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Bonds {Redux}

Chapter Text

“Isn’t there some kind of moral issue about using these to summon a spirit?” Rem turned the saint quartz around in her hand, careful not to get jabbed by one of its many points. It would probably hurt, she thought; even if up close the tips seemed sort of blunted.

The fires consuming the city around them weren’t so frightening anymore. It’d become background noise in a sense – uncomfortably warm, yes; but not really any worse than older experiences she’d lived through. And there weren’t any skeletons or shadow-beings lurking around, which made all the difference.

“Would it really matter?” Sayo, the other girl who’d stumbled out of the flames; her Chaldean uniform smeared with ash and grime looked calmer too. Almost bored. She gave her own saint quartz a measured toss, catching it when it came back down with ease. “All we gotta do is summon a Servant and make a contract. I mean, I’ve got enough mana to maybe fight a few more of those monsters but I can’t promise it’ll cover everybody else.”

Caster favored them with a sidelong glance, looking as nonchalant as ever even with the Director puffing out her cheeks like she might burst into a tirade.

“Good point.” Rem decided to head that possibility off, grunting as she pushed herself up to stand. Mash waited patiently over her shield, hands reflexively twitching every time something in the city ruins shattered or crumbled into nothing. “Let’s see what happens.”

She raised her chin at Sayo to go first, curious to see what would happen. If it would be anything like what Caster did when he called up rune flames or if the stories she’d heard about Grail Wars might be true. That summoning a Servant was an awesome experience – like a huge rush of adrenaline to whoever managed it.

Tiny lights rose up from Mash’s shield and pure mana beat at Rem’s senses like a wave. She watched them spin, closing her eyes when it grew too bright and hissed out a breath when the tide of magic broke over them.

Maybe it was more dangerous than awesome, because there was no way their enemy couldn’t have seen that display from their position.

Blinking shadows out of her vision Rem peered at the circle, surprised to see a little girl standing there; a shabby black coat swallowing up her form. She looked like a ghost with a head of messy pale hair and large green eyes, gaze fixed unnervingly on Sayo. Then she hopped down from Mash’s shield like it was the most normal thing in the world, coming to stand in front of the red-haired woman curiously.

Sayo, for her part, didn’t seem particularly sure what to make of her Servant.

“Mommy?” The little one had a soft voice, probably not much older than nine or ten if Rem had to guess. “I’m Jack, Assassin.” She continued, rocking back on her heels.

Caster whistled from where he stood, stave leaning against his shoulder. “Assassin. That’s nice, for a first summon.”

Olga frowned, arms wrapping around herself as she considered Jack. Something darted across her expression, wary and a little frightened; but she couldn’t seem to bring herself to speak just yet.

“Not your mother.” Sayo managed, slowly reaching out to ruffle Jack’s hair. Then she sighed, nearly sounding defeated. “Shit, but you’re cute though.”

“Hurry up and summon your Servant.” Olga snapped, glancing around nervously. Rem watched the Director from the corner of her eye, curious if her reaction to Jack had anything to do with the return of her bad mood. “We don’t have all day.”

Well, Rem supposed, there’d be plenty of time later to watch Sayo get used to her Servant. And she knew what to do now, so there was really no point in hesitating.

Lifting her hand Rem tossed the quartz into the ring of Mash’s shield, silently praying that whatever answered wouldn’t be too unpredictable. A shallow wish, maybe. Probably an impossible one too, but given their circumstances she didn’t think was unreasonable to hope. Light grew and swelled, sapping the city’s flames of their glow before it vanished.

When she opened her eyes again there was a book floating in the air above Mash’s shield, its cover brightly decorated with all the most famous characters of Alice in Wonderland.

“Hello to the wonderful you.” A voice rose in sing-song, the covers of the book parting to let pages rustle. A few playing cards slipped out, dancing in a tiny circle before disappearing back into the text. “Let us make this a beautiful dream.”

Rem stared, not quite knowing what to say as the book bounced down from Mash’s shield to hover in front of her; seeming to expect a response. She thought she heard Caster snickering, the bastard; but couldn’t bring herself to take her eyes off the book.

“So I get a daughter,” Sayo drawled from her left, “and you get a kid’s story book. Nice.”

“Nursery Rhyme.” The book corrected matter-of-factly, turning its cover to Sayo. “We are Nursery Rhyme.”

“Caster.” Rem hazarded a guess, surprised and a little pleased when Nursery Rhyme bounced up in delight. Reaching out she carefully closed her hand around Nursery Rhyme’s covers, lifting them up to study their form. They felt real, just like a paperback book; warm as though someone else had only just set Nursery Rhyme down for a moment.

“Well,” Rem mused slowly, letting Nursery Rhyme go in case being held was uncomfortable. “Good to have you. I’m Rem.”

Chapter Text

“Somehow I don’t think mystic codes were meant for this.” Rem mused, stretching out a hand to catch herself as they begun descending the hill which had blocked their way before. Mash hung back towards the rear of their group, ready to prevent an ambush from behind if enemies revealed themselves. Ahead, Jeanne kept her flag turned down; scanning the fields before them warily. Jack phased in and out of sight as she tagged along; sometimes moving past Jeanne and others lingering close to Sayo. Whenever Jack went out of view Rem had trouble remembering that she was even a part of their group, blinking in surprise every time the little girl reappeared.

Nursery Rhyme had the benefit of being able to levitate, which was handy. Not that Rem would have minded carrying her, since the book didn’t look that heavy.

“For extended travel?” Sayo picked up the thread of conversation after a moment, stepping around a boulder nearly the same size as jack. “Probably not. People from the Mages Association don’t really like a lot of work; so they might’ve thought it’d be a quick go in and clear things up sort of thing.”

“Maybe a few battles and then rayshift back home?” Rem added, not at all surprised by the idea.

Neither of them had high opinions of the Clock Tower as it stood; so it didn’t take much to lower it any further.

“Might’ve imagined it like a Grail War.” Sayo admitted, glancing up to check their progress as the terrain around them began to level out. There was still no town in sight, but the sky was free of wyverns for the moment. “A master or team of masters goes out, fights, and then comes back. No need to plan for long periods of time. Or,” she paused, reaching back to pull long red-gold hair into a ponytail. “They were counting on Chaldea operating at full capacity and being able to rayshift supplies where needed.”

“Then Lev happened.” Rem finished, glad to be on flat ground again for the moment. It wasn’t bad, the long walk. Especially after a battle when she could get the jittery energy from her body without being made to stand or sit still like they had to in Fuyuki. “The man with the worst hairstyle and taste in suits went and blew up their little project.”

Sayo made a noise in the back of her throat that might have been from amusement. Or, perhaps, she was getting tired of the repetitive scenery. “He definitely tried too hard to act friendly, if you ask me. Did he get all up on you when the first meeting happened?”

Behind them, Mash let out a concerned sound; distracted from their surroundings. “Lev usually was a friendly person to new candidates,” she offered, almost like a plea. “He didn’t seem capable of something so…” She trailed off, torn on what descriptor to use.

A part of Rem felt bad for her, considering that Mash didn’t have much experience with people not connected to Chaldea’s staff. It likely made Lev’s betrayal difficult to swallow, and Director Olga’s death even harder to deal with.

“People act friendly and not mean it, Mash.” Rem found herself replying, opting for a neutral tone instead of the dislike she actually felt. It wasn’t the Shielder’s fault that Lev had gone and fucked them all over the way he had. But she wouldn’t try and soften what Lev had done to spare anyone’s feelings.

To Sayo she offered, “He did. Got kind of passive-aggressive with the handshake too, but now it doesn’t matter.”

“You shook his hand?” Sayo’s nose wrinkled, almost as though Rem had described something worse. “Gross. Hope you used sanitizer afterwards, cause he was skeevy looking.”

She hadn’t, unfortunately. At least not directly after, though Rem had been certain to wash her hands before going to the Director’s meeting. After that it seemed a little pointless, since the facility went up in flames right in the middle of Olga’s speech.

“It was what it was.” Rem shrugged, brushing the memory aside. “But we’ll need to start planning for what we’ll need every singularity. The way Da Vinci made it sound, Chaldea is running on its last leg of power before fumes. We’ll probably be scavenging a lot.”

That, at least, was familiar territory. She couldn’t speak for Sayo, but between them and whatever Servants were summoned it wouldn’t be too much to hope they could find materials to use.

“There is a river up ahead that we can rest at if you are getting tired.” Jeanne finally spoke up, sounding tentatively optimistic about the idea. “We’ve made decent time so far.”

“When can we fight more monsters, Mommy?” Jack reappeared on Sayo’s right, keeping step with her easily enough despite her shorter legs. “That was fun.”

Sayo glanced at her, then away; studying the horizon with a distant look on her face. “Probably soon, not gonna lie. Whoever the Dragon Witch is, she’s a pain the a… butt.” she amended quickly. “And won’t want us to find anyone who can help us take her down.”

We could.” Jack chirped happily, circling around Sayo with a giggle. Her knives briefly gleamed in the bright sunlight pouring down on them; hidden again when her baggy coat shifted. “We’re good at it too.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Sayo hummed. “Why don’t you scout ahead a little? You’re tougher now that we gave you some embers. If you find something interesting or the enemies look weak enough, go ahead and take care of it.”

Rem watched Jack’s entire demeanor perk up like she’d been offered dessert before dinner, something that would have been cute to witness if the experience of watching Jack take out a group of enemies all on her own wasn’t quite so fresh in her mind.

“Yes, Mommy.” Jack jogged ahead with a new spring in her step, vanishing from sight a moment later.
At her side, Rem felt Nursery Rhyme perk up as well. It wasn’t quite so odd anymore, learning how to read emotion from a book that spoke with a human voice.

“May I go?” They asked, playing cards dancing around their pages in delight. “The bravest of knights sometimes needs help too, in order to defeat the evil witch and save the princess.”

It was a bad idea to put a Caster up against Riders, they’d learned; but it could be done with the right amount of support. Rem debated the merit of it for a moment, hesitant to lose the strongest Servant she had. But if Jack needed backup, or if there were Assassins mixed in the next group then Nursery Rhyme would be able to provide a helping hand.

That, and it seemed like Nursery Rhyme really wanted to go.

“Take your time.” Rem finally answered, giving Nursery’s back cover a gentle pat. “And be careful. If you need extra support I’ll send one of the others to help.”

“They’re like babies.” Sayo mused once Nursery Rhyme took off after Jack, rolling her shoulders to loosen them. “Not that that’s bad, but still.”

Rem felt one side of her mouth quirk a bit. “They’ll be good friends, probably.”

Chapter Text

“So…” Ha-Rin paused to wipe at the worst of the dirt covering her face, shaking her head once she’d done what she could. “What brings all of you here?” Her eyes flicked between each of them and Rem couldn’t find any malice in it. Just general curiosity and maybe a little bit of boredom.

Sayo didn’t look up, prodding slowly at her calf and watching how the color of her skin changed with or without pressure; sometimes poking at the healing burn she’d received in Fuyuki. Rem didn’t immediately answer, glancing over towards Sachiko as she picked at the blackened edge of her sleeve. Sachiko remained where she was, almost inhumanly still and quiet; expressionless as a doll.

“Alright then.” Ha-Rin shrugged, folding the damp towel over and wiping at her neck. Dr. Roman had promised that the showers would be operational again soon and they could all get cleaned up; but it was one thing on a long list of needed repairs since the explosion in the Command Room.

Rem, feeling a tug at her conscience, offered, “Needed a job.”

Ha-Rin turned towards her, blinking once in what might have been surprise. It was hard to say where she might have been during the Director – during Olga’s – meeting. Rem couldn’t recall seeing Ha-Rin’s face in the crowd of Master candidates, but that didn’t mean the other (girl? woman?) hadn’t been there. The same could be said of Sachiko and Sayo. It wasn’t like they knew one another well or had paid much attention to every bit of Chaldea on arrival.

Or maybe they had, who knew?

“Can’t say I’m a big fan of the cold though.” Rem found herself adding, giving up on fidgeting with her sleeve and folding her arms over her middle instead. It was chilly, especially when her body kept remembering the heat of Fuyuki burning; everything in the whole wide world crumbling away into ash.

She tried to quirk her mouth into something like a smile, but it felt strained. “Wish they’d picked somewhere warmer. But what about you?”

“I don’t mind the cold.” Ha-Rin made a face at her towel, but she no longer looked as though someone had picked her up and rolled her around in a sooty hearth. “But being inside is nice. Guess it’s a job you’re stuck with now though, hm?”

“You’re here too.” Sayo pointed out, straightening up. “We’re all stuck in the same place. Or,” she frowned, good leg bouncing a little. “Maybe they’ll put some of us to sleep like they did with the favorites. Wake us up if somebody dies or tries to escape. That would suck.”

For the first time since they’d more or less collapsed in the same room after returning to Chaldea, Sachiko moved.

“Unlikely.” Her voice was quiet and somehow heavy, gaze a little unnerving in its intensity. “There have been too many malfunctions with Chaldea’s systems since the explosion. The staff cannot pick up any vital signs from those Masters who were initially put into the Coffins. They may resort to secluding us or other methods if that proves to be the easier method of control, but if our survival cannot be guaranteed then it makes no sense to take chances.”

Silence rose between them for a moment after Sachiko finished her statement. Rem glanced towards the Coffins involuntarily, put off by their appearance just a little more. Ha-Rin mumbled something under her breath, shaking her head like she was trying to get rid of a nagging thought.

“Huh.” Sayo’s thoughtful noise broke the quiet, her nose wrinkling a little. “So they are dead. Answers that, then.”

“Will there be anything left once the Coffins are opened?” Rem asked, more to herself than anyone else. It was morbid, yes; but still a little curious. Forty-seven of the supposed best hadn’t made it, after all. And given the losses among the staff, there wouldn’t be much room to store everyone’s remains until this ‘Grand Order’ was complete.

Unless the new Director opted for cremation, of course; and faced whatever legal issue rose from that.

“Maybe.” Sachiko replied after a moment. “They are meant to preserve the body during Rayshift, as the Director explained. It might slow down any possible decay but that won’t do anything for the person.”

“Yikes forever.” Ha-Rin turned away from the sight of the Coffins, standing up with a tiny sway. “I’m gonna go check if Da Vinci fixed the showers yet. You guys have fun.”

Sayo moved to stand as well, grunting as her weight settled on her bad leg. “Private showers in our rooms should still work, since they weren’t part of the big explosion. Been nice chatting and all, but I’m out.”

“Better to get clean now than wait for the Director to remember what we asked him.” Sachiko rose smoothly, paying no mind to the rest of the room. “He’ll probably want us to do another summoning later as well. If you remember where your room is, then go. If not, take whichever one is unoccupied.”

Rem pushed herself up as well, happy to put the suffocating quiet of the Command Room out of her mind. “Good point. Guess we’ll see who’ll be playing the hero after that.”

“Good luck!” Ha-Rin called cheerily from the doorway. “I’ll be taking over the kitchens. You don’t need four Masters running around, after all.”

The door closed after her, leaving the three of them in ambient darkness. Sayo’s hand rose, hesitating before she turned to Sachiko and Rem with a perplexed look on her face.

“Did she just ditch us?” Sayo glanced between them, frowning now. “Cause that sounded like she just ditched us.”

Sachiko was frowning too, lips slightly pursed. “That was never agreed on. She can’t decide that on her own.”

“I think she did.” Rem offered, somewhat impressed despite herself. “I think she means it too.”

“Oh hell no.”

Chapter Text

“Fancy.” Rem muttered, biting into one of the chocolates she’d taken from the snack table. The hard shell didn’t give at first and she had to bare down on it, letting out a surprised noise when it finally cracked and she got a taste of the filling inside. She didn’t recognize the flavor, but it was light and smooth. Not so bad.

Sayo had made a run of the table as well, picking at her mix of foods half-suspiciously. “Was this supposed to be our thank you party for getting through a singularity? I could get used to this.”

“Maybe?” Rem shrugged. “Da Vinci never mentioned it, but that was probably the point. I think some of these were made by Ha-Rin. She disappeared pretty quickly once we got back from Orleans.”

“She bullied everyone out of the kitchen.” Sachiko offered mildly, pausing in her idle trek around the recreation room. “And has not left since. You might be able to find her there now, if you went looking. But she might drive you out too.”

Rem glanced at the staff members dotting the room and the few Servants enjoying the party. “Think I’ll pass on that. But shouldn’t she be here too? Ha-Rin did a number on Gilles de Rais, after all.”

“She fucked him up.” Sayo nodded. “It was great. Good luck if you’re gonna try and get her in here. I don’t see her as the party type.”

“No.” Sachiko turned away when Rem looked at her, mouth twisting faintly. “We wouldn’t get along. She’s Korean, after all. Our countries have a bad history.”

Food for thought, Rem supposed. It wasn’t like she’d been particularly quiet about her own prejudices back in Orleans.

That train of thought was cut when she noticed Jack taking advantage of the party-goers’ distraction to climb under the snack table with Nursery Rhyme; the two of them giggling before they dropped the tablecloth back into place so they could hide.

“Should we tell everyone to be careful?” Rem asked, directing the question to Sayo. “Jack’s pretty good at taking out ankles.”

“They’ll be fine.” Sayo popped another snack into her mouth dismissively, eyeing the drink table instead. “Keep everyone on their toes or something like that. Long as she doesn’t go for anybody’s heart, we’re good.”

Sachiko paused, looking over everyone in the room. “Not enough mages.” She mused, taking a sip of her drink. “But if Nursery Rhyme uses her reality marble it may cause trouble. Fairy tales aren’t exactly nice, when you really look at them.”

Someone crashed into the drink table, overturning cups and at least one punch bowl as they called out rapid-fire apologies. Sayo let out a whoop of laughter as Sachiko covered her face, just as Astolfo caught sight of them.

Master! Master, I’m sorry I was late~!”

“I’m going to burn him.” Sachiko muttered under her breath, easing back a step to make her escape. “Murder him. He’s the worst Rider.”

Rem winced in sympathy as Astolfo tripped his way over, not turning to look as Sachiko hurried away. Several Chaldea technicians whose uniforms had been soaked called after Astolfo, saying that he needed to clean up the mess he’d made first. Rider paid them no mind, following after Sachiko with a spring in his step.

“Didn’t she tell him to keep running the training simulation?”

“Maybe he broke it.” Sayo glanced at her empty plate, then at the remaining tables. “Or he got bored and forgot he was supposed to stay in there. She had him up against all Casters, I think.”

“He’s determined, I’ll give him that.” Rem polished off the last of her chocolate, considering going back to the line for something else. “I hope she doesn’t burn him. He’s good to have, in a pinch.”

Chapter Text

He won't be able to last long in the state he's in. Asclepius knows that. Knows it as well as he knows that his mentor Chiron would berate him severely for what he is about to do.

Can he regret it? No. Not really. He is a physician, after all. The lives of his patients come before his own, no matter who they are or what they've done. If this little stunt provides enough time for those girls to get ahead of the destruction then he only needs to dig into every drop of stubbornness he has and make a nuisance of himself.

Death holds no mysteries. One day, he swears, he will eliminate it entirely and then the gods will not get their way any longer.

"Try and stay alive, won't you?" He tells them blandly, right before the bulkhead seals tight; leaving him with the parting image of their realization.

"I do so hate it when I put so much work into keeping someone alive and they go and get themselves killed."

It's not quite a Bounded Field. The building sees too much traffic and something that extreme would have been noticed before he could make use of it properly. But he does still have a little staying power and some worshipers to his name.

A largely forgotten god is still a god, so long as someone whispers their name.

(They kill him, of course. But Heracles is not the only one with myths to supply extra lives and Asclepius cheated Thanatos and Hades of their due five times before he was finally caught and made to pay for it. He cheats again with the medicine he is most famous for and bids the enemy a last farewell as his serpent reveals it's true colors; all-devouring and resplendent.)

Chapter Text

“So, this mean you’re over it?” Jalter groused, snatching up a handful of unattended fries from Rem’s plate; eyeing the remaining food with a calculating look. A sneer replaced her frown as Rem organized her defenses in response: stacking two menus around her plate as though the flimsy plastic would hold anywhere near as well as Mash’s noble phantasm.

“Don’t know what you mean.” Rem shot back easily, lightly slapping Salter’s hand when the corrupted king’s hand ventured too close. It earned her a disapproving glare, which she returned with a shallow grin. “You’ve got plenty to eat. Demolish your own food first before you start coming after mine. Or better yet, take someone else’s. Archer hasn’t touched his.”

Immediately Salter’s expression went flat, her mouth pulling back in a grimace. “You couldn’t pay me enough to eat anything that man ordered. It’s probably poisoned.”

Had she been able to whistle, Rem would have in response to that comment. She settled for lifting her brows, eating the rest of her fries before they got cold or Jalter went in for the next sneak attack. Across the room their so-called help shifted; almost like he’d heard what Salter had said but declined to comment. For now, at least.

“You’re probably right.” Jalter made a face at the lack of fries to steal when she gave in to impulse and plucked up one of the menus Rem had been using as a shield; tossing it aside and focusing on her own burger. “But still, that’s a funny thing to hear from you Ice Bitch Queen. You never turn down food.”

“Food time, not warzone time.” Rem cautioned, not bothering to look up and catch the spark that was likely brightening Salter’s impassive features. It hadn’t taken long to figure out what dynamic Jalter and her fellow had worked out. While definitely amusing and a ripe ground for them all to pick on, this burger place was actually better than the previous one and Rem was hungry.

Both Alters leaned back in their seats with a grunt. Just to punctuate her unspoken jab at their group’s Avenger Salter took a long, unnecessarily loud sip of her drink; watching Jalter narrow her eyes as the sound grated on.

“Anyway.” Jalter managed from behind her teeth, focusing on Rem once more. “Are you all done moping about what happened to that doctor? It was getting sickening, watching the four of you drag your feet and whine like sad puppies.”

Sayo, had she not been out with Sachiko, would’ve had a perfectly biting comment to reply with. Rem picked up the saltiest, crunchiest fry she could from Jalter’s plate and popped it into her mouth; relishing Jalter’s offended stare.

“Grief’s different for everyone.” Rem began, waving at Ha-Rin as her fellow Master entered their little hideaway. “I can’t speak for them, but I’m almost certain Sachiko and Sayo would be happy to state their cases. If Ha-Rin hears you – well, I won’t spoil the surprise about that.” She paused, biting into her burger and for the moment not wishing it was something else.

“But we didn’t grind a heel in your hand when you wanted to clear up what was left in France after the singularity was resolved.” Rem continued lightly after swallowing her food. “Or when Artoria Alter had her own business to finish up and didn’t want everyone knowing about it. So,” finishing the last bit of the food on her plate Rem pressed the wrappers together tightly, forming a tight ball. “If you want to talk about sad puppies I guess we can, but I’m just going to tell you that I’m fine either way.”

She tossed the ball into the nearest trash bin, pumping her arm when it didn’t bounce off the rim. Pushing back her seat Rem gave each Alter’s shoulder a brief pat as she stood, quirking her mouth into a smile.

“For the record though, Archer’s food probably is poisoned.” Rem added under her breath, watching some of the tension leave the Alters’ faces as they processed the joke. She left them to it, crossing the room to join Ha-Rin with sorting what her fellow Master had been able to purchase that wasn’t greasy fast food.

“You looked a little angry back there.” Ha-Rin pointed out, not bothering to use her usual sing-song that drove Archer up the wall when she directed it at him. “Something happen?”

Rem shook her head, tying off one of the bags Ha-Rin passed over. “Not really. There’s no point in being mad when it’s something you can’t change. Y’know?”

“You might not be able to change it,” something approaching Ha-Rin’s usual cheer crept into her voice, “but that doesn’t mean it’ll last forever.”

“Nothing lasts forever.” Sachiko’s low voice startled them both, making Rem curse softly. She stepped around them neatly, glancing at the spoils of Ha-Rin’s shopping. “No luck, hm?”

“It’s like a convenient ghost town in some places.” Sayo affirmed, wiping something off her cheek with her sleeve. “Lights are all on in the buildings, but no one’s home. There any food left? I’m starving.”

Rem cocked her head back towards the table she’d left and the three boxes of food that had been spared Salter’s infamous appetite. “Saved you guys the chicken, since a couple of people here don’t believe in healthy foods.”

“Food is food, dimwit.” The king of Britain called back, perfectly content to remain where she was.

Jalter grumbled something around her burger, preoccupied with finishing up before Salter could lay siege to her plate.

“Y’all are gonna keel over with all that salt.” Sayo remarked. “Give some of that to Archer and maybe he’ll get some color back in his cheeks.”

Ha-Rin made a sound in the back of her throat as she finished sorting the last bag, looking pleased.

“I can assure you,” Archer spoke up at last, laying a hand on his chest in what was likely supposed to be a dignified manner. “That I am perfectly well. I’ve a hearty constitution, you know.”

Rem opened her mouth to reply, surprised when Ha-Rin beat her to it.

“You’re British.” Ha-Rin pointed out sweetly, standing up and plopping one of the bags into their group’s maybe-not-quite stolen mini-fridge. “And that means you don’t know what’s good for you, even if it came up and slapped you across the face.”

Salter coughed in the middle of sipping her drink, right as Jalter let out a choked sound through her mouthful of food. Sachiko didn’t pause as she picked over the food Rem had set aside, taking a few more napkins than was perhaps necessary.

Sayo, brows high, licked a few crumbs from her fingers as silence grew with no response yet coming from Archer. “She’s right though, you have to give her that.”

Chapter Text

Yudhisthira is, for the longest time, one Rem does not know how to interact with. He comes to their Chaldea late, or maybe just when someone needs him the most if one were to believe in that kind of thing; but he holds himself apart from everyone else, including his siblings, and Rem does not know how to reach him.

It’s not necessary that every Heroic Spirit open up to her – and really, she’s not sure many of them would even be comfortable with that given their histories. But it strikes her as out of place that he still tries so hard yet denies himself even the smallest of connections in return.

The only one she’s ever seen him really speak with is Bhima, and that only done in private. Whatever conversations they have always end as soon as Yudhisthira senses her presence and he will not say a word again until she addresses him directly or leaves.

Bhima, for his part, only says that his brother always had such a habit; rolling his eyes while the corners of Yudhisthira’s mouth tighten reflexively.

Arjuna, to Rem’s knowledge, only seeks out his eldest brother for advice and never for small talk. And the twins – the twins don’t like talking about Yudhisthira, though she’s not certain if it stems from the dice game itself or something that happened before or even after that disastrous afternoon in Hastinapur.

Yudhisthira, predictably, turns to no one and folds himself away in a corner with his prayers and the book she is never, ever supposed to touch but has tried at least once anyway. If he feels any distress at all, Rem can’t see it. None of her dreams have led her past his defenses or given her glimpses of his memories. She can recall drowning in the Ganga with Bhima, veins full of poison and waking to the sting of a naga’s bite; has stood and fought beside Arjuna when he was forced to confront the most unpleasant parts of himself. Nakula had shown her his version of the truth to be found in the forests of his childhood, of Hastinapur’s many echoing hallways; Sahadeva had laid out his predictions for the present and future under a sky so full of stars Rem had thought the world might burn with them.

Only Yudhisthira, remote and infuriatingly silent, offered no part of himself into their contract that might have belonged to the man and not the warrior; the fickle-fated Dharmaraj. He answered her questions in measured, curt sentences when she approached him; directed her away from anything remotely personal and disappeared to god only knew where if pressed too hard.

The only time she’d seen his composure be shaken was thanks to Karna and the biting, semi-passive remark made when they’d been too caught up in themselves to notice she was around.

“Wallowing in self-pity gets you nothing.” Karna’s impassive expression betrayed nothing, then; but Rem would have sworn his tone was different from usual. Separate from how he admonished more familiar Heroic Spirits – this had something that wasn’t quite a grudge but was certainly intended to censure. “If you are going to cling onto the sins of the past, at least attempt to properly rectify them.”

Even hovering near the edge of a wall to peek around it she had seen the knuckles of Yudhisthira’s folded hands briefly turn almost white.

“As you did?” Came the low reply, equally cutting in its neutrality. The lack of emotion reminded her of Babbage, just a little – but even the father of steam power managed to use more inflection to sound somewhat human. “Tell me, have you made any amends since then? Since you seek to preach to me about it, Angaraj.”

“Children should mind their elders.” Karna shot back. If he were angry, Rem couldn’t detect it. He actually sounded somewhat mollified. Maybe because his jab had forced a crack in Yudhisthira’s defense; because the only way the Pandavas and Karna seemed to be able to interact with each other was by causing one another harm. “Cutting yourself off from that which is human will not bring you forgiveness or open up the path to redemption. If you are going to punish yourself, do it in a manner which benefits your brothers.”

She hadn’t been able to stick around to see the aftermath of that; Tamamo-No-Mae’s insistent tugging on their bond drawing her away before Yudhisthira had spoken again.

But it was, even if on a slightly morbid level, somewhat reassuring to know Yudhisthira wasn’t completely dead inside. Perhaps Medb had known what she was talking about when she’d described him as being a man who would fall apart under the right pressure, if one took enough time and didn’t make mistakes.

Draupadi likely would have known how, Rem supposed. Bhima probably did, in his own way; since he was the one Yudhisthira actually turned to whenever the mood or need struck. He was, after all, said to have been the eldest Pandavas’ favorite.

Or, given how rigidly Yudhisthira had shored up his mental and emotional walls, he’d done everything possible to stamp out even that possibility. After the thirteen year exile, and particularly after Kurukshetra, he was said to have been more effigy than mortal; coldly ruthless and without lenience where demanded.

(It made sense, she guessed. Between breaking apart his family, nearly getting sold into slavery, eking out a living in total anonymity while always being afraid of discovery and then having to kill nearly all his extended family just to get the home which had been rightfully the Pandavas’ back was sure to change a person. Never mind what came after – thirty six years of ruling a demolished empire and an ailing country, facing the sin of fratricide and then leading his remaining siblings to their deaths in the Himalayas.)

{Getting back up after Babylonia had been necessity of survival – everything not related to the immediate right then and there shoved into the background; possibly never to matter anyway if they failed to stop Goetia. Finding the ability to get over Solomon – over Roman – and the revelation of the Lostbelts had been crushing. She’d had her days playing at being an autonomous machine, coping by running on autopilot.}

[At least in the Moon Cell she couldn’t remember the time she’d failed. That girl hadn’t really been her anymore, dissolving into digital sea foam beyond Melt’s reach. Whatever pain that had caused she’d never really know, because that was attached to someone else and she could only be the person that lived in this reality; whereas Heroic Spirits could be made to face every possibility of themselves that there was.]

“You know that Pandu probably didn’t want you to try and be like stone.” Rem found herself commenting between sorties and grinding for money; half-aware of what she’d said and entirely unable to regret it. A side effect of spending too much time with Karna, perhaps. Then, because she had stuck her foot in the well anyway, Rem added, “Pretty sure Yama wouldn’t like that you’re trying to be like him either.”

Nothing in her experiences gave those words any sort of basis. Yama, if he was still around, probably had better things to do than listen to the foot-in-mouth chatter of human.

“My father desired that I become a perfect king.” Yudhisthira’s cool reply surprised her, enough that she took her eyes off the shambling zombies left over from France to look at him. He only stared ahead, features somewhat pinched – though that could have been from focusing on the battle or because she’d kicked him where it was bound to hurt. “As Yama’s child I am meant to uphold righteousness and dharma.”

“You were a child.” Rem trades back after giving Nezha their go-ahead to use their noble phantasm. “And the system failed you.” Like it failed Rama too, was her sudden thought; accompanied by the short-lived epiphany that maybe Yudhisthira and Rama weren’t so terribly different in a sense.

Eldest children loaded down with the expectations of too many, demanded to be perfect in every way. One could argue Rama had a fuller deck in that regard, but even Vishnu’s ness could only extend so far. Especially under the regard of an outdated system that could be easily abused; twisted around just as fluidly as any modern-day law might before the Incineration.

Humanity hadn’t changed much, but there was something morbidly comforting about that too.

“This is neither the time nor the place.” Yudhisthira moved forward to back up Nezha, any further conversation lost as the next wave showed themselves.

It wasn’t until Columbus showed himself at the end, overwhelming Nezha and Billy to grab her by the hair that Rem got to see what it looked like when Yudhisthira’s temper really broke.

Arjuna, she had seen and understood. Even Karna in his all-encompassing pride she could make sense of.

Neither compared to the sudden darkening of Yudhisthira’s remote expression and the hard, flinty light that brightened his eyes. Whatever he said Rem couldn’t hear, not over Columbus’s grunt of pain when she drove her elbow into the soft underside of his jaw and the rush of her own pulse. Her scalp was burning when he let go of her hair – she would have hit him again but the earth abruptly opened up under her feet; all at once reminding her of falling into Kur as hounds emerged to drag Columbus into the cavernous depths below.

Mere seconds later Mash’s voice confirmed that Columbus’s spirit origin had been eliminated, as though it had never been.

“You didn’t have to go that far.” Rem comments later, trying to ignore the prickle and tug of brand new stitches. “But I’m glad you did.” She adds, because it’s true.

“Once I did nothing when a woman was assaulted before me.” Yudhisthira has not moved once since joining her in the infirmary, neatly tucked into a chair between beds. He looks out of place and somehow like a part of their surroundings anyway; more worn down that she can ever remember seeing him.

Fatigue marks thin lines around his mouth and eyes, only distinguishable because of the unforgiving fluorescent bulbs around them.

“I can’t make up for that, unfortunately.” He continues after a pause, eyes hollowed out and distant with old pain. “But I could do something for you, even if it came too late.”

“More like right on time.” Rem tells him, surprised that he’s stayed at all; let alone willing to have a conversation. “I’m not Draupadi, you know. I can’t forgive you in her place.”

“Yajnaseni never forgave me.” Yudhisthira remarks with absolute certainty, his mouth quirking briefly. Even that made him look years younger, just for a second. “I would not ask you to try, even if you were willing. I was the one who agreed to the game, and kept playing even knowing I would lose. But we are bound in an agreement, you and I. It is past time that I fulfilled my end of the contract.”

Rem felt her brows lift and couldn’t resist the chance to slide in a spare comment. “That mean we’re friends now? Cause I’ve gotta hand it to you, even Arjuna didn’t shut me out this much.”

“You are remarkably persistent.” Yudhisthira didn’t smile, his eyes didn’t soften at all; but it sounded like he was making a joke anyways. “For that, I commend you.” Then his gaze lowered, studying the new rope of black twisting over her arm or looking past her altogether.

“Perhaps not friends.” He admitted, as though he wasn’t sure what that word meant any longer. “But we have passed the usual boundary of a master and heroic spirit’s relationship some time ago.”

Did we now? She almost jibed. When were you gonna tell me we got our first bond diamond then?

“I’ll take it.” Rem tugged her sleeve down to cover Nightingale’s latest work at patching her up, not bothering to close the cuff link of her mystic code. “If you don’t mind helping me up, I think I can walk long enough to get us to the cafeteria. Since I’m off simulation grinding for now, I’ll treat you instead. To celebrate.”

“Not to have Benienma tell me that I will be entering my father’s court for not learning how to cook properly. I see.” He had closed the distance between them and helped her stand by the time the words were out of his mouth and Rem favored him with a look as he waited for her balance to come back.

Two jokes in a short row, from the son of Dharma himself. Now that was progress.

“You’re good, I’ll give you that.” She conceded, then resolved herself to hobbling out before Nightingale returned.

Chapter Text

“Do not.” Rem warned, not at all comforted by the look of perfect innocence on Amakusa’s face when he turned to look at her. He blinked, brows lifting slightly as she studied him; expression morphing into amusement when she joined him at the table.

“I was only looking.” He offered when the quiet stretched on, watching her set another grail beside the ones that had been collected previously. Singularities resolved, events which had come and gone… perhaps it was a testament to the curious nature of humanity that so many things became possible once their species’ true history had been scrubbed clean. Why else would something like Nobunaga’s curious mishaps with the grail take place, if not for the realm of infinite possibility being freely opened to all?

Or perhaps, Amakusa corrected himself, it was simply chaos and whoever happened to grab the reins first managed to direct its flow to their wishes.

Rem spared him a look as she tallied the grails and made a note on her tablet. “Look too long and you might encourage a new event.” The words were soft as she typed, but he could detect a further note of warning in her voice. “Thou shall not covet and all, right?”

“I do not covet the Holy Grail.” Amakusa pointed out. “But if it would help humanity then I would not be opposed to pursuing it.”

One of Rem’s fingers rose, wagging at him absently as she finished her typing. “Careful. That’s a dangerous line of thought and you wouldn’t be the first who slipped and fell on it.”

“Do you think I’d betray you and the other Masters?” He asked, turning to follow her out of the room. It felt wrong to put his back to the assembled grails, somehow. To know that they’d go unused until Rem or one of her fellows made a wish to strengthen a Servant.

The door to Da Vinci’s storage closed behind them and sealed tight, held together by enchantments and technology alike. Rem looked up from her tablet and hummed as she thought, looking past him for a moment.

“I think,” she began slowly, “you would if you thought it fit your interpretation of salvation better than what Chaldea is doing. Probably not with any malice in mind I’ll admit, but still. That’s not something I can blindly take a chance on, even if you did give me a bouquet on my birthday.”

He chuckled, unable to help it as she led him back into Chaldea proper. “I see. I’m sorry that you feel that way, Master.”

“You could always prove me wrong.” Rem countered easily, tucking her tablet under her arm. “We’ve got a few more singularities to go before we’re done. And who knows,” she paused by the door to Dr. Roman’s office and favored him with a smile. “You might even surprise yourself.”

“We’ll see.” Amakusa inclined his head, intending to try his luck at the simulations to pass time. “I suppose only time will tell, in that case.”

She flashed him a thumbs-up before knocking on Roman’s door, letting herself in once he answered.

Amakusa let her be, tugging his mind away from the subject of grails and wishes as he made for the command room.

Chapter Text

Her gloved hands fell to her knees, a burning sensation pooling between her shoulder blades, her lower back. Far from the wounds that had riddled her body during the exhausting fight with those annoying beasts with their twisted smiling mouths, their beetle-like skin. Behind her, she knew Nightingale was checking over Rem; her voice quiet and stern. Sayo knew she would be next. She forced herself to think, to focus on anything but the loss of so many. She would be the next one to receive treatment and get a stern talking to. She had gotten reckless - or that other side of her had really begun to show itself. Everyone has an ugly side to them, she had once explained to Jack not that long ago; back during a rather silly singularity. A time when they could laugh, smile even. Her ugly side, Sayo had explained, was one that -

“Sayo?” She flinched from his grasp, causing the flower magus to pull his hand back as though he had touched a raging inferno. He had only taken her by surprise, she wanted to snap; to cover up her own reaction. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You didn’t scare me, you startled me asshole.” She snapped, turning her head just enough to make eye contact with the Caster. Although he smiled sheepishly, hands raised in a placating manner; she already doubted the sincerity of his words. And would anyone blame Sayo if she did? Well… maybe. Merlin was their ally all things considered. And maybe he didn’t mean to scare her. Maybe he actually did only want to check on her. Between her and Rem, Sayo was always the first to really jump into the heart of battle. She was dangerously reckless, and she was positive he knew that better than anyone else here; with the exception of the servants that they had brought here.

“Whatever, what do you want?” She straightened slowly, wincing when the pain in her lower back made itself known once more. Her hands moved to rest against the spot, offering warmth and support. Merlin watched her thoughtfully, head tipping slightly to the side. “I could take care of that for you.”

“Take care of what?”

“Your wounds, of course.”

Her eyebrow twitched, gold eyes narrowing. “Not in this life.”

Chapter Text

She should go quietly. Not stir the air, or the earth; nor the waves of heat from the terrifying strength of the ancient astra. She should not linger, her chest swelling with air she cannot breathe. Her body sings as her being begins to slowly come apart like gold dust - although she was more than aware of how she was being erased from time. From reality and all that entailed. Still, her hands, no longer gloved, lingered in the air where they had once made contact with the sun warmed flesh of her servant.

She hated him for so long, as though he were to blame for her lineage. As though he were to blame for her deteriorating mental health and her inability to recognize the faces of those she had come to love and consider family.

“Chandra,” her birth name trembles, dances across his tongue steeped in shock, horror, and regret. It would have made her heart ache if it weren’t dissolving upon the altar of the false Black God. It’s strange how clearly she can see the Avatar’s features. His face was not the soft, boyish beauty the statues and paintings and all the altars would make one believe. His face was angular, beautiful, with eyes the color of the universe and a mouth that consumed all love. “Sayo, no, this cannot be!” And his voice is music to her ears; like a song of love and loss. Like a wolf howling. And he is grabbing for her, for what is disappearing. Ceasing to be. Never to be again.

Not even the Preserver can reach her now.

She was sorry, so sorry that she smiled at him. She wished, she wished she had stayed inside her mother, never to come home. Never to bring this kind of pain to the fool. Would this, she wondered as the universe stills around her, as her time ceases to be and she stripped of her mana, of her life force; erase her lineage? Each lifetime her soul had been reborn?

The woman born to the Raghu line, the princess of the other principal kingdom. The woman who would take up arms against the Pandavas, wielding Shiva’s bow and dying with no king at her side.

The woman born to the Raghu line, a witch called Chandra who bathed the dying Ashwatthama; not fearing his thunderous temper nor his numerous curses. A woman with only fire in her eyes, and praises to the gods on her tongue. Her curse, she had whispered in his ear; was to hold in her heart the sins of Ram, Krishna, and all the Avatars to come.

The woman born to the Raghu line, the first Sangna Ishvaaku, who would break into the Clock Tower to steal ancient relics belonging to the great heroes of the Mahabharata - including Krishna’s very own flute, whilst Lakshmibai fought valiantly for India.

The woman born to the Raghu line, the first Chandra in so long, to have all 108 names of Vishnu carved into her flesh. A curse carried down for so long. But the blood on her hands had scared her to death.

And so, so many others. So many before, and so many to -

Chapter Text

“Master,” Astolfo called, his voice almost too bright for the carnage surrounding them. Sachiko tried tuning it out, frowning at the remaining enemy forces and the ragtag collection of Servants she had. “Master, are you listening?”

Not now, Astolfo.” Frustration crept into Sachiko’s tone, turning it harsh. She glanced around the ruined fields for something she might have missed – anything that could be used to an advantage while they waited to regroup with her fellow masters. As far as she was able to see there was an end to their enemy’s vanguard; it was just a question of could they last long enough to celebrate it?

Armor creaked behind her and her Rider’s oddly light footsteps told her that he was coming closer, every sound plucking at Sachiko’s already fraying patience. They had a little time; it would take the Celts at least half an hour to cross the no-man’s land separating them from her unit of defense. She couldn’t see any wyverns accompanying this last group, which meant she could almost count on their foes being exclusively archers or casters.

“Master – “ Astolfo repeated softly, leaning into her peripheral vision. She could see his pink hair and the grime dulling it, smell the burnt tang of metal and cloth coming from him.

Sachiko turned, expression hardening as she faced him; half of a mind to send him back to Edison if it meant he might be quiet and leave her to think – “What, Astolfo? I don’t have time for your jokes right now. We need to hold until Helena’s stupid cat can send out reinforcements –“

“I know.” Astolfo’s voice changed, intonation deeper and calmer than she’d ever heard it. He was standing straight as well, no longer slouching forward as he normally did to present an easier target for the enemy to misjudge. One of his hands brushed hers, light and gentle. “Master, I am being serious right now. We can win this. I am sure of it.”

“You have an idea?” Sachiko glanced back at the approaching Celts, then at her Rider. “What is it?”

He brightened immediately, radiating a confidence that held no foolishness; no trace of the light-hearted jester that bedeviled whatever held his fleeting interest.

“We have Chevalier d’Eon.” Astolfo began, pointing towards the Saber jogging back to their location with only a faint limp in their stride. “Have them take point, Master, and use their Evade skill. It will last long enough for you to use a command seal so Chevalier can use their noble phantasm. Cu Chulainn the younger will be able to pick off their leader with his Gae Bolg. And I shall handle the rest.”

“There’s no guarantee d’Eon will be able to hold them for that long.” Sachiko pointed out, considering his idea for its merits; sorting through what might go wrong. Cu Chulainn’s noble was only anti-unit, true, but even his youngest incarnation had an unexpected tendency to fell an enemy one would think too much a challenge for him.

Said Lancer had joined d’Eon, and now stood just outside arm’s reach to wait for her orders. He looked only marginally better than Chevalier; heavy armor pitted and scratched from repeated skirmishes, dark blood spattered across every inch of him. And yet his eyes were bright, alert and eager for what would come next.

“I only have three command seals.” Sachiko reminded Astolfo, glancing at him. She’d stubbornly hung on to those precious sources of mana; doubting Chaldea’s ability to restore them in any singularity if they were used up. “Using one will mean that I won’t be able to bring all of you back if this goes wrong.”

Astolfo’s smile was slow and knowing, curving his eyes upwards at the corners. He reached back, producing a single whole saint quartz that she was almost certain hadn’t been in his possession before. “We have this, Master. Even if I fail you, the rest of our team will be able to push through and get rid of the enemy.”

“We are running out of time to decide.” d’Eon pointed out, their stained glove tightening briefly on the pommel of their rapier. “Already, the opposing forces have nearly reached the halfway mark. They’re moving faster than they should be able to, Master.”

“With Medb holding their reigns?” Cu snorted, propping Gae Bolg on his shoulder. “Almost nothing’s impossible if she’s the one driving them. The only thing you can do is meet them head-on and refuse to break.” He paused, nose briefly wrinkling. “Or spread out your forces to overwhelm theirs, I guess. But we don’t have that kind of manpower; even with the May King running interference.”

Sayo and Rem would be facing much the same, on their end of the board. Even if Ha-Rin wasn’t being held in reserve in case things truly went wrong, they had nothing to fully match Medb’s infinite forces. Not unless some of the more dangerous Servants in Chaldea’s roster were given free reign – which they couldn’t guarantee would not come back to haunt them later.

“Trust me, Master?” Astolfo inquired hopefully, the saint quartz glowing like a star between his fingers.

Sachiko turned her head, measuring the distance left until they’d be forced to make contact with the enemy whether she followed his plan or not.

“Take your positions.” She ordered steadily, facing her Servants. “Saber, hold your ground at the front until I say retreat. Lancer, once they’ve fallen back –“

There were no words that could adequately capture what d’Eon’s noble phantasm did to the war-torn plains. In its wake white lilies bloomed like stars rooted to the earth, swelling and glowing bright until he nearly had to look away to avoid hurting his eyes. It was nearly like journeying to the moon all over again, hovering amid a sea of constellations that up close made no logical sense.

Gae Bolg’s hungry lurid radiance pierced that image through; splashing fresh crimson and the chill of promised death over Saber’s pristine devotion. A loud cry went up among their enemy’s ranks as Lancer’s cursed spear took its toll, confusion momentarily splitting the Celts’ attention.

“Let’s go, mon ami.” Astolfo lightly scratched the hippogriff’s ruff, tucking his lance under his arm so that it would be ready when their charge reached its peak. Drawing his hand back he nudged at the phantasmal beast’s sides with his heels, keeping balance out of practice as it folded powerful wings to begin their plunge. Wind stung his face and made his eyes water, blurring the image of fading lilies and Gae Bolg’s fickle red light.

Bringing La Luna to his lips Astolfo let his mana pool into his next exhale, blasting the enemy with cacophonous noise; winking out of existence and possibility before the first disordered attempts to regroup could threaten Saber and Lancer’s retreat.

His lance and hippogriff’s talons caught them by surprise moments later, tearing through the vanguard’s flank and flattening those who tried to stand their ground; vanishing again and repeating the impossible charge a moment later from a different direction, catching scattered men and herding them back into an easily managed knot for slaying.

La Luna announced chaos again, those who remained falling to Argalia’s spear as Astolfo’s mana petered out.

“Where did you get that saint quartz, Astolfo?” Sachiko remarked, fatigue prodding at the walls of her mind determinedly. “You didn’t have that back in Okeanos.” It would have been useful against the Servants of Okeanos for one. The Demon God Pillar was a given.

Astolfo hummed under his breath, arms folded behind his back as he trailed along after her. Cu Chulainn had the lead, with d’Eon bringing up the rear. “I made it from spare fragments that I found, Master. The pieces come together easily once you have enough.”

He sounded like he was teasing her. She didn’t quite like it.

“And you never told me, Astolfo.” Sachiko pointed out.

“No.” Came the easy reply, a brief skip revealing itself in her Rider’s step. “It did not seem important at the time, you see. And if you knew, then there was a chance you wouldn’t think as desperately as you needed to, before.” He cocked his head at her, smiling ruefully. “I did not mean to be cruel, Master. But I thought having an unexpected ace up our sleeve might be enough of a surprise to throw off our enemy even more than it might have surprised you.”

Cheeky. Reckless. It made sense that he’d think of it that way. Just maybe.

“I’m going to kill you, Astolfo. Never do that again.”

Chapter Text

It’s so dark in here, within the mental landscape of a God who had managed to cannibalize the entire pantheon that so loved him. It was cold and empty, a nightmarish void where one could be free from obligation; from the ever turning wheel, samsara. Here, he was at last free. Sitting upon his white throne in the empty halls of an inverted Indralok. His head dropped forward, soft dark waves shadowing his features. His dark lashes lowered as he breathed in - a habit that the body had memorized since birth.

He had wanted to be alone. And this, he felt, no, he knew, was his reward. To be unburdened. To be without the gaze of ever watchful eyes, or the heaviness of their wishes upon him. He could stay like this forever. Yes, he could stay like this forever and never grow tired of it. Never want for anything else.

Time could slip by and it would hold no impact upon him. Would not change his feelings.

"... save her..." her voice was so hollow, so weak and frail. A voice calling to him, so scared and alone. It was haunting, all at once too familiar to him. That voice tugged at his consciousness, pulling him from his eternal reverie. Hands trembled, curled around his biceps. He could smell the all too real sharp scent of blood coming off of her skin. How? How was it possible for another to manifest in the sanctuary of his heart? For another to be here, to find him when he had locked his heart away so long ago.

"... save her. How do I save her?" She repeats, voice stronger now, grip tightening. "how do I save her, Arjuna?"
How - when? Dark eyes widened as he recoiled. But her eyes, golden as they were, burned. They were filled with such fire, blazing bright as Rudra's. On the cusp of death, and yet still so alive. Silver locks rose with the wind, brushing across his features; over his shoulders, just as her own vivid burnt orange locks moved and swayed. How had she gotten so close to him in such a short time? How had she managed to close what distance lay between them and grab him so? This sinful creature, this human bound in curses and with such evil in her heart?

She repulsed him.

And yet he couldn’t move to kill her. Not yet, some part of him begged. Perhaps what was left of his original self, or the one she was calling out to for assurance.

"I know you're in there, Arjuna. Tell me how do I save Rem- how do I save you?"

Chapter Text

Orchestral music filled every inch of the repurposed Domus Aurea, with its tall gilded walls and crimson curtains, rose petals raining from the beautiful domed ceiling. Servants danced or swayed to the music, chatting amongst themselves in all their finery; for once indulging in this reverie. Indulging in each other’s presence, as expected of friends who had at last truly grown close enough to use the term; or unexpected lovers. For once, when someone smiled, it reflected in their gaze, honest and true. The child servants dawdled, chatting and bouncing; hiding beneath white table clothes with too many sweets, or chasing each other round the large open stage. They darted between older servants, or around couples who were too lost in each other to notice.

Such was the case of Rama and Sita, a couple so lost in each other’s eyes that it was hard to believe they could ever exist without the other. Their smiles, their laughter, only directed at each other. And though their lips moved, none could really say for sure what they might be saying to one another. And who really wanted to know what private words they spoke? Each syllable was only meant for themselves, after all.

“It’s like watching your grandparents fawn over each other,” Sayo murmured, fingers smoothing out the gilded edges of her white sari. It was hard not to constantly fiddle with her clothes, to adjust and readjust the garment Parvati had given her; reminding her of the homeland she missed with all of her heart.

“But it’s adorable! They’re almost as cute as those two.” Ha-Rin remarked, tipping her head in the direction of Sigurd and Brynhildr. Of course, Ha-Rin wasn’t the only one who was spying on the dangerously in love couple; so too were the three distinct valkyries, as always. But even knowing they were being watched the couple remained ever so close, hand in hand. It was sweet, the way that color flooded Brynhildr’s cheeks when Sigurd spoke, how she tightened her grip upon his hand. Ha-Rin practically cooed when the lancer rested her forehead against her beloved’s chest so he might rest his chin atop her head. “My heart is going to explode from the sweetness.”

“Please die somewhere else,” Sachiko hummed, a soft chuckle threatening to escape her as she reached out to straighten Ha-Rin’s hanbok. It once might have shocked or surprised Sayo and Rem that Sachiko, who was open about her prejudices against their Korean ally, was on good terms with Ha-Rin. But constantly saving each other, the world, servants and so on had changed them all for the better. Or, at the very least, made each other tolerable. “Although if you do that… I would be very sad.”

“You know, that’s surprisingly nice of you.” Rem grinned.

“You can go die too.” Sachiko snapped back, as quick as ever.

“Kill me yourself, you coward,” and just as quickly as Rem spoke, she was laughing. Bright and loud, musical to the ears of those who loved her.

“Like hell are any of you dying and leaving me to take care of this circus alone.” Sayo remarked. “Fuck that noise.”

From somewhere around their legs there came a giggle, closely followed by Jack’s playful voice. “Mommy said fuck! Mommy said a bad word!” The little assassin stepped into view, twirling around in her new pinafore. She flashed them a grin as Sayo groaned, watching as her mommy scrubbed at her face.

“Jack, baby no – you can’t say things like that.” Several pairs of eyes turned towards them as Sayo lightly caught one of Jack’s hands and tugged her close, lightly patting soft white hair that had been painstakingly combed down that morning. One of the valkyries chuckled, flushing when she accidentally drew attention to herself.

“You’ve become such a mom.” Rem teased, adjusting her rebozo a little to ward off the faint chill which accompanied Skadi as the Caster wove her way around them. “And don’t even try to deny it – we all know.”

Ha-Rin nodded, lifting a hand to wave at the Hessian when he turned his frame towards them. “We’ve been know about that. Like you and Nursery Rhyme, Rem. You’ve both become mothers.”

“Shut your face.” Rem countered without heat, folding her arms loosely across her middle.

“Abigail is everyone’s daughter.” Sachiko pointed out, turning her head as an overzealous shout briefly interrupted the soft music around them. All of them, even Jack with her hand still cradled in Sayo’s, watched as Jaguar made a beeline for the snack table; eager to treat herself to as many dishes as she could.

Bedivere, the brave soul, moved to intercept as almost everyone else looked away and began to pick up conversation once more; or resumed their dancing as another song began to fill the air.

“It’s nice to have moments like this.” Rem mused quietly as she looked out over the Domus Aurea’s assembled guests, her tone bordering on fond. “Could almost get used to it.” If such were possible she could certainly feel grateful for each occasion, especially when measured against every hardship that had been encountered thus far. Meetings and losses, having their hopes destroyed and learning to make their own miracles. To have the opportunity to relax, enjoy one another’s company while not being wary of what would come next was liberating.

“We’ll just have to make some more.” Ha-Rin agreed softly. “Lots more.”

Chapter Text

“We jinxed it, didn’t we?” Rem asked, pulling fragments of tinsel from her hair with a thoughtful expression. “The whole, ‘maybe there won’t be another catastrophe this year’?” Despite looking like someone had let off a tinsel cannon at point blank range, Rem’s tone was light. “Guess we should’ve known since Salty Santa had been sneaking around.”

Sayo made a face at the prickly material she was currently shaking out of her boots. How it’d gotten there she could only guess, but that just meant whoever was responsible would be tracked down later.

“Least Jing Ke isn’t drinking?” She offered, finally easing her foot back into the boot. No tinsel to be found, thank whatever. “I know it’s not much, but you gotta admit that Christmas is a lot more fun when she’s sober.”

“Got me there.” Rem conceded, knocking snow from her boots. Looking up at the deceptively barren field around them she strained her ears, trying to catch any sound that might give a clue as to what would be coming up next. There were no thundering hooves, no sleigh bells. Not even the blastoff of a high-powered rocket engine.

It was too perfect.

“You ever get the sense that something terrible is about to happen and you should run?” Rem flexed her hands, keeping her voice conversational.

“That’s usually when I run towards it.” Sayo straightened up, rolling her shoulders. “Won’t know what’s ahead til we get there.” She frowned, rubbing at her nose. “I just hope it’s not Little Darius or Gilgamesh with his nasty bits out again.”

On that, Rem had to agree. Her only real complaint reared its ugly head when they finally caught sight of this year’s (perpetrator) Santa Claus; Quetzalcoatl’s cheery smile a hundred times more frightening than Santa Alter’s bag of presents had ever been.

“We’re going to die.” Sachiko mused quietly, her hair and layers of clothes pockmarked with snow. Rem wasn’t sure how they’d gotten split up this time around – the last she remembered before the Rayshift had been Yan Qing pushing Ha-Rin towards the console and…

That pendejo, Rem adjusted her gloves and sighed.

“Well, I brought a Berserker.” She offered, meeting Sachiko’s eye for a moment; then Sayo and Ha-Rin’s. “Anyone else got someone that’s good against a Ruler?”

Sayo’s shadow twisted around her feet and that was more than a good enough answer for anyone who was looking.

“I don’t like fighting Rulers.” Ha-Rin rubbed her hands together, blowing into them to alleviate the cold. “They like to cheat.”

“Raikou.” Sachiko let the name hang in the air, brushing snow from her scarf. A flash of gold at her elbow announced Raikou’s arrival, patient smile firmly in place.

Two Berserkers, an Avenger, and maybe an Archer walk into a bar – Rem brushed the thought away. Quetz was giving them her full uninterrupted attention now. It would’ve been a lie if she said that wasn’t terrifying on some level, considering the damage Quetzalcoatl could do as a Rider.

“Feliz Navidad.” Rem shrugged, carefully shifting her weight in case they needed to break apart and surround their opponent during the upcoming battle.

Chapter Text

“It will be a strange thing, to serve another Master.” Karna mused, burying his hands in Sayo’s hair and savoring the feeling; watching red-gold tresses slip through his blackened fingers and how the faint radiance of his armor made each strand shine.

Sayo made a noncommittal sound in the back of her throat, pressing close to better ward off the chill. His cloak should have taken the worst of it but the tattered-looking material didn’t quite reach her legs. Or rather she wouldn’t let him alter it to do so, claiming that it would be too warm if she were totally wrapped up in it.

“Thought you’d be looking forward to it.” Her teeth weren’t chattering anymore and he could understand her better now. As he watched, Sayo’s fingers dug into Agni’s flames; drawing them closer. “There’s probably Masters out there a lot better than me. A couple you’d want to see again at least. Like Jinako.”

That name did tug at him, nudging faded memories into the light.

Karna pushed them aside, drawing his hands out of Sayo’s hair and pulling her close despite her protests; willing his cloak to give off a little more heat.

“You are my Master, Sayo. There is no comparison to be made.”

Chapter Text

“You’re holding up well.” Dantes’ turned his head, blowing a thin stream of smoke away from the bed so that it wouldn’t get in Sayo’s face. Reclining on his side beside her, Avenger tossed his coat over Sayo’s shoulder; covering her face from the too-bright lights.

Electric lights had lost their novelty for him some time ago. But candles weren’t recommended in Chaldea’s style of rooms and the good doctor might well accuse him of trying to start a fire. Perhaps he would have, if it meant being able to drag his chosen accomplice into the bowels of Chateau d’Iif.

Even if it was hell, he could have kept Sayo safe.

“It should be obvious that I cannot fix the damage to your sight.” Another stream of smoke filled the air, woodsy and a touch sweet. “But with my Noble Phantasm your other senses will be heightened, if you need them to be. Your perception of touch might be dulled, however.” Golden eyes fell to examine the thin strip of scarred flesh between his sleeve and glove.

“Myself,” he continued, shifting so that the area no longer showed. “I can scarcely abide the sensation. In that, you and I are not dissimilar.”

Part of the reason that his rage burned all that it touched, poisoning what couldn’t be immediately reduced to cinders. If anyone would dare to lay a hand on the King of the Cavern they would suffer for it as deeply as he could enforce with his own willpower.

“For as long as your own goals and mine align,” Avenger mused, turning to look at the crop of gold-kissed hair poking out from under his coat. “I will lend you my strength. If it gets to be too much, however – there is still plenty within the world to burn.”

The fallen Saint of Orleans might well plunge an entire world into the flames of her own imagined demise, but time and space bent for him as it did few others. Those who weren’t gods of some sort, at least.

“Attendre et espérer.” Dantes murmured and tapped the ashes from his smoke.

Chapter Text

“I remember thinking we wouldn’t get along with each other.” Rem swallowed, counting the ridges on the cave’s ceiling. She tried to, at least, but it was hard when her vision kept blurring. Numbness continued to creep up her legs and toes – not as directly malicious as Gorgon’s focused gaze, but worrisome nonetheless.

Sayo kept scrubbing at her hands, focused. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Rem’s mouth curved at the memory. It felt like ages had passed since the first day of Chaldea. Meeting Olga and Romani. Tripping over Fou and feeling a little sorry for Mash. “I was wrong though. You’re not so bad. A little on the short side, but still good.”

“Fuck you.” Sayo turned, hands scrubbed pink and as clean as they could be; given their surroundings.

“I’ll treat you to dinner instead.” Rem managed a laugh, tugging up her shirt so that it would be easier to reach the shrapnel in her side.

Chapter Text

“You look like you’re very lonely.” Ha-Rin rocked back on her heels, not at all perturbed by the giant figure taking up most of the space in her room. As she watched the tip of his tail flexed, curling in on itself; and then slowly crept closer to his bent legs. He’d pushed himself up against the wall and into a corner, leaving himself nowhere to go.

“God has no reason to feel lonely.” Came his response, voice low and almost too soft for her to hear. Tilting his head, the tips of glowing blue horns lightly scraped the ceiling; one dark eye considering her with distant interest through layers of wild hair. “You have not told them I have arrived in this place.”

A hum played across Ha-Rin’s lips. “No. Why would I? If you’re not ready to see them, then you’re not ready.”

“And you are not sure that you even see me for yourself.” He surmised, watching her now with both eyes; no longer so tightly pressed in on himself.

“I see you.” Ha-Rin answered brightly. “You shouldn’t assume that you know everything about everyone, you know.”

Chapter Text

“Stop that.” He muttered, sharp eyes narrowing when she blinked at him. In a softer tone he added, “Come here.”

“M’not sick.” Rem pointed out, nonetheless coming closer as requested. “I don’t really have any rare patients for you either, so I wasn’t going to bother you – “ She trailed off as Asclepius’s hands framed her face, the knowledge that he was touching her without gloves rooting her to the spot.

He never touched anyone without protective gear on. At least, not to her knowledge. Even when the med bay had been scrubbed clean to the point someone could see their reflection in the floor he kept his doctor’s gear immaculately in place.

The pads of his thumbs pressed lightly against the sides of her mouth and without thinking Rem lowered her jaw obligingly, searching Asclepius’s impassive features curiously. He didn’t say anything, only leaned down to seal his mouth over hers; swallowing her questioning protest. Warm and insistent, he didn’t let her draw back or steal a single breath until she squeezed his shoulders; unaware of exactly when she’d reached for them.

His lips were pink when they separated and he looked like he was barely restraining a smile. Rem blinked a couple times to get her bearings back, swallowing thickly as her face burned.

“Don’t chew on your lip.” He informed here quietly, eyes bright with something she didn’t have a name for. Amusement? Satisfaction? Both? “If you break the skin then I’ll have to add a new thing to the list of things I hate: stupid people who hurt themselves.”

“Smooth.” Rem countered, calmer now that she had her breath back. “I almost believed you – except that I know you’re watching me talk more than listening right now.”

“Lies.” Asclepius hummed curtly, pulling her in to nip at her bottom lip. “I can do both.”

Chapter Text

"You're doing a little better, Master." Yan Qing says, eyes curving up at the corners as he smiles. It's either a genuine compliment or lighthearted teasing. And knowing him, it could very well be both.

Still, it seems too easy for him to say when he is the one with the upper hand again.

Her neck and shoulders still ache from the chokehold he'd caught her with before and it stings a little to swallow. The edge of the gym mat presses uncomfortably into her back and Yan Qing's weight feels immovable as a mountain. Worse, he's warm and she wants no part of it what with how sweat already makes her gym clothes stick to her skin.

Rem laments for a second that Assassin is too close for her to headbutt with any real chance to do damage.

Yan Qing's smile widens and he looks more like a child than a man who'd been feared to the extreme as a bandit in ancient China. She remembers now that his designation was the Skillful Star and that it more or less gave him no choice but to be good at everything.

Except some things. Like knowing when to shut up, sometimes.

"Don't pout, Master." Lowering his head so that their foreheads can touch, Yan Qing only hums when she tries to squirm away. It's no good, really, and she can't get a good enough angle to kick him off.

"You are doing better." This close, it's possible to see the subtle gradient of darker greens in his eyes. The tip of his nose brushes hers, breath tickling her skin. He smells like nothing oddly enough. Maybe it's a trait of his mimicry skill. "I'm just the one with more experience. You've got time to catch up."

If she had use of her hands it would be the perfect opportunity to grab at his hair. He's the only man besides Asterios and Merlin to have it so long that she's seen; perfect inky black that trails past his ankles but somehow doesn't impede him at all in a fight.

But he's preparing himself to talk again and Rem sees her chance, albeit knowing it's not a legal move in any way and couldn't be counted as a victory. Tilting her head just a little, she leaned up just as he started to speak and sank her teeth into the soft flesh of his cheek.

His yelp was loud but so very worth it after getting rolled around the training room like a child's toy since this morning.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe they’re working us like this.” Kadoc wiped the trickle of sweat from his eyes, grunting when it stung anyway. It didn’t help matters that his hair kept flopping right into his face no matter how many times he pushed it back. Pepe made a sound that more or less meant they were half-listening, their head tipped almost all the way back as they enjoyed themselves.

Yu, if she were here – (obviously she wasn’t, because Yu was definitely a woman and the women had their own section to the sauna) – would have told him to stop griping. Perhaps she’d even be reading at a time like this; turning the pages like the heat didn’t affect her at all.

Ophelia would’ve been suffering, probably. But she’d do her best to make sure no one picked up on it.

“Here~” Kadoc jumped at the sound of Pepe’s voice, opening his eyes to see Pepe leaning over him. His hair was lifted and quickly pinned; before he could even make a sound Pepe was back where they had been, cool as a – as a… how’d the phrase go? A cucumber?

That would’ve worked, Kadoc supposed, if it weren’t for the trails of sweat he could see on his fellow Crypter’s skin.

“You looked miserable, Kadoc.” Pepe hummed, cracking open an eye to look at him. They smiled, quick and teasing; exactly how he remembered. “Now you should be able to enjoy yourself for the rest of our break~”

“It doesn’t bother you at all?” Kadoc asked, grateful now that he could shift and lean back without sweat-sodden hair nearly stabbing him in the eye. “We were the best Master candidates of Chaldea – now we’re… we’re assembly line workers.”

Pepe’s lips pursed for a moment but it did nothing to take away from their amused pensive look. “Why should it? This is a good opportunity. We’re getting work done and having a good time, aren’t we?” They smiled as Kadoc opened his mouth, intending to protest, then added, “It certainly beats being dead, doesn’t my dear?”

Kadoc shut his mouth, suddenly uncomfortable. Looking away he studied the floorboards of the sauna, picking silently at his towel. True, it felt like a blow to his pride being ordered around by a Heroic Spirit who’d somehow – and just how had Pen managed it?; to become the CEO of her own mega corporation. But Pepe was right: it was much better than any other fate he’d thought of back in his own Lostbelt. Hefting boxes and loading up trucks was tedious and exhausting, but no one was shooting at them (yet, he wasn’t quite sure just how far Pen was willing to go in order to guarantee next day delivery for some of these packages).

And they were allowed breaks. An entire sauna to relax in and get their strength back. The food wasn’t bad either and when he’d seen Anastasia she’d looked… well perhaps not entirely happy since she was stuck in a floor-length gown and cape, but she was alive and occasionally enjoying herself. Kadoc had heard Anastasia giggling once as he’d shuffled after Pepe for their break; so that had to count for something, right?

“How’s Ash taking it?” Kadoc asked, looking up at Pepe; not surprised at all to see they were fully devoted to relaxing again.

One green eye opened to look at him and Kadoc would have sworn his friend was laughing at some private joke.

“Ashy? Oh, he doesn’t mind the physical labor.” Pepe chuckled, pushing themselves up to sit properly. “I rather think he enjoys it. But the darling has a habit of turning it into a competition – I’ve had a word with Pen to make sure he doesn’t overdo it and hurt himself.”

Considering what Kadoc knew of Pepe’s short-tempered Archer, he doubted lifting cargo would put a sprain on Ashwatthama’s physical condition. Or maybe it was the man’s pride Pepe was referring to.

“He should be fine.” Kadoc offered, unable to come up with anything else to say on the matter.

A bell dinged and Pepe stood, their towel slipping a little over their hips. Kadoc looked away, clutching his own towel in the hopes of preventing the same from happening.

“Looks like our break is up.” Pepe sighed, already heading for the door. “Come on, sweetheart; before you pass out. We’ve got to clean up, after all~”

“’M not your sweetheart.” Kadoc called after them, trying very hard not to slip on the floor and bare all to the world.

“We are most perplexed.” Shi Huang Di, despite their words, looked perfectly happy to stay exactly where they were; lack of towel and all. “Do humans find this to be enjoyable? Is there something about dehydrating yourselves so that proves beneficial?”

“Some people like slowly roasting themselves alive.” Meltlilith replied coolly, sizing Ruler up with narrow eyes. When she smiled it was sweet, but there was no amount of coy humor that could disguise her glee as Shi Huang Di straightened up in alarm. “Think of it – the slow drain on a human’s strength; the way their muscles turn to jelly and their eyes start to glaze over. No matter how much they pant for breath it’s never quite enough as they start to grow listless and confused - !”

Nezha had the audacity to lightly tap one of Melt’s knee-spikes, heading off what likely would have been a very passionate speech. “Not. True. No one. Stays. That long.” They turned their attention towards Suzuka, one brow raised; not seeming to notice how Melt pointedly turned her legs away and out of Nezha’s reach. “Right?”

“Like, you just stick around long enough to get rid of nasty impurities.” Saber fanned herself lazily, her hair threatening to escape its bun. “Leaves your skin soft and glowing or something like that. Helps keep you pretty for your hot boyfriend~” She grinned, revealing a hint of tooth at Shi Huang Di’s puzzled expression.

Even Nezha had worked up a sweat but Ruler barely had a flush rising to their cheeks. Now they were processing what they’d heard, long nails lightly drumming on their knee.

“Yet this is unnecessary for physical labor.” They determined, ignoring or oblivious to Suzuka’s discrete eye-rolling.

“It’s to help ease the discomfort brought on by repeated physical exertion and reduce fatigue by providing a change to rest while purging impurities from one’s system.” Yu’s quiet voice interrupted from behind them. She’d folded herself into a corner, the sauna’s heat making her eyelids droop somewhat. “While this is above and beyond what most normal employers would provide for their staff, the CEO of Amazones prizes efficiency above everything else. This is a way to ensure we are provided our due legal break from strenuous labor, while maintaining our health overall – if not improving it.”

Passionlip shifted in her seat, looking almost sleepy. “Mother never offered us anything like this. But… it’s nice, I think. Don’t you, Melt?”

“As though sitting with a group of people and smelling their body odor could be pleasant.” Meltlilith turned her nose up at the idea, yet didn’t move from her careful sprawl.

The door to the sauna opened and Mash poked her head in, looking relieved to see them there.

“Ten minutes left. Please make sure you take time to cool off before returning to work.” She smiled, bowing her head quickly before ducking out and closing the door.

Suzuka let out a sigh, rolling her wrists to loosen them up. “Well, it was good while it lasted.”

“I would say it’s a little disheartening that we haven’t scratched the source yet,” Rem stretched her arms above her head, slowly leaning from side to side to get the stitch out of her muscles. “But we’ve been through this before. And worse. Plus we’ve got extra help now.”

Sayo didn’t reply, draining her cup before setting it back on her desk. Rocking back in her chair she adjusted her bathrobe to ward off the office’s chill.

“Don’t get carried away.” Sayo remarked at last, looking bored. “I’ve reminded Pen to take it easy with the raid quests, but you might want to focus more on the main floors right now.”

“There’s five raids per floor, give or take?” Rem pointed out, tying her hair back. “I think that was her version of going light this year.” She checked her gloves, then tossed Sayo the list of completed raids and materials earned. “I asked Sherlock to double check inventory just in case. I don’t see Pen short-changing us, but if Yan Qing gets into the warehouse I don’t trust him enough to say he wouldn’t mix things up just for fun.”

“She’ll break his hands if he tries.” Sayo mused, catching the list. “Go and have fun. I’ll still be here unless someone gets hurt.”

Rem raised a hand to wave, already heading for the door. “Hopefully nothing worse than cardboard cuts.”

Chapter Text

She stared at him, at his insistent and blinding smile and wondered not for the first time how she got herself into these things. Ozymandias showed no signs of joking. Other than his trademark smile, he remained firmly planted where he was with arms folded over his chest. Everything about his stance conveyed a take it or leave it sort of air and frankly, she was a little done with it.

"Ozy," Rem began slowly, tone mild if not a little bit tired. Maybe, just maybe, her use of his nickname would make him be less stubborn. "I'm down for exchanging mana with you. Putting it up your ass included. But really, you want me to find a golden - "

"It must be gold." He cut her off matter-of-factly, dropping his smile to look more serious. "What else would be appropriate for the bedding of a pharaoh? I'm willing to admit that you are likely to be a pleasant lover, your status as my current Master aside. But only the best is acceptable."

If not for the solidity of Chaldea's floors, she would very much like to drop to the center of the earth right about now. Where he expected to find a golden strap on was beyond her - and she didn't really want to think of the options right then.

"Ramesses, you're being ridiculous." She told him flatly.

He only frowned. More like pouted, but if asked she knew he would insist on it being a frown.

"Is that a no?" He asked, almost plaintively.

Fucking hell, maybe she could ask Karna if his heavenly father took custom orders for crystallized sunlight.

"You're actually gonna go through with this?" Sayo drawled, watching her measure out materials for the mold with care; chin propped on ink-stained hands as Rem worked. "I'm pretty sure that someone put him up to this as a joke. Probably Gilgamesh, since he's got the obsession with gold."

"I know." Rem didn't look up, only stopping once the mold needed to set and she could rest her hands at last. She was thankful that Da Vinci hadn't asked too many questions after getting a good laugh out of the whole situation. All it had taken was the suggestion that constructing a mold that could produce results safe to use would be another testament to Da Vinci's own genius. It had felt like an underhanded dig, plucking at that; but if Ozymandias and possibly Gilgamesh thought making unusual requests would get them an advantage of her, Rem aimed to prove them wrong. "There. Now we wait and I can finally eat." She sighed, flexing her hands carefully to get the numbness out of her joints.

Sayo jerked her chin at the sink, happy to stay where she was. "So did you go to Karna? I bet that was something interesting to watch. Did he turn colors? I don't think I've ever seen him blush."

Heat crept up the back of Rem's neck as she washed her hands, but she managed to keep her tone level for the most part as she replied. "I didn't ask. It was tempting, don't get me wrong - but I didn't want to deal with his deadpan face and that stare he gets when you ask him something he doesn't know how to answer."

"He might've humored you, ya never know." Sayo pointed out, drumming her fingers against one cheek. "Sometimes Karna does that. It's not really charity, mind you; but the urge to see if something can really be done tends to hit him pretty hard."

"I know." Drying her hands off with a towel Rem turned her back to the sink, studying the molds and mentally tallying how long they would need to sit. This would be worth it, she hoped. If only to see the look on Ozy's face. "But if he actually did ask his dad or someone for materials I could use for this I think I might die out of embarrassment. So I'd rather avoid that."

"Just ask me next time." Sayo hummed. "I'm not scared."

Rem tossed the towel at her, rolling her eyes. "Yes, I'm well aware of that. I'll keep that in mind next time some cabron decides they want a custom made sex toy."

It would be worth it, Rem told herself; for the experience if nothing else. After all, if she kept making weird things in-between saving the world and whatever else it'd become useful at some point in the future. If nothing else then she could make interesting projectiles to lob at the next threat to humanity.

Chapter Text

“What,” Rem began jokingly, “no overly elaborate gifts this year?” She tucked the small box that had been carefully assembled in the kitchen behind her back, fully aware how easily Arjuna could track the movement. How he’d probably already seen, or guessed, what she was holding. Half the fun of it was keeping the game going, however; and Rem was pretty sure his mouth had quirked up a little bit before he’d smoothed it away.

“Have I failed to impress you, Master?” Somehow he managed to make it sound lofty, even with a knowing look in his pretty eyes. “Should I come bearing gifts as I would for a kingdom? Trains of servants, all carrying gold and jewels, spices and delicacies? Would that,” he asked as he clearly fought a smile, “be to your liking?”

She pushed the box at his chest before he could advance, stopping him in his tracks; relishing his tiny blink of surprise. “No. I’d actually be really concerned about where you’d managed to find all that and if it would mean we were at war with Goldie.”

Arjuna carefully took the present from her hand, thumbs lightly running over simple red paper lining before lifting the lid. It wasn’t velvet inside, there was no gold or beautiful gems; nothing like the heavy arrow he’d given her on her first year of Valentine’s.

“I know European chocolate is too sweet for you,” Rem still took a little bit of pleasure from that. “But bombones should be good. I asked Quez to double check and they passed her inspection.”

Something eased in Arjuna’s expression and he glanced up at her almost fondly. “I liked the chocolate you gave me last year. But I’m sure these will be pleasant as well. Thank you.”

“Last year we destroyed the kitchen because you have a too much gene.” Rem countered easily, pleased to see the faint splash of guilt dart tinge his expression before he could hide it. “But you’re right,” she added, reaching out to tug lightly on his sleeve. “The cake turned out good. And it was nice to get away from the floodgates of chocolate.”

“Please do not speak that situation into being, Rem.” Arjuna closed the box containing her present smartly, all business for one brief and perfect moment. The exact picture of a man refusing to think back on a traumatizing experience.

It was nice to know someone else still shuddered to think of Semiramis’s Hanging Gardens being overrun by rivers of liquid chocolate.

“I’ve got to see Lip, Melt and Protea.” Rem stuck her hands into her pockets, studying him with soft eyes. “BB won’t be around until later, but I think we’ve got her covered too. I’ll see you before lunch?”

The curve of his mouth thinned, becoming an unhappy line. Once she might not have caught it, and now his micro-expressions were familiar territory.

“There are other Masters.” Arjuna said it so lightly, one could almost miss the faint edge to his voice. “It is early, still. No one would notice if you stayed a while with me.” He didn’t look like he was pleading, and he wasn’t angry like he might have been a year or more ago. “Passionlip, I know, would fret if you came across her working with Tamamo Cat in the kitchens.”

“And you’re right.” Rem answered easily, stepping around him so she could get on her way; pausing long enough to rest her head on his shoulder. “But,” she added, savoring his warmth, “the later it gets the busier we’ll all be. If I see them now, I’ll have more time to spend with you.”

His posture relaxed and Rem felt him shift, his head gently resting atop hers for a moment. “Then I will look forward to this afternoon, Master. Don’t eat too many chocolates. Or at least brush your teeth if Jalter Lily tries to make you tea again.”

“She’s baby, leave her alone.” Holding back a laugh Rem pulled herself away from him before she could talk her brain into leaving her promise behind. “I’ll see you, peacock.”

“My name means silver, Master.” Arjuna called after her, sounding only slightly affronted. When she turned down the hall she glanced at him, delighted to see the flicker of exasperation on his face still there.

“Also means peacock.” She called back before continuing her walk, quickening her step in case he decided that was one jabs too many at his name and wanted to make her regret it.