“Archer,” said the King of England from her position at the staff door for the kitchen. The petite king held the door open, not entering until she was given acknowledgement.
“Seibah,” asked the man who had his back turned, chopping away at a cutting board. Without turning to look at the presence, he said, “Or rather, Artoria. I suppose we should both try and get used to using actual names in this place.”
“I suppose you are right,” said Artoria. After a moment’s pause, waiting for Emiya’s invitation that did not come, Artoria said, “I will be entering.”
“That’s fine. There’s a break table over there,” Emiya indicated a direction with his head where a sturdy table sat with chairs around it. It was likely where the kitchen staff ate their meals away from the prying eyes of the rest of the Chaldea staff. It was away from the preparation area that Emiya was using, but still in range of polite conversation. Artoria went to the table and sat down with a polite word of gratitude. During this time, Emiya did not look up from his cutting board once.
Silence pervaded the kitchen except for the chop-chop-chop of a kitchen knife cutting through vegetables. There was a pause in the sound that lasted long enough for Emiya to move over to a refrigerator, pull some more vegetables out, wash them, and then return to the cutting board. The chop-chop-chopping returned with only a minor change in cadence caused by a different vegetable being cut.
“Emiya… We need to talk.”
“I think you know what it is we need to talk about.”
“…I would rather not jump to conclusions and be mistaken, Artoria. What is it you want to talk about.”
There was the sound of metal shifting cut items on the wooden cutting board and the clink of dishes. Seeing that Emiya refused to start the conversation himself, Artoria sighed and said, “Alter was right about you. The more important the topic, the more likely you are to avoid it.”
Emiya twitched a little, but remained silent because he knew he couldn’t refute that comment. Finally he picked up the plate and brought it over to the table Artoria was sitting at and set it down in front of her. On the small plate was a bundle of carrots cut into sticks and a tiny bowl with a white sauce in it.
“This is,” asked Artoria.
“I figured you were a little peckish and came to the kitchen for a pre-dinner snack. So I made something light for you. I wasn’t aware you came here for a conversation, though. I’ll just take these back, then.”
“There’s no need to waste your consideration,” said Artoria who’s hand expertly picked up a carrot stick while blocking Emiya’s hand that was reaching for the plate. With a crunch, Artoria bit down on the carrot she’d dipped in the sauce and asked what flavor that was.
“It’s called Ranch Dressing. It’s popular with vegetables in America. I thought, you being a Westerner to begin with, you might appreciate the flavor more than mayonnaise.”
Artoria looked down at her plate and said, a bit melancholy, “Really. Even now, you care about everything except yourself.”
Emiya looked down at the floor and said, “I suppose we do need to talk,” before taking a seat and continuing with, “The Fifth Holy Grail War, right? How much do you remember?
Artoria looked up at Emiya, and let her eyes unfocus as she concentrated on her thoughts.
“Fragments and pieces, mostly. Battles I could not afford to lose. A duel where it would be better if I lost. Ignominious imprisonment at the witch’s hands. Alliances between Masters, and at least one Servant’s betrayal. But there is a memory that stands out from the rest, even tattered and torn. It was a duel between a boy trying to overcome his future, and a man trying to destroy his past.”
Emiya looked blankly at the surface of the table and said, as a statement, “That’s how you know, then. My True Name.”
“Yes,” said Artoria with the gravity of a judge’s gavel. “I… have no memory of the time I was your Servant.”
Emiya sat quietly for a time before asking with his throat tight, slightly twisting the sound of his words, “So, you just remember the high and low points of the War itself? Nothing else?”
Artoria went along with the change in topic to ease the awkwardness, saying, “I have… wisps of memories of peaceful days. When the allied boy and girl Masters lived together while working to maintain my presence in the world. But… the memories run together into a single gentle feeling in the depths of my soul. The more I try to remember any of those days, the more elusive they become. Like the fleeting fragrance of a garden caught through an open window. I cannot tell you anything that happened… but I think… that the girl was able to keep the boy from abandoning himself in the same way that you once did.”
“Heh. If anyone could keep that idiot in line, it would be her.”
“It was not just her, though.”
“Oh, yeah. You helped too, I suppose. Thanks for watching out for the two of-”
“That is not what I meant, Archer. No, Emiya. You helped change that boy as well.”
“What are you on about, Artoria?”
“You forced that child to see the future where he abandoned everything, ending up alone and with nothing to protect. A future where there was nothing to protect. You also showed the girl what awaited the boy should she give up on him. By doing so, you allowed them to see the paths that awaited them. And by holding onto each other, they were able to avoid the path that led to the creation of a second version of you. They walked a path where the boy continued to not abandon anyone, especially not himself, or the girl that had entwined her fate with his. Even though it was not your intention, you saved that boy who could not see himself, by forcing him to see you.”
Emiya had been listening with wide eyes while Artoria spoke. At her pause, Emiya chuckled and said, “And here I thought I was the one that had been changed by our encountering each other. But I see. He… was saved.”
“I would say that the two of you saved each other. The you of right now seems much different than the you of my memories. Like you have reached a level of inner peace you did not possess before.”
“Yes. I… have been able to accept my regrets and wash them all away. Except for a single regret that will stay with me forever, I suppose.”
“And what is that one regret?”
“That I needed to have that idiot beat my regrets out of me in the first place,” said Emiya jokingly.
Artoria laughed along with Emiya and said, “Yes, truly a lifelong regret. I hope you bear it well, Emiya.”
The two laughed again, before Emiya said, “Thank you for forcing this talk, Artoria. I feel much better for having had it. I must admit, it was a load on my mind, not knowing where we stood with one another. I look forward to our fighting on the same side in the days to come.”
“I too look forward to such,” said Artoria brightly before her face took on a more serious quality. After a momentary hesitation, she said, “There is, however, one last topic. Just a question I have for you, if you would be willing to answer it.”
Slightly worried about the change in Artoria’s attitude, Emiya said, “Of course. If it’s something I can answer, then I will.”
“There was a version of the Fifth War where I was your Servant. In that war… did we obtain the Holy Grail?”
Emiya flinched like he’d been punched in the gut. There was only one reason why Emiya had encountered the girl and that was because she had given up everything of herself to try and obtain a Holy Grail. Her wish could only be granted by that object, a wish that was as self-sacrificing as Emiya’s own way of life was. It was an eternal journey for the girl, with her objective always tantalizingly just out of range, but never out of sight. And should she obtain the Holy Grail, it would mean the beginning of yet another journey of self-sacrifice as she worked for the sake of England while denying herself all over again. And here, now, that girl who’d fought for only God knows how long was asking Emiya if her journey had an end to it.
Emiya looked down hastily while chewing on his lip. The truth is that the girl was not able to obtain the Holy Grail in his own timeline. It would be simple to tell her the cruel truth and crush that faint glimmer of hope in her eyes. But then again, Emiya could lie, and give her hope to continue on into the future. Before Emiya could finish his inner struggle, Artoria said, “I see. There is no need to answer, Emiya. Your reaction told me all I needed to know.”
“I’m sorry,” said Emiya in a tone that covered many different failings of his at the same time. “Because of me…”
“Let us not dwell on the subject. Whether that particular war is in my past or my future does not matter. I will continue fighting to one day achieve my goal. That has not changed, and that will not change.”
Artoria rose above her momentary depression with renewed vigor and determination. She was once more the indomitable and dependable Saber from Emiya’s memories. He laughed despite himself and said, “I see. I worried for nothing. Truly, I didn’t deserve such a reliable partner.”
“I find I am unable to refute that, Emiya.”
The two of them laughed again before Artoria asked, “Is it alright for you to be talking with me for so long? Don’t you have a meal to prepare?”
“Don’t worry about it, Artotria,” said Emiya offhandedly as he stood up and went back to the cutting board. “I’m making a paella since it’s too short a notice for me to thaw enough meat for thirty people. The rice is cooking and the spices are pre-measured. I just have to finish cutting these vegetables. The kitchen is like a battlefield. Victory goes to those who do advance preparation. But it’s true that I have some things to finish up. What will you be doing, Artoria?”
“May I remain while you continue cooking?”
“Sure, but… I’m not giving you any more snacks.”
“That’s not why-! I just… want to stay here for a while longer.”
“I don’t mind, but I’d like to know the reason why.”
“…Somehow, watching you cook reminds me of that place. Of those people. I… can’t remember their faces or their voices… but being here is giving me the same sense of peace I had in that place. So, if it’s alright…”
“Yeah. I don’t mind.”
“Thank you, Emiya.”
“Don’t mention it,” said the man as he turned back to the counter and started chopping enough vegetables for more than thirty servings of food again. There was a new lightness to his motions. As though he’d accepted something, and was looking forward to a new daily life he’d nearly forgot could exist. And a small glowing satisfaction that he could bring peace to others through his cooking. Even if it was momentary, Emiya was able to save people in some small way on a daily basis.
* * * * *
The room was kinda meh. Four walls, a shelf, a bed. The bathroom facilities were worth a cursory examination, since Cu Chulainn couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a relaxing shower or bath, party because of the shredded memories from Grail Wars, but also because he’d never really been treated as a person after becoming a Servant. And a bedroom is only given to a person to use.
Wow. Kinda dark thoughts there.
Cu decided to push those thoughts to one side and took a walk through Chaldea, really get an idea of the shape of the place in case he had to fight there. With a dick like Archer, no, Emiya in the place it was definitely a possibility. The guy had a habit of pushing buttons after all. During the aimless wandering, Cu came across-
“The hell are you doing, Caster Me?”
“Hmm,” inquired Caster Cu wordlessly as he looked up from a potted plant in the hall. Then the guy said, “Just doing a little care. Looks like the little guys in this place haven’t been watered for a while now.”
“Oh.” reacted Cu Lancer as he approached his counterpart. “Well, you’re playing the role of a Druid, so I guess that’s in line with your identity. But really, potted plants? Aren’t we better than that?”
“I don’t disagree, but there really isn’t any nature other than this in this place. Or haven’t you noticed?”
“Now that you mention it- Wait,” stopped Cu Lancer as he bent close to inspect the plant. “Those are Runes. What’re you doing to the plants. Be honest now, I know everything you know about Runes, after all.”
“Haha! Watch dogging your own self, huh? Well, that does sound like me. Anyway, take a close look at this line of Runes here, and I think you’ll see what I’m doing.”
“Hmmm. Oh? An eavesdropping spell? Is that how you get yer jollies, ya perv?”
“Hey, don’t even joke about that. There’s women in this place and I don’t want to get a bad rep. Besides, you’d get looked at with the same eyes as me considering we’re the same person, Lancer.”
“Ah, crap, you’re right! I’ll stop kidding around, then. But really, you’re turning potted plants into a sensory net? Why?”
“It’s an early warning system. This place is going to be our home, and my den. Of course I’m going to be putting defenses in place. As a Caster I have a lot of perks, but my senses aren’t as sharp as when I’m a Lancer. I need things like this to be able to rest easy.”
“Hmm. You got a point, Caster. This place doesn’t seem very defensible without a lot of work being put into it. And I can’t say I don’t like having a touch of green here and there. This place is a bit… clinical.”
“Yeah. I hear ya.”
“Lemme take a closer look at your work. Huh… What’s up with this line of Runes here?”
“Oh, I’m trying a two-tier effect. Passive and active states. I don’t want these babies to be collecting info all the time, ya know? Waste of magical power and easy to detect.”
“Yeah, I can see why that function would be hard to do. It’s one of the reasons I hate using Runes. Makes things so complicated.”
“True, but as a Caster I can’t really avoid using them. Ahh, I really wish I had a spear.”
“Anyway, isn’t this part interfering with this other part?”
“Yeah, I’m having a hard time optimizing the functions. The switch between states needs to be quick, but smooth.”
“What if you used this rune here…?”
“Nah, it’ll conflict with the water absorption in the roots. I can’t have these guys suffering for our peace of mind.”
“Kind of a stickler, ain’tcha, Druid? Well, what about here?”
“Oh? That’s kinda random, but maybe if I alter it like this…?”
The Cu twins then spent twenty minutes hunched over a potted plant, toying with rune diagrams.