, I thought it the darkness of the forest. But this certainly works in our favour.” he said happily, and you nodded uncertainty, not sure whether he seemed to hover closer upon learning of your condition.

He hadn't worked out your were blind when you started using your walking stick? Or from the fact you were wearing dark sunglasses in the middle of the night? Either he had been living under a rock for the last 1700 years or he too, was also blind. Still, it was rather rude to mention it so you settled for merely making a weird face to yourself.

“So...do you just have flocks of women chasing you around?” you finally asked, as even without sight you could feel his mood sour.

“Unfortunately yes, this curse has indeed caused me...hardship in the past.”

“Have you tried wearing a mask? Celebrities have some pretty creative ones for avoiding the paparazzis.” you suggested lightly, trying to move quickly past what was clearly a sore spot for him.

“...A mask? Surely such charm magic would be beyond simple measures...”

Yet he had never tried, walking around like a bandit was inherently suspicious but surely better than the alternative he had since learnt. He felt foolish somehow not to have thought of it himself. Or perhaps more accurately, at having dismissed it as being too easy. You reached up, taking the sunglasses from your eyes and holding them out.

“Here, its under your eye right? Does this cover it? Clearly line of sight is related to its effectiveness since I don’t feel any different, so its worth a try. These are enchanted to increase the wearer’s perception, but could probably be reversed to make it harder for people to observe that part of your face.” you mentioned briefly, stopping abruptly as your stick hits the first step of the stairwell.

He nods unseen, before quickly reaching out as if to catch you, fingers just skimming the top layer of your clothing before he withdraws.

“Thank you, my lady. If I may, could I be of assistance?”

“(Name), just call me (Name).” you reminded again as you hesitated before accepting. “And yes please, thank you.”

Ordinarily you would have had no issue, however tonight’s escapade had certainly drained you. He must have noticed the slowness in your walk, or perhaps that was simply his personality. He did seem rather old-fashioned, but it was not unwelcome. Gently, you felt an arm slipped around you before your feet were lifted easily off the ground. Instinctively, you grasp onto his shoulder for balance, feeling the solid warmth of his body. He’s human after all, and you don’t know enough about familiars to wonder if this is expected. His clothing feels rough like hardened leather, earthy in scent and his strides are long and effortless as if you weigh nothing.

He sets you down in the landing, as you quietly orientate yourself again, finding your way to the only apartment marked with magical energy here. Turning the key, you hold open the door to playfully match his previous chivalry.

“Welcome, make yourself at home.”

Chapter Text

“So...I don’t really know how to tell you this, but you weren’t who or what I was expecting.”

Diarmuid nodded, before amending that to an affirmative hum. While it wasn’t ideal for a Master not to already be familiar with their Servant, it wasn’t so terrible. Not only were you unaffected by his love spot, you also seemed sweet if not bewildered by him. Understandable, given you had expected a different Heroic Spirit. He hadn’t seen a catalyst nearby when he was summoned, but perhaps you had already taken it back or kept it on your person. He couldn’t say he wasn’t a little disappointed to hear you were already displeased with him before he had done anything, but it only bolstered his resolve to impress you.

“My apologies, I will do my best to meet your expectations.” he replied steadily, hovering nearby as you prepared tea for him despite his repeated attempts at dissuading you. “Please my lady, there is no need to offer me a beverage as I require no physical sustenance.”

“Don’t worry, I’m using a liquid level indicator to check when the cup is full, not sticking my finger in there.” you reply teasingly, although he notices you pour two cups as some form of assurance to him that it isn’t poisoned.

The fact that you felt the need to do that makes guilt bloom in his chest. He trusts you after all, as his Master and liege. Just as he has faith that you will not betray him, neither will he give you any reason to question his loyalty. He nearly grabs the glass from you when he sees the hot water dripping from the spout, on the verge of burning your fingers that are finding the handle. He doesn’t consider himself to be overbearing but definitely feels a pull of protectiveness over you given the state of affairs.

“Anyway, I should be apologising to you. What I’m trying to say is that I probably didn’t summon you. The amount of energy you take as a familiar is far more than I poured into the spell. There’s probably someone out there looking for you, since I was just...” you take a sip from your mug. “...messing around with something I didn’t know enough about.”

What? He stared for a moment, from your sheepish expression to the clear command seals on the back of your hand. No, you had certainly summoned him so why you were denying it now made no sense to him. Was he so unacceptable that you were trying to be rid of him? But you didn’t feel angry or disgusted, your bond with him was open and he could tell you were genuinely apologetic. Rather, his connection with you was stronger than what he would have expected, as if you two were in sync, which he theorised had something to do with your lack of sight heightening your ability to sense magical energy and by extension, him. He busies himself by taking a gulp of tea.

Thus the only reasonable explanation he could come to was that you were unfamiliar with the nature of the Holy Grail War. He would have thought the promise of a limitless wish would be enough to garner the attention of magi all over the world but apparently, he was mistaken. Perhaps times had changed, but a part of him was glad you weren’t a power-hungry Master. He supposed only time would tell if that would continue to be true, but for now he took it to heart.

“...There is no need to worry about that, the Greater Grail supports most of my upkeep, a Master serves more as an anchor than a mana source.” he finally explains, as matter-of-factly as he can.

The last thing he wants is to come across as condescending. But your face indicated that this wasn’t your first run in with the topic.

“...Isn’t that tournament supposed to be discontinued? You don’t hear much about it these days, they don’t mention it at university and there’s nothing on it in public libraries. I borrowed my book from a friend’s family archive, their lineage has been around for a while but all the newer versions omit it.”

“I see.”

You expected him to elaborate, but he didn’t. This was ominous, clearly the council in charge of overseeing the war had some reason for burying it in history. This didn’t sit well with him, and given his luck, this was practically foreshadowing. But, his fortune couldn’t have been too poor to have managed to get you as a Master--

“Well, I guess today’s your lucky day then! There’s not need to fear being at a disadvantage in this war having a blind Master who doesn’t know much about this whole business, since I’m perfectly willing to transfer these seals.” you told him brightly as he visibly flinched. “It’s okay, you can say it. It would be easier to win with a sighted and more experienced mage.”

“I...My lady, you do not wish to even try for the Grail with me?” he asked incredulously and there’s a touch of desperation in his words. “I will defer to your choice of course, but I am a knight before I am a Servant and I will not serve two lieges. If you abandon your quest for the Grail, I will lay down my spears as well but I beseech you to reconsider!”

“What? No, I’m offering you a chance to go find a mage you would like to serve instead. Someone more--”

“I have already found such a Master, and they are right here.” he interrupts swiftly, and he knows it is rude to cut you off but the thought of losing his chance at absolution tastes far more bitter. “Thank you for your consideration but if you grant me the choice as you have just said, then know that I have made my decision. I will protect you from all harm in this war, act as your sword and shield. Please, have no doubt of my devotion. Allow me the chance to prove myself, to bring you the Grail!”

You look stunned, and even though you can’t see he still sinks into a respectful crouch. The Grail selected him for you, surely that had to mean something? That you were similar, in some regard? He could feel your link, bright and soft in his chest, soothing and comforting in a way he suspected had to do with your particular brand of magecraft. When you silence stretched he twitched, not that you could notice.

"Please, lady (Name)! I wish only to serve you faithfully in this short time I have here in life again! I humbly request you accept me as your Servant!"

“Okay, okay! Calm down...if you’re alright with having me, I would be happy to have you at my side.” you sputtered to appease him, because he was pleading, practically begging you not to give up on him and you think you understand a little of what that is like.

“Of course! Thank you, my lady it is an honour.”

Were you afraid of injury? He felt a flutter of guilt that he had coerced you into something you were not informed about, but at the same time to forfeit this opportunity would be too cruel for him to handle. He knew it was a valid concern, but he had vowed to keep you unharmed and would ensure your safety for as long as he could still draw breath in this world. Still, the fact that you had given him the choice was astonishing, that you thought it his place to select for himself a Master. It was preposterous, almost funny in a charming kind of way, confusing but not unwelcome, much like most of your interactions had been. No, he had a good feeling about you, could hear the edges of your thoughts, emotions. He would not have changed Master’s at any point due to his principles but even if he had the chance to do this all again, he would not have wished for a different mage to contract with.

“I guess I better read up about this war then, huh?” you suggested, putting your cup into the sink and starting to wash up. “I mean...you’re not worried? That I have only the barest idea of what this whole thing entails?”

“Not in the slightest, I will not let you fall.”

“Huh, okay. So it doesn’t matter to you who your magus anchor is, its just the first person you set your eyes on?”

He stiffens, glancing to the side. It was true that he didn’t care whether his Master was young or old, powerful or weak because his own selfish wish is only to redeem himself by attaining the Grail for them. All he wants is to successfully serve his liege, to fight with honour. But to say that he was entirely indifferent to the morals and conduct of who he had pledged himself to was false as well. Perhaps there is more that he wants, more than he is willing to admit right now at least. He realises on some level that he seeks respect and recognition, even praise perhaps. He craves for someone to simply notice his wants, and although he would say he harbours no ill-will to anyone in his life, past or present, the scars that his experience with Grainne and Fionn have left are yet to fully heal even after all this time. Fate, he quickly amends, it was fate that cursed him, not those in his life who were simply victims of circumstance...

“To a certain extent.”

You turn in his direction briefly, as if you can sense the turmoil beneath his carefully crafted facade. Then again, he knows you are checking his emotions from your link as Servant and Master more than reading his expression. Still, you don’t push. You wonder what you've gotten yourself into, dueling is not your strength and yet you cannot simply abandon your familiar either. You have a responsibility to him given that you had dragged him forth from where ever he came from. Diarmuid is not at all what you had planned for, not an extention of your will but his own being. And ardently, fervently did he cling to the lifeline of winning this war, it hums through your bond. You took a deep breath, there's no point freaking out now, you'd just have to find out as much as you could. Besides, a part of you is excited, enchanted with the reckless impulse for adventure. This rumoured event, supposedly wiped from history without reason was happening, and you could be a part of that. As a mage, a student and scientist of the magical arts, you had the chance to learn and experience something fabled, mysterious and unknown. Whether this Grail had chosen you or this was simply dumb luck, it was real. It was irresponsible, you know to risk your life if indeed that was part of the game...but maybe, you could finally reveal the secrets of this ritual. It felt good to be grounded, to have this conviction for however long it might last.

“It’s late, there’s a spare futon in the cupboard. Tomorrow we should head to the university to enchant a pair of glasses for you, although if your ‘curse’ is as bad as you say then maybe we should upgrade them to scuba goggles.” you joked, patting the area around you in search of your stick that was on the verge of tipping over where you had rested it.

He darted over, too eager to be of use. You leaned back in surprise when you felt someone move so fast it was almost as if he had materialised beside you. Then, the handle was pressing into your hand and you smiled in thanks. He was quick, scarily so you noted.

“There is no need to provide me with bedding, I do not require sleep.” he responded politely and you shook your head. “I will stand guard, rest easy.”

He really was trying so hard to be low maintenance. You wouldn’t push the issue, since it seemed to make him skittish but you’d just roll it out. Then it was his choice what to do with that. You turned in his general direction and held out your hand in front of you, slowly reaching out and expecting to brush fabric. Immediately, you felt him link your hand along his arm instead as he starts to lead you out of the kitchenette.

“Ah, thanks. But I was trying to tell what material your clothes are made of.” you clarify with a laugh as he stops with an ‘oh!’. “Sorry, I should have asked if you were okay with that first.”

“It’s no problem, here, you can feel it.” he tells you, guiding your fingers against the side of his waist.

You expect to find some kind of hem but when you try to pull the crisp fabric, there is no give. It’s not the hardened leather from before, but it’s definitely strange. You thought he had been wearing bracers or pauldrons perhaps which had peaked your curiosity in the first place. You can’t tell what his outfit is though without molesting him which certainly wouldn’t be decent. You paused when you realised exactly how skin tight his ‘shirt’ was, snapping your fingers back as if burned.

“My lady, are you alright?”

“Yeah, sorry for squeezing you, I thought you were wearing something...looser.” you apologised awkwardly, coughing as he quickly took to guiding you again. “Maybe you could describe your outfit instead?”

“It is no issue, I gave you express permission.” he said gently, starting to walk towards what you knew was your bedroom. “It is a lightly armoured full body attire, dark teal in colour.”

“Mhm...okay. Yeah, you probably can’t go out in public looking like some anime convention character.” you mused aloud, adding ‘visit the shopping mall’ to your tasks en route the university.

“...What is an ‘anime convention character’?”

Chapter Text

“This is going to be great, because as you have just informed me...your dress code is more than 1,500 years old and I am blind. So I fully expect you come out as a fashion disaster, I hope the clerk chose well but I suppose only time will tell.”

...Is something wrong? Please, do not allow me to be the cause of any anxiety on your part. He said with concern, voice resounding through your mind.

Bless him, he didn’t understand your concern but was still hovering over your shoulder worriedly, ready to defend you against his impending shopping woes. You had taken public transport to the nearby mall, your companion following in spirit form. Even ethereal as he was, somehow you could still feel him breathing down your neck whenever you so much as stepped over the gap into the train carriage. You didn’t know if he was invisibly sitting next to you, but no one else claimed that seat for the entire journey. You wondered whether he’d have a panic attack when the war started if he was already this protective now, kilometers and kilometers away from the Grail.

“Here, try these on, see if they fit.” you continued to whisper in the changing room as your Servant materialises, taking the pile from you.

“I’ll look away.” you say with a chuckle, but turn to face the corner anyway. “Unfortunately I can’t give you more privacy than that since they only saw me walk in here. But you can just put it on over your armour.”

His outfit is so skintight anyway you think that the size will still be accurate. When you can’t hear him rustling fabric anymore, you tilt your head questioningly.

“They are a little tight, but otherwise most suitable. Thank you, my lady. I appreciate your many gifts.” he informs you politely, looking into the mirror and comparing his clothing to yours.

“Tight for you? I assume they’re cutting off your blood circulation then.” you reply with a cheeky laugh as he sighs good naturedly at your ribbing. “Okay, well pop them off and I’ll get them exchanged for a size larger.”

“If I might be so bold, may I request the colour?” he asks unexpectedly and you nod, surprised.

He seemed like the kind of guy who would rather lie down on a bed of nails than trouble anyone for so much as a pencil. He notes the combination he wants and you collect it for him, not realising that the combination exactly reflects that of your own outfit. You wait outside, hearing him approach from the camera-less change rooms in his recently bought clothes.

“Great, now that you are all fashionable, let’s grab a bite to eat before we go to the university. It’s the semester break right now so it...are you okay?” you stopped, glancing back at your newly dressed familiar and sensing a surge of emotions from him.

Even without your bond, you could tell he was rather pleased about something.

“Lady (Name), these sunglasses are indeed more effective than I could have hoped!” he chirped happily, taking his place at your side in his self-appointed duty of chaperoning you about. “I passed by a number of women and even though some greeted me, they did not attempt to pursue me!”

You think he’s relieved he can appear in physical form to save you from falling into ditches as he seems to fear you are wont to do (you could hear his worrying faintly in the back of your thoughts all through this morning). A knight’s duty is to escort a maiden should she require my services, please allow me to be of assistance.

“Well, it’s only been like a minute or two, I’d touch wood before proclaiming something so loud.” you said lightly. “Besides, if you keep up this m’lady business and wear a fedora, I guarantee you will keep all the women away from you without effort.”

“Indeed? Where may I acquire this ‘fedora’ you speak of?” he pressed excitedly, making you feel bad for getting his hopes up.

You actually consider letting him buy one, because at least it would explain his overly respectful speech patterns but alas, you couldn’t betray him that way by making him a walking meme. Besides, you assume he looks nothing like the infamous meme man himself if his muscular biceps are anything to go by.

“Oh...I’m not sure, haven’t seen one in a while. Your charm probably negates it anyway.” you excuse lamely and as expected, the joke flies over his head.

“Ah I see, yes such an object would be rare. I will keep a lookout regardless, as I’m willing to try any method as of now. Thank you for the suggestion, lady (Name).” he says solemnly, touching his palm over your hand that was resting in the crook of his arm before realising he had called you by that disliked title again. “My apologies….(Name).”

You stopped, giving him an amused smile.

“Relax. There’s no need to say ‘sorry’ so much either, its fine. Not every little thing is an infringement. If we really are going into a war, let’s try and enjoy ourselves before it all goes down, hm? Come’on, why don’t you pick out a place you’d like to have breakfast.” you prompted brightly as a hopelessly confused look fell across his features.

“I...I do not require sustenance, although I thank you for the offer.” he politely declines again as you give him an aggrieved look.

“Don’t you want to try anything in the modern era? You might like it! If it's easier, consider this a favour to me since I would feel weird eating alone.” you encouraged, enjoying that you got to play tour guide in some capacity instead of being the eternal follower. “If you don’t pick, I’ll have to use mana to find a food place, you know?”

It was on threat of being an inconvenience that he finally acquiesced to the arduous task of selecting a culinary joint. He swept his golden gaze around, pushing your prized sunglasses to his face to keep them pressed securely. There were so many shops, colourful ones that sold only a small selection of items to larger ones with rows of tables. He quickly assessed his options. You’d probably want somewhere quieter to avoid attention, not some place cramped with numerous chairs to weave between. Would you like something similar to what you stocked at home or something different?

“My lady, I have found a suitable location.” he informed you upon zeroing in on a cafe with outdoor seating.

You sauntered cheerfully beside him, and he couldn’t help but felt his mood lift as well when you were in high spirits. You seemed to be a rather upbeat person, and he much preferred it to the alternative. He didn’t know that the reason for it lay in your bond, that you could feel his unwavering allegiance, his steady strength that filled you with confidence and trust. All he knew was that you spoiled him, and that your link rested precious and luminous in his heart, your faith in him as sweet as ambrosia.

He pulled out the seat for you, before reading the menu aloud. In the end, you ordered your dish before promptly having to insist that he also consume something.

“It’ll help alleviate your mana costs!” you persuaded as he reluctantly asked the waitress to add a set of pancakes to her notepad.

The flat, fluffy stack was adorned with an array of berries and fruit, syrup and butter neatly tucked in tiny vessels on the side. It tasted delicious, and if manners hadn’t been beaten into him, he might have scarfed it all down without making sure to eat at the exact pace that you were. Instead, he savoured the bewitching flavours, from the cold ice cream to the hot, soft flat cakes. He shut his eyes. This world was strange, he knew he might never feel at home here but right now, it was far from uncomfortable. A thousand miles from everything he used to know with a Master who seemed intent on pampering him for whatever reason, it wasn’t bad at all. Sometimes, he feared that you indeed had been afflicted with his love spot to be treating him so fair, but your intentions were not so clouded or lustful through his connection.

“Do you like it?”

“Yes my lady, I am grateful that you have given me the opportunity to taste the delicacies of your culture. It is most generous of you.”

“I’m going to start a tally for every time you use ‘m’lady’. If we exceed 10 then...what’s something you don’t like?”

“Dislike? Jealous men, smitten maidens, my curse…”

You deadpan, hoping he would have said something easy like washing the dishes. Ah well, you’d think of something innocuous that made him mildly uncomfortable. Probably calling him ‘my lord’ would warp him straight out of this reality plane, you wished you had eyes to see the funny spectacle. Decided, you carefully selected the money you needed and made your way to the register.

“A-Are you two together?” the cashier asked shyly as she processed your payment, unfolding the bills you kept carefully pressed into specific sizes that you could feel to differentiate them.

“Huh? No, this is my friend...Lance.” you replied as he tensed, obviously fearing the worst.

“Oh, then before you go, I just feel the need to tell you that you’re the most beautiful man I have ever seen!” she suddenly blurted out, missing your outstretched hand when she tried to give you the change, too distracted by the Adonis of a man that was your companion.

Despite your Servant nearly hiding behind you now to conceal his visage, he still managed to catch all the coins in that split second before they hit the counter. He put them into your wallet, adjusting his collar nervously.

“Aha...thanks.”

Lady (Name), we should leave promptly! This woman is almost tearing up, I’ve not experienced this before with my curse.

Lord Diarmuid, don’t worry, I got this.

He flinched in confusion at your new term of address, whipping his head around to stare at you in shock. You did not serve him, so why you would call him by such a title was bewildering. It felt strange, but all the same it hadn’t been...unpleasant. Rather the opposite. He felt his cheeks redden slightly, coughing in embarrassment.

L- (Name), please do not address me with such an honorific!

Haha, okay...I was just messing with you. Feels weird though, right? We should just stick to first names from now on.

“Anyway, thanks for meal!” you said to the dazed waitress in a heel-turn subject change that was about as smooth as a rocky gravel path.

But you let mana swell from within, soothing her obvious emotional agitation into a distinct calmness, almost a forgetfulness of the last few minutes. For good measure, you also cast a disguise spell over your Servant so that he was harder to notice in general.

“What a masterful escape.” you said with a grin once you two were out of earshot, Lancer walking as briskly as he could without pressuring you to keep up.

He couldn’t share in your enthusiasm, instead thinking of how the glasses were perhaps not as effective as he had hoped. They certainly shielded much of the charm by blocking line of sight...but he doubted that his looks on their own would have been enough to evoke such an emotional reaction. Disappointing, but not unexpected. He didn’t know what wood had to do with this but remembering your words, he dutifully availed himself to a nearby twig once outside. As usual, you seemed to read his mood like a book.

“Hey, don’t worry. We’re headed to the college now, and we’ll be able to enchant a disguise spell over those glasses. I’m casting one over you right now so that people won’t notice on our way there unless they’re really looking. But if you feel uncomfortable, just let me know before you slip into spirit form.”

He narrowed his eyes, as if he would simply abandon you out on the sidewalk to make your way there alone, that would be a poor escort and knight indeed. His pride was almost ruffled that you would suggest such a thing from him.

“...I’m fine, thank you. There is no need to be concerned.” he responded instead, tone mild as you let your attention return to the winding path.

Chapter Text

“Hey, I appreciate you leading me around but don’t feel like it’s your duty, okay? I can move about independently as I need. Especially now, since we’re on our way to the university. They have a huge mana fountain there so I can spend energy now on all the perception magic I want.”

“It is no trouble, please it is my honour as a knight to be able to escort you.”

You smile, before unhooking your hand from his arm.

You cast a familiar spell, feeling a sudden surge of information. The nearby curb, the beating heart of your Servant. The outlines of nearby objects could be felt, as could the life energy of the creatures and people around you, from insects to strangers. You could hear them, feel them in your bones.

“...See? I’m like...one with the universe now as they say.” you tell him with a grin, gesturing wisely to a nearby tree.

“What does that mean?” he asked immediately, tone almost sharp and panicked because that sounded like it was related to dying.

“Uh...I don’t know. I just meant I could ‘see’, or detect things around me.” you shrugged casually, continuing to walk confidently towards the distant campus.

He bites his lip, trailing after you. He knew it was a childish thing to be dismayed by, but he couldn’t help it. He rarely had the opportunity to escort ladies back in his life, and any that he did were sure to throw themselves at him afterwards, turning the entire affair into something he’d rather forget. Yet it was his chivalrous duty, and he could not seem to fulfill it without angry husbands rounding on him later in the day. So even such a short walk was a simple pleasure for him.

Still, you seemed determined to show him that you weren’t helpless and he was nothing if not deferential towards his Master’s wishes. You take a longer route he notes, one that avoids the main walkway and has fewer people.

As expected, its quiet at the enchantment workshop with only one attendant there, a casual shift worker and your friend from alchemy class. Seemingly having tired of perusing the Internet on his phone, he walks over to greet you.

“(Name), long time no see!”

“Hey Steve, here to use some of those sweet enchantment circles. Steve, this is Lance. Lance, Steve.” you introduced as your Servant dipped his head respectfully in greeting, making your friend shoot you a weird look.

“Nice to meet you! Dress together, stays together huh?” he notes amiably to skate over the moment, as you cock your head in confusion and fire up the sigils. “An illusion enchantment? You’re not being an overprotective girlfriend by not letting other people notice him are you?”

“What? No,we’re not dating.”

“Oh my mistake, I just thought that because of your outfits.” he said sheepishly, and a feeling of dread started to make itself apparent.

What the heck are you wearing, Lancer?

The clothes we bought this morning, my lady. A collared shirt, jacket and long pants.

You paused when he rattled off their colours and design. Even though the clerk had chosen the first set, you had remembered exchanging them for a different size. You assumed they were the same so didn’t feel them, or else you would have realised.

That’s what I’m wearing.

Yes, I thought we should match as you are my liege. Is this an issue? I sincerely apologise if--

“Nah, this was just a coincidence. Besides, do I even look like I’m on his level, Steve?” you replied lightly, placing the sunglasses in the center of the counter.

You were starting to form an image in your mind by this point after all. Probably looks like he works out at the gym five days a week, eats quinoa salads for lunch, does L’oreal commercials.

“Haha true, to be fair to you, Lance you are frighteningly handsome--”

“Excuse me, please do not insinuate that my lady is inferior or unattractive in any way.” he remarked instantly, tone even but genuine and grave.

You winced, as you could almost feel the awkwardness seep through the floor. Steve evidently didn’t know how to respond, swallowing an incredulous laugh and instead offering a quick ‘oh sorry’. You cast yet another calming spell to dispel the weirdness and make everyone feel relaxed again. You had a feeling that this would become something of a habit when interacting with others while Lancer was around.

“Yeah, he gets that a lot so we’re giving him some paparazzi cover spells. You know, hiding his face like our good guy Leonardo DiCaprio.” you interjected swiftly, preparing to burn the mark in.

“You’re famous? What do you do?”

“...I wouldn’t say that.” Diarmuid muttered modestly with downcast eyes, in a tone that shut down any conversation.

“Actually Steve, I was wondering if you could help me with something else. I want to make it difficult to detect an energy source, say for a familiar.” you brought up, removing the imprinted glasses and handing them to your Servant.

“Have you still been trying to summon a magical construct? Are you trying to hide some monstrosity you’ve now created?”

“Shh, not so loud!”

Steve grinned before leading you over to the back of the room, fiddling with the intricately carved stone that gleamed with the lustre of diamonds. He started explaining the methodology, passionately going through the theory like a professor who had found a willing victim to expound his latest research to. You thought you could feel Diarmuid’s eyes practically glaze over. Interrupting, you offer Lance’s jacket up as casually as possible. It wasn’t the most powerful illusion work, but it would certainly slip past most magi now that he was a familiar. Especially if they were distracted by his model-like appearance. When the process was complete, you thanked him before leaving.

“There, all done! Next stop is my friend’s house, going to see if she has any other information on the Grail War. We’ll drop by my house first so I can pick up the books to return.” you told him brightly, tugging his sleeve slightly. “Oh, we’ll walk this way to pass by the leyline fountain so I can top up. You can chill when we get home. My friend’s place is walking distance.”

He blinked, peering down to where you were hanging onto his arm. He didn’t know what “chill” meant but he had enough context to assume that you intended on going alone.

“Do you dislike my company?” he asked hesitantly, and the notion was certainly disheartening for he very much enjoyed yours.

“No! Where did you get that idea? It’s just...well, you’re kind of hard to explain. People assume we’re together and if I rock up at my friend’s place with you, they’re definitely going to ask questions.”

He turned away. He doubted that this would be as much of an issue if he was not cursed. Seeing the world in physical form, exploring this country in this short pocket of time before battle had been too perfect perhaps. He was lucky to even have a taste of it at all. You were just trying to do some research without being harassed, yet he was causing you grief despite your kindness to him. A poor show of courtesy indeed yet neither did he feel comfortable letting you blindly walk the streets, no matter how competent you were in magecraft...

“...I fear for your safety even here, please allow me to accompany you, my lady. I will remain in spirit form for convenience.” he finally replies quietly, and your expression is sympathetic, noting the change in his demeanour.

“Thanks, it's more that it’s rude to bring a plus one without telling my friend first and well...I can’t really explain who you are.” you explain sheepishly and he shakes his head.

“I understand, please do not allow me to be an impediment to you. I am here to serve.”

You are visibly off-put by his submissiveness but don’t mention it, merely pulling out your phone and loading up some music as you clamber onto the bus. You proffered him an ear bud.

“Want to listen?”

The tune flows melancholy yet uplifting into his ear, and he marvels that symphonies have been captured into tiny blocks. You are lulled by the song, gazing at nothing as he watches you with fondness. He can’t help think of how the wire connects you two like a thread of fate.

You arrive at your stop shortly, as he re-attaches himself to your side and starts up the hill to your apartment. Your hold is tentative on his arm, as if you’re afraid of pressing too hard but as always, he places a hand over yours to silently assure you.

“Home sweet home!” you announce upon unlocking the door, setting about to gather the books into a bag.

You heave them up and grab your stick, marching back to the exit again. He reaches out, as if to alleviate the weight.

“Okay, ready to go incognito mode?”

“Yes, lady (Name).” He was starting to get used to your colloquialisms, knew it was a sign that you felt comfortable enough around him to speak informally. “However, I will not be able to observe much of the physical world while in that state, so please call upon me if there is anything that might trouble you.”

“Got it!”

He watched you meander out, listening to the tell tale click of the lock. Doing one last sweep of the room to ensure you hadn’t forgotten anything, he disappears into a cloud of emerald dust. He can detect your presence more easily now, can feel the magical energy that surrounds your friend’s house even if their features are a mystery to him. Time flows strangely as well, an hour could stretch and snap effortlessly, both eternal and instant. He’s aware certainly that you’ve been here for a long period now, as the atmosphere of a place shifts when night rolls in. But he gives you privacy, resting along the rooftop, hidden.

He knows it is near insult to feel sorry for you, but a part of him still does. You were young, surely less experienced than others in the War would be and far less prepared. You were going in blind, literally and figuratively. It strengthened his resolve to carry you through. That you might restore your sight, or whatever other wish you might have. For your principles were not so different, and that was more than he could say for the other teams perhaps. No, he would protect you, not let your bright spirit flicker into darkness.

“Are you okay walking back alone? It’s pretty late.” someone said below, as he looked down.

“Don’t worry! I’ll be fine, I’ll text you when I’m home.” you replied, waving goodbye and starting down the path as he leapt off to follow.

Hey, you there Diarmuid? Do you know where the Grail War is taking place this year?

Fuyuki City, Japan.

You swept your cane out ahead of you, hearing footsteps approaching that distracted you from your conversation. You tilted your head politely when you thought they were in range, avoiding a dip in the pavement--

Suddenly, they bolted up to you, pushing you to the ground . You tumbled onto the concrete, stunned and instinctively healing the scrape on your arm. Vaguely, you could feel Lancer’s roiling shock and anger through your spike of fear.

A knife sliced through the strap of your bag and wrenched it from your shoulder in one fluid motion. Your heart leapt upon feeling the steel of the blade on your clothes, but it doesn’t cut through. But the weight of the books must have surprised them. Grabbing onto their wrist, you tighten your grip as you prepare a spell. Before it can flow from your fingertips and force them to sleep though, there is a loud thump as the thief was thrown bodily away from you.

“(Name), are you alright?” Diarmuid questioned firmly, voice real and not in your head as it should have been.

“...I’m fine, thanks...what did you do?” you asked uncertainty because it sounded like the guy was knocked out.

You crawl around, trying to check if the impact of falling has injured their head but not finding them. You take a deep breath, quelling the anxiety in your chest. The lingering irritation and worry won’t abate though, and it takes you a while of soothing yourself to realise that it’s not your own emotions.

“I made him desist.” was all Lancer said, as he helped you up and gathered your damaged bag.

“...Is he injured?”

“Yes, but not significantly.”

Taking that as a cue that he wasn’t inclined on helping the assailant if he wasn’t mortally wounded, you turned on your perception spell, scanning the sidewalk. You find him crumpled several meters away, limbs sprawled awkwardly. When you approach, your hand finds blood. With a deep breath, you start the process of fixing his broken nose and bruises. You can feel your Servant’s hand on your arm, warm and steady.

When you’ve finished, you prop him up on the wall nearby. You tuck a bill into his hand. The rest of the walk home with Diarmuid is silent.

Chapter Text

”Wait!”

It burns, the light is too bright, too searing but they are in there, you have to get them out. Energy flares, you can hear the crackling as the safety runes are overloaded, see the vaguest outline of them ahead, if you can just get there…

Mana swirls around you, and he can tell that this brand of magic isn’t one he’s seen you use before. Diarmuid knows he is a mere observer, but still, he tries to pull you back from the inferno. They’re lost...just let them go lest you join them in death, you fool! What is the point of sacrificing yourself for nothing?!

But you can’t, and the fire eats you alive inside, your circuits are fraying behind your eyes. Fear, terror and anguish are strangling your heart. Even so, the air twists, for a second, nothing moves. You can feel their spellwork now, their shields. You grasp onto it, enhance it so that the flare of blue cuts through even the whiteness you’re drowning in.

“(Name)!”

You hold onto their voice, because you can’t see anymore. Everything had been so bright, and now there’s only darkness--

Diarmuid snapped awake to what was arguably the most dissonant noise he had ever heard, he was so startled that he was afraid that he was being attacked. Immediately, he called his spear to him before realising that the din was what one might construe as music. He bolted upright, as ShittyFluted’s rendition of Toxic by Britney Spears played from the phone on the nearby table. He feared that this song was something that you were playing with an instrument, and sincerely hoped that he would not be subject to it for the remainder of your duration together. Gods… It’s coming from the same device that yesterday had played such sweet melodies, truly the dichotomy between good and evil.

“Lady (Name)?” he called, scanning the room to find you sitting on the couch with a laptop.

“Ah, you’re awake!”

Mercifully, the tune was stopped and he stood there feeling awkward, Gáe Dearg in hand. He didn’t want to dematerialise it after just having used your mana to form his Noble Phantasm. You would surely have felt the pull and he supposed that he could use the opportunity to talk about his abilities to you. But you didn’t seem particularly keen on chatting, instead using your screen reader to listen to the goings on of your web pages.

He coughed.

“You were tossing in your sleep, I thought you might be having a bad dream so put on the good old alarm clock.” you explained at last over the reading of flight times. “But I’m proud, you actually decided to go to sleep last night!”

“I apologise, lady (Name). I will be more vigilant--”

“No! It’s good, resting is just as important as facing the day.” you assured him with a shake of your head, pointing at the kitchen.

He wilts inside because not only had he fallen into slumber but he had apparently awoken late enough that you deemed it suitable to make breakfast for him. After returning last night, you had turned in without much chatter. An offer of dinner had been made which he refused since you had eaten at your friend’s house. With nothing else to do, he had sat on his futon and stared at the wall while you slept, eventually lying down. He cursed himself before sinking into a bow.

“Thank you, my lady. I am in your debt--”

Baby, can't you see, I'm calling?
A guy like you, should wear a warning...
It's dangerous~

He flinches, its that annoying cacophony again, now new and improved with lyrics. He swivels around, surreptitiously trying to locate your phone to turn it off. With horror, he realises that you’re blaring it directly into his head through your bond.

Lady (Name)...!

Unfortunately, I have to play 5 seconds of “Toxic” everytime you unironically use m’lady. It’s just law, I didn’t make the rules.

...A cruel and unusual punishment...my apologies (Name) for forcing you to implement this.

Still, even though the pop song decreased in volume and the words vanished, the tune persisted on like quiet background music. He twitches.

Ah, sorry. It’s stuck in my head now. Feel free to close our connection.

He takes a deep breath. He’s faced blades and arrows, surely his Master’s music choices were not so insurmountable. It was in a great show of loyalty that he did not avail himself of escape. Instead, he busies himself by collecting a cup of water.

...It is no issue.

“If it is my place,” he asks in a slightly raised voice above the violins and strumming that infects the once treasured serenity of your link. “May I enquire as to why you assisted your assailant the night before?”

This war will be difficult with a pacifist mentality...

You know that last sentence hadn’t been meant for your ears. You make no indication of acknowledgement, instead turning in his general direction. There is much you want to say, from what you saw when you dreamed last night to what you know of him. “Toxic” dies out as you formulate a way to phrase your opinion.

“I read your legend.”

Diarmuid shifted, unable to place the kind of tone that was being used. It didn’t give anything away and while he did not harbour any hatred for the people in his life, he had liked the fact that he was anonymous here. That there had been no recognition in your eyes when he had given you his true name, that you had not treated him any differently. Instead, he simply waited for you to continue, tensing slightly. The change of subject had been too abrupt to be anything but deliberate.

“You had many adventures with Grainne, did you not? But you were trained in the ways of living in the wilds, in nature. To a certain extent, everyone in your time would have needed to know how.” you continued cordially.

If he wasn’t cautious before, he is fully wary now. Long prefaces were generally bad signs. Grainne it seemed, would always be a touchy topic, even if he had more than a thousand years to stew on it.

“It’s a different kind of abasement living on the streets. You cannot simply run into the woods to hunt and live, you cannot even die beneath the stars. To scrounge garbage and humiliate yourself, to be afraid at every turn of being beaten, robbed or worse. I cannot imagine the fear. If that man hadn’t already been in that situation, desperate, then he was attempting to stop himself from reaching that state. If I turn away, I may well have sentenced him to death in a situation where merely having the will to live is a feat I respect.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. It hadn’t been something he considered to such a great degree before, but then again he also had only arrived here a few days ago. He tries to think what it would be like for the servants of the castles, with nothing to their name, no hope of glory, only the promise of another day for their services. Certainly, it would not be a glamourous life but it was removed from bloodshed. It was not so bad, and that was not even addressing your assumption that all people were inherently good.

“Do you expect that those who would cause you harm will all be grateful? Then, should someone’s motives be vile, would you allow them to live on uninjured to hurt others? In such a case, your assistance would promote violence. Even if you need not slay them, you have encouraged their behaviour.” he answered coolly.

“I would risk this over killing someone who genuinely required help, for more often than not, people merely need aid.”

“Should your life be at risk? Or the lives of others, those you love?” he insisted.

“If you mean to say that there is only a choice between the life of one I love and a murderer, then of course my decision is clear. But there is always a choice, and it is not as if self defence is not permitted. I do not believe that there are no consequences to us beyond this life, to perish now is not so terrible. To cause harm and death however, is to condemn yourself.” you responded after a pause.

“...There must not be many remaining who hold these ideals, I assume that they would all be dead. You walk on a line that simultaneously does not care for the value of life yet is deeply invested in it. You claim compassion but merely push all responsibility of justice onto some higher power after death, so that you may keep your hands clean.” he observed quietly.

“And you would prefer the alternative? To go about slaughtering people for the sake of those you hold dear, with little regard for their connections? Are you so qualified as a paragon of virtue to deal judgement onto others?”

“I fear this kind of thinking, while admirable theoretically will inadvertently stand complicit to the suffering of others. If you willingly sacrifice yourself in your quest for nonviolence, you risk leading those who care about you towards vengeance and allow others to remain trapped in adverse conditions.”

You mulled over his words, though he could tell you were trying to see his meaning beneath them. He did not mean to imply anything, but he still noted that he would not be able to fight with honour if he was not allowed to fight at all.

“Do not worry, I will support and defend you. You are my first familiar, I summoned you forth and as such, I have a duty of care to ensure your happiness for however long you might stay. I know how you wish to serve loyally and battle gloriously, it is your choice. I will aid you, as six spirits must die regardless by the end of this War, so I will do my best to ensure that you are not among them.”

“Lady (Name), I thank you for that consideration even if it were not my angle. I see that you do not wish to engage in bloodshed, as such I will be your spear and blade. You need not sully your integrity. I will avoid killing where possible, save for Servants and their Masters.” he informed you politely, and mentally made a note that his killings were not to be reported lest they upset you through association with him.

Don’t be ridiculous…

“Thank you…” you said aloud, shutting your laptop.

...I do not wish for you to be disappointed with me. I want to bring you honour.

“Yes, I thank you for it. You are a chivalrous Heroic Spirit.” you said simply.

He bit his lip. The term ‘heroic’ isn’t one that he would use to describe himself, yet the Throne of Heroes had implied him as such, and now you used the same name.

“...I’m no hero.”

“No, you’re not.”

He turns, eyes wide. While he agreed, he did not expect you to. He didn’t know why he was a touch hurt, given that he himself had brought it up but when you had been nothing but supportive of him as of late, even something this minor was disturbing. He waited for you to explain, to soften the message but you didn’t. It dug into him.

“...Did you want to elaborate?”

“No thanks. But we are from different cultures, we cannot expect to see eye to eye on everything and since you in fact agree that you are not a hero, I suppose this is not point of debate.”

“Your opinion is important to me, I wish to know what you think so that I may improve.” he presses, watching your expression closely.

“There is nothing to improve. Things just happen the way they do and as I did not live your life, I can pass no judgement. We can only do our best in life.” you replied instead circuitously and he narrowed his eyes. “I appreciate your efforts to remain noble.”

“Do you not encourage me to speak my mind? Should you not afford me the same courtesy?” he retorts quickly, and you hesitate.

“Well...let me put it this way. Your tale is one of romantic love, which you lived and died for. But of what benefit was it to others? Were you particularly charitable, did you use your prowess to help anyone, sacrifice anything for the greater good? For Grainne certainly, and that’s fine, many would go to great lengths for their spouse’s. It’s a human thing to do, but heroism is for something beyond your own gain and romantic love...it is to a certain extent selfish in that regard. Perhaps it is not fair to say, for I respect filial piety and other forms of love to a greater degree. I’m not saying that doing small deeds of kindness is not due any respect, it is. But you had little time to focus on that during your flight. You’re only one man, doing your best. I appreciate that. But a hero? Then in the end, you were cursed to the last. Grainne married Fionn after your passing--”

The glass he was holding shattered in his hand, and you jerked from the sudden crash. He felt a sting of pain as the ceramic cut his hand. No sooner had the line of red appeared that you healed it though. Nonetheless, he can tell immediately that magic is twisting around you in spellwork that is neither healing or perception. He balks. You’re preparing to defend yourself, as if he might hit you.

He feels it before seeing any change in your disposition. Like the curling corners of a withering blossom, you’re closing your bond subconsciously to protect yourself from his turmoil. He supposes he’s disrupting your precious inner peace. Diarmuid grits his teeth, shocked and affronted. He sits there miserably, part processing the fact that Grainne had been just another product of his curse and that you were warily getting away from him. He sits there until the gentle light dies inside his chest and he’s alone. He realises abruptly that he has yet to dematerialise his red spear from earlier this morning, his white knuckled grip keeping it propped just slightly. Of course you would feel threatened by that in conjunction with the surge of bitterness in his emotions...

“...I’m sorry, you didn’t know…it was insensitive of me to bring it up.” you venture in an audible whisper.

“...Thank you, I should not have lost control in that manner either.” he said, torn between helping you clean up or trying to sort through the storm in his heart. “Please allow me to rectify this.”

But you were already in the kitchen and slinging a cloth over your shoulder. You collected the rubbish bin and wandered back swiftly. Your stick bumped into his leg and you visibly backpedalled to a respectful distance, making clear effort to give him a wide berth. He grimaced, watching you avoid him and walk the long way around the table as he stared at the floor.

You swept the shards away and mopped up the liquid. He tried to take the supplies from you, but you wouldn’t relinquish them. He takes a deep breath.

“I--”

“Please don’t apologise, Diarmuid. I have caused you distress by bringing up your past, when you are looking for a fresh slate. That wasn’t kind, and I’m sorry. I won’t talk about these things anymore. If you have need of anything, feel free to ask me.” your tone was gentle, but not sympathetic. Compassionate yet critical.

“...I, thank you.”

He glanced away. Words were hard to form now. Despite it all, he found that he was not entirely surprised by your news. A part of him had always known after all, that his affair had been an impulsive flight of youth. That it was doomed. But he had been alone and hated all that time before meeting the knights...and with how quickly Fionn had turned on him after he had finally found a home, he was suddenly, terribly adrift again. There had only been one other with him, and even if they happened to have been the one to force him to flee with them under geas, to abandon the brotherhood he had so longed for in his childhood, she had been better than no one. She had “loved” him after all…

But no. She had merely wanted a younger husband than Fionn. That in itself was not so reprimandable, a desire like that was understandable. Yet her choice to rip him from his friends despite his pleas to be allowed to remain...it had indicated a fundamental lack of respect, even through the curse of his love spot. His Mystic Face was not so instantaneous after all, prolonged exposure strengthened its pull and Grainne...she had only just laid eyes on him that night.

Chapter Text

It astonishes him how quickly he had managed to get used to the sensation of your bond in his chest, now it is cool, merely reminding him of your location and contract. You're not actively blocking him out, but you aren't reaching out either and he doesn't dare disturb you. He realises abruptly, that never once has he had a grasp of your emotions through it. All he had felt was serenity. Of course you would shield any negativity from him, he had been a fool to think you were merely unflappable. You refused to let him apologise, and he doesn’t know what else to do. He’s not upset with you either, you meant no malice with your words.

He sighed.

You had rejected his offer to go with you to the bank to sort out the finances required for the trip, and he was too anxious after your “pseudo conflict” the day before to protest as he normally would have. It would be uninteresting, he gathered or a meeting “drier than the Sahara desert” you claimed to dissuade him. Instead, he sulks after you in spirit form, far enough away that you can’t sense him. With a closed bond, it’s easy to follow you without being noticed. He pauses. He might not be sorry about the ideals he expressed, but he did promise to get you a new cup and he was contrite that he had broken it. What if it had been your favourite mug? He was sure you wouldn’t say anything, and he would just have to live with the fact that he ruined your yesterday.

He found a quiet street, materialising. Money, he needed currency in order to attain a cup for you. Hopefully, he would be able to upgrade that to a Grail in the coming weeks. But for now, he fiddles at the corner of your bond in an attempt to access your idea cache on how he might get a quick temp job. Scanning the area, his eyes land on a brilliant idea. He glanced back to where you were wandering down the street, bag full of papers in hand.

I will be quick.

With this in mind, he leapt off.

--*--

You could definitely tell that your Servant was doing something, scouting perhaps or running a marathon for all you knew. His mana fluttered strangely and his location is all over the place, but you put it out of your mind. Finance and accounting required 100% of your focus, and you’d need to have your thinking hat on as you worked out how you’d be able to plan a trip to Japan. He probably neeed some time to get over Grainne too, and exercise was a healthier outlet than the alternatives.

“You are too kind, I am in your debt for your generous purchase.”

You froze, you could recognise that overly formal vernacular anywhere even if your link didn’t firmly point to the fact that Diarmuid was apparently lurking around the mall like a pop up salesman. You winced, and mentally went through the list of things he could be selling. Namely, whatever he had access to in your house. Good grief… The fact that he had been stalking you despite your offer for him to remain home was not surprising either.

“Aha, not at all, young man! I’ve never seen you here before, do you grow these yourself?” a female voice was saying, obviously charmed by him even though you were sure he wouldn’t be so careless as to remove his glasses.

“No unfortunately, they are freshly collected. But thanks to your donation I can now complete my quest to attain a cup for my dear friend. You have my gratitude.”

You flicked on your perception spell, not really sure what to expect. A crowd of girls was surrounding your illustrious Heroic Spirit, which hid him from view but clearly some kind of transaction was occuring. Vaguely, you wondered whether you should have just left him some money. Taking a deep breath, you tapped your way over to reveal what his enterprising ways had wrought. You had half the mind to just continue going to the bank but unfortunately, you wanted to make sure your laptop was still there when you got home. Who knows, maybe he was really passive aggressive and all your forks would be missing or something.

“Lady (Name), I’m glad to see you!” he chirps upon catching sight of you, as if he didn’t already know you were there...

“Haha, me too! What a surprise!” you responded with equal enthusiasm even as you internally prepared yourself. “What are you doing here?”

“I have been selling these bouquets of wildflowers to the kind people of this establishment, I will use the proceeds to purchase for you a glass as recompense for the one I accidentally broke.” he explained pleasantly, noting that your cheerful tone was a touch forced.

You deadpanned, as the gabbling of his adoring fans makes you want to leave the middle of this weird circle and or hide your face. With looks like his, you were sure his sales were through the roof. How romantic, a guy going about begging people to buy orchids and stems of jasmine from him in order to pay a debt. Well, not really but you’re trying to paint the image. You reach out to grab him, so you can ask him to please next time just ask you for $10 but your hand brushes against the top of his head rather than his shirt.

You retract immediately, embarrassed.

Are you crouching?!

He cannot sense your exact emotion through the sealed bond, but even now he can tell instantly that you are something akin to distressed. Immediately, he stands from his respectful kneel warily. You want to get out of here, he can feel that you do not wish to be here any longer.

I have since ceased doing so, my lady. Please, tell me what is wrong that I might be able to assist you!

“Excuse me sir, soliciting business in this mall is prohibited.” a man’s voice said from behind Lancer.

Ah great, now we’re under attack from Paul Blart and the local mall cops.

He whips around, bristling at the new supposed threat. The poor security guard actually takes a step back from the hardness in his golden gaze, even from behind his shades. They did not look particularly well armed, but neither did a magus. If you considered them a danger enough to warn him of imminent assault, then it was his duty to ensure your wellbeing. The crowd around him was arguing that he was raising funds for his blind friend to afford cutlery, that he had to pick wild flowers for lack of work and the fact that he hadn’t even lied to make this sob story made you want to cry.

Have no fear, lady (Name). I will let no harm come to you from these ‘mall cops’, I will always carry you to safety.

What? Wait, DON’T--!

In one fluid motion, he had slung you up onto his shoulder, your bag pressed securely between you two. You’re stunned for a moment before he’s bolting out of there, A+ rank agility blitzing the remaining flowers he had yet to sell and showering the confused mob behind you in petals. You held on for dear life, feeling the wind whip past as he blew through the halls like a tempest. You felt his feet dig into the ground and mentally pray that he didn’t dig up the tarmac as he changed directions before you were abruptly hurtling through the air.

“You are absolutely crazy! We just ran from mall cops!” you blurted out when he finally came to a halt, probably halfway up a skyscraper. “Where are we?!”

“I apologise for the sudden departure, (Name). I have vacated the area, we are atop a building in a neighbouring precinct currently.” he informed you politely, keeping a lookout in case you were pursued.

For once, you’re glad you can’t tell how high. You groan, and your Servant checks you worriedly. Then, you’re laughing at the ridiculousness of this entire situation. What a scene you two must have made. You wish you could have seen the expressions on the faces of those innocent shoppers. Lancer might not understand, but you’re grinning and he can feel the mirth and amusement through your bond, which gleams warm and open again within him. He holds you closer, comforted by this fact as you steady yourself against his shoulder. He waits for you to settle, chortles dying away.

“My lady?” he prompts gently, watching as you tilt your head slightly towards him.

“You’re killing me, Diarmuid.”

“(Name)! I would never do such a thing!” he protests immediately, heart clenching that you thought him capable of such barbarism.

But no, you had said he was in the process of killing you. Panicked, he set you down and began trying to find your injury. Had he been careless? Had your limb caught on something when he had fled? But he couldn’t see any obvious blood on your clothing. Frantically, he grabbed your shirt to pull it--

“Woah! Calm down, not literally! It means you’re hilarious!”

“Oh.”

He lets go, as you brush yourself off but don’t get up. You exhale, a distant look crossing your features.

“...I’m in over my head, aren’t I? You really are this ancient warrior incarnate, destined to go fight in this great war and I’m just some nobody magus. How did this happen, hm?”

He just peers at you, the way your sightless eyes are aimed at nothing. You’re searching for an answer. He remembers that you have faith in the universe to provide justice in the end, even if it might not be within one’s lifetime. He stands.

“...If you are so inclined to believe it, then perhaps fate has drawn us together.” he provides evenly, and you nod. “...And, I am eternally grateful that it chose for me a Master like you.”

“You flatter me, did you use these compliments to win over buyers?”

“I did not know my clients well enough to offer them such esteem, even if their patronage was appreciated.” he told you innocently and you swept a hand through your hair.

“Hey, I’m sorry about last night. Are we...okay?”

His gaze softened, and you felt a pinch of sorrow from through link. But he smothers it quickly, and you wonder when he started doing that.

“Of course.”

“...Are you okay?”

“Yes, lady (Name).”

He wasn’t, not right now but there was no point languishing on the past. At the very least, it was over and strange as it was, a part of him was relieved. His life had been a tapestry of joy and tragedy, there were moments of lustre and stretches of agony. But as long as he could serve you, as long as he could fulfill his dream of being commended as a loyal and faithful knight, maybe none of that suffering mattered. He had a second chance now, and so far...he thinks it’s going better than his last.

“...Is it beautiful up here?” you ask suddenly, and he welcomes the distraction.

Diarmuid looked around, the streets below were narrow and unkept, stray litter blowing in the breeze. Then, he glanced at your face, peering out at nothing. He wanted to describe something beautiful to you, not the dirty lanes and mundane cars. He gazed further, to the distant mountains. He wasn’t a poet, but for you, he would try.

“Yes. There are stony peaks, grey as early dawn light in the distance and cool enough they blend into the skies. And the skies, they are a brilliant blue like calm seas. Misty and soft, I can see common flax lilies, river tarenna…”

“I’m glad. I just wanted to know, whether you were happy here.”

“I am.” he says simply, earnestly because the blazing light within him that you share is the closest thing he’s come to know as faith.

“...I do still need to go to the bank before it closes though.”

He nodded, reaching out to hoist you up and back to that mall again as you swatted his hand away. As if sensing his logic, you dodge away.

“Wait! Not back to that same branch. We can’t go back there, not today or maybe even all year until they forget about the pair of weirdos that darkened their doorstep!”

“...Are we on the run from the law?” he questioned hesitantly, because he couldn’t see why you were banned from the entire place for his crime of selling flowers. If so, he would need to go clear your name.

“No, not unless you broke into people’s houses to get those flowers...in which case, yes.”

“I assure you on my honour I did no such a thing.”

“Well, we’re all good! You apparently just raided all the local parks, congratulations!” you reply with a laugh, getting up. “Onwards and upwards then!”

He smiled, scooping you up before stepping off the edge. He could feel the initial fear when he fell, but it soon settled into elation at the sensation of flying as he would land lightly, safely. You didn’t feel heavy or awkward in his arms, but like you were meant to be there. So despite your differences, he finds that like souls really do always find easy company with one another.

Arriving in a deserted back street, he guides you the rest of the way to the shopping center. It’s a smaller one, but you seem content as he loiters outside the entrance for you. Then, he spies it. A hat shop, and among the range of items is the sought-after fedora you had mentioned to him all those days ago (yes, he had Googled it while you slept). You would take a while, so he had time to go shop before needing to escort you back home again…

--*--

“Yeah, so it’s a good thing the exchange rate was so good at this time! Got lucky.” you were telling him as you unlocked the door back home.

“Indeed (Name), and I have further good news to add.” he announces proudly, and you look momentarily scared as to what that means. “While you were in the finance den, I acquired a number of items using my newly earned currency.”

Something felt was pushed into your hand and you flipped it over. A hat? And the top was indented...ah, of course he did that. And now you were to blame for making him a fedora tipping #niceguy. Somehow, you doubted this would affect his ratings though.

“Wow, I can’t believe you actually found one…”

“Not only one, my lady. I had enough funds to purchase two as the sales assistant kindly offered up her employee discount to me. She even offered to meet up again with me after her shift ended to help me pick your cup, which I had to decline, unfortunately. Thus, I have selected a glass as best I could alone, I hope you find it suitable.”

“...Ah okay, thank you.”

Said fedora was promptly plucked from your grip and placed atop your head, and you didn’t have the heart to take it off after you two had just been reconciled. He's trying so hard to be extra nice after all, and you knew it when he made sure to tell you that it looked 'fashionable' on you. You don't think he even knows what that really means. Karma had come for her dues it seems. You could only imagine what you two looked like now, you might as well go all in and start carrying around a matching spear like cosplay doubles. Instead, you focused on the new mug he had found for you. Thoughtful of him, you think to pick one that was so textured. You trace the design, trying to work out what it is.

“It reminds me of my old home.” he supplies quietly and you turn your head down.

“Thank you, it’s perfect.”

Chapter Text

You re-listened to the message from your friend, then promptly turned up the volume and faced it towards your Servant so he knew that it was directed at him. You pressed play on the short Youtube video at the same time as the caption was blared by your screen reader. In it, he saw himself selling flowers and you chatting to him. It really was impressive this technology, how it could capture moments in time perfectly...

”Local supermodel and potential Olympian sells flowers to raise money for blind girlfriend.”

Diarmuid blinks in confusion, understanding the words separately but not together. Or more accurately, why you were seemingly aggrieved by this. Uncomfortably, he took the laptop from your hands and read through the article.

“...What is a supermodel?”

“You. You ‘is a supermodel’.” you replied with incorrect grammar as he shifted his gaze.

“...I don’t know what that means.”

“It’s someone who gets paid to look hot, put on high fashion clothes and strut down catwalks.” you explained as he reflected on that day.

He hadn’t done any of those things as far as he was concerned. He had worn the same clothes you had picked out, and yes they had been matching but it couldn’t be helped. You had explained that all your pants were one colour, and all your shirts were another so you could tell just from their cut whether they needed to be part of the ‘dark’ or ‘light’ side of laundry. You were trying to save money for your trip so you didn’t want to get him a different outfit either. When he had offered to go and ‘obtain more currency’ you had immediately rejected that without hearing his idea. In fact, you made him hold your hand for the rest of the day in a move he was starting to realise was so you could make sure he wasn’t running off. It didn’t seem such a big deal to him, but if your expectant look as anything to go by, he was incorrect. Perhaps that was not the issue?

“...Are you not my friend who is a girl?”

“Of course we’re still friends, Diarmuid.” you laugh, flopping over on the couch with a sigh. “They mean that we are dating, and now this tabloid story is public.”

He hesitated. He didn’t know what dating meant, but felt silly to keep pestering you with questions. Instead, he just busies himself with reading the page, scrolling down to the comments.

”He was the fastest man I’ve ever seen! He should join the Olympics and make money!”

”It was such a sad story! I went and bought three bouquets to support him and his girlfriend :’( Hope their financial situation works out soon!”

”He was so handsome! It’s wasted on a partner who is blind lol!”

”Haha, the guy is way too hot for her! xD”

He slammed the laptop shut. He understood now.

“They insult you. Rest easy, lady (Name). I will go and defend your honour.” he promised gravely, already halfway across the room.

Initially lounging casually on the couch, you immediately spring to your feet, barring the door and shaking your head. You raise your arms out.

“No! No, do not do that! That is not the problem! Sit down!” you protest frantically because who knew what ‘defend your honour’ meant?

It could be anything from replying to every single mildly disrespectful comment with 5 different accounts to showing up at all of their houses with a spear in hand to duel them to the death. You held out your hand quickly. As expected, he instinctively took it as chivalry dictated and you relaxed. If you had one hand hostage, it meant he wasn’t up to any other shenanigans.

“I don’t need you to white knight the depths of the Internet.” you joke as he squeezes your fingers.

“...But I am a knight, my lady please allow me to--”

“Nope! 100%, absolutely not. The reason I showed you that was to let you know we need to be more discreet. All the illusion enchantments in the world aren’t going to hide us if we’re showing up on Facebook feed stories.” you said, leading him back to the living room by way of perception spell.

“...I see, I will have it taken down.”

“Will you? How?”

“I will find the original poster, and ask them to remove their incriminating video and associated posts.” he informed you promptly, placing his other hand over yours ‘comfortingly’.

Poor, precious boy. You just shook your head, plopping back down on the couch and making sure your laptop was out of his reach. Unfortunately, he mistook this as a lack of faith on his commitment to the cause.

“I assure that I mean to complete the task, should they refuse I will challenge them to honourable battle over the rights to the posts.” he vowed quietly, tone serious.

“The internet, Diarmuid, is like the ocean. Once you drop of cup of water in, you can never fully take it out again. It’s out there, somewhere forever now. All we can do is keep a low profile and hope it is replaced by a cat meme or something.” you explained, trying to use a metaphor he would understand. “Anyway, you can’t go dark web hitman on all the commentators in the time we have before our flight.”

He blinked, still bewildered by your modern slang even though the Grail had provided him with fluency in your native tongue and the language of the battleground. But, you were still warily clinging to his hand so he supposed that meant ‘no’. He frowned that others would say such rude things about you carelessly like that, if what you said was true, their words were enshrined for eternity on that digital platform. And how callous to let something like that live forever, especially when you were a person who least deserved vitriol.

“Come’on, the cab will be here soon. Care to help me move the bags?” you asked to take his mind off it, you were starting to get used to his code of conduct.

He practically bounded off to collect them, carrying them all to the door in one trip as you stood around feeling useless. You think you have everything, but then again you’ve never flown straight into a magus war either so it’s hard to say. But you summoned the Servant, so here you are to see it through come hell or high water.

“My lady,” you cued ‘Toxic’ as Lancer faltered before proceeding to deposit that fedora on your head, “You nearly forgot this.”

“...Thank you.”

“It is no problem!” he replied, more aware than you realised that you were for whatever reason, not fond of that hat.

However, he thought it best if you two did actually look connected. Being as you were, he was wondering whether you got bullied. He understood a little of how that felt, to be ostracized and harassed for no reason. But his had lasted only through childhood, after which his prowess with the sword and spear had put an abrupt end to that. Yet neither was your disposition withdrawn or soured as a result, so perhaps he was wrong. Still, he didn’t like the notion and believed that it may lessen if he was at your side, and clearly associated. Another part of him found it fair repayment for the Britney Spears song you kept playing whenever he called you by your rightfully respectful title.

He paused, one hand pulling you luggage and the other guiding you to the pick up point. It was raining, sheets of grey pouring down.

“Hang on!” you pulled out an umbrella, a burst of vivid red through the storm.

His hand grasps the handle quickly, sheltering you both and it feels cosy under here with him, walking shoulder to shoulder. The colour suits you, vibrant and spirited, he thinks as you stay close to avoid getting wet. It’s the same scarlet that will stain your chest in the weeks to come, pooling beneath your limbs as he watches in horror, at how you bleed out onto the ground. And he’d lament how love, in all its splendor had no power over death.

“So, you remember the drill right? I’ll get you an escort pass at the airport so you can walk me to the gate, then quickly you go find somewhere hidden to dematerialise then hop on the plane in spirit form!” you reminded him as he nodded, trusting in his speed.

“I assure you that I will make haste.”

You make it to the airport in good time, as you talk your Servant through the checkpoints and what signs to look out for. He is attentive and patient, showing you the way with little instruction.

“What is it?”

He had stopped, interested in something so you joined him. It wasn’t anything living, or you would sense their life force. With that in mind, you reached out and touched glass.

“They are all of them trapped in this prison.” he noted as you tilted your head in confusion. “What is the purpose?”

“Well, I don’t know what it is so I can’t tell you. What does it look like?” you ask uncertainly, because you bet you two look like a couple of creeps right now depending on what it was.

“A menagerie of plush animals, toys I presume but no one can play with them in there.” he replied seriously as you laughed. “They are stuck in this cube, (Name).”

“Oh, yeah that’s called a ‘claw grab machine’. You put in a coin and if you are lucky, you can rescue one of them from their fate.” you informed him with a grin as he hummed. “Did you want to play?”

“I see, no thank you. I have abyssal luck and surely would have better odds if I tried to reach through the glass.” he said and immediately you were fumbling to grab his hands, as he peered at you curiously.

“Yeah, we don’t do that. Breaking stuff, its illegal. But! We can have a go if you would like, I think maybe you’ll win one.” you said brightly as he contemplated the choice.

He wouldn’t have acquiesced to using your money, but since he had a sum with him now from his flower escapade, he didn’t mind trying to save one of the stuffed animals. You seemed confident in his abilities after all, and he didn’t want to deny you on something so simple. Slotting in a coin, he swiveled the joystick to the one he wanted. Your hands are pressed against the machine, you’re staring so intently he almost believes you can see. He can tell you’re burning mana and wonders whether this really is so fascinating.

Carefully, he maneuvers the llama with a little green bow over the opening. At one point, the tines seem to let his prize slip but it doesn’t fall through.

“Congrats! You got it!” you cheered the plush toy appears behind the flap at the bottom. “Can I feel?”

“Thank you (Name), I have won it for my lady.” he says as you’re given the thing to hold.

Now you two really look like a couple, but you think it’s a lost cause at this point because the universe seems to have deigned to consign you two to partnership. Maybe it’ll help him not get mobbed by girls? Who knows... Diarmuid for his part, is pleasantly surprised, given that he fully expected to lose any luck-based game. This must be a good omen at long last, he thinks. You’re smiling happily, and it only further boosts his mood. Had he not been distracted, he might have noticed that it hadn’t been perception magic you used back there, but probability manipulation. What he did notice, however was that you were disproportionately tired.

“Lady (Name), would you like to stop for a meal?” he offered, in an attempt not to point it out but allow you respite.

“Sure, might be easier to buy a snack. They usually have marts near the gates.” you suggest, listing off a common food item. “How much is it?”

“There are many brands of the item you are seeking, some are also advertised as 15% off.” he read promptly, rummaging about the shelf.

“Let’s just grab the cheapest price per unit one then, we can get something good in Japan.”

Silence.

“...My lady, I apologise but I cannot. The Grail has failed to refine my mental maths capabilities, as such I cannot calculate percentage discounts or ‘price per unit’s.” he admitted miserably, and you made sure he wasn’t crouching again by holding onto his arm. “However, I do not wish to fail you in such a simple task so I will go and seek assistance.”

“No, it’s fine! Just collect any one then. Tons of people have trouble with math.” you reassure him gently.

“You lie to make me feel better...but I appreciate it.” he mumbled, and the fact that he felt comfortable enough to even accuse you of anything made you grin.

“Nonsense!” you tell him with a look of mock offence. “I wouldn’t, don’t we have at least that much respect for each other? Here, I promise that I will never lie to you.” you say, hand over your heart and somehow you can tell he’s kneeling again the moment you let go.

“And I pledge to you the same, (Name).”

Chapter Text

“Hostel sweet hostel!”

You announce upon unlocking the door to your new room for the next few weeks, Diarmuid smiles at your flourish as you sweep your stick about to explore. He places your luggage in the corner (he had to insist on carrying it for you upon landing in Japan once he did materialise). You’re too compassionate, too gentle to be sullied by the coming bloodshed, he thinks. But he’s too selfish, cannot give up his dream, knows that this might be his last chance, his best shot at absolution. He’s aware that you’re only here to fulfill his wish to serve, and how ironic that you seek only to bring him contentment while he strives to hand you glory. He wants much, perhaps enough to be considered greedy but he can’t help it. He wants and wants and...watches you puff up proudly after mapping the layout.

“I managed to get a private room for us at a great rate! Pretty lucky, huh? You’ll have to take the top bunk as I don’t like tempting fate trying to climb up that ladder every night.” you informed him brightly and he glanced over.

“Lady (Name), I have no need for rest. The war will take place mostly at night so I will unlikely make use of this amenity.” he informed you politely as you waved away his concern.

“You say that now, but I happen to advocate sleeping as a universal hobby.” you assured him airily, “Besides, it was the same price and I need an enclosed room so I won’t disturb all the other guests with my audio devices. So essentially, hello roomie!”

“I’m honoured to be your ‘roomie’.”

“Oh stop it, come’on, let’s go get some groceries for dinner tonight to seal our roommate contract.” you reply, locating your backpack and slinging it up.

“I can go and acquire the requisite items, my lady. Please be content to wait here for me.” he offers as you ‘tsk’.

“Is that going to be your preferred tactic throughout this war too? Come here, let me show you something.” you say, beckoning him as he steps closer. “Prepare to see the strings that hold the universe together, my guy!” you tell him and he honestly has stopped trying to puzzle out the meaning in your embellished speech patterns.

What he does pay attention to though, is the sudden surge of mana through him. It feels soft, like liquid gold and he wonders when he started finding such comfort in your spellwork. It cloaks him in warmth and harmony, and he yearns for it something desperate now that he’s had a taste. His eyes widen as everything seems to slow for a second, then he blinks. The world is sharper, he can notice the tiny details in the trees outside, can feel the lifeforce of each of the twittering birds outside, the individual symbols on the tags of your clothes. Everything seems more distinct, but somehow all the information is not overwhelming, he can still analyse it. He looks further, to the distant buildings closer to the city. What vantage points might other Servants--

“Perception enhancement! Probably does a lot more for you than it does for me, hm? It’s stronger when we’re near each other. So you won’t be ambushed!” you announce with a grin, sensing his surprise. “Besides, with your enchanted jacket and the concealer I slapped over my Command Seals, it will be difficult for other teams to even recognise us as part of the war.”

“I see, that is most helpful lady (Name). I am merely concerned for your safety.” he reminded you evenly.

“Well, you seem like the type that will never not be concerned about my safety. So let’s go! Besides, you might need someone to help calculate those bargains.”

You laugh as he sighs, mumbling something about acquiring a calculator. But he knows you’re teasing is good natured, and it’s early yet in the war. Might as well let you tour while you could. He held out his arm, leading you outside and taking a look at the map in the lobby before heading out. The path is quiet, most of the other guests were out at this time since there wasn’t much to do around the hostel. You’re singing to yourself in your mind (not Toxic thankfully, and he doesn’t even think you like that infernal tune that much), but a softer melody. It’s so different from the music he knew, but he’s fond of it when he feels your attachment to the lyrics.

Suddenly he stops, eyes sharp as he focuses on a specific house across the street. You’re still walking, and make to slip your arm from his as you do when he pauses to look at curiosities. But he tightens his hold immediately, pulling you back. You bump into him, clearly confused but quiet as his unease seeps through your bond, making you tense warily. He narrows his eyes, there had been...a flash of movement in the window, too fast to be natural. He’s still getting used to his heightened senses but there had been something there.

He takes a deep breath, feeling your lifeforce next to him, strong and effervescent in comparison to the dulling light within--

“Someone is dying in there!” he exclaims, startled as you whip your head around. “Lady (Name), we must act quickly if we wish to save them.”

“Where?” you ask worriedly, bewildered but he can sense your acquiescence to his call through your link.

It was broad daylight...who would be so bold as murder right here? You follow him over to the home, as he peers in through the windows. Now you can sense it too, the heaviness and stickiness in the air. Something is wrong. You soothe your anxiety though, knowing that your Servant will let no harm befall you. There’s a loud crack as the door is kicked open, then you’re being pulled along inside, the stench of iron in the silent halls.

Diarmuid, would I not be a liability?

Do not concern yourself over that, I would not have you alone if some deranged killer is indeed on the loose. Stay close.

You kept the tips of your fingers against his back, a sickening feeling building in the pit of your stomach the further you walked into the place. The life energy here was recently twisted, too close to death for what should have been a residential abode. In fact, you can’t detect the ebbing energy that Lancer had said, the place was devoid of life…

“Lancer?”

But he doesn’t reply, you can tell he’s crouching to investigate something though. You can’t tell what, given that you’re channeling most of your spellwork to heighten his perception. It’s dark, shaded and eerie in your heart despite the afternoon sun outside.

“They are already gone.” he finally informs you, and his tone is strained.

Disgust, shock, outrage.

You put your hand on his shoulder, trying to think of something to say when he suddenly pushes you behind him, the sound of metal against metal ringing through the air. His pang of surprise and irritation surges through you like wildfire. But you can’t sense anyone, there’s nothing living nearby…

“Only cowards lurk in the shadows, show yourself if you have any self-respect.” Diarmuid commands, tone cold as something chitters nearby.

Wind suddenly whips up around you as a consequence of what you know to be Lancer’s speed, a pitched screech piercing the silence along with the sound of punctured flesh. You snap your empty gaze around as the thump of something being dumped heavily can be heard. A body. Even now, there is nothing though. You cannot hear or feel this other Servant.

...It is done. I thank you for your perception enhancement, (Name). The Servant is slain.

You want to ask what he’s seeing, but he is in no mood to talk. This is confirmed as you feel him pick you up, leaping from the accursed place, leaving the stench of blood behind. You shift uncomfortably. It’s a risk to travel by this method during the day, so you’re sure it was something terrible for him to want to vacate this quickly…

“...What was it in there?”

“I do not think you wish to know, my lady.”

“Ignorance will do me no favours.”

“...A murder scene. The child was mutilated, along with the rest of the family. Hearts ripped out, they were clearly looking for mana. From their presence concealment, we can assume that they were an Assassin Class.” he revealed with an exhale, fingers digging into you slightly as he paused atop a rooftop.

You shut your eyes, tried not to picture it and didn’t reply. Diarmuid didn’t elaborate on the fact that all their throats had been slit prior to their death, so at least the disfigurement had occurred after they would no longer have felt the pain. Nonetheless, the fact that they had been shredded like that at all made his skin crawl. And their eyes...they had been the exact same shade as yours in the gloom. His hands curled into fists. It had been too easy though. Your enhanced perception helped him pinpoint an otherwise elusive foe fighting in his preferred terrain, and hiding the fact that he was a Servant must have given him some element of surprise but it still rung out too much like a set up. He glanced back at you, laying in his grip placidly.

The battlefield was no place for you.

He sweeps his gaze over the area, checking that you weren’t being followed before carrying you back to your shared room. He took your backpack and sat you down on your bottom bunk.

“Please remain here.” he requested, although there was a certain edge in his tone that hadn’t been there less than an hour ago. “We were fortunate that the Servant was seemingly so weak, but something tells me that there is more to it than that.”

He seemed conflicted between glueing himself to your side to ensure your wellbeing or completing your quest for groceries. Apparently, the latter won out as he retrieved your wallet. You would need food either now or later, so the trip was inevitable. It would be good to test the range of your perception enhancement as well.

“I will return promptly, my lady.” he informs you, and you hear him depart.

He’s disturbed, you gather and so you just sit there for a while, unsure of what to do other than unpack. Standing, you set about establishing a bounded field, a small one mainly for detection purposes as opposed to defense. You have an inkling that maybe sending your gallant knight off without a shopping list would not bode well, given his grasp on currency value but there was no point crying over spilt milk now. He’d return with whatever he returned with. In the common room, the report on the TV catches your attention.

“Breaking News: Serial mass murderer continues rampage through Fuyuki City, the bodies of a further three families were found today. Killer seems to be targeting children and young women, police are investigating suspects.” the newscaster announces, continuing on to urge anyone with information to come forth.

“Scary stuff, isn’t it? Haven’t seen you around before, just got here?”

You turned at the stranger’s voice, nodding in agreement as you swept your stick out to find the couch nearer their voice.

“Yeah, murders seem to be all over the city too...so maybe it’s a group.” you replied quietly as you heard him rummage about.

“Mhm, best be careful out there. Want one? Oh, they’re rice crackers by the way.” he describes as you feel the packaging in your palm. “So...how did you become blind?”

“Thank you.” they are individually wrapped, you note and that provides you some security that they aren’t spiked. “It’s a long story, don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Ah okay, I understand. Once I broke my ankle and had to use a crutch for weeks! So, I can sort of relate.” he laughed amiably, in an attempt to change the subject as you chuckled weakly along. It wasn’t really the same, but you didn’t want to make things awkward when they were clearly trying to be friendly. “Let’s watch something else, huh?”

“So is your partner blind as well?” he continued as the channel was changed to some movie.

“He’s just a friend and no, the glasses are just cosmetic for him. It’d be a real blind leading the blind if not, right?” you joked as the audio from the screen played.

The sound of some sudden action from the film startled you, some kind of violence was occuring in the story apparently. You’re not particularly fond of the horror genre for this reason, sometimes it’s hard to tell what is fake and real when things like this are blaring. You can feel your connection with Diarmuid flaring, and think that he must have sensed your discomfort. You cough, not wanting to admit that just this audio was reminding you of the sound that a spear made when piercing organs and slicing muscle.

“I might go back to my room, thanks for the snack. See you around!”

“Sure!”

You’re startled when the stranger grabs your arm, stumbling a little out of your seat in confusion. You instinctively try to pull away but they don’t let go. You think they are just trying to help, they mean well but it’s scary sometimes to just be seized. You don’t know what they are thinking, whether you might be mugged and after today’s events...you’re a little more alert than usual.

“Ah, no thanks! Ask me first next time if I need help, and let me take your elbow if I do.” you protest as they stand still.

“Sorry, I was just trying to help since your friend was out--”

The entrance door banged open, their excuse was cut short and shifted into a yelp of pain, their fingers suddenly snapping away. You could sense that your Servant was back but what exactly he had done was a mystery to you.

“Do not presume to touch them without their permission.” Lancer informed them flatly, as the other guest muttered out an apology and shuffled off.

Is he hurt?

...No. I only gripped his wrist.

You sighed, this was going to make things extremely awkward, you surmised. You’d just have to use the kitchen at a different time from now on apparently. You picked up your stuff, deciding to retreat to your room. If you apologised to the guy, Diarmuid would take that as you reproaching him. From the sounds of it, he had run off already anyway. Your Servant shouldn’t have used force as he had, but you could tell how on edge he was since the incident this afternoon. As if sensing your disapproval, he waited until the door was closed before speaking.

“Please--”

“With all due respect, lady (Name), if I am overprotective, I only come across as unapproachable but if I am careless, you may perish. Of the two outcomes, I know which mistake I find preferable.” he interjected swiftly and you hummed in acknowledgement. “I endeavour not to displease you...” he added more deferentially.

“Yes, I know, thank you.” you said, because you could already tell he was aware that he was being chided without you saying much.

But you didn’t know, he thought. That for this precious time that he had, he had vowed to bring you your unrequested victory. That you might be injured while under his watch was a failure he could not allow. Your blindness only made him all the more protective. You had been kind to him, made it too easy for him to care about you, someone who would soon vanish from his life like good things were wont to do. For this, he wondered whether he was weak or reckless to brave affection for his Master.

“...We need to put the milk into the fridge by the way.” you piped up from where you were sorting through his loot, and he went to collect the cold items you were holding up.

As his fingers brushed against yours he considered, yes, you were worth the pain of separation that this war had inevitably condemned you both to.

Chapter Text

“Oh Lance, you’re just in time!”

He practically teleports to your side upon hearing your aggrieved tone, crouching down and touching your back so you knew he was there. You were in front of a dryer, empty basket in hand and rummaging fruitlessly within. Your face wore a frustrated pout and he immediately started shortlisting the potential causes.

“What ails you, my lady?” he asked worriedly as you turned to him.

“I think someone accidentally took our clothes, do you mind helping me take a look to see if it's in here?” you ask as he nods, quickly scanning the communal laundry room.

“It’s not here.” to think that some thief would desecrate the honour system of your hostel laundry policy, it rankled. “Be not distressed, I will seek out the culprit.”

“No, it’s okay! I already told the front desk, they agreed to put a notice out later today. Why don’t we just hop out to buy a spare set?” you excuse quickly, standing with a sigh.

Lancer narrowed his eyes. He had an inkling of who had done this, so it seemed that violence did breed malice indeed. That man from that other day must have been feeling petty. But he knew you would not acquiesce to him stalking his subject until he was caught red handed. So he merely inclined his head, humming in agreement and following you back to your room. Even though it had been a few days since the incident, he is still wary of encountering another Servant while out.

“I can make the trip, (Name).” he offers as you shake your head.

“Without my perception enhancement, you wouldn’t have detected Assassin. They would have been able to continue right on murdering.” you countered calmly, before glancing to the side. “But...did you hear the news? They are still finding bodies…”

“Yes, I suspect that they are not truly dead. All the more reason to be cautious.”

“Thank you for your concern, but I would like to go.” you say simply, taking his arm as he reluctantly starts walking.

He makes a point to take a route through crowded areas, despite needing to watch you more closely through these paths. So it was that you two showed up at the clearance clothing section again. Feeling out a shirt, you held it up.

“How is this?”

“Lady (Name), you would look stunning in any attire.” he praised in his classic avoidance technique.

“Come’on, if I wore a potato sack you’re doing to say I look like a pop star?”

“...Of course not, but you would be beautiful regardless of your fashion choices.”

“Thanks for the self esteem boost, but seriously, does it look like what other people around me are wearing? Or what I’m wearing right now?”

Lancer stared at a passing woman, who blushed and hurried off. There were certainly some differences between her coat and your chosen articles. Safer to just buy something that was exactly the same as what you and him were already donning. Yet he imagined that you might look nice in a dress he had just spotted. His cheeks tinted slightly suddenly. You’d wear anything he selected since you couldn’t see…? Ah, and where did such thoughts even come from…Coughing guiltily, he pulled his choice from the hangers and pressed it into your hands quickly.

Feeling the cut, you tilt your head in surprise.

“It was cheaper than buying two separate pieces, and is part of the darks of laundry.” he explained as you nodded, going off to the changing rooms with the dress. “It will differentiate our clothing as well.”

“Awesome, thanks. Hey, have you had ice cream before?” you asked upon returning as you two made your way through the cash register.

“No, but I’m aware of what it is.”

“Let’s go get some! I’ve been trying to think of a bucket list for you while you’re here.”

“...Bucket list?”

“Yeah, things you have to do in your lifetime!”

“Oh.” he looked at your expression, cheerful. “Do you expect to die in this war?”

“...I don’t know. But either way, you’ll be gone when it ends, whether we win or lose. So, let’s make the most of it while it lasts, huh?”

He shut his eyes briefly. Yes, he supposed that he would vanish back to the Throne of Heroes upon the completion of this tournament. Yet, strange as the modern world was, he couldn’t help but entertain the idea of staying, maybe just a while longer. You certainly made his stint enjoyable, and he could imagine you two going travelling perhaps. It would be...nice, to get away from it all with good company. So maybe...he had a wish after all. You mistook his silence for despondence.

“Don’t worry, whatever it takes, I know we can make it through.” you encouraged, resting your hand on his shoulder as he gently took it, kissing your knuckles.

“I know.” he murmurs, because you make him believe that fate is kind and for that, he’d follow you to the end of the world.

You grin, turning your attention to potential ice cream parlours nearby, or more accurately, telling him what to keep an eye out for. He ends up with a scoop of rocky road, left to ponder the delightfully smooth combination of the cold, crunchy and soft textures. Then, he realised that he had long since started associating sweet things with you. But how couldn’t he? When you looked too cute nursing your spoon of ice cream. You hadn’t even intended on getting one but the server had been so captivated (by his curse) that she gave him an extra scoop for free. So you’d just paid for a spare paper cup.

While it’s still afternoon even after you two are done grabbing an actual meal and meandering, Diarmuid still ushers you home. He wants you safely tucked away long before the sun sets as fun as sightseeing is.

“What the hell is that?” you suddenly whispered, head whipping around to face the sewers that lead beneath the city. “Why are they all...how is he--”

“(Name), what is it?” your Servant asks sharply, clutching you closer and sensing your revulsion and horror.

“Can you sense that? All the insects in their body? There must be thousands of them, I can’t...I’ve never seen anything like that...” you continued in a troubled tone, not facing him but eyes glued somewhere distant.

“Heighten my perception.”

You hesitate, before your ‘vision’ goes dark as magic pours into Diarmuid. He can feel it now too, the writhing of flesh in this stranger’s body. It is sickening and he tenses. Something wicked is wandering the lanes beneath the city.

“They are in pain.” you mention, and he can see where you’re going with this already. “Is it safe for us to see if they need help?”

“...I suppose. I will guard you.”

He helps you down the steps, peering into the shadows of the tunnel. Diarmuid can just see the outline of someone further within, slumped against the wall. He looks unconscious, although very much alive if not dying. He can also tell you’re taking some of your perception back.

Do you think Assassin did this?

Definitely not, the injuries are different. That Servant would have taken his heart.

You knelt next to the man, who didn’t react. You knit together the flesh you could feel was broken and calmed his stress, which in turn appeared to render the worms less agitated. But you’re shocked that despite this advanced a stage of infestation, he is relatively well. Definitely in agony from being constantly eaten alive but as if something is already healing him. You ease his pain at least, because apparently other than that he’s quite stable.

“Kariya! Who are these people?” a woman’s voice calls suddenly from outside, stern and wary as you turn towards her direction.

“Are you his friend? He needs to be taken to the hospital.” you hail as Lancer steps protectively closer.

This is a Servant, (Name). She blatantly wears the clothes of her era…I’m uncertain as to whether she can tell that I am one too.

The lady quickly moves forward, crouching next to the man and checking him over. She seems to deem him satisfactory before standing again. He groans, eyes opening a slit as if finally waking.

“I thank you for your concern, I will look after him.” she informs you politely, making no move to do anything.

“Are you sure? He needs to get those worms removed ASAP! They are literally coming out of his face!” you protest as Diarmuid slaps one off your hand.

“While he does not appear so, he is well. Please do not concern yourself.” she insists and even if Lancer hadn’t told you of her Servant nature, the way she speaks is almost exactly the same as him, weirdly formal.

“...Saber? Who’s there?” the man mumbles out as his Servant returns her attention to him.

“Just a couple tourists, rest easy, Kariya.”

“Do...you guys need help? I mean, are you lurking around the sewer for a reason?” you ask uncertainty.

“It’s not by choice...we don’t exactly have a safe place to stay.” he mumbles tiredly, rising to his feet dizzily.

You hesitate. You want to help, but you’re also aware that they are another team that could very well murder you. But...they were unaware thus far that you were anything other than a magus, although this guy didn’t seem to much care even if you were. Had he been just another person in need, you would have hauled them off to the medical facilities here but you understood the need for discretion in the war. In any case, if you just left him here to rot away the next few weeks of his life (for you could tell he hadn’t long left), you weren’t sure if you’d be able to recall this point in time without regret.

“Well...why don’t you come stay with us?”

What.

Saber looks at you for a long time, as if trying to see through your intent. Eventually, she must decide that you look at least this trustworthy though, for she turns to her Master. They communicate briefly between their bond you assume from the silence before she hums in agreement, going over to steady him. Her instincts told her to trust you, and Lady Luck hadn't failed her yet.

“We thank you for your generosity and graciously accept.”

While Diarmuid makes no outward comment or indication of his wariness, you can feel it through your link. Nonetheless, he doesn’t question your decision as you take his arm, have him help you back up to the road.

“I’m (Name) by the way, a restoration mage. You?”

“Couldn’t tell? I’m a worm magus!” Kariya replied amiably with a voice that seemed dry and choked.

I think you gave him too much painkiller.

You laugh along anyway, because he was smiling at least and that was an improvement. You could construe that he didn’t have a specialization, but that was minor compared to the elephant in the room regarding how he was filled with an army of insects. Or more importantly, why he didn’t want to have them removed. The four of your crept towards the hostel, which was thankfully quiet as you snuck the two of them into your room.

“Sorry, I can’t be at peace if I so much as know there’s a large cockroach lurking around so I’m just going to...set up this anti-worm barrier across my half of the room.” you excuse, inscribing symbols from the door to the wall before filling it with mana. “You can still walk through but individual free roaming insects can’t.”

You hope that isn’t an insensitive thing to do, but you could hear your Servant stepping on the few stray worms that had escaped their host on the way in already anyway. Besides, you need to feel around for things a lot of the time and getting bitten by one of those bugs is not something you are looking forward to.

“...Is that something most magi can do?” he asked suddenly, sending an insect to investigate the line you had drawn.

“It’s a standard boundary spell.” you reply with a pause as you feel his mood become glum. “Here. One per pair.” you gesture to the bunk above to distract him, as Diarmuid hauls his mattress off and places it in the opposite corner.

Kariya mutters out a thanks, before crawling onto one half of it and lying down, his bones poking out through his skin you imagine. You weave threads of magic together, mainly more painkillers for the poor man. Something else is doing the heavy lifting of healing. Saber sits on the floor nearby and you don’t blame her, you wouldn’t want to share a bed with him either, he seemed to be on the brink of decomposing. The woman turns her head towards Diarmuid, who returns her gaze evenly.

“...That is your Servant.” she suddenly declares as you flinch, magecraft flickering dim.

Lancer stands warily, preparing for confrontation as you cease your incantation. But she raises her hands placidly.

“It is merely an observation. You’ve obscured his status as a Heroic Spirit, so it was hard for me to tell initially but now that I’ve had a closer look, I’m sure. You have aided my Master and I, what are your intentions?”

“You looked like you needed help, so I offered assistance. That’s all.”

“...Indeed? I do not sense that you are lying, so unless you are seeking allegiance, I can see no reason for you to use your mana on us. I suspect you are a more capable mage than Kariya and could overpower him if you so desired.”

You weren’t sure about that, while you were formally trained and he didn’t seem to be...you weren’t keen on finding out what those worms were capable of. You turned to your Servant, not sure what you should do about this development. It was early yet in the war, so an alliance would be beneficial especially if other teams who were more well organised already had formed groups prior to their summonings.

I’m open to their suggestion, what do you think, Lancer? I don’t particularly want the Grail anyway.

“Considering that neither my lady nor I have a wish currently, I see no reason not to ally.” he said aloud and you nodded to show your agreement.

“You have no wish? Then why are you here?” Kariya asked with surprise.

“I desire only to serve loyally and regain my pride as a knight, but if we are as one coalition, it does not matter to me who has their request fulfilled by the Grail.”

“...I see, truthfully I only need the damn cup to free my niece. What my father does with it, I loathe to guess but I have to save her…” he admitted and you wondered what horrors his eyes had witnessed.

“Then it is agreed, on my honour as the King of Knights, may our partnership grant us victory.” Saber says, and there’s a hint of a smile in her voice because for the first time since being summoned to this dying man, she sees salvation for Britain.

Chapter Text

“We’re not actually allowed to cram more than two people in this room, so try to stay quiet please. Lancer and I will bring you some dinner after we’ve made it.” you informed your newest guests as Saber caught Kariya’s eyes brightening at the thought of eating not-garbage.

He seemed in much better spirits since you administered your magecraft this afternoon, which you had explained was just a painkiller. You had found Avalon inside him, but obviously couldn’t identify what it was. Instead, you had merely enhanced it’s healing abilities, accelerated his slow recovery. And he was making slow but steady improvement with the aid of her Noble Phantasm. In conjunction with your anaesthetic treatment, he was almost well on his road to recovery.

Saber again thanked fate that it had been you who had found them. While Kariya had closed their bond for her sake, she could still feel the shockwaves of his agony through it, radiating out in waves. She glanced at her Master, who was examining the room with his one good eye, the llama plushie on your bed, the way you seemed to have multiple of the same set of clothing, the walking stick, sunglasses…

He sighed. He might as well be on his way to join you in blindness at this rate. Touching his face, he took a deep breath. No, he was getting better. Maybe vision would forever be lost on his left side, but he would not lose his right. Sakura needed him, he would not fall.

“My guy...so when you cook pasta...the noodles must be broken in half before they go into the boiling water, and the pot has to be…you know, big enough. If not, you gotta make sure all the paste is submerged.” he heard you saying from outside, as if holding back laughter.

“I sincerely apologise, my lady. I will not disappoint you again in this regard, I promise that all pasta will be duly snapped in the future.” a sullen Lancer replied, despondent and contrite.

“It’s okay, it was pretty funny haha!” you said, bursting through the door with a couple bowls in hand. “Food is here!”

Kariya grabbed his share with a hasty ‘thank you’, as Saber paused upon receiving her portion. While her Master scarfs down the food in between long gulps of water, she instead turns to you.

“I thank you, however I do not require food as a Servant.” she mentions as Lancer chuckles, sitting at the corner of your mattress.

“I’ve told her the same thing many times.” he adds as you rummage about your suitcase. “I think you will find that you have little luck in persuading her from feeding you.”

Reluctantly, Saber took a bite out of politeness. In her time, eating had been an exercise of necessity, the boiled potatoes or doughy bread seasoned with only vinegar. At times, simple vegetables were the only item consumed.

“...It is good.” she noted, and surprise was clear in her tone. “Cuisine has much improved since my times, it seems. Remarkable, thank you, (Name).”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be subject to more college student deluxe recipes in the days to come.” you told her with a grin, finally pulling a set of your clothes out. “Here, I heard that you haven’t gotten around to buying a modern outfit yet. See if this fits.”

“I...you are too generous. We do not intend to impede upon your budget.”

“It’s like listening to a female version of you, Lancer! Don’t worry about it, take it as a loan if that makes you feel better.” you tease as your Servant shakes his head. “Anyway, it's getting dark I’ve been told. So I might post my knight up top.”

Saber exchanged looks with her Master over their meal, clearly confused by your lingo as Diarmuid took the liberty to translate.

“(Name) and I will keep a lookout tonight from the roof of this building.”

“I see, I will join you but must ask, do you not utilise familiars for scouting?” she questions, surreptitiously letting Kariya have most of her portion of dinner, the poor man was starving.

“We find this method more convenient.” is his only explanation.

She nods, watching the way Lancer leans down to carry you, your head carefully supported in the crook of his arm and his hold bridal style. Those golden eyes are gentle, soft as they rest on your features before he darts out into the night. She wonders whether you two have known each other for centuries instead of weeks. She takes one last glance at Kariya happily devouring the noodles, blissfully and mercifully out of his perpetual suffering thanks your pain removing magic. He will finally be able to attain restful sleep for the first time in what must have been months, and for that she is grateful to you. Lightly, she follows you two through the window. Lancer is still holding you close, gazing out at the city with a distant look.

“...There is a Servant at the docks, his presence is strong even from here so it is an obvious challenge.” he reports after a while as Saber turns to look in that direction.

She’s surprised, for only an Archer class perhaps should have been able to detect anything this far away. Perhaps he is one after all, but that is not what you told them. For her part, she can sense nothing, and even this cannot simply be attributed to Kariya being a non-ideal magus.

“I see, likely a trap then. But it may still be worth investigating for information.” she noted, wondering whether they ought to consult Kariya to join this meeting.

“Do you intend this to be a simple observation mission or do you mean to engage them? Your presence is quite heavy, I’m not sure if you are suited for reconnaissance.” he pointed out mildly as she agreed.

“I don’t think we can know the answer to that until we have a look. In either case, going alone is risky if it is a set up.”

“...I have a crazy idea.” you suddenly piped up.

(Name), no…

Wait, you haven’t even heard me out yet!

“What if, we pretend that Lancer is your Master, Saber?” you suggest, propping yourself up in your Servant’s arms.

“What?” they questioned in unison, as you quickly waved away their bewilderment.

“I can boost the enchantment on Lancer’s jacket to the point of hiding his status as a Heroic Spirit entirely if I am closeby. That way, you can both confront the Servant without needing to worry about Kariya or I, you can see what they want freely. If things get bad, you two can take care of yourselves, go spirit form to retreat.”

“I am opposed to you being that near them at all, (Name). In any case, I think it would be hard to mistake me for a Master.”

“Wear gloves, my guy. It’s summer, they’ll assume you’re hiding your Command Seals. I will support your perception abilities, so you can gain as much information from how the situation unfolds.”

“That doesn’t address the issue of your safety.”

“Hide me out of sight before you go, since I don’t need to see you to use my magic. I assume the other Master’s will be sighted and want a high vantage point, whereas I can be below ground level. The main problem I see is that you two can’t communicate mentally, so you’ll just have to drop hints aloud if you’re trying to coordinate anything.”

Diarmuid didn’t think that would be an impediment, from your conversations thus far, it was clear that both Saber and himself were used to making independent field decisions. While Master’s ordinarily directed Servants personally, Kariya and yourself evidently trusted them in this department given your combined lack of combat expertise. His fellow Heroic Spirit had her eyes shut, likely communicating to her Master.

“We find this tactic acceptable, sowing some confusion may work to our benefit later. Kariya will remain here, as this is mostly an observational outing.”

Lancer hesitated but complied nonetheless, shifting you in his grip as he crouched, preparing to leap as mana flowed through his coat. He materialised his bracers, down to the leather grips that covered his hands. This would be a good opportunity to test Saber’s speed. You had mentioned to him previously that her stats were comparable to his, which was a surprise given that her class were typically quite powerful. But he supposed that having a decaying Master had dampened that.

Saber glanced at him, a silent query before they launched themselves skywards.

--*--

“If you have even the slightest inkling of danger, please call me, okay (Name)?”

“Yes Lancer, don’t worry!” you assured him for the fifth time as he finally, finally sat you down in a spot he deemed secure.

He squeezed your hand, smoothing your hair and staring for a long moment before standing to join Saber at the entrance. She could see the worry lining his features even now, and allowed him a small smile. His concern for you was endearing, and she appreciated having you here instead of Kariya as a show of good faith for your new alliance, given that she was risking revealing her abilities in this exercise. Turning, they approached the warehouses. Saber stepped forward first to face the burly man in a flowing red cape, invisible blade raised as she would if it had been her Master at her back.

“Oh, someone arrives at last! Welcome, I am Iskander, King of Conquerors!” he introduces brightly and she’s shocked at this blatant reveal of information. “While fate has gathered us to fight for the Grail, I think it a shame to kill without first knowing my opponents, and offering them a chance in joining me in my quest for glorious dominion of this world!”

“...You have convened us here with your presence only to propose such a ridiculous request? I cannot lower myself to a subject as a king in my own right.” Saber replies tartly, chancing a look back at her ‘Master’ who is scanning the environment around them.

Saber was magic resistant, and their opponent was male so Diarmuid risked removing his beloved sunglasses for a clearer view of the district, for their tint made it hard to see at night. He knew that Saber was watching for his cue on whether this was a trap, as your perception spell sharpened his senses. While he could tell that there were at least three other magi nearby, he was more concerned about the presence of an unseen Servant.

“A king you say? Then come, let us judge our worth as fellow kings.” he announced in a booming voice. “Who among us is worthy to be king of the Grail? I think the scale of our wishes shall impart a great deal in answering that question.”

“Rider, what are you doing?! Kill them!”

Lancer snapped his attention to a voice that had hissed out this command, although the Servant in front of them did not seem the least bit intent on following this order. Instead, he pointedly sat down.

“I will take no orders from a coward. Saber’s Master has accompanied her here while you hide in the shadows, yet still expect my respect like the entitled aristocrat that you are.” he scoffed airily, shaking his head. “You insult me, as if a king would ever do your bidding.”

“Kings? Don’t make me laugh, you are all nothing but mongrels.” mocked another spirit, materialising in a shower of golden sparks atop of nearby streetlamp. “That you would dare darken my doorstep with your inane prattle only speaks of your degeneracy.”

“Decided to join us as well? Come, this discussion is open to all that would partake in it!”

“There is no ‘discussion’ to be had, you squabble amongst yourselves over the rights of a Grail that already belongs to me.”

Saber and Lancer exchanged looks, clearly communicating the same thought: this guy is crazy. She indicated her head just imperceptibly at the cranes and contraptions around them, to which he nods slightly. Yes, there were threats present, but now wasn’t the time to engage them. Saber returned her attention to the eccentric and delusional Servants who were now conversing while Lancer caught sight of a figure, dark and shrouded in a billowing cloak. Assassin? He didn’t know why he was surprised honestly, given that it was as he had previously suspected. They were far from dead.

There also seemed to be the slightest glint from the moonlight on a couple lenses as well...guns or scopes he surmised. They would have to watch for snipers in this war, apparently. He could only assume that the final two magi he could detect were a pair, as they stood next to each other overlooking the area. Rider’s Masters? For that had been the direction of the voice that hailed him previously--

“You served your subjects, saved them but never did you lead them! Thus Saber, you are no true king.”

Lancer is drawn back to the meeting, which as far as he was aware, did not concern him. He was no king after all, and especially not when he was posing as a Master. But Rider’s stern growl is enough for him to tense cautiously. He grabs Saber’s arm warily, for her face is stricken and hollow, a thousand miles away from here.

“I...I…”

The golden Servant is laughing, as Lancer narrows his eyes.

“Let’s go, Saber.” he says simply, tugging her away from the two, there was nothing else to be gained from this, he has taken his notes on the ‘guests’.

“Oh? Leaving so soon? Cannot bear to face the truth?” taunted Archer haughtily.

“Saber’s ideals are noble and righteous. That she did the best she could given her circumstances is commendable.” he retorted calmly, as he abruptly realised how those words were parroted from you.

He is also reminded of the words that you had followed them with. You are no hero. They were the same as Rider’s in that regard, thus she was no king. Selfish, selfish ideals and pride for the sake of only oneself, oblivious to the tribulations of others. This brought him to a more troubling thought. That day...your first argument, there had been no sympathy in your tone, just like there was no respect in Rider’s eyes, only pity. He knew now, what the emotion in your words had been then.

Focus, Diarmuid.

Your call in his mind breaks his moment of stillness like a flash of lightning, it is sharp. What a pair of fools Saber and himself must look now, lost in their pasts. He turns and walks away briskly, hearing Saber hesitate before following him back to the nook where he had hid you.

--*--

“The man with the mole beneath his eye, what was his name?”

Kayneth huffed, noticing the uncharacteristically dreamy look in Sola Ui’s eyes and the slight pink tint on her cheeks. He had intended to impress her by displaying his prowess as a magus but instead, he was ridiculed by Rider and was now apparently less interesting than this low life nobody who was careless enough to waltz out into the open with his own Servant. Idiocy shouldn’t be praised as bravery...

“Saber’s Master? He is of no consequence.” he replied shortly, as his fiancee turned to him.

“On the contrary, I think he is extremely valuable as a potential ally. Surely you saw Archer’s ranks? I doubt even Rider could take him alone, but perhaps with Saber’s assistance, our greatest threat could be eliminated.”

He paused, jaw tightening, but supposed that she had a point. Besides, after Archer was dealt with, slaughtering that golden eyed oaf might prove a thing or two to Sola Ui on who was the more accomplished mage...

Chapter Text

“Do you pity me?”

Diarmuid was guiding you back along the path home, hand over the one that gripped his arm as Saber trailed behind, lost in her own thoughts and grief. Through his own heaviness, he noted that she had not returned to spirit form, something he might have done if he were in her situation and walking without her Master. Rider’s words had not been intended for him, but to say he was without lamentations would not be true, in fact he felt much like the King of Knights in certain regards.

“No, can you not feel that through our bond?” you asked simply and he took a moment to envelop himself in that warmth, to comfort himself with your presence. “There’s no point to pity without compassion.”

“...I feared that perhaps you held scorn for my tribulations. I hold no grudges but truly fate...it was simply too cruel in my lifetime.”

You continue staring ahead, although that’s generally what you do since you don’t tend to be able to maintain perfect eye contact. He can feel the way your fingers twitch, the flickering in your link that he has learned indicates you are finding a diplomatic way to phrase your words, shielding your exact thoughts.

“Was your life so wretched or is it your insistence on never letting go of the past and your obsession with chivalry?” you finally questioned quietly, and he feels that sinking sensation of dismay in his chest.

“...You have no sympathy for me.”

“You cling to this idea that winning the Grail will grant you salvation. You seek the destination, without the journey. And if you fail, you will be just another tragedy again.”

He blinked at how matter-of-fact your tone was.

“...If I might succeed in bringing my liege victory, I can prove that I am a worthy knight. This would bring me immeasurable relief, it was my dream in life to fight with honour, to serve.”

“Why do you gamble your salvation and esteem on someone you do not know? Furthermore, you do not care what others would wish for, do you accept no accountability for assisting someone in reaching a malicious goal?”

“But that is not the case, I do not have such an irreverent Master nor have our allies indicated such intent. I trust that their wishes would be noble, as would yours have been. So what is the point of these theoretical musings?” he countered uneasily.

“To point out your delusions. Don’t you consider it tactless to call your life so insufferable when our good neighbour literally has worms eating his face and is doing it all for his niece without complaint? Or Saber, anguished as she is, at least she’s battling for her country and people. What are you fighting for? Your supposed lost pride. Yes, you might do this under the guise of serving someone else but ultimately, such a desire is selfish. That in itself is not so reprimandable but your insistence on wallowing in misery and self-pity for hundreds of years is. I don’t mean to belittle your struggles, but don’t you think it's time to take a step back and get some perspective?”

He flinched, you’d not spoken so candidly to him since you two had arrived in Fuyuki, but at once he is reminded of the minor disagreement you had in the past. Now though, there is a touch of exasperation in your tone and it stings more than he could have prepared himself for. Still, your connection burns bright, starlight in an abyss.

“You believe my misfortune to be my own fault?”

“No, but you are responsible for your own mindset. It’s been more than a thousand years on the Throne of Heroes, something needs to change evidently and it’s not your circumstances since that was already different once you died.”

“I am doing my best to work through it...”

“...I know, that’s good. But Rider was right, to live your life and come to regret it, to wish to change it all is an insult to anyone who ever put their faith in you.”

“...Do I disappoint you?” he whispered, as if that in itself were a criminal offence.

“No, never. But even if you did, does it matter?”

“Of course it matters! You are my liege and I am sworn to serve to my last, and grant you the Grail. I want you to be pleased with me.”

“You’ve known me for about two weeks. I’m not your leige anymore than this left sock is my king, don’t rely so much on my approval. If anything, I hope I am your friend. Besides, you should know that I have only absolute trust in you. But only you can absolve yourself, not some magus or king. Maybe it’s not my place to say these things at all, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about but whatever you’re doing now isn’t bringing you happiness, I think you ought to try something else.”

“...I, that’s not…”

He stands still, staring at the ground. You stay next to him as he touches your shoulder at the prolonged silence. He doesn’t know how, or what to change. He did have regrets, but didn’t everyone? He wants to let his past go, but can’t. It haunts him. You just wait for him start forward again, as if stopped at a road crossing. He doesn’t want to have even a minor disagreement like this, it breaks his heart to think that you don’t admire him as much as he cherishes you. Especially when he thinks of all those moments, those precious, quiet seconds between the backdrop of the war where he’s content. Just to be here with you. He doesn’t dwell so much on his lost loyalty, his opportunities wasted, his ruined pride. He just exists, and thinks that being with you...was how things were supposed be.

He is brought out of his haze as he hears Saber hop through the open window back to your hostel room, disappearing from view with a soft click of her shoes. How inconsiderate of him...you must be tired. He scooped you up carefully, always gently and watching for any signs of discomfort. There were none as he follows his fellow Servant into the dimness of the building.

Kariya is already asleep, sprawled across his mattress. He sets you down, letting you quietly go about your wash up routine before retiring under your covers.

...This always happens, doesn’t it, Diarmuid? I would like for you to be at peace, happy here in this second life but all I do is say things that rattle you.

No, (Name). I appreciate you speaking your mind...no one has said such things to me before, and I think...it was good for me to hear it for once.

I’m glad, I don’t mean to be hurtful...I want to help you, but I don’t know how. So, since I don’t say it enough, thank you. Thank you for always guiding me, for your unfailing loyalty, your patience. I can’t describe how safe you make me feel...

You deserve nothing less than my utmost devotion, (Name). I...care about you, I won’t let you down. Thank you for your faith and conviction in me, I need it more than I can express in mere words...

Saber has since positioned herself by the window, peering out into nothing. He sits down on your bed, listening to the rise and fall of your chest even out before he places his hand on your waist, feeling the pulse of your heartbeat knock reassuringly back through his fingers. You’re soft and warm and he’s suddenly seized with the absurd desire to just lay down with you, curl himself under the blankets around your slumbering form. The logical half of his brain immediately shuts down that whimsy though, for being inappropriate and unwarranted. Nonetheless, the notion lingers like honey, sticky and sweet…

He forces his thoughts elsewhere.

Saber. While he had just spoken with you to reaffirm himself, while he could always sink into the deep affection of your blazing link for relief, he doubted that she had the same liberty. Kariya was by no means unaccommodating, but he evidently had a whole host of his own issues, was saddled with his own great burden. He wondered whether it was more considerate to say nothing at all, to let her work through it alone. But he knew that if it were him, if you had merely fallen asleep, he would have felt even more isolated. He couldn’t even imagine having a different Master now that the light of your link had been burned through his spirit. He met her emerald gaze, trying to provide that ever elusive compassion.

“Are you alright, Saber?”

--*--

“Where did this money come from?” you enquired, feeling the extra bills in your wallet that weren’t there before.

“It was donated.” Diarmuid supplied unhelpfully.

“From who?”

“A man.”

“Lancer!”

“...I confronted the petty thief who took your laundry, not only have I retrieved your clothes but I have also received compensation for the trouble they caused. My methods were non-violent.” he explained in more detail innocently.

“A wise decision, imposing a fine is what I would have considered fair in my time as king.” Saber agreed with a nod as you sighed, hoping that guest wasn’t staying much longer as the two Servants smiled at each other.

“...Thanks.” you said, because he remembered the little things despite the Grail war, and for that you were grateful.

Still, you didn’t want to risk getting evicted from this place because of a complaint about ‘how an ancient Celtic warrior was threatening other guests’. Saber and Lancer had spent the morning filling Kariya in on their observations, sans the blast to their pasts episode and ideals breakdown. You hadn’t found Diarmuid to be particularly cold since last night’s conversation either, so you took it as a sign that he hadn’t been offended by your comments. Your bond still shimmered with the same lustre it always had, bright as the dawn. You didn’t know he had been hoping to impress you by obtaining your lost laundry. He’d always try to ensure his leige’s utmost satisfaction with his performance, but for you it was something more than duty.

“Was Tokiomi’s Servant there?” was the only question Kariya asked throughout the entire debriefing.

“We don’t know, we couldn’t see or identify the other Masters. In any case, we have no reference as to what Tokiomi looks like.” Saber replied evenly, stirring her tea.

“If you find him, I want you to kill his summon immediately!” he demanded, and for someone who had been so quiet this outburst comes as a shock.

He is perhaps more unstable than we thought, (Name). But either way, I don’t think Saber or I intend to follow through on that order without first assessing them.

“We’ll keep that in mind.” Saber said non-committedly, sharing a quick glance with Lancer. “...I have other news though. While I was out earlier today, I received a strange message from another Master. Their familiar invited us to a meeting at the Church tonight, neutral grounds.”

“What? Who?” you asked startled.

“They called themselves Lord El-Melloi Archibald, apparently they wish to discuss terms of an alliance against Archer. They were likely there last night if they got the impression of his strength to view him as a greater threat.”

“They must not know that we are currently in a team then, or else they wouldn’t risk pitting their Servant against two.” Kariya added thoughtfully. “I suppose we’ll have to keep up the ‘Lancer is your Master’ ruse if they saw that at the docks.”

“...So should we accept their offer?”

Chapter Text

“So you have arrived at last.”

Lancer and Saber step closer to the entrance of the old Church building, where three figures could be seen. It’s dark even with the slivers of moonlight that pour through the arched windows, and he briefly wonders why the lights haven’t been switched on. Perhaps the overseer hadn’t been notified of this meeting.

“Yes, we understand that you wish to collaborate against Archer.” Diarmuid replied, and he could tell that his sunglasses indoors at night gave him the appearance of being stand-offish.

He wants to remove his shades to peer through the dimness, but there is a woman present so he tries to adapt to the lower light input. Saber stands in front of him, while Rider lounges on the benches irreverently, evidently uninterested.

“No need to be so formal! I am Sola Ui, and this is Kayneth.” the woman introduces and he’s surprised that she would decide that they were on first name basis so suddenly. “Come, let us have some tea if we are to work together as a team.”

Her partner likewise seemed to agree, looking startled and almost offended at this action by her. So they weren’t so close perhaps...Still, it would be rude for him not to give them a name now so he opted to use the one you had concocted for him. It was literally only 1 letter away from his class, but it was too late now.

“You may call me Lance.” he finally provides, as the lady nods, retrieving a cup of tea from the side tables.

She saunters up to offer him the beverage, standing too close so that their feet are almost touching. The liquid is dark, black as opposed to the clear green variation you always offered him. She’s staring up at him as if trying to look through his shades and he stiffens, taking the drink before pointedly putting it down on the pew next to him as she sulks. He’s seen this look before, in Grainne’s eyes...but his mole should be covered...He comes to the realisation that it had been careless to remove them yesterday night.

“Anyway...we propose instead a ceasefire until Archer is defeated.” he continues, trying to address both of them. “Potentially an exchange of information on the other Servants or Masters.”

“Do you even know to whom you speak? You should be flattered we even deigned to extend this offer to you, commoner.” snarled the man haughtily, and Lancer blinked in surprise at his display of anger at their soft rejection. “You would--”

They all stop abruptly, for there had been the sudden and distant noise of an explosion.

Lancer whips around and runs outside, looking to the direction of the bridge that Kariya and you are currently waiting under, fear blooming in his chest. He can’t help but betray your location, that instinctive impulse to rush to your side and defend you from danger is too strong. You'd needed to be nearby to maintain his disguise, and if Kariya was there then technically he and Saber could communicate without speaking aloud through your bonds, albeit through a game of telephone. But the smoke and crash hadn’t come from that way, instead it seemed to be from the city in the opposite direction. A building had collapsed into smoke and rubble.

“...Ha! Iconic, your tower has crumbled, mage.” Rider proclaimed loudly at his Masters hurried out after their Servant.

“What?!”

“The hotel, the tallest one in Fuyuki lies in rubble. I can see fire.” Saber elaborates as he rounds on them.

“You did this! Waiting for us to leave so you could destroy our base while we were away and unable to defend it! Cowards!” he accused wildly, furious.

“Don’t be unreasonable, it would have been much more effective to destroy the building if you had been inside.” Lancer retorted shortly, quickly informing you of this new development.

“Is that a threat?!”

“No, it is merely a logical observation.”

“Fools, you would not have succeeded had I been there to face your pathetic magecraft. That you would resort to trickery is despicable. But of course, if you disagree you are welcome to try your skills in magic against one of the greatest prodigies that Necromancy has ever seen.” he snarled slickly as neither Saber nor her Master batted an eyelash.

“You will not win should you attempt hostilities.” was Lancer’s cold tone, not defensive or angry. “I warn you, it would be a mistake to launch an attack.”

“Excuse me? Do--”

“You are not faster than me.” he interrupted flatly.

Kayneth narrowed his eyes, not moving a muscle because for a moment, he understood that the cool composure of this man in front of him was not unwarranted. That maybe, he had something to fear from attempting violence. But just as quickly, his pride consumed any semblance of humility that had surfaced and he grit his teeth.

“You dare challenge me!? After we graciously extend amnesty to you?! Prepare yourself, filth. For I shall rend the flesh from your bones, then stitch your organs together again and again until you wish I had the mercy to kill--!”

Lancer flitted behind him, before Kayneth could finish his sentence, swinging his fist around punching him across the face, hard. The man was sent flying into the Church again, crashing through the candle stands and skidding across the floorboards, crumpling onto the ground unconscious without so much as a groan. Diarmuid dusted himself off, checking that his modern attire was still in place and that he hadn’t revealed his Servant nature.

“Nice one! You truly are as swift as you said.” praised Rider, not at all perturbed that his Master had just been assaulted even though Saber had her sword held ready to block his interference.

But not even his wife looked worried, in fact she was merely stunned, face in awe. If anything, she looked dazzled by his prowess and Diarmuid knew exactly where that line of thought was going. He sighed, but ultimately was thankful that neither you nor Kariya were here, he doubted things would have gone as smoothly had that been the case. Certainly, he would have been significantly more anxious for your safety.

“We did not come here to instigate anything, but evidently our negotiations have failed. In saying that, we will take our leave now.” he informed them obviously.

“W-Wait! Please, do not consider Kayneth’s actions as that of our team’s! I still wish to work with you!” Sola Ui quickly interjected, floundering to stand in front of him.

“No, you clearly have no honour given that you attempted to launch an attack after having invited us here in a neutral area.” Saber snapped irritably, backing away from them. “We will take our leave now.”

The two Servants walked around her, heading back to the main road as the woman frantically grappled for something to keep Lance around. She had never seen anyone as alluring as him, couldn’t bear to think that he might be another casualty in this pointless fighting. She didn’t know why, but she felt the inexplicable urge to have him to herself, to keep him safe...

“You would risk making an enemy? Risk having to fight Rider right now?” she cried as her Servant cast her a disparaging look.

“I have no intention of attacking our guests.”

“You have no reason not to align with us, neither Kayneth nor I have wishes for the Grail. He seeks only the glory of winning, you would be able to request whatever you desired.” she persuaded desperately and he could tell that she was being affected by his curse.

He simply quickened his stride, getting away from yet another victim of infatuation. Had he looked back, he might have seen how Sola Ui moved to bring her betrothed to consciousness.

“They may follow us, we should not lead them there.” Saber said, gesturing down a different path, the voices behind them fading out.

He would have agreed but for the angry shout behind them. Saber and Lancer tense, snapping their attention overhead. A chariot is tearing through the skies, making noise on air. It’s arc shies too close to the nearby bridge, wheeling around as it begins it’s descent. His heart stops, wondering whether Rider knew where you two were hidden, would discover you two if they attempted to lead him in the opposite direction. Slaughter you before he could make it there. He makes his choice.

“Wait!”

But he doesn’t, just darts over the low wall and lands lightly on the concrete below. Saber curses before following. You’re leaning against the wall, chatting with your fellow Master. Still well and uninjured.

“We can’t let someone so vile have that much power...there has to be another way, we’ll save her before-- Oh, back already?”

You pause, hearing the thundering of hooves. Then, Diarmuid’s pulling you up urgently, as you sense someone land further ahead, snorting and stamping. You’re in an alley, the walls of the dry canal rising up on either side of you, the best terrain for your current opponent.

Fear nothing, I will not let harm come to you.

“I apologise for this, Saber. But I have been ordered to eliminate you under Command Seal.” the enemy Servant admits with a sigh, noticing two new strangers. If Lance thought that the presence of others would deter him, he was mistaken. They would only be more added to his ledger of innocents lost.

The King of Knights walks forward, between Rider and the rest of her team. Her sword is raised, eyes narrow as Kariya speaks to her through their bond. He taps your arm, and you let power flow into his Servant, boosting her strength and speed warily. Saber’s blade glows a brilliant gold, sparks rising from the ground at her feet.

“Then you will perish here.” she warns, and you can feel the swell of mana in the air.

“Ha! We’ll see about that!”

Diarmuid, let me go! Help her!”

He hesitates, but cannot comply. Lightning crackles as the beasts begin their charge, wheels ripping up the ground as his war cry rends the silent night. Lancer slings you and Kariya up, leaping from the ditch and into the nearby trees.

“EX-”

He summons his spears and armour, turning in time to catch sight of Saber facing down the colossal Gordias Wheel.

“-CALIBUR!”

The world is engulfed in light, illuminating the Church and the distant mountains. Lancer immediately shields you from the blast, crouched low and pressing your body close as energy bounds towards the horizon like a solar flare, rendering the city lights mere pinpricks in comparison. Before the luminous brilliance can fade, he stands again, locating a sliver of red fluttering in the wind and rubble that has been torn up. He spins his spears...

Rider’s feet slam heavily into the ground behind Saber, having jumped over the bridge to avoid the majority of her Noble Phantasm.

“Prepare yourself!”

He jerks back, far too slow, eyes adjusting from blindness as pain lacerates his sword arm. There’s another Servant looking down at him from the bridge, twin lances sanguine and gilded, his blood dripping from the Yellow Rose of Mortality. That...was Saber’s Master? He had been too agile, practically a bladed blur. No, he could see now that their pairing had been a ruse. That what he had assumed were two homeless people must have been their Masters...

Saber stepped forward, invisible air once again concealing her weapon.

“Withdraw, for I can strike both of you down quicker than Rider could defend. Your Servant is outnumbered, chariot destroyed. If you remain, I will have your hearts on the end of my spears.” Lancer stated harshly as Rider's Master's arrived on the scene, his demeanor frosted and arrogant as opposed to his typical politeness.

Kayneth’s face was livid, the mercury orb at his side pulsing as if dying to tear him to pieces. But he must not wish to risk the life of his fiancee, or have Rider use Ionian Hetairoi this early in the war, for the mana cost and reveal if it didn’t manage to kill. He gives a wordless command, as Rider hops from the channel and follows his Masters back towards the Church. He watches them disappear into the darkness, hold on Gáe Dearg tight as he expects some crippling spell to come lashing out at any moment.

But nothing does.

Chapter Text

That had been too close, had Kayneth or Sola Ui reached you two first, or Rider used some other Noble Phantasm, Saber too slow to wield Excalibur...you would have died there in that quiet canal. Diarmuid gazed unseeingly at the screen. You weren’t able to sleep yet, too pent up from the fight as you lounge about on the couch with him watching late night TV, leaning against each other tiredly hoping for some news reruns instead of the barrage of infomercials that was playing.

“Ah, guess there’s nothing on. Let’s turn it off.” you finally said, feeling around the cushions. “Can you see the thing?”

He blinks away his thoughts, checking the surroundings. You were patting the table and armrests, as he takes a second to just observe you. It hasn’t been long, less than a month by your side but the brilliance of your bond makes it feel so much longer.

“Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find the device that controls the television.”

“Yeah, it must be in a pretty ‘remote’ place right now!” you replied with a laugh, slapping the couch as he stared. “What? It was funny!”

He sighed at the cheeky grin on your face, bundling you into a much-needed embrace. Your expression was so bright, you looked so pleased with your little pun that he couldn’t not hug you. He remembers the smell of your shampoo, fragrant but not overly so, like the flowers he used to sell. You slump in his arms, and he can see that you’re drained, stressed, his dear, sweet Master.

“I saw you the other night.” you blurt out suddenly.

He paused, not sure what you mean. Was he not with you every night? But your eyes are shut and he thinks maybe he had accidentally woken you that time he had spoken to Saber about her past. Or perhaps he’d accidentally let slip his desire to spoon you while you were peacefully resting, he realised guiltily.

“Ah...I apologise if I disturbed you, (Name). I will--”

“No, I mean while I slept. I still dream with sight, sometimes when I wake...it makes me sad. But you really are as handsome as the legends claimed, not at all what I imagined. I don’t know, sometimes I think it strange that this is the ‘you’ that I’ve been talking to this whole time.” you explained as he fiddled with a lock of your hair.

“Thank you, (Name). Did you envisage me plain?” he teased and you shook your head.

“Nah, I could hear you turning heads, but I think I can understand their reactions a little better now.”

“...I’m glad that you didn’t see me until now. That you still don’t see me when awake. It assures me that you treat me according to my actions and personality as opposed to my appearance.”

“Ha! Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of being blind, hm? I think...in a way, I’m less judgemental than I used to be. Or at least, in regards to appearances.”

Diarmuid hums, just holding you, listening to your heartbeat against his chest. He’s collected all these fractions of time, these fleeting memories of your laugh, or how the stars look reflected in your eyes...He adds how you warm you feel tucked in his arms to that growing list. You suddenly jerk in his hold, head turned towards the forest as something crosses your bounded field. Then, he can sense it too. Another Servant.

Wordlessly, he pulls you back to your room where Saber is glaring out the window, Kariya at her side. You can sense an entire group outside, their life force flickering strangely.

“It’s him.” she growls sharply, summoning her armour.

“Holy virgin, I saw your great light, a beacon!” cries out a voice, twisted and high so that he seems on the edge of hysteria.

Lancer grips you tighter, staring at the deranged creature outside as he makes himself battle-ready. Those eyes are bulging out maniacally like something from a nightmare. His hands end in unsightly nails that are closer to claws, pallid complexion sickly and grin delirious. That this person had stalked you back to your base distresses Diarmuid, for fear of what else might be lurking in the shadows now. Then, the Servant raises his hand, as a line of hypnotised children walk forward with the same sluggish steps.

“Come out now, Saber! For every minute that you do not reveal yourself, I will kill one child!” he exclaims excitedly, undoing the spell keeping them compliant so that their terror permeates the air.

He reaches down to pick up one of his victims by their head, still beaming as they scream, the sound cut off as their skull is crushed in a gruesome, wet crunching noise. You flinch, horrified as Saber leaps out furiously, blade raised. Tentacled beasts spawn from the ground, grotesque as they lash through the window. He cuts them to pieces, gritting his teeth as he watches his ally fade into the fog outside. For each that he fells, multiple seem to grow from it’s corpse.

“Perhaps I should tear your Master and friends apart first, hm? Present you their heads on a platter!”

Saber’s mana will be low since her fight earlier tonight, you should go. Kariya and I will be alright.

He hesitates, but you’ve spun a shimmering barrier around the room, warding away the abominations outside as they writhe and strike your spell shield. If he can end this quickly, it would be better than having Saber fight alone while he defends. So he swallows his worry, touches your arm before following her into the night.

“Twist in agony for me Jeanne!”

--*--

“He has retreated, (Name).”

You reached out, checking your Servant for injuries but both he and Saber seemed well if not troubled by the visceral display they had just been subject to. Ultimately, the insane Servant had been no match for the combined strength of invisible air and Gáe Dearg. You turned towards the trees again.

“The children, are they alright?”

“...Unfortunately, we could not save them.”

You sighed, suspecting as much. Their energy had flickered out one by one through your perception field...it had been too much to hope. Lancer takes your hands, an attempt at reassurance. You’re glad you could not see them suffer, their shrieks of pain had been deafening enough. What a depraved tournament of violence this Grail War has turned out to be, you marveled at the lengths people would go to for the sake of a wish. No wonder this had been buried from the history books...but there was no point in erasing it from public eye if it still ran behind the scenes. No, this would need to be brought to light, ended once and for all.

“We cannot stand idle in the face of evil...we must finish him, before he returns to mutilate more innocents.” you said, standing. “...I can feel...vestiges of his magic, I can trace it.”

“You wish to pursue him?” Saber asks in surprise, as Diarmuid hovers about anxiously at the thought of you being out there with that barbaric Servant. “We have all spent a great deal of mana tonight, perhaps it will be best to wait.”

“You pierced his grimoire with Gáe Dearg, he should be little threat for the rest of tonight. If we delay our attack, he will only continue kidnapping to fuel himself.” you countered immediately, pulling on your jacket and heading for the window.

As expected, Lancer nears to assist his Master, lifting you but not stepping through.

“...While I agree, I don’t think Saber can join you in this. I’m pretty drained...don’t want to risk not having enough to maintain her if another Servant shows up.” Kariya finally replied, as you nodded.

“I understand...Lancer?”

“If you wish to go, I am with you.” he says simply, although he already knows your answer.

--*--

You freeze, not stepping a foot further into the darkness of the sewer as your Servant stops, looking over his shoulder. The place reeks of death, energy sick and grisly. It sticks to the walls, permeates like a miasma that strikes dread through your heart.

“Something is terribly wrong here. We should be careful.”

He summoned both his spears, making sure that you were close. Yes, he could taste it in the air as well, the tang of blood and rot. The nauseating odour of decay. You had followed the perverse signs of Caster’s sorcery across the city until the Mion River. There, the flow of diabolism had been strongest, growing ever greater until you reached this mouth. Your footsteps echo across the wetness, too loud and unnatural in your ears as you make your way down the tunnel.

He stops. Your connection curls as you feel his shock, that turns into a seething, murderous rage as you step beside him.

“We shouldn’t be here.”

He makes as if to cover your eyes but then remembers, just let’s his hands fall to his side. They are shaking, balled into fists as you nervously peer through with your perception spell.

It’s horrifying, the bodies hung from the walls, lining the floor. Limbs, organs, teeth and eyes all ripped free. You cannot make out the features clearly, only their outlines but it is enough, they are barely recognisable, disfigured, defiled. You plunge yourself back into blindness. Diarmuid stands perfectly still.

But there’s a flicker of something else, you realise. Life.

Just a single candle flame. It’s duty that makes you walk towards it, to return your sight, crouch low in the thick liquid, the bile of crimson that floods this place. It is a child, maimed, tormented, forced silent. Pain, agony, you drown it, give her a sense of false peace through the power that surges through your circuits. The stench is debilitating, and you wonder whether this will be her final vision of the world. No, let her rest elsewhere, anywhere but here. You make her forget.

Sleep.

She fades as you pour mana to create a soothing lullaby in her mind, an illusion until all you’re left holding is a corpse. She drops from your arms when you stand. You wonder whether you could have saved her instead of making her last moments sweeter, but suppose you would never know.

“...Destroy it. Destroy this place.” you whisper, before turning back down the winding shaft that had lead you to this nightmare.

It’s cowardice perhaps, not to be able to face this. But you can’t stay here any longer, so you leave. Place the burden on your Servant. Behind your weary steps, you can hear the sounds of concrete cracking, metal falling and a fire blazing alight. You don’t look back, just let him consume your reserves to bring an end to that workshop of horrors. Vaguely, you’re aware that this night has been taxing, that you’re running thin on mana but how trivial such concerns seem in light of everything else.

It’s a long time before Diarmuid returns to the entrance, still silent.

Chapter Text

Diarmuid lands silently in your room, having just returned from a scouting trip. Your back is turned, head staring straight ahead as he approaches, clicking his heels so that you know he’s there. You’re very still, just looking at the wall and he wonders if you are asleep, arms folded on your lap so he can’t see your hands.

“(Name)?” he whispers.

Walking around to your side, he reaches out gently before suddenly flinching.

He reels back in horror as you lean then collapse onto the floor, lifeless. He can’t breathe, feels fear and agony piercing his chest. It...can’t be. You were bleeding out in a pool of blood at his feet. He drops, cradling you in his arms as he stares at your face, twisted and tortured beyond recognition, the front of your body matching the carnage done to those poor children. His knuckles were white as he embraced you to him, hiding the visage of your mutilated form.

You had not died in peace, instead you had been ripped apart, back intact to torment him with this revelation. How had he not felt your pain? How had he abandoned you in your hour of need? Had you perished, screaming for him to save you? His fingers are practically digging into your cold flesh at the thought, of all the fear and suffering you didn’t deserve. His only sanctuary in this second lifetime of his, butchered. He lowered his gaze, eyes landing on your severed wrist, Command Seals all but lost.

No...no, he could not bear the notion of having to serve the abomination that had done this to you. He could not, would not--

Diarmuid launches himself upright, awake instantly as he whips his head around to scan the dawn grey bedroom from where he had just been leaning against the wall. Darting to your bedside, he carefully pulls the blanket away from you to check your condition. You’re fine, unharmed and snuggled in the sheets, grumbling unintelligibly as you roll away from him in search for your stolen comforter. You seem troubled as well, tossing occasionally and twitching. He takes a deep breath, tries to steady his heaving chest. You’re still here, he hasn’t failed yet. He shouldn’t have fallen asleep as he had, but given your reduced mana reserves, it had been inevitable unless he wished to return to spirit form which would leave his detection abilities lacking. It seemed Caster's horror could not be escaped even in unconsciousness...

He rests his head in his hands in relief, sitting down on the corner of your bunk.

You’re safe, you’re fine. The war marches onwards and you are tucked away here, away from what monsters might eat you alive. You two hadn't managed to find that freak, but his workshop had been enough for one night.

“Lancer?”

He turned to see you sitting up unsteadily, patting around you for your blanket. Guiltily, he quickly returns it to you.

“My apologies (Name), I fear I have awoken you in my foolishness.” he excused, still distressed from what had felt too much like a vision.

“...Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it?”

“It’s nothing...just a nightmare.” he assured you softly, placing a hand over yours so you could pinpoint him more accurately. “There’s no point dwelling on it.”

You turned your head away, lying back down.

“...I had one too just then.” you finally admitted, as he hummed. “I dreamed that you were drowning in an ocean of burning blackness. I couldn’t reach you, and there was so much screaming...you died alone among the flames, next to thousands.”

He doesn’t say anything, just stays there with your fingers intertwined with his.

“...I’m here now.”

You blink slowly, and he can feel your sorrow.

...Are you okay?

Of course.

His reply had been instantaneous, too quick. You must have thought so too, because you wordlessly scoot over so that he has room to lie down. He looks away, glad for once that you eyes had been blind to it. Such monstrosities did this war breed...but at the very least, they were ended now on the bladed edge of his Noble Phantasm. He grit his teeth, because the image of their shredded, sightless eyes had reminded him of someone else far too close. And Caster...still roaming the streets like the demon he was.

You didn’t tell him that you had seen what happened in those sewers. Not with your own eyes...but with his as you dreamed. You lived through his memory of their crumpled bodies, the inexplicable cruelty.

You turn your back, perhaps trying to return to sleep as his hand is released. He wonders if you are afraid, for your bond never betrays these emotions of yours to him. It is strange, for he knows you must have felt his anguish and panic at his vision of losing you. He settles beside you, not touching. Your warmth beneath the blanket comforts him, and he hopes that you feel the same about him.

“...I regret that I did not slay that monster in that forest. That he still lives.”

“I doubt that this will be the last we see of him. Next time…”

“--He will fall by my spears.”

You nod, relaxing back under the sheets as he hesitates, grazes his fingers over your shoulder to assure himself truly that you were well. That his dream held no prescience. You tilt your head questioningly but he doesn’t speak.

--*--

You awake in darkness, from a land where you still had sight. Ah, those precious few moments before your mind catches up, where you wonder how it could possibly still be night…

You sit up, noting the silence. You can’t hear the rustling of clothes as Saber adjusts her modern attire, Kariya’s worms writhing beneath his skin or across the floor. You touch the space next to you, expecting it to be empty and smacking Lancer in the arm.

“Ack! Sorry.” you apologise sheepishly as you feel his amusement through your bond. “Are the others around?”

“No, they left this morning although it is afternoon now. I thought they would be back by now.”

“You didn’t wake me?!”

“...No, you seemed tired.” he explained simply as you sighed, sliding off the mattress after him sulkily.

You were exhausted, but it was hardly a good look to your allies to be knocked out until 2:00 pm or whatever time it was now. Besides, it meant that you hadn’t had the chance to administer painkillers for your fellow Master. You let Diarmuid usher you into getting ready for the day, before stumping off into the hall towards the common kitchen. Remnants of last night are still lingering in the edges of your mind, but you push them down.

“Here, I prepared you lunch.”

You still, tentatively poking about the plate in front of you with the utensil that has been pressed into your hand. You had no doubt that he meant well with this gesture, but were more concerned as to whether he had been successful in his attempt. Yet, you can feel him waiting for your verdict with hopeful anticipation so vow there and then to eat every last bite if you have to force it down. With gathered resolve, you take a bite of the grilled fish.

“...This is really good.” you say, clearly surprised before you try to smother it. “Was the pasta thing a joke and you’ve known how to cook this whole time?”

Diarmuid exhales upon you bringing that up again, taking a seat nearby and watching you devour his handiwork fondly.

“Unfortunately I was unfamiliar with noodles, however I consider myself largely competent at outdoor cooking.” he replies as you nod, yes you’d endorse that skill on LinkedIn for him. “I’m glad you enjoy it.”

“It’s great! Thanks so much, I’m touched you prepared something for me.”

“It was only natural, as I appreciate you cooking for me before.”

“Haha, we can take turns!” you told him brightly, before coming to an abrupt realisation. “Wait, you said ‘outdoor cooking’...we don’t have a grille at the hostel.”

“No, I just started a fire outside.”

“Where?!”

“It is no longer active if you are worried. I even taught the patrons of this establishment how to manage a campfire effectively, it is apparently an uncommon skill in this age surprisingly.”

You sit back down from your panicked state, taking a deep breath. Had no one stopped him?! Pretty people privilege was getting too much...You wave your hand in surrender and just go back to your meal. Maybe it was better to ask less questions next time. As long as the place didn’t burn down, live and let ancient Irish warriors do as they pleased. Aside from terrorising people for stolen laundry, you wondered what other adventures he was having when you weren’t looking (truthfully not many, mostly only getting chewed out by an elderly man for leaving the TV on all night yesterday).

You let out a content sigh, snatching the dish away when he attempted to clear and clean it for you. Cooking and dishwashing were on opposite sides of the chore list as far as you were concerned.

“Let’s go look for Saber and Kariya in case they ran into trouble.” you suggest as you finish drying off the plate.

Diarmuid hesitates, but it's still light out so he acquiesced. It would be best for the team to be together before night fell after all, especially given the recent turn of events. The war was heating up, and you all still had little information on Berserker, Assassin and Archer. Almost instinctively, he avoids the road you two took to Caster’s lair, veering along a different path that cuts through a local park.

He paused, ahead was a towering timber, a species he was unable to recognise with large sprawling roots and eerie hanging tendrils that seemed to reach down like arms. He remembers then how Grainne had liked having him lift her into the branches of the “Tree of Love”, and feels a streak of unwanted melancholy. Not for their supposed romance, too hasty, cursed and consentless to begin with but for a life tainted, dictated by a single, fleeting moment of carelessness. You’re nothing like his past, honest and true in both your words and emotions. He doesn’t want to compare you to anything in his previous life, yet what else can he draw upon? You might not get another chance to climb such boughs. Maybe you'd smile at him with eyes shining happily.

“(Name), would you like to take a seat up there?”

“Where?”

He leans down, helping you sit up in the tree as the hanging curtain of roots brush your face, your expression is confused.

“...A banyan?” you question uncertainty, before promptly wiggling your hands in a ‘put me down!’ motion.

He does so swiftly. Okay...apparently you were not like Grainne in that regard as well. He watches you run your fingers along the bark thoughtfully, seemingly lost in a memory. He steps closer when you turn to him again.

“I visited the wishing trees when I was young...sent my hopes up into the leaves on a joss sheet tied to an orange. I couldn’t throw very high.” you laughed, thinking of all the red hanging from between gaps of green. “So it hit me on the way back down, guess the tree didn’t feel like granting it.”

It’s a moonless night, lanterns glow with amber hues around you, the lunar new year. He sees your orange too, splattered on the ground in pieces along with your paper dream. You’re just a child, but he doesn’t sense disappointment even now, just surprise that the fruit had bounced off your face.

He blinked, gazing up to the crown. He was certain he could hurl a mandarin far enough to hit the uppermost branches and then some. But you were sitting down, leaning against the base. You remembered the time you had thought these trees hid gateways to heaven, dozing under their shade, watching clouds that crossed a jade sky.

“Would you like me to have a try?” he asks earnestly as you shake your head, patting the wood.

“Nah, it’s not the right tree. Besides, why burden the old banyan with all our trivial desires? Weighed down by all those wishes...it’s branches broke, hurt who waited childishly beneath.”

He watched the way you gazed off in the distance, wondering if that’s why you rid yourself of such yearning, such fantasy. Did you condemn him for seeking this Grail then? But he did not want it for its power...just the chance to serve you. No, he thinks he understands you enough to see your view on the world. That to aspire, to hold onto an ideal was admirable but ultimately a personal commitment and not something to be foisted upon others, omnipotent device or not. Only you could achieve your own dreams, no one else could reach it for you.

“But they’re killers, strangler figs. Hollowing out the first tree that nourished and housed them. How strange it is that we hang our wishes upon such a parasitic thing that is no less beautiful than the original.” you continued quietly as your Servant placed his hand over yours.

“...What did you wish for?”

You smile, softly, sadly.

“Fleeting, frivolous things…”

Chapter Text

“Ah, there you guys are.”

You turn towards the voices as Diarmuid nods at Saber and Kariya, who he spots coming up the path now. His fellow Servant wears a guarded expression, lips pressed into almost a grimace as her companion instead has a forced smile. You must sense their strained emotions as well, and you think that there are more than worms eating into Kariya at the moment.

“We headed off early, wanted to give you two some privacy.” he explained with a bit of a cough as you fired up your circuits for his daily dose of magic ibuprofen. “But it’s good that you have a bit more mana now.”

“What?” you replied confused as he let the painkiller spell make him forget about the insects crawling beneath his skin.

“No transfer occurred last night.” Lancer replied abruptly, his tone flat.

“Oh sorry, I just thought since you guys were in the same--”

“It is as I had told you, Master. There was no need for our hasty departure this morning or embarrassment.” Saber interjected calmly and you were still waiting for some kind of explanation that no one seemed willing to provide. “Regardless, we bear news. It appears that the previous Church overseer of the war, Risei Kotomine has been replaced by his son at some stage as he met with us earlier.”

“Oh, what for?”

At this question Saber fell silent, and the tense atmosphere of before returned. She crossed her arms and in that gesture, Lancer saw that she had not been made privy to that information much to her frustration. He stepped closer to you warily in response.

“Nothing much. Just informed us of the change over…he knows of our alliance.” Kariya finally replied, although he was truly a poor liar as everyone continued staring at him suspiciously. “...And we talked about Tokiomi.”

“Shielding secrets in this manner sows distrust.” Saber said sternly, as the aggrieved man sighed heavily in frustration and stress.

“I know...but I can’t...this is not something that concerns you.”

He’s still lying.

“Kariya, speak freely between us if you should not be bound by geas. We will not begrudge your choice to break allegiance if you do so honestly, in that regard, Saber and I may hold a battle with honour without needless bloodshed.”

“No! I’m not under a contract...I just...I can’t afford to lose, I have no choice. Sakura, she needs me…”

“You utter these cryptic staccatos and expect us to understand?”

“...Nevermind, let’s go.”

He starts walking off, but no one follows. His gait is much improved from before, Avalon repairing a year’s worth of torture. Saber looks troubled when Lancer casts her a questioning look, but offers no answers. She shakes her head.

“I don’t know what Kirei discussed with him, but that priest is doubtlessly a viper. I have no intention on betrayal though, and will do my utmost to keep you informed should my Master wish to change that.” she promises solemnly with a fist over her heart, a pledge between knights. “It is fortunate he is ill at hiding his inner turmoil...he is a good man, struggling.”

“I thank you for it, I too will not strike without fair warning. Will you not follow him?”

“...I think not. He will summon me should I be needed.”

“Maybe he needs some space. You can hang out with us instead for a bit, or we could head back...it’s starting to get dark.” you offer as you get up, slipping a hand onto Lancer’s elbow.

A part of you is anxious at the thought of what else you might encounter today, not aided at all by Kariya’s edgy behaviour. This war is like a pandora’s box of horrors...As if reading your mind, Lancer speaks.

“...Do you ever just want to leave this all behind?” he ventures and you sigh.

“Oh, all the time. Not just this war business, but sometimes, daily life in general. Run away, go live on a mountain as a hermit.” you say, trying not to sour your moods too much.

Saber hums in agreement, and you wonder how many people, after all these thousands of years are still simply seeking contentment, a quiet, uncomplicated existence.

“I can always be summoned to fight another battle, but you have only this life (Name). So if you want to leave, you have my blessing.” he tells you gently and you blink, remembering how desperately he had desired to have his glorious battle.

“Thank you...but I have to see this through, the Grail War has brought so much destruction and misery. Mages have done this, I’m participating in it as we speak, a part of the problem. I have a duty to learn what is going on, to put an end to it.” you respond after a pause.

“She’s right, one cannot abandon their duties and responsibilities for the sake of personal wants. A king, a knight, a mage, anyone has commitments to those around them, an imperative to better the world.”

“...But not at any cost. To sacrifice yourself wholly to a cause is not a life well lived if you are unhappy. For when it crumbles, and all things in this world perish...what meaning would you have ever had? A sacrifice in vain.” Lancer rebuts swiftly, remembering how deeply this king regretted the fall of her kingdom, but had it ever had any other destiny in store?

“Perhaps, but at least I lived for my people. I would prefer it over aimless strife, lost independence...at least I chose the mantle of a ruler for myself, however heavy the burden.”

“My tragedy may not have been of my own volition, but I held conviction and acceptance over the choices I did have.”

Dusk tips over the horizon as the two Servants fall silent suddenly. Simultaneously, they swivel to face the sea, the harbour across the bridge. Lancer leans down to scoop you up.

...It’s Caster.

He loathes to have you close to that monster again, but it’s safer than being apart from you. He takes off down the road, and Saber follows suit, across the line of trees and down the steep hill to the wharf. They skid to a halt at the edge of the walkway by the pier, eyes landing on the shrouded figure standing amidst the waves, decrepit book sewn from human flesh in hand. Those bulging eyes open, peer at ‘Jeanne’ with twisted ecstasy.

“Have you arrived to witness my greatest spectacle, holy virgin?” he cackles with a too-wide grin, teeth all crooked and sharp, stepping back into a mass of darkness and vanishing.

“Shall I clear the way again for Gáe Dearg?”

“Certainly, on your mark then, Saber.”

It is at that moment that it rises from the waters, a behemoth of tentacles and slime, some elder god from days long past. Black as the abyss, it reaches higher than the sky, towering over the city as crowds shriek, yet still gather along the path to gawk at the creature that has emerged. It flails, arms striking the water, tossing ships aside like feathers. Diarmuid tightens his grip on you, at a loss for what to do. If such an entity regenerated as Caster’s minions had done...there was no way to strike his grimoire now. Saber hefted her sword up, narrowing her eyes.

“We need to find Kariya, it’s too dangerous for him to be alone right now.” she notes finally, tone strained and worried.

“Go, (Name) and I will hold him from the bay as best we can.”

“No, you are swifter than me. You should search for my Master while I battle this beast.” she replies, shaking her head. “Excalibur is an anti-fortress Noble Phantasm, but I do not have enough mana currently to use it with enough strength to destroy Caster entirely. However…”

“...I can restore your reserves, and empower your blade.” you finish for her.

Your hands glow silvery like moonlight, as you clasp Saber’s arm and channel magic into her veins. Lancer is still hovering nearby, clearly reluctant to leave you. Not next to this terror of the deep, not next to even the King of Knights after Kariya’s odd behaviour, a warning if nothing else.

“Perhaps another Servant will slay him, and we need not risk separation.” he suggests when his ally casts him an curt glance, the gilded shine of her weapon mirroring the luminescence of your spellwork.

“Either way, we must retrieve my Master. If another team presents itself before my sacred blade is fully charged, then I will abstain from personally destroying it. But I have doubts this will occur. Rider is injured, Archer too haughty, Assassin too weak and Berserker nowhere to be seen. He cannot be allowed to reach the shore and gorge himself on souls, it would be a limitless mana source for him. Please go, I sense that Kariya is near the Church.”

“Very well….but Arthuria, please--”

“I know, she will not come to harm under my protection.”

--*--

Diarmuid lands lightly outside the building, arched windows dark and the interior plunged in darkness. There’s a body strewn in the aisle, red blazer and trim facial hair notifying him that this man wasn’t the Master he was after. No, instead he finds his target sprawled outside, clutching his head, anguished cries gurgling from the back of his throat.

“Kariya.”

He doesn’t look up, doesn’t stop rocking himself, eyeballs so wide and stretched that for a moment, he is almost an effigy of Caster. Lancer crouched down in front of him, shakes his shoulder.

“I didn’t do it...why couldn’t she understand?! I’ve endured this all for her, for Sakura, how dare she claim that I never loved anyone?!”

Your Servant has little idea what he’s talking about. Comforting people has hardly been his strong suit, not when you’d always managed it better than him, albeit with the assistance of witchcraft. He coughs, nodding along and pulling him to his feet. Despair is roiling off him in torrents.

“I believe you. Come, Saber and (Name) are waiting for us at the waterfront.” he urges quietly, but his ally is limp, just being dragged along as opposed to supporting his own weight. “Kariya, your Servant is fighting Caster as we speak, she needs your support.”

“...No, no...Aoi…” he mutters unintelligibly. “Kirei...he promised me the Grail, promised me that if we worked together, we could win. He said he’d tell me where that wretch Tokiomi was hiding as a show of good faith...but he wanted, I was to take her Command Seals in exchange.”

Lancer dumps him onto the ground immediately, spears forming instinctively.

“Who?”

But he already knows, of course.

“(Name)’s...said with three Servants, we could--”

“And you thought me a mere pawn? That I would allow such treachery?” he snapped harshly, as the crumpled figure on the forest floor refused to right himself, doesn’t reply. “You think Saber would have stood complicit?!”

“...Please, I need to save Sakura.” he finally whispers, broken and thin. “Zouken is torturing her, she’s innocent…she’s all that matters now. (Name)...she promised me, that even if we didn’t win, we’d still rescue her. But you said she’s fighting Caster now...”

Diarmuid glares at the dying man at his feet, sustained only by the power of a king’s gift and the compassion of a stranger. He turns away, takes a step back. He feels a surge of protectiveness, a need to be at your side right now more than ever, wants to get away from this ugliness. But...Kariya had not betrayed you ultimately. Instead, was he not here revealing the machinations of a supposedly impartial judge of the war? He tightened his grip on the shafts in his hand. He had run once, tossed about by fate like a boat on stormy seas. Now, he had too much choice.

What would his liege, his lady, his friend, his lov-- do?

“Go to the Fuyuki City railway terminal. I will bring your niece there.” he informs him coldly, turning and fading into spirit form.

Sometimes when he launched himself through the air, he was grateful for his youth, for the easy grace this body afforded him. He remembered the elation through your bond when he held you in his arms and soared. How you mused, that this was what it must mean to fly, how it must feel to dart among the clouds. But you’re far from him now, practically a world of difference away from the ancient, brick mansion before him.

He returned his focus to the task at hand. Zouken only realises his presence after his golden spear has severed his head from his neck, toppling at his feet in a pool of scarlet as his body is cut into pieces. Diarmuid can feel that this creature before him is barely human, but as long as he lives, his wound will not heal, his cursed lance will not allow it to. It will buy Kariya some time, and with any luck Zouken would bleed to death.

Lancer moves on, throwing open the basement door, reeling at the sight before him. A fetid pit of crawling insects, and among them a little girl. Reaching down, he pulled her from the worms and leapt from the chasm, outraged and disgusted. The world truly had become a more evil place since he had lived...She didn’t even react, merely turned an empty gaze towards him.

“Sakura, I am here at the behest of Kariya Matou.” he explained, summoning his jacket to cover her with, fists clenched so hard that they were drawing blood, even as his wounds automatically healed from your mana.

“Uncle Kariya? He’s here?” she asked, and there’s a tinge of hope in her voice, a flicker of light in those eyes.

“Yes, I will take you to him now, don’t worry little one.” he assured her softly. “Is there anything you need from here?” he asks, even though he still grabs her school backpack, hands her a change of clothes that she slips into wordlessly.

“...No.”

As much as Diarmuid wanted to raze this entire place to the ground for the atrocities it hid, he didn’t have a Noble Phantasm suited for it and time was of the essence. He smothered his fury enough to snatch cash from a wallet, tucking it into the zipper pouch of Sakura’s bag. With gritted teeth, he nodded before carrying the child from this house of horrors. His agility made short work of the magical defences, as he raced back to the station. He does a cursory check of the platform for any witnesses before dashing through. Kariya is standing at the corner, two tickets shoved into his pockets and his back hunched. In the distance, he could tell that the colossal shadow over the ocean had been felled, drowned in golden brilliance.

Sakura takes a tentative step forward, then another until the two are embracing.

“Let’s go somewhere far from here, hm Sakura?” Kariya murmurs softly, hugging her like she was his only lifeline.

“...Is Grandpa gone, Uncle? Are we going to run away with mother and Rin like you said?”

“...One day, I promise we can be together again later.” he tells her gently, gaze burdened and smile sad. “We’ll see them again.”

The train pulls up, heaving across the rails to a screeching stop. Kariya shuts his eyes. He’s abandoning it all, hopes that Saber can forgive him. But she’s not alone, she stands among friends and he...he was little more than an anchor. He steps aboard, holding Sakura’s hand, gratitude brimming from his tears when he faces the Servant outside.

“Thank you, Lancer.”

But Diarmuid doesn’t reply. Instead, he is standing perfectly still, fingers raised gingerly, wonderingly grazing his lips as if they do not belong to him. They come away clean, he is uninjured. Yet his mouth burns, blood is pouring from between his teeth but it’s not his own--

His eyes widen in realisation, in horror.

(NAME)!?

The doors slide shut.

Chapter Text

Arthuria shifts her sword, feeling the rush of power despite her Master being so far away, the kilometers between them. But she understands, that one must put a child’s wish above a king’s*. That Diarmuid was right, spirits of the departed like them could always be called forth again to fight another war, but the mortals of this world could never again live their first life. She shuts her eyes, joining you in blindness temporarily.

I’m sorry, King Arthur…

Do not be, Kariya. Your choice was benign and just, Sakura deserves happiness.

...I expected to die this year, clinging only to the slim hope of saving my niece...but instead, it is you who must bear the burden of my weakness...I wish I could not have disappointed you, abandoned you...

She smiles, her gaze resting on the hand at her arm, the crimson Command Seals of another magus, her ally. She is not alone.

Kariya...I could not have asked for a stronger, more noble Master who would endure the humiliation and pain of a thousand stingers for the sake of love. To brave being human...I envy that now.

Thank you, Artoria...your words are too kind. If you want to be more than your title, will you still wish only for the salvation of your kingdom?

I-I...

Her blade sings in her grip as she feels your mana and magic render it luminescent, brighter than the half-hidden moon that hangs heavy among the clouds above. She never replies to Kariya’s question. Saber gently takes your elbow, leading you to an underpass, hidden from the prying eyes of snipers and those who walked along the main road.

“I must reposition amongst the waves in order to ensure success, (Name).” she explains as you nod. “Please wait here for my return, I shall not be long.”

She turns and leaps back onto the grass, weaving between the trees until she reaches the end of the path, only a low guard rail separating the civilians of Fuyuki from the monstrosity that was looming steadily closer. Yes, it was as she suspected. No one else had arrived in time. Her metal boots land on the surface of the sea, but do not fall through. She stands before the behemoth, the lady of the lake's blessing keeping her effortlessly aloft. Excalibur is revealed, calling forth the souls of all those who perished in battle, golden light rising from the ground in delicate orbs, like miniature stars at her feet. These fireflies grow, glowing iridescent. Raised over her head, she remembers for a moment all the instances she used this holy relic, to lay waste to her enemies, cleanse evil.

But who is she to define what is good?

Her sword is brought down, in a torrent as bright as the sun, the miracle she wields calling for the destruction of all that is corrupt, all that is malevolent in this world. It’s blinding, the column of light that surges into the night, disappearing into the cosmos above. It’s beautiful, everytime it is as brilliant as the dawn.

She watches Caster plummet into the depths from whence he came.

It is done.

She takes a step back, then another before returning to shore. The distant crowds are whispering, murmuring as the ground shakes. She tenses, spinning around to face the terrible screech that rends the air.

“Arthur!”

Berserker knows her name...she narrows her eyes. Her mana is depleted, of course a Master would choose now to strike. Could she possibly retreat--? The Servant charges, frenzied and furious, screams agonised and wretched as his blade slams into her own invisible one.

“If you know me as Arthuria Pendragon, king of Britain, reveal yourself as a knight’s pride dictates!” she spits when she manages to knock him back, the edge of her Noble Phantasm glancing off his armour harmlessly.

That black helmet falls, crashing into the ground along with her resolve.

“...Sir Lancelot?”

--*--

“Saber!” you cry aloud, despite knowing that she’s too far to hear you.

But she needs help, your temporary link burns. Her heart is bleeding, she’s horrified, devastated at what he’s become, at the weight of her failures...A king, who understood no one, guilt burdens her heavier than lack of mana ever could, dragging her into the ground.

You activate your perception spell, running out and trying to find her--

Abruptly, terrible agony rends your face, digging into your tongue. Blades lodge themselves through your arms, your mouth, through your chest and stomach. Pain blooms from the wounds as you wrench it free, blood pouring from between your teeth as you struggle to keep yourself from choking. A Servant, but how had you not sensed them?! There was only one class... You cover your mouth, desperately knitting the injury closed as quickly as possible. You need to call Lancer. But he already knows, he surely felt the burst of pain and his terror magnifies your own.

(NAME)!?

“What luck to find a blind lady out here all on her own! Don’t kill our guest too soon, hm? I have too much planned, we haven’t had a victim in a while!” that childish voice says brightly, sing song and happy.

(Name), call me! Summon me!

“Master, this is her. She was the one who destroyed Caster’s workshop, we should dispose of her quickly before her Servant appears.” the other said, voice grating as you backed away, swallowing red.

Your Command Seals pricked the back of your hand, but you can’t form words, only gurgling through your nearly severed tongue. You’re suffocating.

“That was you?! All the more reason to draw this out, how could you be so inhuman as to ruin all that man’s hard work! Have you no heart!” the psychotic man accused, jabbing you with a finger. “Here I thought you were only responsible for destroying the coolest monster I’ve ever seen with that woman!”

“We cannot remain here.” warns Assassin sharply, and you can hear the draw of steel through the air. “There are many Servants nearby and more approaching, any one of which could be their ally.”

You force yourself to focus, swallowing your panic and twisting the threads of magic around you. Pooling your mana, your poured it through into your Servant. Enhanced his speed as you simultaneously tried to shroud yourself in a protection spell, one that didn't require incantation.

I’m coming, please hold on!

“Alright, alright! But take her with us! I want to make sure she pays for the art she wrecked!”

You keep your hand pressed over your mouth, not wanting them to see that you were healing yourself. You could hear Assassin approach but still could not sense them, your eyes are blown wide in fear as you dug into their emotions, tearing them asunder as you suddenly turned and ran. Fear me. Their strike shifts infinitesimally, and the arc aimed at slicing your hand free lands short of it’s mark out of surprise at your magic and abrupt movement. The dagger digs through to your wrist bone despite your hasty shielding sorcery, but at least it doesn’t sever your seals. You let out a silent scream, drowning on the torrent of warm liquid in your mouth, as they slice again at the arm protecting your neck. You don’t know where you’re going, hysteria rendering your perception spell unsteady.

You’re going to die here, or perhaps beneath the city, strapped to some table and tortured by this maniac--

The sound of metal clashing startles you from your horror. Someone grabs the back of your shirt, effectively breaking your sprint as the cloth presses up against your throat. You gag, coughing up the blood and spit that fills your lungs. You don’t have time to process this before you’re hurtling down the street back in the direction of that lunatic. The sound of flesh being pierced reaches your ears as you struggle to stop the gushing red through the haze.

You’re flying.

You’re can barely understand what is happening, just trying to hold on. You calm yourself, using the last of your energy to try and stop yourself from bleeding out. Someone is speaking, in your mind, or in real life you cannot tell. Overhead, galloping.

Then, darkness.

--*--

“By my Command Seal, Saber restore your mana reserves!”

“Uncle Kariya?”

His fists are clenched on his knees, teeth grit as he tries again, to put be brave for Sakura. But he remembers the stricken look on Lancer’s face, the sheer terror before he had vanished, doubtlessly sprinting back to the harbor. He doesn’t know what is happening to you, all he knows is how Saber is dying, drowning in regret as his mana sinks dangerously low.

“Saber, defeat this opponent!”

The second seal slips away.

But he feels her perish, doesn’t realise that one could never win a duel they had no will to fight. That no number of miracles could have her murder her sworn blood brother while he rampaged for her blood. That unless he had stood perfectly still and let her slay him, her blade would not find it’s mark. She dies, still anguished, still reaching for the horizon, that lost paradise of perfect kingship…

Such a futile dream, as unattainable as chasing comets that streaked across the galaxy only to burn into nothing.

Sakura takes his hand, and together they watch the last scarlet line recede until only skin remains. He looks into his niece’s eyes, innocent and worried but alive, holding onto an ember of hope. Outside, the suburban housing flashing past gives way to familiar scenery, the route one he hasn’t taken in over a year. He smiles, marvels at the price of freedom. It is done. Arthuria knew better than anyone the cost of duty. Avalon flickers within him.

“Ah, it’s nothing Sakura. Let’s buy some dinner before we get home, huh?”

--*--

“I beseech you have mercy on my Master!”

Rider stares at the knight before him, kneeling as low as he could while supporting the bleeding mess of a woman in his arms. The deal that Lancer had proposed was ultimately of little use, his injured arm did not prevent him from using Ionian Hetairoi, only impeded his riding skills and swordsmanship. Without a Master, the Servant would perish well enough on his own as well so unless the curse persisted beyond his death as he seemed to be trying to imply, then this was merely a plea for the life of his Master and by extension, his own. But there was a desperate, remarkable loyalty between these two that in another lifetime, could have been his. So, he considers the offer, sees that this man is not selfishly trying to preserve his own chance at the Grail.

“Please...if you should ensure their safety and recovery, I pledge to you I would willingly remove myself from this war, and cure your wound as promised.” he continued, obviously seeking anything to convince him, impatient as red stained the tiles in rivulets. "...I will fight for your Master in battles they request of me."

“You would slay yourself for your Master?”

“Without hesitation.”

Iskander had been ordered to investigate the disturbance, the blazing light and to pick off the survivors, much to his disgust. Even this blind magus had joined her Servant on the battlefront, let alone a supposed expert with so-called prodigious ancestry. Either way, Lancer would fade if his Master did but he didn’t want this knight to die so dishonourably. There was still something to be admired in the faith, comraderie and conviction between humans that he saw here. Besides, Sola Ui hadn’t stopped talking about ‘acquiring his Command Seals’ since they had met at the Church that day and it had been their side who had first proposed alliance…

Perhaps they could swap Servants, he rather disliked his current ones and apparently, at least one of them desired Lancer as opposed to him so the feeling was seemingly mutual. He had a feeling that he would get along much better with pretty much anyone other than Kayneth her too. He knew this decision would have significant consequences, but rarely did the King of Conquerers evaluate the impact of his actions beyond the present, no he preferred to follow his heart in the heat of the moment, what he thought was right.

Rider shut his eyes, turning to Bucephalus who snorts and noses his shoulder. Then he pats the saddle, one hand proffered to his fellow Servant.

“Alright, come on then. Your guarantee to break your Noble Phantasm is enough. Put her up here and try to keep up with my steed!”

Chapter Text

“How dare you make such a decision without my approval?!”

Rider rolled his eyes, glancing behind him where Sola Ui was hastily patching up (Name), strewn on the ground, head resting in Lancer’s lap. The magus was hardly looking at her ‘patient’, instead staring wonderstruck at the Servant who in turn, was merely murmuring quietly to his Master, quiet, desperate prayers that rolled on and on under his breath. Kayneth slammed his fist down onto the chair he was seated on, glaring at how his fiance seemed enamoured by this newcomer. With a flash of clarity, Rider could see how each of them held a burning, unrequited love within them, doomed in this war from the start. Hm...this would prove to be a mess of emotions, and to think he would be here to witness it all come to chaos. How unpleasant, he was out of here.

“If you preferred victory at any cost, then perhaps you should have summoned Assassin and picked off all the other Masters one by one. There is no glory in slaying another Servant through waiting for their anchor to perish.” he scoffed before promptly turning his back on him disrespectfully, heading for the exit. “Besides, your own betrothed has agreed to the deal yet you aren’t stopping her.”

“Silence! You’ve brought filth here, some bumbling, blind no-name mage--!” he snarled acidly as Lancer bristled angrily, tightening his grip on you. “I asked you to go do battle, take out Saber now that she is weakened yet you bring enemies to our doorstep!”

“Enough, Kayneth.” Sola Ui said coldly, reacting immediately to how his words agitated Diarmuid. “We have something far more valuable now. An ally, information and security that Rider will be back to full strength.”

Her husband-to-be exhaled, trying to calm himself. Sola Ui didn’t want to say aloud her further intentions. She had only treated (Name) to stop Lancer from dying. But if she could convince one or either of them to give up their seals...she could have her own Servant, could win this war in her own right with a man of her choice for once. They could be happy far from here, be free from Kayneth…She could dictate her own destiny.

“Tch...I suppose. Well then, tell us what you know, spirit.”

Diarmuid refused to leave your side, instead continuing to wipe the blood from your face with a cloth that had been provided. Briefly, he deigned to look at the aristocrat lounging about on his makeshift throne.

“I pledged to Rider to break my Noble Phantasm upon my Master’s full recovery. I will also fight by his side upon his request as a show of gratitude for his compassion. Likewise, he is privy to any information I have gained, however you are not.”

“I am his Master, therefore you are beholden to me, not my Servant!”

Lancer shakes his head, can see the clear divide between the goals of the King of Conquerors and this haughty magus. If he must make vows, he knows which of them he would choose to align himself with.

“My commitment is to him, not you.”

“And who is it that supplies his mana, who stops your pathetic magus from bleeding to death?!”

“I do.”

Kayneth falls silent, grits his teeth as Sola Ui stands, defending this stranger. She smiles at Lancer dreamily, sweetly like she’s never done for him and gestures for him to follow. You’re picked up carefully in his arms, as he trails after her. That sly wretch...he can see it now. How he acts noble as a facade, lusts for his fiance behind his back, works to seduce her. He rounds of Rider, wants to chew him out for bringing this drama to his doorstep but his own Servant has long since wandered off, leaving him alone.

--*--

“You returned because of me...right?”

Lancer didn’t shift his gaze from his Master for even a second, just continued staring at their battered form as Sola Ui administered a routine treatment. As much as she wanted to steal your Command Seals at this very moment, she had no way of taking them without your consent and was sure that he would block any such attempt. But...still, he was here, in person, up close at last as he had always meant to be.

“Lancer?”

He refuses to reply, and internally wonders whether she is naive or his curse renders it’s victims foolish as well as infatuated. He had no choice. Assassin was the one who had done this to you, and was clearly in contract with a maniac. Berserker had taken advantage of Saber’s decision to destroy Caster for the good of all, and was afflicted with madness. Archer had been nowhere to be seen, and would likely just have laughed at his plight. It had been Rider or failure. As much as he despised his curse, he was also aware that it would work to his benefit in securing Sola Ui’s assistance in curing you.

She touches his hand and he moves it out of her reach, a touch impatiently.

“I’ve stabilised her now...but what about you? Are you not low on mana?” she murmured lowly and he cringed at the implication.

Gods, and she was married as far as he understood. He sits down at the edge of your bed, carefully covering you with the blanket and arranging your head on the pillows. It is true, that his reserves are low given how much you expended trying to heal yourself in those final moments, but he is not so desperate as to consider a mana transfer with this woman. He sighs. It’s not her fault that she’s enamoured, but it’s too much like Grainne all over again. She’s been pawing at him since he arrived in full armour, and it’s far too late for sunglasses by now.

“No, I am well. You have my thanks for saving (Name)’s life.” he replies finally, not facing her. “Upon her full recovery, I will break Gáe Buidhe and assist Rider in battle. After which, our agreement will be at an end.”

She bites her lip, afflicted by his cool response before stepping closer, trying to get his attention for even one second. But he can focus on nothing but the fact that his lady is currently lying injured and patched up on this slab, in some hastily repurposed warehouse. He should have been there, should have stayed by your side to guard you, his poor, precious…

“But it doesn’t have to be! We can work together to win the Grail, and you don’t have to anchor yourself to a handicapped mage--”

“Do not presume to insult my Master, Sola Ui!” your Servant snapped, tone heated and razor edged in an instant.

She shrinks back from his ire, wishing desperately that he would see how much better off he would be with her. He gazed at you like one might look at the crescent moon above if it were cradled in their palm. She hated it. Why couldn’t she have someone she chose for once in her life?!

“No, I’m sorry...I only meant that we have an option. That she can be safe here away from all the bloodshed, I can go with you to complete her wish instead.” she quickly backpedalled.

“While I have agreed to fight alongside your Servant, I serve only (Name).” he refused stoutly, returning to his bowl of water and hand towel, his tender ministrations.

“Would you insist on endangering her needlessly? She doesn’t need to be put in harm’s way any longer!”

“That is for her to decide. Should she choose to seek the Grail no longer, then neither will I.”

Sola Ui feels her heart twist in agony, realises that he’ll not turn from you without it being entirely your decision. She cannot change Lancer’s mind, that much is evident but humans were more fickle than Heroic Spirits. She can ‘persuade’ you, by poison if words will not. She takes a step back, then another before rushing out the door to make preparations.

--*--

Agony, a blade cutting through your body, severing flesh and rending organs like paper. You can’t pinpoint your assailant. The tang of iron, drowning in blood--

You could feel Lancer’s hand on your chest, his presence and aura coiled tightly around your bed. He was tense, as if prepared to strike at any moment. You feel disoriented, and more than a little scared. His emotions are borderline hostile, and you...all you feel is afraid. You don’t know where you are but you suppose somewhere safe if he is at your side. But it is not a comfortable safety, and not a certain one.

You twitched anxiously. Something is making him greatly upset. What was happening? Even the slightest movement had his attention though, as warm hands clasp yours. You try to jerk away despite knowing that it’s him, spasming weakly instinctively.

“(Name)? Are you feeling well?” his voice is gentle in contrast to the irritation he feels, you swallow thickly, finding your throat clear.

You can breathe.

Where are we?

At another Master’s stronghold. I have made an allegiance with them in exchange for your recovery. Are you in any pain?

“No.”

Your tongue is intact. You lift your hands away from his, bringing your fingers to feel your face. Bandaged, but not torn apart either. You’re alive. You take a gasping breath, grip your head as tears start pouring from your sightless eyes. Immediately, your nails are pried from your face, placed back on the sheets. Diarmuid is embracing you, arms tight and secure around you as if they hold all the pieces inside you from shattering.

“Shh, it’s okay. (Name), you’re alright. I am here.” he hushes quietly, and your storm of emotions are colliding with his.

He’s relieved, unimaginably relieved to have you back. But he hates the expression you are wearing, still reminiscent of your lingering trauma. He should have protected you, ensured your safety and--

Diarmuid...are you alright? Are you unscathed?

I am fine now that you are awake. (Name), I feared I had lost you…

“Well, she awakens at last.” an icy voice declares imperiously as you hear footsteps. “Now then, perhaps you will enlighten us as to what happened.”

“Keep your distance and stay your questions, Kayneth. She has only just come to consciousness.” Lancer swiftly interjects, pulling away so that he is standing between you two.

Saber...is she alright? Berserker ambushed her, I couldn’t--

Hush, it wasn’t your fault. If anything, it was my responsibility to aid her, the failing was mine. She’s gone.

“...Kariya?”

“On a train with Sakura away from here.” he informed you softly, deciding to omit the part where he hacked Zouken into pieces.

At least something good came from this...at least his niece was free. And yet you wonder just how steep the cost of love is. You blink tiredly, taking a deep breath. Your Servant’s memories are seeping through your bond, informing you of the others that are in the room.

“You expect us to simply babysit your Master and receive nothing in return? How do we know that you’ll even uphold your end of the bargain?” Kayneth growls in annoyance as you check your mana reserves, far too low. “If her health is so fragile, perhaps it is best for us to negotiate a change in Command Seals?”

“Be quiet. How dare you offend us with such a suggestion?” Diarmuid snapped bitterly, uncharacteristically short tempered.

Ah, right. He had seldom felt your distress to this degree before, because carefully did you shroud your feelings. You assumed that while unconscious, he had felt nothing as well. But you’re bleeding everywhere now, spiritually fraying. You know he’s panicking because of it, confused and disturbed.

“Let her rest first.” Sola Ui added, pressing a bottle into your hand and even now, you could sense her tumultuous infatuation with Lancer. “She will speak when she is ready.”

It frightened you despite her supposed support, her obsession with him was a gaping abyss. Should she attack, you would be helpless in this state, trapped and subject to whatever machinations her addled mind concocted. The child killer flashed in your mind, the fetor of his sickened psyche and your knuckles go white around the blanket in fear. You’re afraid. You want to calm yourself, sooth your angry Servant and the lust of this lady but you can’t.

So you lie there, feeling more alone than you’ve felt in a long time.

You take a sip of the liquid at last, a mana potion that seems a touch more bitter than you remember. Still, you’re far too thirsty too deny it, and the thought has barely crossed your mind before Lancer is handing you a glass of water.

“...Thank you.”

You feel him press his forehead against yours softly, as if you were made of glass.

Chapter Text

Diarmuid can’t stand being cooped up in that place, choking on the stifling embers of his past everytime Sola Ui rushes to meet him. He hates seeing you lie there, propped up on the pillows and taking small, listless bites out of the instant meals they provide you. It’s killing you both. So it’s only natural he takes you somewhere far, to where the wind sings and the flowers bloom like it’s ever-spring. Somewhere that matches your beauty, where you can breathe in the night air without fear, laugh like you used to, eyes shining with happiness.

“(Name)...” he murmurs, weaving coinnle corra flowers through your hair, their colour faded in the dim lighting.

You’re sitting amongst the blossoms, illuminated by flickering fireflies. You’re not facing him, but somehow he still feels like the stars are reflected in your gaze. It’s quiet, only the melody of your souls beating as one resounding through your link, under the watchful protection of the constellation Oigbhean. The moors around you whisper as he slips his arms around your shoulders to ward off the slight chill. You feel warm and safe tucked in his embrace and he wishes that he might hold onto this simple contentment forever. By your side, he is home.

“Won’t you speak to me?” he asked finally as still, your features remain hidden to him.

What would you do if someone were to kill me?

When he does hear your words, they are not in your voice, but Grainne’s. A memory, of a moment long past. He remembered this question, could hear the motives behind it. She had wanted him to declare his undying loyalty, commit to mourning her death, have him admit that he held love for her, deeply, truly. But you have none of that ‘hope’ in your expression, it is merely inquisitive, factual as if you might drop dead soon and were curious.

He tightens his grip, feels his pulse quicken in fear at the thought. He thinks to his response then, of finding peace for her through avenging her passing honourably. But it is not the same reply he feels for you. He takes your hand, leans in close. There’s no point lying in a dream, not when he can hear the roaring, the rushing in his heart that both frightens and relieves him. To know that maybe, at long last he’s leaving the past behind, piece by piece.

“I would slay them…”

Rip their throat open with my teeth if my blade should fall short.

You turn away, saddened. Standing and walking away.

“Lancer?”

He scrambles to his feet, doesn’t want to let you go but that’s not your voice either. It’s not the chirpy, sweet way you call his title or name. He wonders when he’ll hear you again.

“Lancer.”

He wakes to you gently shaking his shoulder, having fallen asleep at your bedside and tucked himself up to share your pillow at some point. He sits up swiftly, alert and wary upon spotting Sola Ui nearby, holding a tray in her hand and watching you two acidly. Ah, so it had been her calling.

“Silly chicken, were you chasing a dream?” you asked him, and he wished you hadn’t stopped touching him when he feels more disconnected than he’s ever felt from you.

He doesn’t understand why.

Your tone is fond, if not a touch exasperated. He feels guilty about having let his guard down, but your lack of mana leaves him little choice so even the slightest implication of fault from you stings. He smooths your blanket, holds your hand, misses you something terrible already.

“My apologies (Name), I will not be so careless again.” he amends, feeling the way your thoughts and emotions seemed to ebb away from him like waves at low tide.

They slipped through his fingers like water when he tried to catch them. It scares him, to see you so dissociated. Assassin’s knives must have been coated in something potent, for you to be taking so long to repair yourself. Perhaps it is a side effect of their abilities, he cannot fathom what might cancel it though.

“Hm, for what?”

--*--

“I was speaking with Lancer earlier.”

You blinked, as Sola Ui continues tinkering with glassware nearby. You can’t see the tincture she keeps feeding you, or you would have asked about why her mana potions were so dark in colour. You knew Diarmuid had watched her administer these treatments, so were sure he’d have told you if something was amiss. Alas, he was not aware of what common mage potions were supposed to look like...

“...I think he yearns for glory, as most Servants do.” she continued as you frowned. “Perhaps that is not the right phrasing, but he mentioned that it was admirable that you chose not to seek sanctuary at the Church even after your ordeal. I think he expected it given the recent turn of events and your injuries.”

“He hasn’t mentioned anything to me about that.”

“No? Well, sometimes people find it easier to confide in strangers than friends. You don’t have the weight of their expectations. In any case, he doesn’t seem like the type who would tell you about his reservations, given that you’re his current Master…”

“...He has never viewed my blindness or inexperience in combat as weakness, if that is what you’re implying. Besides, he’s always had a choice over who he wants as his Master, I made that clear since we first met.”

“Wouldn’t you feel insulted if he asked you for such a thing? He’s sensitive to your feelings, would not infringe upon you that way. In fact...he didn’t want me to mention it to you but I thought it was important that you knew.”

You looked down so that you didn’t have to watch your expression. You knew she was just trying to plant a seed of doubt in your mind, given her tremendous, involuntary attraction to him but nonetheless you recall how he had asked whether you wanted to leave this all behind a few days ago. But there hadn’t been any indication that he wanted severance through your bond then, yet these days...you felt a rift between you two. Perhaps something had changed. Was he tired of your shortcomings? Did he long for someone to fight by his side, was he disappointed at the passivity of your magic? You knew how he valued courage...

“What do you hope to gain from this war, (Name)?”

“...I was just here initially because Lancer was so desperate to participate. He didn’t want to pick another ‘leige’ and I felt responsible since I had summoned him. I’m aware, of course I’m aware of my limitations. But after seeing all this carnage, I know it needs to end and I can’t do that if I don’t know what it entails.”

She laughs, not maliciously but not kindly either. It’s almost...in relief.

“You just want information? Why, I can access that for you right now. Many of the ancient magus lineages have detailed records on the Grail wars, dating back to when they were established. Kayneth particularly, given that he is an academic. But you said it yourself, this event is rather gruesome, do you not want to seek sanctuary? You need only ask your Servant to select a different Master.”

“...I doubt he’d do such a thing.”

“Have you offered that option to him? Hm, no perhaps more accurately you need to let him know that you’re tired of all this fighting. If you phrase leaving as a favour from you to him, he will never accept it, even if he wants it.”

The toxic concoction in your veins muddles your thoughts, eats away at your link and for a second, you wonder whether there is any truth in her words. She’s just in love, that’s all… Yet it doesn’t change the fact that you hate all this bloodshed, that you’ve seen more pain and cruelty in the last couples weeks than the rest of your years combined. That the worm pit in Diarmuid’s recollections live on in your joint dreams. You don’t want to be here anymore...

“(Name), I promise you that should I win the Grail, I will bring a close to this senseless tournament. Do you not think that Lancer deserves a choice? You are hardly in any state to be on the front lines, your continuation would only worry and burden him.”

--*--

Where are we?

A warehouse in the Western district, it is far from our hostel but provides reasonably good vantage points.

...Why?

Kayneth and Sola Ui chose this location after their hotel was destroyed, perhaps it was convenient.

Oh, right...yes I remember.

(Name)...did you forget? What else don’t you remember?

I-I don’t know but it’s okay.

No, it’s not. Focus please, what else don’t you remember? Are you feeling alright?

...

(Name), talk to me.

Yes, I’m fine. Just need some sleep…

--*--

“But that is the definition of bravery! Not a lack of fear...it is the will to stand up again and again, to never stop reaching, to dare to dream!”

You turned towards his voice, and smiled. You imagined that he must be some great warrior, standing against the backdrop of the rising dawn, indomitable, his words bolstering his armies, banner illuminated by the sun. But you are not some hero, you’re just...you. Scared, and hopelessly in over your head. You remember what Kayneth had reported to you, of seeing Assassin nearby, looking for someone. It terrified you to think that your ordeal might not yet be over, that there was chance you’d die tortured and torn to pieces.

“You’re more motivational than that Japanese Asiatic clam farmer…” you murmur nonetheless, and he hums in confusion. “Thank you, but I’m not so...driven. I’m just here, trying to take it day by day…”

“And what more can we do? To live for the journey, (Name) is just as important as chasing after the impossible!” he places a hand over yours, and you startle at the size of it. “Glory lies just beyond the horizon (Name), but do not live to regret your choices in reaching it.”

The door opens at that moment, and Lancer immediately drops the items he had collected from the local shops in favour of darting to your side, pointedly, between the other Servant and yourself. He tucked your hand back under the blanket. He’s not comfortable with the way you look off into the distance these days, like you’re anywhere but here.

“Ah, you’re just in time, Lancer. My Master wanted us to have a meeting here soon.” he announces brightly, a jovial grin adorning his rugged features.

“....I see. Thank you.” he manages politely, sitting on your mattress, emptying the ‘mana potions’ they keep providing into the nearby plants suspiciously.

“Why so cold? I’d have thought you’d want to get to know everyone better given all the talk about your Master being swapped.”

“...What?”

He freezes, snatching your hand and noting with relief that your three red arching wings were still there, still binding you to him. The fact that you hadn’t immediately protested as well made his blood run cold.

“No one told you? Sola Ui was--”

“Your Master is afflicted with my Love Spot, Rider. She will not be suggesting anything rational in relation to me any time soon.” he interrupted abruptly, as factually as he can before placing an arm across you defensively. “Regardless, (Name) would never acquiesce to such a changeover.”

“Did you ask her?”

He falls silent. Then slowly shifts his attention to where you’re quietly listening to their conversation, vision glazed.

(Name)?

“...It’s your choice, Diarmuid.” you reply finally, and he senses some uncertainty in the way you wonder whether you are still good for him.

He balks. How could you even consider that he might prefer the likes of Kayneth or Sola Ui?! But a part of him, however desperately he tries to drown it, is not surprised. There has been a growing distance between you two...and he fears you’re disappointed in the way he failed to protect you. His fingers dig into your arm.

He’s never considered himself to be jealous, but right now, something akin to protective possessiveness is flaring within him. The contract he holds with you is sacred, and your faith in each other has not been shaken after all this time. He refuses to let that change now. No, this is Sola Ui’s doing, he’s certain of that…

He almost growls in annoyance when said figure enters through the door, followed by her fiance who appears equally disgruntled. Why must they continue to torment you?! Had he not faithfully conducted their scouting missions, eventually consented to divulging all intelligence you had acquired? Still, they needled and manipulated you, of that he was sure when he was not present.

“Finally up? Good. While you were napping, I received a transmission.” Kayneth told you scathingly and Lancer bit back the retort that rose to his lips. “Another Master has challenged me to a duel, which I intend to accept. Rider will engage their Servant during this time. I expect Lancer to break his Noble Phantasm and assist him in this battle.”

“I understand. Should I do anything to help?” you offered, ignoring the condescension in his mannerisms.

“What could you possibly do that would be of benefit to me? All the forms of magic you have displayed I have already mastered.” he informed you bluntly, reminding you of every worst lecturer you had ever had simultaneously.

“Perhaps you would like to face off against a Servant then see if you are in any state to be judging others.” snapped Lancer irritably, cosseting you protectively from view.

“She was just trying to be useful. You shouldn’t be so harsh.” Sola Ui defended smoothly, glancing at her beloved to see if her support was well received.

He was too busy glaring daggers at Kayneth to notice. No, he’s furious at how you’ve been degraded, treated like deadweight, something useless to be cast aside at their convenience. Bitterness has rendered his tongue sharp, your weakening connection severing him from the comfort of your once gentle and constant reassurance and belief in him.

“Fine. Just have your Servant ready by tomorrow.” he huffs contentiously. “Or perhaps you’ll have stopped wasting time and given your seals to someone more competent by then.”

Diarmuid stands, body rigid and expression livid as both his Noble Phantasms are materialised.

“There will be no transfer. (Name) is the only leige I will ever serve in this life, and I have made that abundantly clear on multiple occasions.” he asserts quietly, eyes flashing so that they seem sulfurous, demonic in repressed rage that did not erupt in flames but seeped out in an iciness that could be mistaken for calm. “If I come to find that any of you have managed to coerce or intimidate her into anything, I will personally ensure that your payment will be due promptly in blood.”

They stare for a moment, startled by his bold threat. He narrows his eyes, digs into your reserves to confirm a theory that had been forming in his mind. Finds what he fears.

“As if you are in any position--!”

“No, you listen. Do you think I do not know how you are treacherously failing to fulfill the requirements of our agreement whilst trying to force us into upholding ours? My Master’s restoration magic is prodigious, the fact that she has been unable to cure herself despite being given your elixirs indicates to me that they have been of less use than water. This deception in itself would be damnable, but you are far worse indeed. Her mana is being put towards healing new ailments, not Assassin’s. Did you think you could replace her?”

His spears are tilted slightly so they catch in the light, but his baleful glare remains steady on Sola Ui who looks as if on the cusp of tears at being on the receiving end of his acrimony. His gaze only shifts to Kayneth when the magus clenches his fist, scarlet markings just visible.

“So, if you might order Rider now to attack, I ask you to question whether you think him faster than my lances.” he whispers, almost companionably. “I will have both of your wretched, black hearts on a platter before his sword is even drawn!”

Silence follows his resentful pronouncement, too much at stake for any one of them to risk movement. Finally, it is Rider who lets out an aggrieved sigh before shifting into spirit form and leaving, his attempt at de-escalating the situation. If they used a Command Seal now, it would cost them even more time for him to arrive.

Diarmuid follows suit, vanishing his weapons back into nothing before hefting you up and turning to the window. Perhaps his outburst hadn’t been the most well-planned, but the pieces had finally fallen into place the way they had, made him realise that staying was no longer feasible.

“Wait! Where are you going?” Sola Ui asks upon seeing this, her step forward halted by the venomous look in his eyes.

“Somewhere safe for my Master.”

“Tch, typical. Of course you would flee like a coward the moment it comes to your commitment.” snarled Kayneth, fire back now that the imminent threat was avoided.

“Shut up, magus. You are fortunate that my pledge was to Rider, had I no thankfulness to him, I would already have executed you both for your duplicity and insolence. I will be there at the requested hour, the King of Conquerers will be at full strength.”

With this final declaration, he leaps out into the early evening dusk.

Chapter Text

He lands back in a familiar courtyard, the lights of your hostel room still off exactly as they had been left. You’re holding onto him tentatively, as if unsure if your touch was welcome and it breaks his heart. He holds you closer, stroking your back and humming softly to comfort your evident distress. It’s almost as much for his own reassurance as yours. You shift in his arms, not having said a word yet since your departure. You’d never seen him so aggravated before, didn’t quite know how to handle it on top of being rather confused from the ‘medication’ that you had been taking.

...Diarmuid, if you ever did feel like changing Masters--

“No. I said no, and I meant it, (Name).” he interrupts sharply, and even though you know his wrath isn’t directed at you, hearing him speak so bitterly makes you shrink back a little. “I will serve no other leige. From my first day to my last, you are my lady.”

“...Thank you.”

He sets you down inside the room, among the tussled covers. You seem impossibly vulnerable and tired when he looks at you, laying there on the pillows, still as a statue yet restless simultaneously. He reaches out, rubs circles over the back of your hand tenderly, gaze as soft as the first rays of daybreak instead of the hateful chartreuse of before. He crumples down onto the sheets next to you, eyes never leaving yours as you’re nestled in his embrace. He runs his fingers through your hair, memorises the supple way you seem to fit perfectly in his grasp.

“...Are you alright?” you ask, and it’s a familiar question, he appreciates how you check up on him even if nothing can be done, even when you’re hurting.

Just being here together is enough for him. He tries to ignore the slow, drop by drop loss of your mana through your link as your circuits instinctively try to rid your body of Sola Ui’s toxin.

“As long as you are safe (Name), I will always be fine. We’re going to be okay.”

Under the relative safety of your bounded field, he risks a few hours of sleep, strives again to cling onto his tiny corner of paradise that crumbles by the day.

--*--

He’s standing on a beach, surrounded by high peaks and rolling green, the air whispers and the sky touches the horizon, the taste of salt on his tongue...He shuts his eyes, revels in the sanctity of his homeland, this beauty so brilliant that it is blistering, searing as the melancholy burns. He gazes out across the waves, spots someone who makes his heart leap, makes the breeze seem to sing in his ears. The fondness and love that surges within his chest, it is effortless, as boundless as the sea or the open skies that stretch on for eternity.

He rushes to you, calls your name when he is near, can see you standing there with water lapping at your ankles. Your clothes seems to catch the light of the dying sun, whipping and flicking to and fro. Your hand holds onto a wide brimmed hat that threatens to be torn away with every rise of the wind.

“Lancer?”

When you turn, your expression is bright, welcoming and inviting and he needs that acceptance right now. You take a step closer, then another until you walk right past him.

His breath hitches, and he spins around in shock.

You stroll back along the shore to someone else, a man who claps your shoulder amiably. You’re speaking, animatedly and the words slip past him like tears, soundlessly, without meaning. He reaches out, brushing his fingers against your palm. But you can’t feel him. Not when the seals on the back of your hand are not the familiar arching wings he knows, not his. Instead they seem garish, overly ornate but nonetheless recognisable, carved from your own brand of magecraft. This is your Servant, he realises, from the easy confidence in his stance, all too reminiscent of his own in battle, of the arts practiced in the ancient Ireland he knows.

“(Name)?” he whispers, as you grip onto this stranger’s elbow, let him lead you away.

He wants to trail after you, would follow you to the end of the world but the distance between you two yawns open like a chasm. Desperately, he starts to run. But you’re gone, don’t look back even once and he wonders whether this is just desserts for one who has broken countless hearts, to finally taste this same drink. It is bitter, toxic and it strangles him inside. He can’t bear it. How pitiful, yet he can’t bring himself to care that some would claim this sentiment weakness.

Because if you didn’t love him, forgot him the way the ocean erased footprints in the sand, he’d have to be born someone else to let it go. But such things were not possible. So too could his soul not relinquish it’s first fall, this innocent attachment and adoration, yearning and ardour for affection.

But he is alone. Dusk sunk low over him as the shadows grow long. You don’t come back. Is this prescience or some parallel timeline? Perhaps neither, and just a manifestation of his fears like his nightmare of Caster’s lair.

He wakes, eyes wet. The moisture pools beneath his lids, before finally falling onto the pillow. He takes a deep breath. You’re still here, still in his arms, safe and soft and he nevers wants to tell you how he feels if it’ll make you leave.

--*--

“You lost your jacket?”

The two of you are preparing to go out and you touch his arm, noticing that there is no material beneath your fingers. The dawn light filters in through the curtains.

“Unfortunately, yes. I gave it to Sakura Matou the night she was rescued.” he explains as you nod, for a moment remembering a flash of his horror at the sight. “I will take the utmost care to ensure your safety without its properties of disguise.”

You grin, and there’s a little bit of your old self from before the war began in that expression.

“I could expect nothing less from a knight of your caliber.”

He leads you outside, the cries of foreign birds chirping and calling through the chilly early morning air as you two buy some packed lunch from a convenience store. Then, he waves down a taxi to Ryuudou Temple. You’d mentioned it to him last night before drifting off, that it was a good idea. That he’d be dangerously close to being forced into spirit form if he had to go all out in a fight tonight, which was likely if Rider was facing down either Archer or Berserker. You didn’t want to risk that.

Hence, you were headed to Fuyuki City’s major leyline. It was bold perhaps, but it was day time. The place was a tourist attraction and the temple was a place of peace so you hoped that Archer or Berserker wouldn’t deign to materialise right in the middle of the guests. Maybe, they would honour it’s Buddhist traditions, you doubted it but there was little choice. In any case, Lancer was with you, so even if he were unable to defeat any of the remaining Servants, you felt secure by his side.

You climb up the steps together, the mountain air fresh and cool against your skin as you two find a secluded corner by the gardens. You settle on a rock, since the grass is still damp from dew.

“Will you not sleep? I can stand guard.” he offers as you remain still, legs crossed and eyes shut, back straight.

“No, not in public...besides, I can restore similar enough amounts when I’m meditating.”

He watches you, can feel the change in your mental state through your bond. He stares, wondering if you can really just plop yourself down for the next several hours doing nothing while conscious. He understands that it is a technique, but still finds himself thinking that it must be rather boring. Besides, the fact that you are familiar enough with it makes him wonder when you started learning or practicing this, what did it achieve?

“I’m sorry.” you said abruptly, breaking the silence as he blinked. “You never did get to duel honourably, did you? Didn’t manage to get what you wanted from this...”

He sits down next to you, shoulders touching, thinks of what he had started this journey seeking. To serve a leige in accordance with his code of chivalry, to do battle with an opponent who upheld these same rules. But there had been none in the war save for Saber. He would have liked to test their skills against each other, but was ultimately glad that they had been allies instead. That she had died in the name of righteousness, bringing an end to a demon and relinquishing her wish for the sake of a child. A king who yet again had sacrificed herself for her people, for Sakura and Kariya’s freedom. In this, he could see that she hadn’t perished as she had lived. Not in vain, clinging to a kingdom destined to fall as all empires eventually did. No, in those final moments, he thinks she understood what it meant to be human and more than a crown. At least, he likes to think that. And when does does that, has faith in the more optimistic of two outcomes, he sees a piece of your influence.

He wondered whether he were reaching the same revelation as Artoria.

“...I had desired to attain trivial things, inanities that would bear me fleeting enjoyment. The gods were kind enough to grant me what I needed instead.”

“I’m glad, what was it that you needed to be happy?”

He sinks into his memories, of racing across the endless, open moors of old with the knights of Fianna, young and carefree, nothing but the wind in their faces and bales of clouds above. Of savouring the companionship and loyalty of his brothers in arms, drinking and talking late into the night about everything, and nothing at all.

But all for nought, all rendered little more than tragedy for the sake of a girl. A bride that Fionn had not set his eyes on before that day, yet so easily had he called his swords against him. Why? Hadn’t he served him for years? Was this woman worth so much more than him? His king knew it had not been of his own volition, that he would never have betrayed him in that manner without a geas but still...still he had chased him with hounds and horses. Claimed to forgive him, only to leave him in the reeds to die. Hadn’t he any empathy? Did he so deserve such callousness?

He thinks of being by your side, learning about this world and exploring it’s reaches far beyond the borders of Ireland, of how cherished you make him feel as if it’s your privilege and not his. He likes how soft you are with him, how gentle and caring as if he’s the only one that matters right now. How you trust and believe in him, even when he fails and you’re bleeding, bleeding out everywhere. To think he had let Sola Ui, let his Love Spot poison you for all those days like a fool. That his curse should surface again to wreck his life was only expected. He should have known, should have been more attentive because what if you had died there? Left him alone with no one to blame and he would deserve the agony of having you perish in his arms--

“...To be with my friends, to be with you. For if the people I care about are content, and I might be there to share in that, then I could ask for nothing more.”

You smile, relieved and he cups your cheek, exhaling slowly.

Nightfall will arrive too quickly, he laments. If he should die today though, it would not be burdened with buried bitterness and burning questions as to why he were inadequate compared to Grainne in the eyes of his lord, only deep sorrow that he might never see you again. That his days on the Throne of Heroes would be plagued with countless fantasies of what might have been, what could have been if he had managed to win the Grail, ask for a physical body in this world. To stay, laugh and live alongside someone he loved, someone he had chosen for once.

Chapter Text

“I will return for you, (Name)...” Diarmuid tells you softly, standing by the window and savouring these precious seconds with you, far too few for his liking.

You smile, your link iridescent, warm and secure. But you can feel the difference, the shift in the way he adores you these days. You clasp his hands. Even if he wins, he’ll go. He’ll leave, for he had no wish and neither did you. So what use was such sentiment? Like a dream, it would fade when you awoke, if you even were destined to wake from this war at all. In any case, you know that when you had met him, he had been vulnerable. You had been the first person he had seen since his death, after eons of loneliness. The value of any kindness would have been magnified.

Then there was the issue of your own emotions, complicated and uncertain at this stage. You didn’t want to rush, just for the sake of having something, even if this were the end. You were from two different worlds after all, so if it was meant to be, it would be in it’s own time, at it’s own pace. You had promised never to lie to him after all.

“I know.”

--*--

“I see your Master is still hiding away in that hostel of hers.” he scoffs disdainfully, the large orb of mercury at his side rippling.

Diarmuid’s feet have barely hit the ground next to Rider when Kayneth speaks, disparaging and haughty as always. He wonders how the King of Conquerors manages to tolerate his presence, understands why he is always gallivanting across the skies instead of staying in base. He doesn’t realise that this fate had been so close to being his, that had a single Clock Tower student felt just a drop more spiteful, had a flash of bravery, a shred of red cloth would have been stolen that day. Doomed him to die on the end of his own spear in a manner most cowardly to his code of chivalry.

“Can you restrain yourself for just once in your life, magus?” he snapped irritably, vexed that he was intent on insulting you on the eve of battle of all times. “I am here to lend my assistance to Iskandar, it has nothing to do with you or (Name).”

While he knew that your base was hardly hidden, it still annoyed him that they had followed you back or otherwise knew of your location. He wondered if he should ask you to move elsewhere, but he could tell that you were already asleep, conserving mana.

“Hmph, then do so, Servant.” Kayneth says, vanishing through the trees towards the mansion.

Lancer called forth Gáe Buidhe in a shower of gold sparks, both hands poised near the center. He thought of the creature it had killed, hoped that Zouken had finally bled to death from it’s wounds. He inhales, then snaps his spear. It blazes, wind rushing as the curse is released, shrouding him in a pall of smoke before returning to nothingness. Rider nods in acknowledgment as his wound heals, heading deeper into the forest in the opposite direction. Lancer can their presence too, the enemy spirit, brazen and as bold as the sun. Doubtlessly Gilgamesh, who makes no attempt at hiding his aura, taunting them.

Iskandar walks briskly towards his challenge rather than calling his mount, and Diarmuid wonders whether this is for his benefit. The silence that stretches on is not tense, but hardly comfortable. The sound of their footsteps padding through the foliage seems deafening, the minutes ticking away, battlefield ever closer.

“Ah Lancer, is (Name) well?” he asks conversationally at last and Diarmuid replies with only a nod. “That is good, I apologise for the actions of Sola Ui...I hadn’t expected something like that from her. She detests Kayneth but if she had been intent on stealing a Servant to win I would have thought that I would be her first choice.”

“It is not your fault, I am grateful for your timely assistance. My Love Spot was the cause of her treachery...so I suppose we cannot harbour any hatred for her actions.” he says distractedly, even if he still does feel very much incensed at the thought. “I will support you with utmost loyalty.”

“Ha! There’s no need to lie to yourself. You have a right to be angry, it is much better than simply letting your rage and emotions fester.”

“...Perhaps.”

They reached an opening in the trees, the forest trail ahead wide yet somewhat overgrown. In the distance, moonlight shimmers off gilded armour as the King of Heroes lifts his head. They are too far to speak to him yet, but close enough for the danger to be real.

“Did you say goodbye to your Master already?” Rider asks quietly, not shifting his gaze from their opponent. “This may well be our final engagement.”

“...No, I fully intend on surviving this.”

“Good, it would be a shame to let all you have amount to nothing.”

With this cryptic statement, Rider strolls forward confidently, almost friendly in his demeanour.

“I confess I am surprised that you have brought this other Servant here. Was he not masquerading as Saber’s Master when we first met?” Gilgamesh greets cordially, implication of cowardice clear despite the lack of his usual insults.

“It was a necessary precaution for the safety of my lady. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” defends Diarmuid swiftly, warily.

“Hm, perhaps not. Well, it shall make no difference. I have only intentions of facing worthy adversaries, you are not among them. Nonetheless, I will graciously grant you the privilege of bearing witness and falling to my sword of rupture, out of courtesy to Rider.” he informs him condescendingly, and Lancer thinks it best not to reply to such goads. “Where is your beloved chariot, Iskandar? I thought I made it clear that I would not defeat you at anything less than your full strength.”

A couple golden chalices are summoned, distributed between the kings.

“It irks me to admit that I lost it to Saber. But make no mistake, it is because I am not in perfect condition that tonight I am more than perfect.” he replies audaciously, as he pours wine from the jug. “However, I must draw our attention to another matter momentarily. Kayneth, my Master is injured. Insufferable as he is, I cannot in good faith leave him to perish, and should he die, I will have no anchor regardless which would make for a rather disappointing final fight, I imagine.”

“Tch, so such mongrels continue to interfere…” scoffs Gilgamesh, irritation clear on his features.

“...Lancer, this battle is between kings. As much as I consider the bond with my followers as my greatest treasure, I know you only accompany me to honour our agreement, not out of belief for my vision. So I ask you to instead protect my Master, allow me the opportunity to face the King of Heroes without concern over dematerialisation.”

Diarmuid blinks, then nods. If it is what he wished, then it would be done. He owed Iskandar that much at least. He understood the desire for a glorious crusade after all, the thrill and call of one-on-one combat, nothing between death but your own skill and luck. Once, he would have considered it his own greatest desire in this second life. He gives the slightest bow of respect to the red king, a last farewell.

“Your magus will not fall tonight.” he vows, then turns and leaps back beneath the branches and dark canopies.

--*--

“I won’t ask again. Where is Irisviel?”

Kiritsugu doesn’t know if he expects a reply from the blonde magus who is faced down in a pool of his own blood, circuits blown to pieces and only being barely kept alive for the purposes of this interrogation. He aims at on of his limbs, fires again as a gargled scream is wrenched from his throat. He was an idiot who thought his abilities more potent than a trap, or perhaps he was simply naive for thinking that this duel would be fair or honourable. The fact that Kayneth had so proudly, stupidly sauntered into his domain after a simple request to test their magecraft skills...no, he wouldn’t have stooped to something like kidnapping. Rather, he would have considered a homunculus beneath him. He reloads, points at the back of his skull, pulls the trigger.

His shot does not land, ricocheting harmlessly away in a clash of steel as Diarmuid materialises between them, drags the mutilated man up onto his shoulder.

Kiritsugu narrows his eyes, calculating his odds of winning against this Servant. Not high, given the ease with which his bullets had been deflected. But if he stalled for time, Gilgamesh would return after Rider’s defeat to easily slay this Servant. He lowered his gun.

“He is not your Master, why do you defend him?” he asks steadily, recalling the data they had made on the other teams. “You answer to the blind girl.”

“Indeed, but I owe this man’s Servant my gratitude.” he responds coldly, cerise lance held ready to strike.

“Then can I assume that it was you who kidnapped Irisviel?” he accuses, although he doubts it. “Stole the Grail vessel?”

“I do not know of whom you speak.” he dismisses bluntly.

“If Kayneth did not take them, it leaves only Tokiomi and Berserker as the perpetrators, but I have not seen them for many days now.”

“‘Tokiomi’ is dead, a stab wound through the back saw to that. His corpse lined the Church aisle.”

If any of these enemies were to believed, that left only Assassin and their Master. But that didn’t make sense...no, he had said that the Church was the location of the murder. Risei had been killed there previously, meaning that Kotomine would have been the overseer at the time…

But who was his Servant?

Kiritsugu paused, followed Lancer’s gaze to the where they rested on Kayneth’s Command Seals. Ah, so he would not lunge until he was sure Rider had already lost. Foolish, this chivalry of farcical commitment to ‘glory’ and ‘chivalry’ in bloodshed. Yet, it worked to his benefit. If he could get Maiya to snipe you, he could take care of two Master’s in one night.

But then those golden eyes are widening, filling with something he’s come to recognise, an intent all too familiar. He shifts his weight instinctively.

Time alter: triple accel!

The spear aimed at skewering his heart tears a deep gash across of his chest instead, as he stumbles into the wall to avoid the blow.

“What are you doing to my Master?!” snarls Lancer, tone dripping with resentment as he rounds on him, Kayneth still slung over his back like a sack of potatoes. “Leave them alone.

Diarmuid doesn’t get a chance to strike again, to adjust his aim for Kiritsugu’s unexpected burst of speed because at that moment, he feels a surge of power that calls him to your side, the yank of his first Command Seal.

--*--

You startle awake, your chimes ringing in your ear. A magical signature has entered your bounded field, and you know Diarmuid hasn’t been gone that long. No, rather this seems like a planned incursion, like they had been waiting for him to leave. He would be fighting Archer now, you couldn’t distract him for any reason lest you cause him to falter. Even the slightest mistake against such an opponent would be fatal.

With this in mind, you slink behind the door, fingers skimming the wood as you mask your own vitals and wait warily. Slowly, someone silently turns the handle, attempting to slip through quietly. The moment you’re sure that they’re in the entrance way though, you enhance your strength, yanking the door back then slamming it shut onto them with a loud crack.

They cry out in pain, a female voice.

You have a feeling you know who it is. Before you can hit her again, you find the door jammed as Sola Ui straightens up, envy dripping from in a noxious miasma. You can sense her healing her head wound rapidly, but that’s not what makes you freeze. No, it is the slice of steel across your stomach that does, and you’re back in that alley again, fighting for your life under Assassin’s knives--

The two of you crash onto the ground, her hands throttling your throat maniacally, squeezing the air from your lungs. Distant rage floods your body, temporary strength.

(Name)?!

“Give him to me!” she threatens menacingly, obsession too far gone as she forces the silence curse through, renders you mute.

You choked, clawing at the nails at your windpipe. It truly was a curse of madness that Diarmuid bore...You reach through her emotions, fray her single-minded lust and desire for your Servant, create a cacophony of confusion within her mind. Her grip loosens, and you shove her off, healing your wound and canceling her curse of muteness, trying to think of anything that will get her to just stop.

“Do you want Diarmuid to die?! Stop making me burn mana!”

Sola Ui glares at you, hatred and jealousy exuding from her seething expression. Her intense fixation, the nature of the Love Spot dissipates the effect of your own disorientation hex. Reminds her quickly of exactly what she’s here for despite your attempts at making her forget. She stills for a second, blade poised in a moment of indecision. Is it worth the risk?

Pain blooms across your chest as she seems to make her choice, calls your bluff. Of course you wouldn’t let him perish first. Her enchanted dagger rends apart your shielding spells like butter. No, as long as you didn’t die, you’d support him. She’s trying to steal your voice again but cleansing such curses is an action too familiar to you. Thinking you voiceless, unable to call him, she raises the weapon--

His class spills from your lips, a frantic, panicked, instinctive cry.

“Lancer!”

Your Command Seal blazes, a vermillion flame that makes her flinch before the truth can set in.

Gáe Dearg arcs through the air, slamming into her head as she tumbles to the floor, bleeding. Kayneth is dropped at her side, as your Servant rushes to you, frantically checks your already sealed wound. You’re both shaking, him with unbridled fury and you with fear. How dare she return to harm you? How dare they lay their greedy, twisted hands on his dearest Master while he was faithfully pulling Kayneth from torture?! He stands, spear raised. But he doesn’t bring it down. Remembers how Iskander is fighting for glory against Gilgamesh at this very moment, thinks of how utterly betrayed he would feel had someone he considered an ally done the same to him.

He grabs the two comatose bodies, hurling them out of the window before following. You perk up a little from your position unsteadily, as if you might ask him what he intends to do now but say nothing. For once, he doesn’t provide you an explanation. Rather, he takes the two traitors away, dumps them on some lonely street by the gutters so that you won’t be implicated for their current conditions. Born to nobility, they will die nameless.

Kayneth is still gurgling weakly, staring in horror the state of his wife and his circuits, only now begging for some semblance of mercy with his eyes.

But Diarmuid has none left to give. Instead, he flips his wrist over to check whether it is time. The Master’s hand no longer displays any carvings, blank and devoid of those once honourary markings. Rider is gone, and Lancer feels no more obligation to maintain the lives of these people. Should they survive, he knows that Sola Ui will never stop pursuing you, that if he were only to kill her then Kayneth’s vengeance would surely follow. But he does not regret this necessity. Cruel, callous decisions had to be made for the sake of love and at least...this is one he knows he would not hesitate to make again a thousand times over. Such is the duty of a knight. It doesn’t matter if you might not have done the same for him, if you still believed in sacrifice and forgiveness over slaughter. He knows, how his curse could destroy more than one life. Maybe he is selfish in the end, but he never claimed to be kind.

“Die with dignity, magus.”

The Crimson Rose of Exorcism falls, piercing the man’s chest and digging into the concrete below. If there were ever a second of realisation, it is gone by the time his body collapses. Diarmuid turns to the second casualty of his Love Spot, slays her also before she wakes. When he fades into viridescence, their eyes have been shut.

Chapter Text

“May those who are suffering be freed, and those who find themselves lost be provided what they need. May those who have passed attain peace, protected as fate wills so that all may be in harmony.”

Diarmuid stands next to you, having returned to find the room cleaned of bloodstains and restored from it’s former state of disarray. He himself would not have deigned to give those who had perished tonight a send off, save for the King of Conquerors. If Kayneth and Sola Ui proceeded to roast in the pits of hell, he would not much care. But he understands your type, those that believe that a modicum of respect should always be offered to the deceased, as if death somehow absolves them of their sins in life. No, he can see your thoughts with startling clarity, just as he does not need to convey to you in words what has transpired, so too are your recent memories privy to him. It is a good time to be forgiving, we’re too close to death to risk indifference, when any day may be our last.

“...I wonder whether karma will grant us the same passing. Having to watch our dreams and desires sundered into nothing, forgotten as we lie next to someone that we love.”

He narrows his eyes. You are both nothing like those who have fallen tonight. Deserve better than to choke on the ashes of defeat, or at least you do. He likes to believe that he is worthy of happiness as you always insist, but he would gladly relinquish such hopes if it meant your salvation. He looks outside, to a point of light that glides across the sky, solitary and brilliant. A wandering star...

“A plane.” you correct gently as he smiles, still reaches out so that he may make a wish should the Grail not manifest.

May I be granted a long life alongside my love, that I might bring her joy and share with them in all the delights that this world has to offer.

--*--

“Let’s go to the beach today.”

Diarmuid shuts his eyes, wants to say something about the carelessness of such a trip, how it would be imprudent with only four Servants remaining in the war. But you’re gazing in his direction hopefully, eyes bright as if you hadn’t just been stabbed the night before, like you still have faith in the world being fundamentally good. And he is powerless against your whims, against anything that you might ask of him. For no favour you mentioned would ever be too great a request of him if it were from your lips.

“Of course, (Name).” he agrees softly, taking your hand, an assurance that he would guard you.

“Thanks, I wanted us to see it before we go.” you tell him with a touch of sadness in your voice, when you speak again it is much quieter. “...You can feel it too, right? How close we are to...the end. I’ve found that high level perception magecraft does that, gives you a degree of prescience.”

He blinks, cannot fathom what you have witnessed as prophecy. So you elaborate, tie a piece of your past to this doomed man.

“I lost someone I loved once when I was younger, watched them die twice. The first time I heard it in a dream, saw them fall and fall...and I--” you stop, blinking away the tears that form. “I woke in the middle of the night, ran all the way to check on them. They looked fine, so I didn’t say anything, just slept by the door of their room...as if to fight off some intruder, as if you needed to have someone push you.”

A slow breath, your heart bleeds through your bond, even after all this time. Some things leave scars deeper than one lifetime can heal, yet to bury it would be the gravest insult to their memory, to allow any complacency.

“...The next morning. They were gone...I, I hadn’t understood. I can’t--, I remember searching, trying to rationalise how they managed to leave when the door was still bolted from the inside, as if I couldn’t see the open window…”

You fall silent, choking slightly on your words but still struggling to just talk about it. Because it was always such a taboo subject, considered almost impolite as a topic of conversation, something to be avoided for the sake of the one speaking even by close family or friends.

“Their body was on the ground floor below. Of course it was. And I still-- I never said goodbye, never got to ask them why. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry...and every single day for years I apologised for failing, for lacking insight, for everything I never did, I-I would have known if only I had looked, but I did nothing--! I can’t change that, wouldn’t even if I could because these things, you have to let go. You have to move on, can’t look back but please! If you must go, tell me that you’ve been happy, that you’re at peace…”

He can see them too, sprawled out on concrete from when you still had sight. This hadn’t been the event that made you blind, yet somehow he could tell that it was the one that had shaped your convictions the most. The horror, the desperate hope yet simultaneous numbness of that dawn...You’ll never forget that day. He embraces you, longs to carry your burden that you might not forever have guilt and regret carved into your bones.

“I am, (Name). For being with you has been my greatest privilege and honour. When we’re together, there is no place I’d rather be.”

“...Thank you.”

--*--

The sound of the waves washing up and down the shore soothes you, a steady, constant melody as you dip your feet in the water, sinking slightly into the sand. You wish you might have been able to go swimming, but you hadn’t brought a suit and such a choice would truly be pushing the boundaries of your luck. Instead you keep close to your loyal knight, who chooses to escort you on flights of fancy without protest, to indulge your every want like you were nobility.

Diarmuid picks up a piece of sea glass from the ground, marvels at it’s shade of green.

How lucky to find such an item on your first trip here, a fitting souvenir he decides. He shifts the wildflowers he’s been plucking along your walk in his arms so that he might be able wear away the sharpness. He’s busy using another rock to smooth the edges of this token when you speak.

“What do you see?”

He knows you want him to describe the environment, the people, their activities, the birds and sky. But he only has eyes for you, how your hair is tossed by the wind as you gaze off whimsically, expression mild but content, then cheerful when you turn to him, like he’s exactly who you’ve been excitedly waiting to meet every time. He remembers his dream briefly, and shoves it aside with effort. It is immaterial. You’re here with him now, feeling the sun in your face, the warmth radiating from the grains between your toes. So if this moment had ever lasted, whether for an minute or an eternity, it would live on in his remembrance perpetually.

He takes the silver cord from where it rests on his chest, knots his gift tightly next to his tag, hangs them both from your neck. He is careful to not brush your face as he places it down. Should he return to the Throne, the shard would tumble back to the earth but if he remained, then it was yours to keep.

“Blue skies, the summer breeze. Cloudless climes that stretch on and on, tides that touch the horizon, the majesty of both dusk and dawn across the same canvas. A sea of constellations, innumerable and resplendent like nothing I’ve ever beheld…”

You turn to him, perplexed by this impromptu poetry. For emphasis, a particularly bold gull squawks nearby for donations.

“Huh? How can it be both day and night? What time is it?”

“Your confusion is natural, for these sentences of mine do no justice to describe the beauty of the soul that I hold so close to my own. That belongs to my lady who I treasure more dearly than the moon and stars.” he explains as you roll your eyes but feel your cheeks tint as you smile, flattered by his dramatics.

“I didn’t prepare a serenade for you, unfortunately.”

He intertwined his fingers with yours, leans in close, your link blazing as gold as his gaze.

“It would be more than enough if you were simply to accept mine.”

--*--

You lie down across your bed, legs dangling off the edge. You’d since washed the salt from your skin, had dinner at one of those local shops before heading back. You didn’t know whether Heroic Spirits needed to shower or not, but Diarmuid had availed himself to your soaps and the hostel’s water bill tonight regardless.

“So, how was running hot water as a benefit of the future?” you joked when you heard him return with a click of the door, towelling his hair dry.

“Convenient. It was a rather enjoyable experience, I can see why you choose to bathe so frequently.” he replies, lying down next to you, staring for so long that started to feel it through your connection.

Had you vision, you would have marveled at how he gazed at you. Tenderly, desperately, like he’s been waiting for you all his life. Can’t bear to let you go now. He hesitates, because these days just having you next to him unhurt is a blessing. Slowly, his fingers skim your jawline and you tilt your head questioningly. The gulf between what he yearns to say and what he dares to utter yawns open like a chasm.

“(Name)...” he whispers, and it falls like a prayer, something sacred to be treated with only reverence. “The resolution of the war nears...I--”

He pauses, doesn’t manage to summon the courage at the last moment.

“...It would be optimal if our mana reserves were consolidated.” he concluded lamely as you nodded sympathetically nonetheless, thinking he wants more mana.

“Yeah, but it’s too dangerous to rest on a leyline now, the other Masters and Servants will be on the hunt at night. Tomorrow though, we can hit the temple again.”

“I...yes, that is a wise decision. Unfortunately, you do not quite understand. What I mean to suggest is, there are other means of restoring my mana.” he replied quietly, and you waited for him to elaborate.

“Okay...so feel free to explain it to me.” you tell him when the silence continues to permeate the room, he coughs.

Gods, what he would give to just show you what he meant...

“We...could administer a mana transfer.” he manages to get out, shifting his weight absent-mindedly.

“Sure if it will help. How do we do that? Is it difficult because from how hard you’re squeezing my hand I’m afraid it involves blood sacrifice or something.”

He lets go immediately, taking a deep breath.

“Do not feel pressured to choose either of these methods, but I may either intake magus blood or we could…have intercourse.” he explains at long last as understanding crosses your features.

“Oh.”

A brief flash of a perception spell outlines bouquets of blossoms decorating your desk and window sill. You don’t know when he wandered off the collect them but how awfully romantic he must be to still bring you such delicate things amidst this chaos. To litter the room with hydrangeas, lavender and irises as if these wooden slats hadn’t been stained with blood. You know it would be exactly like him not to mention it as well, to simply wait until you found out or perhaps, they withered.

You turned away. He was a familiar, a friend for sure but scheduled to slip from your life like water through a cage, to forget you. And there was pain in that, in pouring yourself into something that was so temporary, that existed only for what few hours you held one another, that you had already condemned yourself to in committing yourself to his companionship. You didn’t want to be reckless, to hurt yourself, not again. Were you both taking this as merely a mana transfer, or were there feelings involved that would make everything complicated? He hardly seemed the type for casual flings...you didn't want to cause him pain.

Yet to cut yourself for him to drink was hardly efficient and unlikely to be enough. The image of how much Assassin and Caster had to intake surfaces like poison in your mind. Perhaps it was best to be business-like about it...yet somehow, you didn’t think he was under the same impression. To mention it though...would be almost insensitive when answers were as clear as mud. So perhaps it was best to leave these things unsaid. Besides, did he truly desire this himself? For someone who had been inundated with the lust of women his entire life...

“Is this something you want to do?”

“It is entirely your--

“Do you feel obligated to do this because of mana shortages? I don’t want you to feel like you need to do this, I want you to tell me whether this is something you personally would enjoy.”

“...It would be my greatest pleasure to have you, (Name).”

You took a deep breath, roll over to face him, willing to follow if he lead. Wondering if he would find you satisfactory, since he was someone who surely must have had claim to those both more beautiful and more skillful in his life. You were not insecure in this regard, it was merely a logical observation that you weren’t practically a natural born model like he was. But your bond smothers this reservation almost as quickly as it dares surface in your mind, for how could someone so perfect for him ever feel even an inkling of inadequacy?

“...Okay then...be gentle?”

“Of course.”

He can sense your uncertainty, as he threads his fingers through yours once more, leaning in. Still, your link burns with trust as you let him pull you close, body pressed against his toned physique. He smells like wildflowers and the trees, fallen leaves and rain. He wants this, enough that he would reach for it instead of backing off as he normally would at the slightest sign of doubt. You can feel his elation through your bond, anticipation and longing, he’s wanted you for a long time, perhaps longer than even he has known or been willing to acknowledge...He murmurs soundlessly to you, words in an ancient tongue, wants to tie you up when you look at him like that, adorable and lovely and his.

Adoration, desire, hunger, lust...

His fingers caress your face, tilt your head up so that he can press his lips against yours in a heated kiss, reveling in the small sound of surprise you make. He nibbles at your bottom lip, tongue pushing in as you allow him access, his mouth moulding against yours ravenously. His hands are stroking the curves and dips of your body, their texture rough and calloused as they explore every inch of skin he can reach before he finally pulls away, leaving you breathless. You nestle closer, feeling the heat radiating from his body as your hands find his hips and his fingers catch on your waistband to tear your clothes away.

Chapter Text

Diarmuid cradles you close, feeling your heartbeat as one with his. You’re warm and soft, wonderful against him and he feels satisfied like he hasn’t been in centuries. He’s...content here, holding you in his arms like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. He watches you, the way your lashes flutter as you snuggle up to a comfortable position, beautiful and bewitching as if you are the one who bears a cursed face that has captured his heart. Yet...he would be forced to leave you soon, to forgo this small happiness he had found. It’s bittersweet on his tongue the thought of your upcoming separation, but he wouldn’t have forgone the opportunity to meet you for anything.

Unless, if he could win...he had a wish after all. To remain here, for a while longer. Because on foreign shores, thousands of miles from home and with a millenium between his past life, he felt for the first time something akin to peace. No blistering resentment desperately suppressed at the misfortune in his life, no guilt at having let down his lord despite his best efforts and no forced fleeing through the forests with Grainne, the pair of them never truly in love but having no one else. But they had been so young, and who had been delusional enough to convince himself that it had been pure?

“...Don’t despair, you’ll forget it all before you go, and I won’t let you die in agony.” you said suddenly, sensing that he was burdened.

He grew still, pulling you away slightly so that he could look at your face, determine if you were genuine or not in this assumption. He found no mirth in your expression though, only a soft smile and his grip tightens.

“(Name), I will never forget you.” he promises earnestly and you blink slowly, tiredly. “Not in this lifetime or the next, and if I wake a thousand times in a new world, in each I will carry your memory.”

“...I know, but Servants do not recall their past incarnations. It is simply fate.”

He felt ice claw its way through his chest, tried to imagine simply not remembering anything that had happened in his second life. He wondered whether he’d walk one day on a different Earth, staring too long at someone with similar features to you, weighed down by phantom sorrow when he sighted a blind person, or maybe he’d not feel anything at all. That you should be erased from him like marks in the sand, washed away by the waves...he couldn’t stand it. Not after it all. Not when he thinks he loves you, and that those feelings were returned whether platonically or romantically. Love was love, and it burned like a beacon in his heart, like hope. He wants...to run away with you. Anywhere would do, because next to you, everything seemed to hold colour again.

But no, you’d never go. You’d never look away.

He swallows thickly. Still, he’s selfish and he has to say it. He brushes his lips against yours as you move your face away sleepily, and he adores how you nestle against him. Silently, he pleads that life be kind to him, just this once, because he doesn’t want to think of what it would be like to not have you. There’s a part of him that roils with fear, but let it not be said that he was a coward. He had to know. Your link burns, a solar flare and he can’t--

“(Name)...I--”

“Please don’t say you love me.”

“...But I do.”

Even as those whispered words escape, he feels his heart splitting inside him. It’s like lightning, the pain, yet not at all wretched. Your devotion, your commitment to his happiness keeps it all from crumbling. It’s love, not the same type but just as brilliant. He had known, felt it in the way your connection glimmered, the sheen not quite the same gold that which bloomed in his soul. You clutch him a little tighter, need time that neither of you have.. Not today, take some time to heal first, my friend, figure out what you really want….

“I’m sorry...I can’t, not right now Diarmuid…not when you might--”

“Shh, it’s okay.”

It didn’t change how much he cherished you, it didn’t change it at all. And somehow, he starts laughing. Not bitter scoffs but just quiet chuckles at how the pieces of this game had fallen. He buried his face in your hair, closes his eyes. How ironic, how fitting to find himself devoured by passion for one that does not feel the same. He sighs, thinks maybe, he loves you enough for both of you.

--*--

Diarmuid looks out, to the slow falling man-made stars in the distance. Flares, as they were called, illuminating the night like miniature comets, tails blazing as they returned to earth unhurriedly, leisurely. They weren’t in the direction of the Church, so surely they were a signal from one of the remaining teams. You two are perched on the roof of the hostel once again, your secret, untainted place where neither time nor fate could seem to touch either of you. Where only the constellations were privy to your conversations and laughter.

That he might stay here forever, out of reach of cruelty and his past...

“This is it. Are you afraid?”

Your voice is luminous, dauntless and can’t determine if your faith in him is that strong or you’re just resigned to whatever may come. He takes both of your hands in his, ducks his head so that his breath tickles your face. He smiles, peering into your eyes. Eyes that he could get lost in forever if destiny had so allowed. His heart seems to beat in synchrony with yours, both calm and steady, at peace.

“I can feel no fear when by your side, my (Name). Come what may, as long as we’re together I would not change a thing.” he says earnestly, sweeping you up into that familiar bridal style carry.

“You sap...I didn’t prepare a speech.” you teased cheekily, clasping his arm. “But, if this really is farewell, then know that I consider myself the luckiest magus alive to have met you.”

Your bond shimmers with the splendour of a thousand suns, so natural and integral to him that he can’t imagine being without it now. He takes a leap of faith from the building, feeling as if he could conjure wings with a mere whisper. The wind carries you forth, onwards towards perdition. He lands lightly, your warmth soothing him. What he would give for more time with his beloved, even just another day.

I’m not ready to leave…

I know, but when are we ever?

He sets you down close to the theatre, detecting both Masters and Servants alike within. He runs his fingers through your hair as you hug him.

“Diarmuid, by my Command Seal...strike swift and true.” you murmur, the red along your hand fading until only the last stroke remains.

He feels the familiar flow of your perception magecraft, your enhancement of his speed and strength. He carries these spells within him like a precious memory, treasured more than any blade or lance he bears.

“I will, dear (Name).” his hands linger on you, reluctant to leave as they finally trail away.

Then, he is gone.

--*--

The voices ahead get louder as he creeps onward, your magic shielding his presence. The end of the mezzanine above the stage is ahead, there is only silence now--

It is Gilgamesh, atop the balcony and barely glancing at his opponent below.

He nearly flinches when portals tear open the air, Noble Phantasms emerging from within the Gates of Babylon. Below, Berserker screams, wrenching a pillar from the ground as his corruption spreads through it. Then, the ground is exploding with the cacophony of blades being hurled at exquisite speeds.

“Lancer.”

Diarmuid snaps his gaze around, coming face to face with a woman, but he can identify them as Assassin and raises his spear instantly. She lifts her hands in surrender, masked visage unreadable. Gaze tired.

“We have no chance against Archer alone, but perhaps together we may. My Master has made a mockery of my morals, but now that he has exhausted my Command Seals we can do as we please. I inform you this out of courtesy. Will you unite against our common foe or will you insist on vengeance?”

He takes a deep breath, swallows his hatred for what this Heroic Spirit had done to you. For the sense of serenity that tethers him securely is from you, reminds him of the value and strength in letting go. War made monsters of them all. He might not be able to forgive them, but right now he would settle for not stabbing her open. In the great hall, weapons of eras long past streak past their field of vision, a deadly volley. Despite Gilgamesh’s power, neither he nor his Master would not have bothered to call them here. Berserker was far too insane to have done so...

“You lit those flares.”

“Indeed. Should Berserker perish, it will only be a matter of time before we follow. Now is the optimal time to strike, while Kiritsugu and Kirei are preoccupied with each other.”

He has doubts that she speaks genuinely, suspects that there are likely more of her ilk hiding somewhere, plotting their victory. Perhaps stalking Kirei, Kiritsugu, you. Planning to steal the Grail once the other players of the game have collapsed from their wounds. No conflict needed on their part, just a lack of pride and plenty of patience. Still, he has no choice. Should the King of Heroes not die here, then their defeat is all but assured. Neither can he run about hunting every single fragment of this Servant down.

“...We will hold a truce until Archer is vanquished. He will not use Ea for he respects us too little, let us take advantage of that. On your mark.” he replies finally, returning his attention to the fight.

The other Servant nodded, before darting away. Below, Berserker tore up the auditorium, throwing object after object at the King of Heroes while deflecting an equal number. They will not win, he knows this. Had Rider and Saber been here, perhaps there would have been a chance but now...they are merely buying time. For what, he doesn’t know. Still, he trusts, hopes.

“How long do you think you can keep this up, rabid dog? You merely waste my time with these fruitless games.” scoffs the self-proclaimed god king.

An unearthly screech was his only response, equal parts anguish and frenzy. Archer suddenly jerked around, the shadows around him materialising as figures who lunged for him all at once.

“What?!”

Lancer narrowed his eyes, feeling your Command Seal and magic boosting his perception and speed beyond means he thought possible. He crouched, hurtling forward at a blinding speed, in the imperceptible gap of time between one of the Assassins being pierced with a battleaxe and another weapon being readied. Gáe Dearg cut through the magical golden armour, blood splattering his side as the red spear misses its mark of his heart. Gilgamesh’s eyes were wide, crimson in rage and fury at having been marred.

“How dare you mongrels spill a king’s blood?!”

It seemed at that moment, the entire building were made of gilded pools, the silver tips of countless blades rising from their depths. He grit his teeth, as Berserker struck again, swinging a warhammer from the ground as his opponent narrowly dodged. Then the world erupted in a storm of swords. Pain shot through him as he felt your magecraft immediately dull the edge of it, lessen his injuries to mere pinpricks. He bounds away, shielding himself from the onslaught as best he can. Distantly, he can feel a number of the Assassins perish, daggers ill suited to direct confrontation like this.

Time slows for a moment as your enhanced perception finds him one last opening. Skidding to a halt, he doesn’t blink when he’s shot through with yet another Noble Phantasm, just lines his spear up for the throw. Hurls Gáe Dearg between the torrent of tridents and halberds.

“By the name of Emiya Kiritsugu, I order you with my Command Seal...”

Gilgamesh stiffens, wrath radiating from him as he snarls out bitter words of hatred, the moment of hesitation is enough for Diarmuid’s lance to lodge itself through his chest. He flinches, nearly crumpling, coughing up red. His Master does not heal him. Berserker struggles, mounts a final charge as Kirei falls somewhere beneath the orchestral pits, weapon raised, trampling through chunks of broken debris that line this hall of death.

“Archer, use your sword of rupture to destroy the Grail.”

Gilgamesh’s movements are jerky as his beloved weapon is forcefully summoned, gleaming red circuits illuminating his violent expression, pure animosity that his dying act should be against his own volition. That he should be brought down by peasants and filth. The curtains are falling on the final act of this play and he was not the one to draw them. Lancer looks down, perception heightened to near prescience. Ichor will fill this basin, drown him in a black poison. And you...you will be burned alive.

(Name), call me to you right now!

“E-Enuma...Elish!”

--*--

“Return to me, Lancer!” you yell out, feeling the last of your mana burn away as his presence materialises at your side, his weight falling next to you.

Your eyes are blown wide, as you feel power surge then die through your last remaining Command Seal. There’s a void opening in the sky, mana and energy swelling within like a tidal wave, a barely restrained ocean. But it is tainted, venomous and contaminated with all the world’s evil.

“Diarmuid! You’re injured, we need to get help, I haven’t got any mana left to heal--”

He doesn’t reply, just struggles to his feet, slinging you up and bolting. Behind him you can hear the surging of a flood, heat radiating from the furnace, screams rending the air as tears stream down your face. At once, all those lives are being extinguished, mere candle flames swallowed by a roaring abyss. You can hear your Servant’s boots getting scorched with every leap he takes, feet landing far too heavily for you not to notice how he’s hemorrhaging. Still, you dare not speak, don’t want to distract him. You just cling to the feeling of his embrace, warm and steady even now, as the world is set ablaze.

His breaths are laboured, and occasionally he stumbles in his sprint but never does he stop. You’re crying now, openly. They are being eaten alive by the inferno. You want to help them, wish you could save them or at least offer them the mercy of a swift death but you have no power to do either. You startle, gasping as he finally collapses, sending you sprawling.

Lancer raises himself to a crawl, looks back at the destruction. You’ll be safe, you’re far enough away now. He can feel your anguish, tearing up his heart more sharply than any of his wounds. He falls.

“Diarmuid!” you reach for him, pulling him onto your lap. “Hold on, you’ll be alright. Please...”

But you both know that is a lie.

He imagines how he must look, bleeding out onto the ground, eyes staring up at the darkening clouds. For a moment, he wonders whether this is his first death again. The sky...it is the same, cold and so far away. But no, there is no pain and he doesn’t feel that depthless chasm within him of a life wasted, of regret and betrayal. He is not alone, even as darkness consumes the corners of his vision. You’re cradling him, hands soft as they wipe the scarlet from his face.

“...It was so easy being with you, just uncomplicated and simple happiness. You were...effortless contentment.” he confessed aloud and through your dissipating bond, the last light that kept him grounded to this infernal place.

Yes, we were always in harmony, my loyal knight.

He nods, feeling his physical form return to ashes. But it doesn’t hurt, he doesn’t feel anguish or rage...only hope. Hope that one day, he would see you again, the way your expression lit up when you heard him approaching had always been brighter than the rising dawn. To know he was cherished, appreciated... So maybe love was like rain as they said. Gentle, steady, calm in the way it nurtured life but torrential when it broke. And if it was ever his, it would return to his lands on it’s own accord when the time was right, when daybreak shone over the horizon.

He shuts his eyes, confident that he’ll hold you again one day.

Let’s meet again in another lifetime, hm?

Yes, I’ll see you soon...

.

.

.

”For though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."

Chapter Text

TRUE END:

You ran your hand along the sigils, the infinitely intricate magecraft laid out over more than a century ago. That night, only the Lesser Grail had been destroyed...all those sacrifices wasted. Yet still, the Magus Association refused to dismantle the Greater Grail, wanted to bring it back even after the Fifth War. No matter what you said, all the evidence you brought that their means to The Root were long since corrupted, it seemed that a lust for power or knowledge overruled both. You sighed. You couldn’t do this alone, you knew that their opposition would culminate in turmoil on the scale of another one of these accursed tournaments itself when it came down to it. So for now, you would simply focus on cleansing this glorified cup. Bide your time, find allies. There was only ever one spell you needed to cast to embark on this quest after all, as before, you use no catalyst. If the Grail was pure once more, he would come.

You took a deep breath, had faith.

Back again in the forest is seemed, after all these years. Of course, you know it isn’t, the walls of the Clock Tower are a far stretch from your long gone home. But when you can’t see anything, the power flowing beneath your feet feels the same. The shimmering in your veins, the whisper of ancient magic. Even more familiar is the voice that follows the blinding light along the ground, as unchanged as the summer rains from eons past.

“I ask you, are you my-- (Name)?”

You don’t reply, just smile and open your arms as you’re embraced, lifted and spun as that same earthy scent fills you. He’s laughing, voice sweet in your ear as you breathe in, relieved, elated. Your bond blazes to life, an inferno of warmth and love between your souls, brighter than the stars could ever burn. It is daybreak again.

Trust, devotion, loyalty, honour, love.

“Our fates are as one.” you repeat back to him, and he hears it like an echo, his words from a lifetime ago. “...I missed you, Diarmuid.”

He grins, can’t seem to let you go as he touches his forehead to yours. He inhales, golden eyes fixed on your sightless ones. Perhaps he had finally learnt that fate was neither kind nor spiteful since your last meeting, but right now he could believe in destiny all over again.

“My dearest (Name), your Servant Saber is here to personally ensure that this will no longer be the case~”