I'm still working on this one - if you don't want to be spoiled about UBW-Good, please don't read it.
Well, there are other potential spoilers in there, too. So be warned about them, too.
(EDIT: As with F/TF, I've gone over the early parts of this, to try and fix some formatting issues with parts 1-3. They should read more clearly now, I hope.)
A Moment of Truth - Part 1 [R]
In an instant, a hand had been curled into a fist, which had proceeded to connect violently with Emiya Shirou's forehead.
A moment later, the red-headed magus was on the floor, out cold, as the sound of a door slamming shut echoed through the room and down the corridor.
All it had taken, was one instant of weakness...
...to ruin a year's worth of friendship.
She was looking through the Clock Tower, in search of someone.
Since she and Rin had found Shirou sprawled on the floor of his room, Saber and the others had neither seen nor heard anything from a person who had become a close acquaintance in the time they had been at the Association headquarters.
Could he have gotten so far already? She was uncertain - but her ability to sense the presence of others, as with her other abilities, had been weakened in the transition to becoming a tsukaima. It was difficult to even summon her weapons or armour, and relying on Shirou to Trace her a suitable blade each time was a relatively poor substitute for the proud she-knight.
He wasn't in the dorms, so Saber crossed into the main grounds of the academy, going from room to room, checking lecture halls, workshops and various offices - but if he had left the grounds, he could be anywhere in the city of London by now.
It was quite unbecoming of him to act in such a manner, as far as Saber was concerned.
However, her search came to an end as she entered one of the smaller lecture theatres, where at the base of the steps leading up to the gallery sat a dejected young man, his face buried in his hands, and with tears flowing down the sides of his cheeks.
It almost seemed like he was shaking.
Saber was about to march over and demand an explanation for his absence, and whether he knew anything about what had happened to Shirou, but seeing him like this gave her pause.
Instead, she decided to sit down on the step beside him, and try a different approach - one which might have seemed unfitting as a knight, but which she had gradually become accustomed to in her new lease of life. "What is the matter?"
Almost as if he had been too far gone to notice her arrival beforehand, his head lifted at the sound of her voice, and he slowly turned to face her, but seemed to be fighting the urge to turn away ? as if ashamed to even look at her, or maybe to see the reflection of himself he might find in her eyes.
"I..." he stumbled to say.
She tried to reassure him. "Take a deep breath, release it, then start again. I can wait."
"..." He didn't know if he could brush the issue away so easily, but he tried nonetheless. His eyes closed, he breathed in and out slowly, and in truth felt more drained than relaxed.
But he was in a slightly better position to say something. "I think I've made a mess of things, today."
So it was him who had struck Shirou.
Yet, Saber was not interested in seeking some kind of retribution - the blow was something Shirou would soon recover from, and given the young man's current state, it was clear that it was not a premeditated strike.
No - something had caused the normally-affable young man to act out of character, and had clearly left him in an enervated state.
And Saber wanted to know why. "So it would appear."
Nevertheless, her tone indicated that she would accept nothing less than a full explanation if he wanted to avoid her wrath.
He turned away, struck by her tone, more sharply than if she had used her fists instead. "I... didn't..."
"Perhaps it would be best to start from the beginning," she said calmly.
Another deep breath. He hated himself for saying it - or for having any cause to... but it had to be done. "When I first came to the Clock Tower, I got on relatively well with some people, and less well with others - the usual routine. The majority of my time in study is away from the lecture halls and classrooms of many of the other students - I'm kept busy with more focused training sessions for my own abilities"
Feh, ability - more like a damned curse."
His curse was his ability to read minds - to see the thoughts and memories of others, and to communicate with them telepathically. It had taken a lot of training and effort to allow him to effectively block out those around him - nowadays he could only see what he wanted to see, which was only what anther person would have wished him to.
He was not the kind to pry in other people's minds uninvited.
"I'm sorry," he apologised for the slight digression. "Anyway, I wasn't expecting to really make a lot of friends here - not least because I would fly back to Dublin every second or third weekend to see the family. But then I started talking to Shirou - I think it was in the cafeteria or something - oh, yeah, we were trading stories about run-ins with that damned Edelfelt woman and her stupid hair. Not literally running into her hair, of course - yikes! But, we got on pretty well. He was saying how he had friends at the Clock Tower, and how he'd be happy to introduce them to me..."
Saber didn't exactly take long to see who was being referred to. "Rin and myself?"
He nodded, slightly. "...yeah. Of course, I had no idea that when that meeting would take place, that it would have such a profound impact on me - and I don't mean the time that we as a group have spent together, the trips we've gone on, the stories shared, none of that... though of course I treasure all of it.
No, the true impact hit me..."
He sighed. "The moment I saw her."
Saber had had her suspicions that he may have felt this way ? but this was the first time that anyone on the group, so far as she knew, had coaxed it out of him. "Rin."
He looked up, and matched Saber's gaze once more. "In that moment, I went through a lifetime's worth of emotion in a fraction of a second. I saw her standing there, her eyes aglow, her easy smile on her face, and I knew right there and then that I would never feel the same way about anyone that I would about her.
And that she was the girlfriend that Shirou had mentioned - and given how close they were, that I would never be able to match that.
And worse, I felt incredibly bad about the whole idea - why would I want to get in the way of such a couple? Am I not the person who is supposed to believe that people should be happy with the person who makes them happy?
And that feelings of love are an illusion unless they are reciprocated?
And that I should have known right there to forget it and move on?
So I blinked, and when my eyelids opened again, I began to do what I could to be a good friend to both of them, and to help them be the best they could be..."
He paused for a moment. "No matter how much it hurts."
Saber could understand all too well - she had spent a life as monarch setting other people's feelings before her own, and even now was stepping back to avoid interrupting Rin and Shirou's relationship.
Even if her role in that time had been a rather... unorthodox one.
"And all this time, I've been able to do so - I suggested that he take her to see Newgrange, and to try and think more carefully about the kind of words or expressions he'd give... you know, to help him be less of an idiot about this sort of thing!" He smiled - ruefully.
"But this feeling, of intense jealousy every time I see them hold hands, or if I picture them in my mind together..." He shuddered, and clenched his upper arms with his hands.
"Are you?" Saber sounded more worried at this point.
"He wanted to ask me... about something. About how to... improve... a certain..." He couldn't finish that sentence. "And he, the fucking moron, he opened his thoughts! I could see... them... together. And I just snapped."
He was shaking even more violently now. "God damnit, is he that stupid! Can he not see how much I can?t stand to hear - or see - that? Or has my mask been all too good at hiding it? Have I done too good a job at pretending I?m not insanely jealous of him, or of the thought of her placing his hands, or..."
He couldn't say that, either. "Gaaah! It's too much, too much..."
He had his own Azoth dagger on the other side of the step beside him - they were handing them out like candy at the Clock Tower these days, it seemed - and he had been resisting the urge to take it in hand and plunge it through his own heart since he first arrived in the lecture hall.
And Saber noted its presence - and how his hand was now reaching for it again.
"Stop!" She reached over in a flash, taking the dagger before his quivering hand could reach it, and placed it on her far side, so that he would have to get past her to take it back.
"Do you think that she would be happy if you took your own life like a coward?" She was angry - very angry. "Do you think that you would be so easily forgotten by us - that the time you have spent as our friend means nothing?"
He shot back, despite himself. "Even if it's all based on a lie? Even if all it takes is one moment for me to show my true colours - for the ugly side of this obsession to reach the surface - to bring the whole thing crashing down?
I... I can't bear it anymore, Saber. I can't pretend that I'm not madly in love with her. I can't go on as if I don't mind that she is with him instead of me. And I can't accept the kind of person that I am because of that. Jealousy, bitterness, anger, helplessness? are these the traits I want to have for myself?
But I can't run from them anymore."
She didn't know what to say. She had no idea that it ran so deeply, and from the first day they met, even. He had been bottling this in, all this time... and to see the two of them together in his own mind - it was no wonder he had reached his limit.
But what were they going to do now? "You... you should tell her. You owe it to her. And you owe it to yourself."
"I can't do that!" he tried to insist, "If I tell her, and she says no, she'll still be with him, and I'll still be nowhere. But, if she says yes, I'll be breaking them up, and have to, for one thing, work out an alternate means of keeping you sustained. And no, I don't want to hear the details?. I've had enough of that in my mind already. But either way, the group we have will be broken."
Saber shook her head. "Surely you know that Shirou would accept Rin's decision, even were she to leave him for you - and Rin is not the kind to take advantage of your feelings by..."
"...turning it into a big joke, and kicking me when I'm down?" He sighed, trying to remember the difference between what he understood rationally and what he feared sub-consciously. "I know... but I still have those nightmares, where I see her laugh at me, and say that she thinks I'm pathetic, or something."
"Is that what you fear?" She couldn't equate his fears with the Rin she knew well - while Rin could certainly be sharp-tongued against those she disliked, she had no reason to be like that towards him. "I do not believe she would think so lowly of you - she certainly has not in the time we have spent as a group. Indeed, I suspect that she is well aware that you have been the one to help guide Shirou over time."
"Shirou..." He was angry - and he wasn't in a mood to hold back. "You know what, it's so ironic - I don?t like thinking highly of myself, and I hate egotists. And yet, I have this idea of the kind of me I'd want to be, who would be worthy, yet not boastful about it. The kind of modest yet effective assertiveness that you carry off so well, Saber.
But when I see them together, all I want to say is that I want to be the best person for her to be with - and when I see how stupid he can be sometimes, all I want to do is be the kind of lover, the kind of partner, the kind of man that she deserves!
But what place do I have even thinking that - if he's the one she's chosen?"
His face had returned to his hands, and he was in tears once more. "And I'm already keeping things from her as it is..."
He had said too much. Another topic he had wished to remain buried. Another promise to himself he had just broken. But he had hardly even noticed.
But she had. "What are you keeping from her?"
Oh, that, he hesitated. "I... I had said to myself that I wouldn't say it..."
"But you will not disappoint me by holding it in, will you?" Checkmate. When she wanted an answer, it was very hard to say no.
And so, he took another deep breath, and started to speak once more. "Do you remember our visit to Fuyuki-shi a while back?"
"Of course." They had spent two weeks at the Emiya residence, meeting up with Sakura, Issei, Fuji-nee and the rest - but they had not all been there together.
"You had left for a number of days to go elsewhere in your own ? and you gave no indication of what had happened at that time." None that she would believe, at least - she hadn't bought his explanation at the time, but reasoned that it was likely a private matter which he would no doubt share if necessary.
"I didn't go on that trip to Aomori and Hokkaido - and I guess I won?t get to see Sannai-Maruyama anytime soon, either." The visit to Tomakonai to see the Oji Paper play the IceBucks had been a lie, too.
"Where did you go?" she asked.
Closing his eyes, he let the truth out. "I went to Misaki-shi, to the Garan no Dou, where I paid Aozaki Tohko 2 million yen... to kill Matou Zouken."
Saber was shocked. She had heard that Sakura's adoptive grandfather, the old patriarch of the Makiri clan, had passed away, but she had not heard how - or why. Even in the 4th Grail War, she had learned relatively little about Zouken, or of the Matou - their representative, Kariya, seemed more focussed on Tohsaka Tokiomi than on the other magi involved.
But for him to pay nearly the equivalent of ten thousand pounds Sterling - money he didn't have - to have him eliminated? it beggared belief.
"Why?" One word, which was able to perfectly encapsulate Saber's wish for him to explain himself.
A pity the answer could not be so easily abbreviated. "The day before I left, I found Sakura by herself in the living room, with a piece of tissue paper in her hand. She had been crying. I sat beside her, and tried to comfort her - to ask what it was that was upsetting her. And then she told me about how... sometimes she couldn't stand being so far away from 'senpai', and was looking forward to him flying in, only to feel even more estranged from him because of Rin. Yeah, it turns out that Sakura's madly in love with Shirou."
Events had not gone quite that way back then, but even now there were aspects of the story that he wasn't ready to admit to - but it was close enough.
Saber had been less surprised to hear this 'news', but it was still a shock to hear it said so openly.
"I... asked her if she wouldn't consider letting it be, and could she not find another man worthy of her affections... and maybe I said something, or did something, I don't know, but the floodgates opened. A torrent of images appeared in her mind, and I couldn't hold them off. And what I saw..."
He clenched his throat with his right hand - the feeling was as raw as it had been at that very moment. "I saw eleven years' worth of misery in the blink of an eye. I saw how much she had suffered through, and how in all that time, he was the only beacon of hope for her. And I cursed myself for not meeting her earlier, for not being able to help her, or to do something... when I realised that Matou Zouken - that monster, the wretched writhing mass of worms, some of which even then were swimming in Sakura's own bloodstream - was not finished with her yet."
The nausea passed, and he turned back to Saber. "I knew that because of his 'nature' - or his parody of the same - he could not be stopped by normal means, for as long as even one of those things survived, he would live on. And I couldn't involve any of you - I didn't have the time, and Sakura... wants to be able to say it to Shirou and Rin when she's ready. But I was not going to simply set it aside. So I packed my bags, and I went to Misaki-shi."
The building was dilapidated - and yet, littered with signs of activity. He hadn't expected to see the likes of anyone other than Tyler Durden call such a place home.
And yet, here it was, the workshop of the renowned recluse Aozaki Tohko, one of the most powerful magi in Japan, and known to take on the right job, for the right price.
And he was being led through the giant safety hazard by Tohko's rather-too-cheerful gopher, Kokutou Mikiya - The Edward Norton to Tohko's Brad Pitt, or so it seemed.
But before he could finish the 'you do not talk about garannodou' line in his mind, he was brought into the office, where Tohko was sitting graciously at the table...
...and where a stoic young woman with a very unnerving look in her eyes was standing to one side.
"Ah, so you?re the one who just arrived from Fuyuki-shi! Welcome," said Tohko, greeting him.
He nodded. "Thank you for taking the time to speak with me."
When she felt like it, Tohko could make a good show of being graceful and polite... or when she sniffed the prospect of a lucrative contract. "Luckily I had a fairly empty schedule; otherwise it might have been difficult trying to arrange an appointment at such short notice."
"Apologies," he said, "but the request I need to make is very time-limited, unfortunately."
Her eyebrow was raised. "So, what is it you would have me do?"
He tried to marshal his resolve, and continued. "There's a monster in the city of Fuyuki - a creature that has caused terror and death for over two hundred years, and who even now chases a goal which will bring the entire city to ruin if left unopposed. Its name is Matou Zouken... and I want you to help me destroy him."
"Why was she the one to turn to?" asked Saber.
He could have listed his reasons; Tohko is a very powerful magus, capable of counteracting Zouken's own sorcery. She has a depth of knowledge about the kind of creatures that exist out there that is second to none. And as it turns out... her colleague has the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. All she had needed to do was to find a certain dot on Zouken's main body that only she could see, and stab it - which existence-killed every last worm of his, ending him completely, and setting Sakura free at a stroke.
However, that particular piece of information was something that was considered a trade secret - and he had broken enough promises today as it was. "All I can say is that she was uniquely placed to handle the situation. But now, Zouken is gone, as are Sakura's worms. She's free, at long last, to live out her days as she sees fit. Well, not exactly - as I suppose she would wish to have Shirou by her side, in her arms... it's terrible to see that I'm not the only one who feels the way I do - and she has far better reason for it than I. And yet... she still handles it more bravely than I have.?
Saber wondered if Shirou and Rin had any inkling of how their relationship affected those around them... but then, should they be concerned in the first place? "How were you able to afford her fee?"
"I took a loan," he answered, "one of the local banks has Association members working at it, who looks after unorthodox loans like these. I couldn't go to a mundane bank manager and say 'I need to borrow money so I can have a mage-monster killed', could I?"
The Association had such links in banks across the world - the Clock Tower didn't exactly run on fresh air and good intentions. "And before you ask, no, I can't tell Rin. If I did, I would have to explain why - and that would mean stopping Sakura from being able to reveal the truth at her own time. And even though I know full well that Rin would pay for it, I wouldn't want the money. It was my decision, and my consequence - but I consider it to be a good deal: A few years' of financial trouble, in exchange for allowing a cherry blossom to bloom at long last."
It took a moment for Saber to take it all in. He had gone to such trouble, put his own future in jeopardy, and risked alienating those around him, for the sake of another - and not even the one he had fallen for, either.
She was certainly angry at not being involved - at being cheated out of her chance to intervene. But it had been done, and that was all that mattered now. "I believe I'm finally starting to understand you..."
She smiled as she placed her hand on his shoulder. "...and you will not lose me as a friend."
For the first time in what seemed to be an age, he smiled in return - a weak one, perhaps, but a sign that he was grateful for her allowing him to confide in her, and for her accepting his faults and his mistakes, so that he might move on.
"That means a lot, Saber..." He stood up - he wasn't going to bother reaching for the dagger. "...but I'm not ready to do what needs to be done just yet. But, I'll try to be soon, if it's not too late."
He turned to walk out of the far exit - the side opposite to where Saber had entered earlier.
"Where are you going?" she wondered.
"To remind myself that I'm part of something... larger than this." He stepped out the exit, and closed the door behind him.
And when he was gone, two familiar faces came into the theatre through the other entrance.
"How much did you hear?" Saber asked, but she immediately knew that she didn't need to hear an answer. She could see by the looks on their faces.
They had heard everything.
It wasn't as useful as a proper observatory - even if the magi using the platform could Reinforce their own eyes - but the roof of the astronomy wing was well-equipped with telescopes, each allowing a viewer to bear witness to a portion of the universe that lay beyond. And the enchantments cast to dampen local light pollution from the city helped, too.
This wasn't the first time he had been here - he remembered a time where he caught a glimpse of the International Space Station, while Atlantis (or was it Discovery?) was docked to it, as part of the long-term project to complete the great endeavour.
He would have loved to have been up there, with the astronauts and cosmonauts - spending every day looking at space, or better yet - down at the beautiful planet Earth. To be reminded every day of how wonderful life can be.
At the moment, he needed all of the reminders that he could find.
So, he picked one of the larger telescopes, took a look at the printed schedule on the wall (indicating which planets or phenomena were visible at which time and location) and decided that he never had seen the Red Planet for himself, so far.
He put his eye up to the viewer, and carefully adjusted the scope in order to provide a decent picture? and there it was - Ol' Dusty.
(There was another of those planetary dust storms on the go, apparently. Playing havoc with the feedback from the planetside rovers, too.)
he had seen images taken from those rovers, showing the Earth and Moon as they would be seen from Mars - but he wondered how it would feel for the first humans to go there, and see the cradle of Terran life look so small, as just another dot in the night sky.
However, something seemed to be blocking the view - or a gigantic ion storm had appeared in the space between Earth and Mars.
All it took was for him to step back and see a familiar person casting a minor incantation, which was placing a miniature purple cloud in front of the scope, to find his answer.
But it was the one person he wanted to see most - yet felt least able to face right now. "We have a lot to talk about, don't we?"
He didn't know what would happen next - but he would face it, nonetheless. "Yes, we do."
Last edited by Nerroth
on February 10th, 2009, 10:30 pm, edited 9 times in total.