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Thread: A Small Warmth

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    A Small Warmth

    A SMALL WARMTH



    A gust of strong, western wind shook the tall grass that covered the hills and valleys for as far as the eye could see. Thin white clouds were slowly flowing across the gray and blue skies, and the land was bathing in the warm rays of the early morning sunshine.

    On the top of a hill stood still a great white horse with a brilliant golden mane. A knight was sitting on the horse's back, all clad in blue and silver. Silver greaves and gauntlets covered the knight's shins and forearms, and he wore a richly decorated breastplate. A splendid golden scabbard was fastened to his belt, and a long, blue cloak was falling from his shoulders and down the saddle and the horse's sides. On his head he wore a silver helmet in the shape of a dragon's head. A large white crest on the helmet fluttered in the wind.

    In his right hand the knight held his horse's reins, and in his left a long pike, which held a giant banner – a white flag with a crimson wyvern dragon, its wings stretched and spanning across the entire length of the banner. Fighting under this flag, the knight had already won eleven great battles, and countless smaller skirmishes. His enemies had learned to fear the dragon-standard, and fear the knight-king to whom the standard belonged.


    King Arthur, King of Knights, admired as a dragon in human form, as an invincible God of War, came to fight his twelfth great battle.
    And yet this great king and a peerless warrior was but a young girl of barely 20 years of age.

    She narrowed her emerald eyes as she observed the great Saxon army that had taken position across the valley, the greatest one the fearsome barbarians had ever managed to raise during their century-long campaign of conquest and destruction across the length and breadth of her dear homeland. Here, at Badon Hill, she would surely put an end to the never-ending and bloody struggle. She gazed across the field with a determined look in her eyes. There was no doubt in her gracious figure, no hesitation on her face as she turned to her own troops to hold one final speech before charging into battle.

    That is not to say that she was without fear; on the contrary – the enemy outnumbered her army at least three to one. And as she was always leading from the front, and always charged into the thick of the press, there was a good chance that she, too, would not live to see the sun set over those hills, even with the help of a magical scabbard and a holy sword. It was only normal for her to be afraid.
    However, her courage trumped the fear that threatened to take hold of her heart and mind, as she stuck her banner into the ground and charged along the lined-up cavalry to help them overcome that same fear, and to incite her valiant knights to fight bravely in the face of the overwhelming enemy.


    Once the cheers and the shouts of her soldiers had subsided a little, she turned back towards the enemy and gave a signal for charge. The infantry advanced slowly towards the black and grey mass of the Saxon army, but on the flank, the cavalry had started a fierce charge towards the enemy. The girl-king rode at the front, followed by her brave knights; Gawain, Lancelot, Bedivere, Kay...
    Holding her cherished holy sword, Excalibur, in her right hand, she let out a loud battlecry. Racing with the wind, clad in splendid silver armour and raising a golden blade over her shoulder, she truly looked like a god of war.


    The distance between her and the Saxon line quickly decreased, and after a few more seconds she clashed with the wall of enemy shields.

    ***

    Just as the mighty King Arthur swung her sword to take the first enemy life that day, Tohsaka Rin suddenly woke up.

    "Hmph... that dream again?" she murmured weakly and drew her blanket over her head.

    She lied like that for about five minutes before finally mustering enough strength to get out of her bed. Well, getting into a sitting position, to be more precise.
    Yawning loudly, she picked the alarm clock from the nightstand and checked the time. It was 7:23 AM.

    "Aaaaaaaw..." she yawned again and disabled the alarm.

    'Well, it was only seven more minutes anyway.' she comforted herself, but it didn't do her much good. Every second of sleep was precious to Rin, and what's more, she hated waking up just a few minutes before the alarm would sound off.

    'Ah, it's not like it would’ve made any difference.' she thought as she put on her slippers and finally got out of bed.

    Making her way down the corridor and towards the kitchen, she stumbled and hit a doorframe. Twice.

    "Son of a ...!" she shouted in pain after hitting her shoulder against the second doorframe with a great deal of force. The sudden pain woke her up a little more.

    "Jeez, just my luck..." Rin mumbled to herself as she rubbed her injured left shoulder and finally reached the end of the hall.

    'Oh? No one's here?'

    Slightly surprised, she looked around the small kitchen. Apart from a few feeble rays of winter sun, it was shrouded in darkness, and devoid of life. Too sleepy to think about it, Rin turned on the lights and proceeded to the cupboard to get her mug. It was adorned with several images and motifs of Victorian London, printed in black-and-white on all sides.
    It was a gift from Saber, which she had given to Rin for her last birthday ( among other things, of course; while she herself couldn’t even remember the exact date of her birth, Saber payed a lot of attention to the birthdays of her friends, and made sure to get them something special for the occasions – a mere coffee mug wouldn’t have cut it ).

    Closing the cupboard, she took out a teabag from a small box lying on the kitchen cabinet next to the oven. She poured some water into her mug and then put in the teabag. Once the tea had dissolved in the water, she added some sugar and took a sip. Just as the liquid came in contact with her tongue, she realised that she had skipped one important step in the process of preparing her tea.

    'It's cold!'

    She poured the cold drink down the sink and grabbed the kettle from the cupboard. It was lying in plain sight, right next to the box with the teabags.

    'Thank God Shirou isn't here; I don't think I could stand his teasing this early in the morning.' she mused after putting the kettle on the oven and sitting down.
    'Speaking of which, where is Shirou?' she wondered. 'He should have already returned. Oh well, I'll go find him after the tea is done.'
    With nothing to do for another five minutes, Rin lazily looked around the kitchen.

    It was a small room, with most of the space taken up by the furniture; a small table for three, maximum four people, a fridge, an oven, a dishwasher ( which was the newest piece of furniture in the kitchen, with others being almost ten years old ) and an old cupboard that Rin sometimes jokingly said was as old as the building. And since the building was a terraced Victorian townhouse, that was quite a lot.

    That made the contrast with the brand new set of cooking utensils and dishes, which Shirou had bought just a month ago, all the more stark. The rest of the flat was a similar mixture of old and new, with new being mostly the items Rin, Saber and Shirou had bought after moving in to make their life there a bit more comfortable. When they first moved in, the place had looked like no one had changed any furniture since the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.
    Apart from that, the flat was well-maintained. It was spacious (with the exception of the kitchen, of course ), kept clean by the landlady, and it was warm. It was a nice enough place, but it had required some modernising to make it comfortable and commodious enough for two girls to live there. Some new curtains and a microwave were welcomed changes and additions to the old flat.

    Their landlady, Mrs. Thompson, didn't object to them wanting to modernise the flat a little bit. On the contrary.
    She did, however, object to having a boy live with two girls in the same flat, so he was forced to live in the loft, directly above their flat. The expression on Shirou's face when the old lady had informed him of the... sleeping arrangements, made Rin laugh her lungs out back then, and it still made her chuckle every time she'd remember it.

    She closed her eyes and napped for a minute or two, before being awakened by the whistling of the kettle.
    Once again she filled her mug and added tea. This time she decided to add some honey as well as sugar. The soothing taste of the sweet, warm tea finally managed to get her fully awake, and after she had finished her drink and eaten some biscuits that she managed to dig out of the cupboard, she set out to find Shirou. The loft was still empty, and so were all the rooms in their flat. Even if he temporarily went out, maybe to get the groceries, he ought to have left his luggage somewhere inside.

    ***

    "Geez, where are you, Shirou?!" Rin muttered nervously as she finished checking the loft for the second time.

    About a week ago Shirou had been summoned by the Association, and then promptly sent away to do some ‘field work’.
    Even though he was technically Rin's apprentice, he was still a member of the Association, and thus had certain duties and tasks to fulfill at the Clock Tower. Even without his powerful and unique Reality Marble, and even though he was still an amateur and an inexperienced magus, Shirou had some talents that the Association deemed useful, at least for taking care of some more... crude, and even brutal jobs.
    Most of them he was supposed to keep secret from Rin, but she could make some good guesses as to what they were. It probably had to do something with the Enforcers and stray Magi. Shirou didn't mind, as it allowed him to train and perfect his skills, and Rin didn't mind because she, too, had her hands full with work and classes, and couldn't spend as much time tutoring Shirou as she had originally planned.

    She did, however, mind if his obligations meant that he wasn't coming home on Christmas Eve! He was supposed to come back last night, and she had already made detailed plans about how the three of them were to spend Christmas.

    "Damn it! He better have a good explanation for this!" Rin said, agitated, as she picked up the phone from the living room and dialed the number of Shirou's cell phone.

    "If he's not here by lunchtime, I swear I'm gonna kill him!"

    It took Shirou a while to answer the phone, which made Rin all the more nervous.

    "Hello. What is it, Tohsaka?"

    "Where the hell are you?" she asked, somewhat louder than necessary.

    "Man, do you really have to greet me like that?" he responded weakly.

    "Of course I have to! You were supposed to be back already. It's Christmas Eve, where the hell are you?"

    "I am...well..." Shirou replied hesitantly.

    "Yes? What is it?!" she retorted nervously.

    "Please calm down, Tohsaka."

    "Calm down? You were supposed to be back home already, Shirou! Do you know how much I planned..."

    "I know, I know." Shirou interrupted her. "But yelling at me won't make me suddenly appear at home, will it now?"

    She begrudgingly admitted that he was right. As much as this situation unnerved her, acting aggressively towards Shirou wouldn't achieve anything, except maybe giving her a headache. She took a deep breath, regaining her composure and elegance, and continued in a calmer voice:

    "So, what happened? Why aren't you here yet, Shirou?"

    "Well, I... it seems our work will last a bit longer than expected."

    "What do you mean by 'a bit longer'? How much longer? And where are you anyways? When will you be coming back?" Rin demanded.

    "I... I don't know how much longer exactly. I think... I'll be back tomorrow in the afternoon? Maybe in the evening? Perhaps on the 26th in the morning...? Something like that."

    “You mean to tell me that you won’t be here for Christmas?”

    “Probably not. I’m sorry.”

    “...”

    “Tohsaka?” Shirou asked meekly.

    “...”

    ”Are you still there?” he inquired apologetically.

    “Yes, I’m still here, Shirou.” Rin said weakly, rubbing her temple with her free left hand and sighing a little.

    “...Are you OK?”

    “Yeah, I’m fine.” she replied, sighing again.
    Then, after a short pause, she continued: “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re always like this, after all.”

    “I guess I’ve made you even more mad, haven’t I?”

    “No, you haven't.” Rin replied, having almost completely calmed down by now.

    There really was no point in getting worked up over this; after all, she had accepted long ago the fact that Shirou will always, well – be Shirou. And she had decided to stay with him in spite of that.

    ‘Or rather, because of that’. she thought to herself.

    “This is just like you.” Rin finished, but her tone wasn’t accusing nor betraying annoyance or disappointment. She was merely stating a fact.

    “What do you mean?” Shirou asked, puzzled a little by how relaxed Rin sounded, especially since she was so worked up not a minute ago.

    “I mean that you are you. You’ll always put others before yourself. There’s nothing more to say.”

    “Come on, now, Tohsaka – I said I’m sorry. But this is really important stuff and I’ve got to...”

    “No, it’s alright.” she replied, suddenly sounding... different. Shirou couldn’t quite put his finger on how he’d describe the tone of her voice, but she sure didn’t sound calm and forgiving anymore.

    He tried to explain himself, but was quickly cut short by his girlfriend, who, having come to terms that he won’t be coming home for Christmas, felt another change of mood getting a hold of her. She had accepted the fact that Shirou had ruined the plans she had made for them, but that didn’t mean that she would just let him get away with it without a punishment.

    ‘And a little teasing will hardly do him any real harm.’ she mused, cackling to herself a little. ‘He’ll get his rightful punishment when he gets back.’

    “T-Tohsaka?” Shirou stuttered, feeling like he had already been caught into a trap.

    “It’ OK. If you can’t get back home, then I’ll just have to make use of Saber.”

    “...What do you mean?”

    “Oh, you know; I wanted to have the three of us go out for a nice dinner, but since you won’t be coming it’ll have to be just the two of us.”

    “Okay, so...” he began, but was again cut short by Rin:

    “And after the dinner, who knows? Without you, I’ll have to find someone else to make me company at night. The nights are so cold, you know.” she teased with a grin.

    “...”

    There was only silence coming from Shirou’s end, which told Rin that her little joke was working. Emboldened, she continued:

    “If you were here, you could have joined us. But maybe it’s better this way; I’ll have our sweet Saber all to myself tonight. I imagine it will be quite an experience...”

    “Tohsaka...” Shirou mumbled, shocked by Rin’s teasing. “You can’t be serious. Do you really swing that way...?”

    “I guess I’ll find out tonight for sure. After a nice dinner, and maybe even a few bottles of wine, my dear little Saber will be ripe for the taking.”

    Rin said, her grin widening as she kept teasing. Shirou was at a loss for words, again.

    However, as she kept teasing, her imagination grew ever more vivid, and she found herself daydreaming about Saber. It had started as a mere joke, but to Rin’s own surprise, she was now seriously fantasizing about the other girl; Saber had always fascinated her, but she never really thought ( or, at the very least, she never admitted to herself ) that she’d harbour feeling of that sort towards her.
    Still, even though it made her a bit embarrassed, she couldn’t stop now, and she didn’t want to. Closing her eyes and letting her imagination loose, she continued:

    “She’s really got a great body, you know? Well, no, you wouldn’t know, but I do! I’ve seen her in the bathroom a few times. Man...I simply can’t wait to get her in my bed, pin her down and make her mine. I imagine that she...”

    Suddenly, Rin stopped.

    “Ahem.”

    The sound of someone coughing just a few paces behind her made her blood freeze in her veins.

    “Tohsaka? Are you there?” Shirou asked, puzzled at the sudden silence on Rin’s end.

    “Tohsa...” he started, but was cut short yet again as Rin quickly ended the call and turned around, her eyes wide open and her face as red as a tomato.

    In the doorframe of the kitchen stood Saber, who still hadn’t taken off her coat and scarf, and appeared almost as shocked and embarrassed as her roommate.

    Rin’s mind first went into an overdrive upon realizing that Saber must have overheard a good part of the conversation, and then simply went blank as she couldn’t think of anything else except how badly she wanted for the earth to open underneath her and swallow her to save her from this unbearable embarrassment.

    The two stared at each other for a few very long seconds, before Saber finally spoke:

    “So, you want to...”

    ‘I have to get out of this! And fast!’ Rin panicked, her embarrassment growing by the second as Saber kept staring at her, confused and at a loss for words.

    “I... I was just joking!” she exclaimed, waving her arms and shaking her head a little, trying her best to put up a convincing excuse. “I was just teasing Shirou, I swear!”

    ‘That bastard would probably laugh his arse off if he could see me right now! He must never find out or I’ll never hear the end of it!’

    Saber stayed silent, still blushing a little and unsure of what to say, so Rin continued with her apology:

    “I... wanted to play a joke on him since I was mad because he won’t be coming home for Christmas, so I fooled around a little. It’s the truth, I swear!”

    Saber didn’t seem completely convinced, as Rin’s nervous laughter was somewhat detrimental to her efforts, but after a while she sighed a little in relief and the red colour slowly subsided from her cheeks.

    “I see... Still, it’s in poor taste to joke about someone in that manner, Rin.” she said, reproaching her for her comments, but Rin breathed a small sigh of relief since the reprehension was clearly half-hearted; Saber wasn’t the type to get offended easily, for which Rin was very grateful.

    "I suppose you're right. I’m sorry." Rin replied apologetically, and then moved quickly to change the subject: "So, what's that you're carrying?"

    "Oh, this?" Saber said, happy to change the topic as well, and raising a paper bag she was holding in her right hand.
    "I woke up early and realised that we had run out of milk. And eggs. And orange juice. And toast. So I went to the nearest grocery shop to resupply us." she responded while taking out the contents of the bag and placing them in the fridge and the cupboard. "It's usually Shirou who buys the food, and since he's been gone for a week, we... well, ran out of food, more or less. You were still sleeping so I had decided to go buy it myself."

    "Oh, that's great. Thanks, Saber."

    "It's nothing." she replied.

    "It's not nothing. I'm actually starving. You've saved me." Rin said, smiling.

    "In that case, I'll make breakfast. I'm hungry, too."

    "No, please let me do it." Rin replied cordially, springing to her feet with new found energy. "You did your part, now I'll do mine. What would you like to eat?" she said, taking the tableware out of the cupboard.

    "Oh, butter and toast will be fine. And some orange juice, please." Saber replied and sat herself at the table.

    "There's still some tea in the kettle." Rin said. "Would you like some?"

    "Yes, please."

    "Here." Rin said, handling Saber a clean mug and a jar of honey. "The toast will be ready in a minute."

    Five minutes later, Saber and Rin were sitting together at the small table, munching on the hot toast and sipping black tea and orange juice in pleasant silence. Rin was the first to finish her breakfast and break the silence:

    "So, I assume you're not doing anything today, Saber?"

    "As the matter of fact, I am." she replied. "I... have some business to take care of starting at nine. It should be over by noon, 1 PM at latest."

    "Oh... what kind of business?" Rin inquired. "It must be something important for you to stand me up, too."

    Saber looked down, blushing a little.

    "I-it's nothing much, really. And I'll be free for the rest of the day after I'm done, I promise!" she replied.

    "Nothing much, huh? Come on, Saber, tell me! Shirou's not here and I don't really care about what he's doing, but I'm not letting you off the hook! Come on, tell me what it is you're doing. Are you meeting some handsome young gentleman, is that it?" Rin teased her with a mischievous smile.

    Saber was still blushing a little, but she replied in a confident and calm voice.

    "I'm helping at a soup kitchen in Brixton. I know a person who regularly works there. They are understaffed and need any help they can get, so I volunteered to come today and work for a few hours."

    "Oh."

    The answer didn't surprise Rin all that much; Saber often volunteered and did charity work, so this didn't really come off as unexpected.

    "That's great." she said. "So, you'll be back home for lunch?"

    "Yes. I should be back by two at latest."

    "Hm..." Rin murmured, absorbed in her thoughts for a second.

    "Rin?"

    "That's good. Alright, then. You go and have a good time, and when you come back we'll make lunch and get the Christmas tree done, okay?"

    "Sounds good." Saber replied. "Well, it's 8:10 already, so I better get going. Thanks for the breakfast, Rin." she said with a small smile and left the kitchen.

    A few seconds later the sound of the entrance doors opening and closing told Rin that Saber was gone.

    She rose from her chair, walked to the window and spread the curtains, filling the room with cold winter light. Looking down, she saw Saber leaving the townhouse in a hurry and running down the lane towards the high street and the bus station. She was wearing a long white coat and a blue scarf was fluttering in the wind behind her. Rin kept watching her absentmindedly until she was out of her sight.
    Even while doing something as mundane as running down the street to catch a bus, Saber had a certain air of dignified, regal elegance around her. It reminded Rin of her dream; of the knight-king who stood on top of the hill, defying the overwhelming enemy. Even though she had traded the helmet with a white crest for a simple blue scarf, she was still that same dignified knight from the dream.
    Well, not quite the same.

    Suddenly, Rin snapped herself from her thoughts.

    "Now, I better get to work." she told herself and went to the bathroom.

    ***

    Ten minutes later, she was fully dressed and ready to go out. Her outfit consisted of a simple black coat, a red jumper, a pair of jeans and black leather boots. She tied her long hair into twintails and grabbed her purse before rushing out of the flat. In her hurry, she forgot to lock the doors.
    Despite her best efforts, she had managed to miss the bus, and decided to go to the Tube station on foot.
    The high street was crammed with cars, black cabs and red double-deckers, and it took her some time and lots of effort to force her way through a stream of people in the street and at the station to get to the ticket-selling machines. Even on Christmas Eve, London was as hectic as usual.

    Once she had entered the station, Rin looked around to find a ticket machine.

    'It's got to be... there!'

    There were two ticket machines in the corner, and fortunately no one was using them at the moment. Rin slowly walked up to one of the machines, looked at it for a few seconds with the expression that was more fitting for a person who's about to defuse a bomb, rather than buy a ticket for the underground, and took a deep breath.

    'It's alright, I can do this.' she encouraged herself.

    It was Shirou and Saber who usually bought the tickets, not Rin, and they preferred to use the pre-paid Oyster cards, which suited Rin just fine since it meant she only had to press her card against the electronic reader on the ticket barriers, and that was it. Once she'd run out of money on her Oyster, she'd just ask Shirou or Saber to top it up. It was simple, quick, elegant, and she didn't have to do any thinking at all. For a person whose technological prowess was as low as Rin's, this system was a work of genius and a blessing from the heavens.

    But now...

    " 'Single to Zone 1'? 'Return to Zone 1'? 'Day Travelcard'? I-I don't know which one to buy!" Rin whispered to herself in desperation.
    The Oyster card never asked for zones and returns when she used it.

    'I don't even know how much they cost! I don't even know how much change I have!' Rin despaired.

    While she was pondering which kind of card she should buy, the screen changed to a London Underground-themed screensaver.

    "Wait, what is this?! Go back!" Rin said, panicking, and started mercilessly pressing the screen with her index finger. The screen immediately returned to the menu,

    "Thank God. Stupid thing!" she hissed at the ticket machine.

    Fortunately for her, her plight was noticed by a young woman who was on her way out of the station, and she offered her help. Hiding her face ( which was now the same colour as her jumper ), Rin explained where she wanted to go and the woman helped her to get the right ticket.

    "T-thank you." she said, clenching her travelcard, her face still red with embarrassment.

    "It's nothing." the woman replied with a smile and went her way.

    With this great obstacle out of the way, Rin made her way past the ticket barriers and down the escalators to the Central Line platforms. In her hurry, she got on the wrong platform, and almost boarded the train that went in the opposite direction of where she wanted to go.
    A glimpse of the screen which displayed the train's route and destination alerted her, and she managed to get out of the train in the last second, barely dodging the rapidly closing doors. Eventually she managed to board the right train, and even found herself a place to sit down.

    The train howled and screeched as it hurried eastwards, towards the West End. Rin counted the stations to make sure she got off at the right one. Finally, the automated voice announcement said:

    "Next station is 'Bond Street'. Change here for the Jubilee Line."

    Two minutes later, Rin had made her way up the escalators and through the mass of people at the station, and was wandering around the shopping heart of London. The streets were filled with people doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, and the stream of red buses was flowing down Oxford Street with no end in sight.
    Rin quickly left the unbearable noise and crowds of Oxford Street and made her way down another major shopping street in West End, Bond Street, where the boutiques and shops were more fashionable, and, naturally, more expensive. After a short walk down the street, she spotted the shop she was looking for.

    "Good morning, young miss, how can I help you?" a middle-aged woman dressed in a simple but elegant black dress asked Rin.

    "I've come here to buy a suit." she replied as the doors closed behind her with a loud "click".

    "Certainly. Let me show you the way. This way, please." the woman said with a smile and gestured at Rin to follow her.

    The shop was elegant, and likely a very expensive one, and it seemed to specialise in more formal attire. Rin was shown to the women's section of the suits-department.

    "As you can see, we have a very large choice, with a wide range of both sizes and prices for you to choose from."

    "These suits... are there any with trousers instead of skirts?" Rin inquired.

    "I'm afraid not. We had some, but they were few and have been sold out. But there are beautiful..." the women started, but was cut off by Rin.

    "No. I don't want skirts. Show me to the men's section, then."

    "I don't think a man's suit would..."

    "Just show me to the men's section, please." Rin demanded determinedly.

    "Very well." the saleswoman replied with a small sigh and showed her to the other section.

    After a short search, and with the woman's assistance, Rin had found a suitable suit.

    "Yes, this one's perfect."

    It was a simple but elegant, modern black suit, with a single-breasted jacket, a pair of plain, black trousers, a dark grey shirt and a black tie. A pair of black leather dress gloves was also a part of the attire.

    "Very well, miss. I shall find your size in our stock immediately."

    "No. " Rin stopped her. "Not my size."

    "Oh...? The suit isn't for you?" the woman asked, surprised.

    "No, it's for...a friend of mine." she replied.

    "I see. I assume it's a surprise, since she's not here with you."

    "Yes." Rin replied absentmindedly.

    "Wait!" she added quickly, after realising what the woman had said. "I didn't say it was for a woman!" she said, blushing a little.

    "No, you didn't, but you did start at the women's section instead of asking me to lead you to the men's section right away." the saleswoman replied with a smirk.

    "Oh... that's right." Rin muttered to herself. 'I'm being all stupid. What is it with me today?!'

    "It's alright." the woman said with a smile. Rin looked somewhat downcast after this little defeat. 'Getting caught like that must be very rare for her.'

    "So, this friend of yours... does she usually wear suits?" the woman started to chat.

    "N-no, not really."

    "So this is a special occasion?"

    "Yes, I guess you could say so."

    "I see. She must be a very dear friend of yours for you to go buy such an expensive present for her."

    "She is." Rin replied, looking around the shop.

    "Will you be celebrating Christmas with her?"

    "Y-Yes."

    "Then, this special occasion... will you be taking her out on a romantic dinner or something?" the woman asked, suppressing a snigger.

    "Y... wait, what?!" Rin shouted, now even more embarrassed than before. "I-I didn't say anything like that!"

    "But it's true, isn't it?" the saleswoman asked, chuckling. It didn't take much for Rin to lose all her earlier composure and elegance, and get all embarrassed and worked up.

    "N-no it isn't! And it's none of your business anyway!" Rin replied, now very unnerved and red in the face.

    "Alright, alright. I didn't mean to intrude on your privacy."

    "She's a friend, that's all." Rin said, trying to regain some calmness.

    "And she looks good in a suit. Or at least you think she would."

    "Yes."

    It was true that Saber looked good in a suit- when they moved to London, about a year ago, Rin and Shirou had to attend a sort of entrance ceremony at the Clock Tower. Formal dress was necessary for that occasion, and all three of them went shopping. When the time came to buy Shirou a suit, Rin couldn’t resist having Saber try one out as well; it had suited her perfectly, and even though she couldn’t buy it for her back then, Rin was dazzled by how handsome Saber was back then ( it also brought back memories of when she took Shirou and Saber on a date during the Grail War, and how elegant Saber looked with those glasses ).
    And even though she refused to admit it to herself, the sight of the blonde girl dressed in that elegant black suit gave Rin a funny feeling in her stomach...

    "Alright, then. Can you give me the measures of this...dear friend... of yours, so that I may find you a fitting suit?" the woman asked with a wide smile.

    Rin had provided her with Saber's sizes and ten minutes later she left the store with a pair of bags and a sense of satisfaction. Combined with a small and lingering feeling of embarrassment, of course.

    She stopped by at another shop to buy Saber a pair of shoes, and then headed back for the Tube station. The shopping lasted for a little under an hour, and Rin enjoyed it a lot. All in all, it was 300 pounds well-spent.

    ***

    Half an hour later, she was back home in their flat in Westbourne Green.
    The shopping wasn't particularly long, but the stress which that saleswoman had put her through when she was buying the suit, the unbearable crowdedness of the Tube, and the fact that she had also missed the bus on the way back home from the station, had all worn her out and left her completely exhausted. As soon as she had gotten back home, she tossed the shopping bags on the floor of her room and jumped back in her bed, fully clothed.

    Once she had regained a bit of her lost energy, Rin took off her boots and coat and checked the clock.

    "Half past ten, huh? That leaves... three... maybe three and a half hours most?"

    Saber said she'll be back by two, which left Rin with plenty of time to prepare her present and make lunch. She wasn't planning on cooking a big meal, since she had plans for the evening.

    Due to Shirou's betrayal, the dinner for three in a fancy restaurant near Covent Garden Market that she had originally planned ( and had even made reservations for ) would now be a dinner for two. But, as much as her boyfriend's absence irked and frustrated her, it also gave her an opportunity to spend some quality time with Saber. Even though the two of them were roommates and close friends, they didn't get to spend that much time together since they both had plenty of work. Rin with her studies at the Clock Tower, and Saber with... well, things.
    After the Grail War, they lived together for about a year before they moved from Fuyuki to London. Saber was determined to be of use and compensate them for keeping her in this world. And for the cooking.

    About a year ago, time came for them to move to Britain; Rin to join the Association, Shirou came along as her... apprentice was the official explanation, and Saber more or less tagged along. She didn't become idle, though - she couldn't just linger around with nothing to do, and she couldn't lead a purposeless existence, so she did all kinds of work, just like she had been doing while they lived in Fuyuki; apart from training with Shirou, she volunteered at several charitable organizations, worked as a swordsmanship instructor at some martial arts club in North London, and worked a part-time job at the UCL.
    She had also started studying with the aim of entering a law school. Rin had offered to help with forging needed documents, as there was no way that Saber was going to go through high-school education as well.

    Saber was a workaholic, that was for sure, but Rin admired her eagerness to work and learn, and especially her humanitarian activities.
    Not to mention that her jobs allowed her to pay half the rent ( which was a considerable amount; Rin had no idea that London could be that expensive ), which was a great relief for Rin, whose bank account, while considerable, wasn't inexhaustible ( and had already been severely damaged by a certain fake priest ), and living in London and studying at the Clock Tower was taking its toll on her wallet.

    Now that the opportunity to spend some time alone with Saber had presented itself, Rin was determined to make the most of it. The reservation for the restaurant was still valid, and with Shirou out of the picture, her dinner with Saber could be much more intimate and special than it otherwise would have been.

    "Saber..." Rin whispered into her pillow, burying her face in it.

    She had long wished to get closer to her, the King of Knights. Something about the golden-haired girl-king fascinated her, and her feelings for her were certainly not mere friendship, at least not anymore. It was a funny thing – she never thought she'd hold those kind of feelings towards a girl, but Saber was clearly not just a regular girl.

    Rin closed her eyes and tried to remember the last night's dream more clearly.

    A silver-clad knight bravely leading an army against the overwhelming enemy...

    She had seen that scene already. She had seen many more scenes from Saber's life in her dreams during these past two years. Since Saber was technically her familiar and she was her Master, it wasn't something unusual nor did it come as unexpected to Rin. The two became good friends, and got along very well, so it was only natural that as they had grown closer, she had started to see Saber's past in her dreams. Saber probably saw some of her past as well, but she never spoke of it, so Rin didn't force the issue.
    Maybe this was her chance to get to know Saber a little bit better.

    She glanced at the clock again and saw that it was already 11:15 AM.

    'Man, time sure does fly. And I didn't even doze off.' she thought as she got out of bed. 'I better get to work.'

    ***

    Saber got back home at half past one, and it seemed to Rin that those two and half hours had passed in mere minutes. She was just finishing making lunch and Saber's timing was perfect. As soon as she had heard the front door opening, Rin rushed to the hall to greet her.
    "Welcome home, Saber." she said with a smile.

    She looked at Saber, who was busy taking off her boots, and for a brief moment the girl's face was dark, as if she was depressed and deeply tormented by something. She had never seen Saber with that kind of expression on her face before, and it shocked her. Saber was staring at the floor with a blank look in her eyes. It seemed like her mind was somewhere else.

    However, her expression changed as soon as she looked up at Rin.

    "Hello, Rin. I'm back." she replied with a peaceful expression. "What's that lovely smell?" she asked, sniffing.

    "Are you alright, Saber?" Rin asked with in a slightly worried voice. She didn't want to alert her friend in case it was nothing.

    "Eh?" Saber asked, taken aback for a split second. She probably hadn’t expected that Rin might have seen her expression.

    She regained composure in an instant.

    "Don't worry, I'm fine. Really. I’m just a bit tired. Now, what's for lunch?" she asked with a small smile.

    There was no longer a single trace of her troubled expression from a few moments ago. Saber was once again just as Rin had always known her, so she decided to relax as well.

    "Chinese." she replied.

    ***

    Rin informed Saber of the plan for the evening during their meal, and Saber didn't object.
    After they had finished eating, they went out to find a suitable Christmas tree together. The search took over an hour, as Saber always managed to find some fault with a tree that Rin had picked. One was too short, the other too tall, some didn't have plentiful and colourful enough leaves, etc., etc. Rin let out a huge sigh of relief once Saber had given her approval for a tree, and she paid the man immediately, before Saber could change her mind.

    They spent the afternoon decorating it together to the tune of Christmas music on the radio. Time had flown by, and it was 6 PM before they knew it.

    "We better start getting ready. The reservation's for 7:30 PM and we have to be there on time." Rin said after checking the clock.

    "Alright. I'll go get dressed."

    "Oh, about that – go to your room and check under your bed." Rin replied with a mysterious smile and went to her room to get dressed herself.
    Saber watched her leave with a somewhat puzzled look on her face, and then went to her room to see what Rin was talking about.

    Forty-five minutes later, Rin finally left the bathroom and was good to go. She was wearing a white shirt, a long black skirt, a pair of black stockings and matching black shoes. Saber, who had finished using the bathroom while Rin was getting dressed, was already prepared and was waiting for Rin in the hall.

    "Saber, I'm done, let's..." Rin said cheerfully, while entering the hall, but stopped in the middle of her sentence for a moment.

    "...go." she finished in a quiet voice.

    In the hallway stood Saber, dressed in the black suit that Rin had bought her today. It couldn't have suited her better even if it were custom-tailored just for her. She had buttoned her jacket half-way up, and tied the tie around her neck expertly. Clad in that elegant black suit, and wearing her leather gloves, she looked more graceful and refined than any gentleman. Her hair, usually tied in a bun with a blue string, was now falling down her back in a low pony-tail.

    Rin stared at her in amazement and trance for a few seconds before Saber finally broke the silence.

    "Is everything alright Rin?" she asked in a caring voice.

    "Y-yes, everything's fine!" Rin replied, getting back to her senses.

    Saber gave a gentle smile and helped her put her long, red coat on. Was she even more courteous than usual or was that just her imagination, Rin couldn't tell. Once Rin was fully dressed, Saber took Shirou's black winter coat from the hanger and put it on. It was a cold winter evening outside, and a mere suit wouldn’t be enough to shield her from the cold.

    'My God, she's gorgeous!' Rin thought as she watched Saber put on the coat. 'I'm a genius for buying her that outfit.'

    Saber opened the door for her and the two went out of the flat and into the streets. Just as they started to descend down the small stairs in front of the townhouse, it began to snow.

    "Look Saber, it's snowing! We might get a real white Christmas." Rin said cheerfully and turned to Saber, who was walking behind her. Rin immediately noticed that she looked slightly melancholic.

    "Saber, what's wrong?"

    "Nothing, Rin, nothing." she replied, shaking her head.

    "You looked downcast earlier today when you returned from the soup kitchen. Did something happen there? What's bothering you., Saber?"

    "Really, Rin, it's nothing, don't worry." Saber responded cheerfully, waving her hands. "I'm serious, there's nothing to worry about." she added after seeing Rin's skeptical look.

    "Alright, I'll believe you. I don't want any bad thoughts or problems to ruin your mood today. This is a special evening and we should both enjoy ourselves. So no sad faces, understood?" Rin said jokingly, but with a stern and serious expression.

    "Understood. Well, then, shall we, my lady?" Saber replied, smiling, and offered Rin her right arm.

    Rin blushed a little but grabbed Saber around the elbow without hesitation.

    "You are a true gentleman, Saber. Well, gentlewoman." Rin said.

    "Thank you. Words from a refined lady such as yourself do me honour, Rin." Saber replied in a completely serious tone.

    "Refined? Don't tease me like that!" Rub replied, flustered.

    "I'm not teasing you, I'm serious." Saber said as they walked down the desolate and ill-lit street towards the high street and Tube station. "You have elegance and gorgeousness of a real lady, Rin. Well, at least when you're not fighting with Shirou."

    "Don't be ridiculous, Saber, I can't beat you in gorgeousness. This is not something I'd say in front of Shirou, but I was fascinated by your beauty from the first time I saw you."

    "Thank you." Saber replied in a calm voice.

    Even though she was a little shorter than her, and had a much younger face, Rin couldn't help but feel like a child next to Saber. It was true – you are what you wear. A simple suit transformed the girl who volunteered in soup kitchens and fed swans in Hyde Park into that knight from her dreams.

    Rin wrapped her arm more tightly around Saber's and tilted her head towards her.

    "Rin...?" she asked, somewhat surprised at this.

    "Let's just walk together like this for a while."

    Saber smiled at her and said: "As you wish."

    Once they got to the high street, Rin decided that she has enough money for them to indulge in taking a cab. It didn't take long for them to stop one; Saber's gallant and confident figure could not be ignored, and within minutes they were sitting in the warm back seat of a black cab, hurrying down the Bayswater Road, then Oxford Street, then Regent Street, right into the very centre of West End and whole of London – Piccadilly Circus. The city was mostly deserted by now, and the journey didn't take more than fifteen minutes.

    "We're a little early, Rin. Shall we get off here and walk to the restaurant?"

    "Yeah, sounds good." Rin agreed.

    They paid the driver and got out into the street.
    Rin took a few seconds to gaze at the colourful neon lights of the advertising signs on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue which illuminated the small square. She noticed that the snow was still falling, with snowflakes getting larger and more numerous by the hour. Finally, after a few long moments of admiring the streetscape, she snapped out of the trance:

    ”Come on, let’s go.” Rin said, grabbing Saber by the hand.

    The two girls made their way towards Leicester Square and further on to Covent Garden. To Rin’s great relief, the usually hectic and crowded streets and squares of West End were now mostly deserted ( a stark contrast to earlier today when she went shopping ), although there were still some people here and there, mostly on the same business as Rin and Saber. The shops and theatres had all closed long ago, and only a handful of pubs and restaurants were still open, catering to the few couples and tourists who had decided not to spend the Christmas Eve at home, but opted for an evening out in the city instead.

    ***

    It didn't take them long to get from Piccadilly to Covent Garden, and Rin found their restaurant with ease. It was a lovely little establishment, Saber noticed as they entered, furnished in a simple, yet elegant and refined manner. Most of the furniture was wooden, so it gave the place an air of old-fashionedness, but it was still modern and cosy. It was well lit, and the walls were adorned with numerous pictures of London's famous monuments and streetscapes throughout history, from the opening of the Waterloo Bridge in 1817 to the modern cityscape of the City. There were about half a dozen other people in the restaurant, apart from the staff.

    They cleared their coats of the snow that had accumulated in the fabric along the way, and were shown to their table by a kind and courteous waiter. They were seated on the second story of the restaurant, next to the window overlooking the Covent Garden Market, and each of them was handed a menu. After making sure that they are comfortable, the waiter left with a bow.

    The snow was falling in an ever thicker torrent outside, and it seemed that in the morning London would be greeted by a considerable layer of snow. Such weather wasn't usual in the metropolis, as the winters were mostly mild, with temperatures rarely dropping below zero long enough for there to be much snow. This night was very special indeed.

    "It's beautiful, isn't it Saber?" Rin asked, looking through the window dreamily.

    "Yes, it is." came a simple reply.

    "You like snow?"

    "I do. But only when it falls in a moderate amount."

    "How so?"

    "Well..." Saber started, turning to the window as well, "when it snowed for days and weeks on end, it only meant trouble. Snowstorms would bury smaller villages completely, and it took people days to clear it all out. Heavy snow would erase roads, especially in the forests, and isolate small towns and forts. It made them all much more vulnerable to attacks from the Saxons or the bandits, and the wolves were much bolder in their raids on the villages and herds, too." she said, suddenly absorbed in her thoughts.

    Looking at her face, it seemed to Rin that Saber's mind was back in the distant past, back when she was a king of this country.

    "Well, that was a long time ago. Today we have snowploughs and phones and helicopters..." Rin said, jokingly.

    "It... wasn't a long time ago to me." Saber said quietly, looking down at the snow-covered square.

    Rin looked at Saber in slight astonishment, her mouth half-open.

    'I'm such an idiot!' she thought, giving herself a mental slap in the face. 'What am I thinking?!'

    She knew, of course, what Saber’s real identity was. But since to her King Arthur was a figure who lived 1500 years ago, she forgot that memories of her past life must still be fresh to Saber.

    "I... I'm sorry if my words caused you pain."

    "No, it's alright." Saber replied, smiling again."I know you didn't mean anything bad by it."

    Just then the waiter arrived to take their orders.

    "I'll have white wine." Rin said. "Your best." she added. She wasn't going to save any expenses this evening.

    "I'll have the same." Saber told the waiter.

    "And have you decided what you'd like to eat?"

    "No, not yet." Saber said.

    "Very well, I shall take your orders once I'm back with your drinks, shall I?"

    "Yes, thank you."

    The waiter bowed again and left.

    The two sat in silence until he returned with their wine. While they were sitting and waiting for the waiter to return, Rin was assailed by a torrent of thoughts. Looking at Saber's melancholic expression as she gazed through the window, she thought about Saber's statement that shook her just a minute earlier, and she thought about her dreams.

    Last night it was about the knight-king's greatest triumph, about her glorious victory at Badon Hill, which bought her country a few precious years of undisturbed peace. But the dream wasn't always like that.

    From the day that she drew the sword from the stone, and pledged to fight and fulfill her duties as the king, Saber was surrounded by suspicion, mistrust and betrayal;
    Disloyal knights who couldn't stand the shame of having to swear their allegiance and entrust their swords to the boy-king.
    Scheming lords and clan leaders who opposed the King's justice and law when it collided with their interests.
    And the fearsome Saxon invaders who threatened to overrun and destroy her country and her people.

    But she won over the hears of the knights by being an ideal knight and a perfect king.

    She brought peace to the warring lords and settled their disputes with diplomacy rather than sword and fire.

    And she defeated the barbarians and saved her country from imminent destruction, if only for a few short years.

    However, this came at a great price; to become the perfect king and save the country, the girl had to kill her emotions and her compassion, so that her mind won't waver even in the face of betrayal. So that she may uphold her vows and rule the country with justice and virtue even if she is isolated and feared. Funny how the legends never told anything about this part of her personality, and the cold and unchangeable truth about her life.

    It's not that Rin didn't understand how the knights and the people felt – King Arthur was always cold, aloof, and distant. And to win the war and protect the country, she had to sacrifice some of her own people, even the civilians. She could not ignore this, nor did she try to.

    But she didn't care about that. She did not care about the knights whose condition of loyalty was that she had to be a perfect king, but then rebelled against her when she threw away her emotions to accomplish this. She respected Saber's cause a lot, and admired it, but she did not care about it, not as much as Saber did.

    What she cared about was the person who was the king; the person who stood for what she believed in in the face of isolation and betrayal, and who swore to fight no matter what.

    Rin liked Saber, saw her as more than a friend, and thus seeing her own knights, and even her own kin, betray her pissed her off.
    From the moment she learned of her true identity, and from the moment she started seeing these memories in her dreams, Rin greatly admired Saber.
    Perhaps it was easier for her to accept Saber as a king since she had already known her as a person ( something that her knights couldn't do ), but she didn't think about that when she gazed in admiration at the young knight leading armies and governing entire kingdoms.
    She selfishly never told Shirou the precise contents of her dreams, but kept it to herself.

    He would have probably admired her if only because they shared a similar ideal. To Rin, it was different. What mattered to her was a girl who fought on, ran through her life with great strength and great courage, and apologised to no one. The girl-knight from her dreams captivated Rin at least as much as the kind girl who decorated the Christmas tree with her today, if not more. She was someone she could look up to - the only person she could look up to apart from her father.

    Because of that, she hated seeing her isolated in the court. She hated it when her own sister incited rebellion against the King, and plotted to murder her. She cried when she was mortally wounded in her last battle; by her own son, no less. She didn't know if Saber ever found that a burden; even in such conditions, there was never doubt in her figure, no grief in her eyes as she sat on the throne. But even if she had no regrets, she was still alone and misunderstood.

    That's why she always did her best to make Saber happy. Even if it was little things like a new scarf or a good meal, she always endeavored to make the lonely girl from her dreams as happy as she could. And, it seemed like it was working; Saber was always happy in the company of Rin and Shirou. She was never a particularly energetic person, but she smiled, and was satisfied, and it seemed like she enjoyed her second life. Rin was glad about that.

    But today, Rin saw Saber troubled for the first time. Sure, there were other times when Saber was in a bad mood or downcast, but they were all minor things or a temporary mood-swing, which they usually resolved together quickly. Today, on the other hand, Saber desperately avoided talking about the thing that bothered her, and tried to hide is a best as she could. She couldn't fool Rin, though – something must have happened that brought Saber's spirit down. And taking all things into consideration, it must have been something serious.

    Determined to solve this problem, Rin started the conversation once the waiter had brought their drinks, taken their orders for food, and they had made a toast.

    "So, Saber, do you like your new suit?" she said. She deemed it smarter to start with small talk and then work her way up.

    "Yes, it is very nice; it’s comfortable and easy to move in. Thank you for that present, Rin." Saber replied. While she was talking, a small bitter smile appeared on her face. It was only for a split second, but Rin still saw it.

    "Saber, you don't have to lie to me. Tell me if it's not to your taste."

    "W-what? No, I wouldn't lie to you about it. I really do like it." Saber replied hurriedly.

    However, the look in Rin's eyes told her that her reply did not convince her friend.

    "It's not that I dislike it." she continued, looking downcast. "It... just... brings back some memories."

    "What kind of memories?" Rin asked. "Is it from the Fourth War?"

    Saber nodded in confirmation.
    "Yes. Some... painful memories. I didn't want to bother you with it since it's a silly thing."

    Yes, the black suit and a walk around the town with an elegant lady that acted as her Master during the last Grail War brought back bitter and painful memories of a noble princess who she had sworn to protect when she was first summoned as Servant Saber. She had failed to keep her oath and failed to protect her Master, Irisviel. The thick white snow which was slowly covering the streets and rooftops of London only made sure that those memories won't go away so soon. As if she didn't have enough regrets on her mind already...

    "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

    "No, it's quite alright." Saber said, shaking her head. "You didn't know anything, and didn't mean anything bad. There's nothing to forgive. And besides, I couldn't forgive myself if my selfishness ruined this evening for you." she finished with a smile, raised her glass as if to toast, and took a sip.

    "Don't be silly, Saber!" Rin declared. "Your selfishness?! You were never selfish, not once in your life."

    "How would you kn..."

    "Because I saw it all." Rin blurted without thinking.

    There was a moment of awkward silence before Saber finally spoke, in a calm and collected tone:

    "I thought as much. You are my Master, it is only natural for you to see that. And I'm afraid that I have trespassed on your mind, as well. Forgive me for that."

    "There's nothing to forgive." Rin said, looking at Saber.

    Certainly, the girl in front of her was that proud and dignified knight from her dreams, but there was something different. Something wasn't the same with Saber that sat in front of her compared to her old self as the King of Knights. She had a gut feeling about what it was, but couldn't put her finger on it right now.

    There was another short silence before Rin continued:

    "Come to think of it, I never found out what your wish for the Grail was."

    The question hit Saber like a hammer.

    "My... wish?"

    "Yes, your wish. I always wanted to know what it was that made you respond to the Grail's call. Knowing you, it must have been some grand and noble thing."

    Saber turned towards the window again, and gazed into the darkness on the other side of the glass in silence.

    "I... wished for my homeland's salvation. I wanted to use the Grail's power to save my country from destruction, since my own powers proved to be inadequate. I became a Servant in exchange for obtaining the Holy Grail."

    Rin pondered over it for a while, and then her expression suddenly changed into one of disbelief and shock.

    "Wait, so, you mean, you became a Servant as part of your contract to obtain the Grail?"

    "That's right."

    "Then... you weren't a normal Heroic Spirit summoned to obtain the Grail, but you became a Servant by your own will?!"

    "Yes." Saber replied, still looking through the window. "Before I died, I found a wish I wanted to be granted, but for that I needed the Holy Grail. So I made a deal: if I managed to obtain the Holy Grail before my death and use its power to save my country, I'd become a guardian in the service of the world."

    "But, since you haven't obtained it yet, that means..."

    "I'm not dead yet. My real body, I mean." she said with a sigh.

    Rin was in shock.

    So... King Arthur, the girl Arturia, was still lying on that bloody hill she saw in her dreams. Just like her old Servant, Archer, she was stuck in time, and was destined to fight for the Grail over and over again. A similar sad story repeated itself.

    "But, you gave up on the Grail, you destroyed it! Doesn't that mean that you've parted with your wish? So you shouldn't be pursuing the Grail anymore, right?"

    "Yes, I've destroyed the Holy Grail and gave up on my wish. But..."

    'But that doesn't mean I've found my answer.'

    " 'But'... what, Saber? Please, talk to me. Tell me what's tormenting you."

    "It's nothing. Thank you for your concern, Rin, but you can't help me."

    Saber's words wounded Rin deeply.

    Sure, she wasn't Shirou, whose mind was more similar in some aspects to Saber's than hers was, and she wasn't as thrilled with the self-sacrificial ideal of becoming a hero of justice as he was, but she still believed that she understood Saber well, and she genuinely wanted to see her happy. That's why she refused to give up and let go.
    However, for the time being, she decided it's best to not force the issue, but rather make a tactical retreat.

    ***

    The rest of the dinner went by in a pleasant conversation about all sorts of things, from Saber's studies to Rin' never-ending rivalry with her colleague at the Clock Tower, Luvia; even though she apologised about ‘ruining the dinner with it’ after a long rant about ‘that spoiled rich girl’ with ‘her ridiculous haircut’, Rin was glad to be able to vent herself to someone.
    Luvia Edelfelt was a constant source of stress for Rin, despite both her efforts to develop immunity to the blonde’s condescending comments, and her determination to repay her in kind at every opportunity. Saber listened to Rin’s complaints patiently and compassionately, for which Rin was very grateful.

    The food was good, the place was warm, and two hours later they left the restaurant, well-fed and in good spirits.

    It was still snowing outside, and a layer of snow almost two inches thick had already covered the streets. The snow creaked underneath their feet as they made their way down the street. As they walked thought the empty town together, Rin suddenly said:

    "Saber, let's go for a walk down to the river."

    "Eh? But it's already late. Shouldn't we be going back home?"

    "Oh, come on, indulge me! Please!" Rin begged.

    Saber looked at her with a kind smile, shrugged her shoulders and said:

    "Very well. If that is my lady's wish."

    The gallant knight was back once more, and Rin was determined not to let him get replaced by that melancholic face filled with regret ever again.
    They left the narrow streets and alleyways of Covent Garden and walked down the Strand towards Waterloo bridge. There were barely any vehicles left in the streets, and the city was quiet and peaceful. Neither of them had seen and experienced this side of London yet.

    "Let's stop here for a while." Rin said once they had reached the middle of the bridge.

    They were on the western side of the bridge, from where they had a breathtaking view of some of London's greatest buildings – to the south lay the magnificent Houses of Parliament and the spectacular Ferris wheel, the London Eye. To the east there were towering glass skyscrapers and office buildings of the City of London, contrasted by the ancient white dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

    They gazed at the brilliant winter scenery for a while, before Rin broke the silence again:

    "Do you like it here, Saber?"

    "Yes, it is a beautiful sight." the girl replied, sounding genuinely impressed by the scenery.

    "That's not what I meant."

    Saber turned to Rin with a puzzled look on her face.

    "I meant: do you like living here, in this world, in this time?"

    It seemed like a rather simple question, and it was; but the answer to that question wasn't as simple for Saber as one might have expected.

    "I... don't dislike it. I like spending time with you and Shirou, and I got the opportunity to do many nice things. I... guess I like it."

    "Then you are satisfied with your life as it is now? Do you want to keep living here?"

    This question wasn't so simple, and it took Saber quite some time to come up with an answer. Turning her side to Rin and gazing down the river, she spoke:

    "Today... I volunteered at a soup kitchen. I didn't do much; I just filled plates and bowls with food and handed it to the poor and hungry who came there to eat. It was a simple job, and didn't require much sacrifice on my part. And, most important of all, mine and the efforts of other volunteers were repaid with the greatest reward I could imagine; all the people who came there thanked us and smiled. They smiled." Saber said, her voice wavering.
    "We made them happy with such a simple thing, and they were grateful to us. Some old lady even gave me her necklace as a sign of her gratitude. It was her only valuable possession and she gave it to me. With a big smile on her face." Saber barely managed to finish. She was on the verge of tears.

    "Saber..." Rin asked tenderly, and touched Saber on the shoulder. It was the first time she had seen the girl so emotionally shaken, so, naturally, she was a little shocked.

    "And it's not the first time – I've been volunteering for months, and every time I did it, there were people who were smiling and thanking me. We never did or accomplished anything big – the best we could do was give the poor and hungry some clean clothes and a warm meal, and we knew they'd keep coming because they had nothing. These were meaningless things; tokens. And yet they were happy."

    "I don't understand; don't you like doing that?"

    "Like it? I love it! I get to do something I always wanted as a girl; make people happy."

    "But... you made people happy as King Arthur too..."

    "And that's the problem!" Saber suddenly burst, barely holding back tears. Rin had never seen her like this before; she must have been holding all of this inside her for these past two years.

    "If I can make people happy without having to sacrifice anyone, not even myself, then how can anyone say that what I did back then was the only way?! I'm making people happy, and I love it, and I don't have to think about having to losing any of them to protect others. Can you honestly look me in the eyes and tell me I wasn't wrong?!"

    ‘So that's what it was about.’


    Saber's words brought back the memory of the day after the War had ended. In the quiet dojo, they were reunited after that faithful battle, all of them happy that they were all still alive and together. Some plans were made regarding keeping Saber with them, but that was more or less all that there was. Almost all there was.

    She didn't pay much attention to it back then, but now that she had heard Saber's confession, Rin remembered that there was something else that was said that day.

    "He said that my way was wrong. I want you to tell me the answer to that someday."

    Those were the words that a girl burdened with unbearable responsibilities and regret said to a boy to whom she pledged her sword.

    'So, she's still carrying those regrets, even after she had parted with her wish. She still hasn't found her answer.'

    The realisation had left Rin deeply shaken. In her dreams, she saw a knight complaining about how King Arthur couldn’t understand the feelings of his people. Back then, she was mad at the knights, who complained about their king while being completely oblivious to her feelings and thoughts.

    'Who's the one who doesn't understand?' she used to think.

    It never occurred to her that she might have been just as oblivious to Saber's feelings and thoughts as her close knights were. Saber still doubted if her life was right, and was lingering on in this world while hoping to find an answer to her doubts.

    Shirou hadn't told her the answer to that yet, so it was up to Rin to help Saber. She felt the responsibility to help her, both as her Master, and as her friend.


    "Yes. I can." she confidently declared after a short pause.

    "W-What...?" Saber uttered, wiping one frozen tear out of her eye.

    Rin grabbed her by the chin, moved her face closer to Saber's, and stared down into her deep, emerald eyes.

    "I said I can look you in the eyes and tell you that you weren't wrong."

    "Hmph..." Saber mumbled, looking to the side. She loved Rin as a dear friend, but she felt that Rin could never truly understand her regrets. Whether it was because she hadn't lived through what Saber had, or because she didn't share the same ideal with her, Saber didn't know.

    "Look at me. Look at me!" Rin demanded, but Saber kept staring at the ground, ignoring her.

    "Arturia Pendragon!"

    The words worked. Saber snapped out of her pondering at looked at Rin.

    They stared at each other for some time.

    "I... haven't heard someone call me by that name in a long time." she whispered.

    "I know. I know." Rin replied, caressing Saber's cold cheek. "I know what you've been through, I know what suffering you had to endure. That is why I don't want you to be sad. I don't want you to have any more regrets."

    "Rin..." Saber started, but was cut off by Rin, who pressed her lips against hers before Saber could do anything.

    The kiss only lasted for a few short seconds, with Rin backing away as soon as she realised that Saber wasn't going to kiss her back.

    "Rin... I..." Saber stuttered in bewilderment.

    "I-I'm sorry. I had no right to do that." Rin apologised. She was staring at the floor so that Saber wouldn't see the embarrassed look on her face. "I just... it was selfish of me to do so, I know, but I just felt like I had to do it."

    Saber was still string at her, surprised. Then she turned back to the river and gazed at the palaces lined up along the Victoria Embankment.

    "It's alright." she said in a quiet voice.

    "No, it was wrong. And... it was stupid of me to think that one kiss could solve your problems."

    Saber sniggered a little to this remark.

    "Rin, I think I know you well enough to know that you're not the kind of person to think something so foolish. My opinion of you is a bit higher than that, you know."

    Rin was glad to hear Saber speak in a relaxed voice, but she knew that the battle hadn’t been won yet.

    "I meant what I said." she said resolutely, to which Saber turned to her once again. "You weren't wrong. I can say that much with certainty. And I'm sure Shirou would agree with me. I know him well enough."

    Saber turned towards the Houses of Parliament, but Rin knew she was listening. So she continued:

    "You don't have to regret your choices, nor doubt your beliefs. You always did the right thing, and sacrificed yourself before anyone else. How can something so noble be wrong?"

    She could feel that she was making some progress, but Saber wasn't letting go just yet.

    "I've taken away many things and killed countless people. My hands are bloodier than any other knight's. Are you going to say that it's nothing?"

    "No, I won't. I can't overlook something like that, and neither would Shirou if he were here. But I know why you did it. And I also know that you can't just linger on and have your life determined by the sins you've committed. Instead, you should move forward while carrying your sins with you. You never give up – that's something I like about you. So you shouldn't give up now either. Don't let your regrets crush you, Saber, I couldn't stand seeing that happen to you."

    "Rin..."

    "Please, do not burden yourself with any more regrets, Saber. I love you, and I don't want to see you cry."

    "I..." Saber started, but was at a loss for words.

    "There is nothing in your life that you should be ashamed of. So please, don't cry, and be proud, King of Knights."


    'King of Knights'.

    That's what they called her. That title was what she stood for her whole life.

    'There is nothing in your life that you should be ashamed of.'

    That's what she used to believe. Her whole life, she held her head high, and lived with great pride and courage. She ran through her life, even if there was an inevitable tragedy at the end of it, because she believed that what she desired was something she could be proud of. Even if her path was full of thorns and hard choices, it was the only path she could be proud of.

    And that is why she had no regrets.


    She realised that Rin was holding her in her arms, and her head was resting on Rin's shoulder. She felt like crying, but the shock and the emotional whirlwind that had risen inside of her made her eyes dry.

    "There was an oath I once made..." she whispered to Rin. "And you've helped me remember it."

    She stepped back a little and the emerald eyes met the aquamarine ones.

    "Thank you, Rin." she said, putting her hands on Rin's cheeks, and pressed her lips against Rin's.

    It was Rin's turn to be caught off-guard. However, she didn't intend to let this kiss be a failure like the last one.
    Even if Saber was only doing this out of some sense of duty and honour in order to repay her, rather than genuine romantic love, Rin didn’t care. This moment was too precious for her to bother herself with thinking.

    She put her hands around Saber's waist and tilted her head to the right, passionately returning Saber’s soft kiss.

    Spikes of warmth ran through their bodies as their mouths connected, and the time seemed to have stopped for them. The snow was falling slower now, and the large flakes got stuck on their hair and eyelashes. Rin couldn't tell how much time had passed before they separated; there were no buses nor cabs to be seen on the bridge and the embankment, and the city was still shrouded in that surreal silence as before.

    They kept staring into each other's eyes for a few more seconds, before Rin looked away an muttered:

    "W-we should be going home now. It's late."

    As a confirmation of her words, the great Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament started banging. The ancient clock struck twelve times before going silent again.

    "Yes, it is indeed late." Saber agreed. "Let's go find a cab."

    And with that, they turned and walked down the bridge and towards the West End, holding their hands.

    Rin glanced at Saber for a moment, and what she saw warmed her heart.

    The look in Saber's eyes was the same look of the great king leading the charge against enemy troops on that faithful day at Badon Hill. The thing that was missing in her figure was there once again.

    The lonely girl, who strived her whole life to be the perfect king and make her country into a utopia she had dreamed of, and was never rewarded with gratitude nor happiness, had obtained the happiness of a normal life she never obtained as a King, and, maybe even more importantly, finally regained her lost pride in herself.

    Feeling a small warmth in her heart, Saber turned to Rin for a moment and said in a kind and gentle voice:

    "Merry Christmas, Rin."

    ***

    When Rin woke up the next morning, it was already 10 AM.

    'God, I overslept! Thank God it's Christmas.'

    She yawned and stretched and got out of the bed within only fifteen minutes. Still sleepy and drowsy, she made her way down the hallway, bumping her shoulder into the doorframe, as per her morning routine.

    She went to the fridge to get some orange juice, but as soon as she had opened it she noticed something strange; all of the food that they had bought yesterday was gone. The leftovers from the yesterday's lunch were gone, as were the eggs. The milk carton was empty as well. There was fortunately still some orange juice left, so she quickly drank it straight from the carton, as if she were afraid that it might disappear along with the rest of the food if she's not quick enough.

    She could hazard a guess as to who was responsible for this.

    "Saber!"

    She called, several times, but Saber didn't respond.

    "Where is she...?" Rin wondered.

    Since Saber wasn't responding no matter how many times she called for her, Rin decided to go look for her.

    However, she was nowhere to be found – her clothes and belongings were still in her room, but she herself seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Shirou's room in the loft was empty, too.

    "Well, maybe she went out for a walk." Rin said to herself as she sat at the table. Gazing around the room absentmindedly, she noticed something lying in plain sight, in the middle of the table.

    'Jeez, I'm really not a morning type. How did I not see this?!' she scolded herself as he picked up the said object - an envelope.

    Inside of the envelope was a piece of paper, and on it a handwritten message.

    'What is this...?' Rin wondered as she hurried to her room to fetch her glasses, not letting go of the letter.

    She then returned to the kitchen, and proceeded to read the text, written in beautiful handwriting that Rin instantly recognised as Saber's. The message read:


    "Dear Rin,

    I apologise for not saying goodbye face to face. However, I feared that you might have tried to stop me had I done things that way, though I do believe that your character is stronger than that.

    I am going now, and I'm afraid I won't be coming back. I would have liked to stay and watch over you and Shirou until the end, but my role ends here. Besides, you two have each other, and I know that you will take good care of Shirou and make sure he doesn't stray from his way. You are strong, and I have confidence in you and your abilities.

    The reason why I'm going is that I have finally found my answer, and I have you and Shirou to thank for that. Words cannot express my gratitude, but I want you to know that I love you both very much and will always remember you fondly.
    You two have accepted me and given me a chance to live the life I never had, and I'm grateful to you both from the bottom of my heart. This life was something that shouldn't have come true in the first place, and it was something that shouldn't have been wished for, yet I was granted that gift in spite of that.

    And you, Rin, you have also given me a thing I long feard I would never obtain – you have given me peace, and for that I will never be able to recompensate nor thank you enough. I'm afraid your Christmas present will have to do for now. I hope it will be of good use to you.

    And lastly, I just wanted to say that I love you.

    Arturia"


    When she had started to read the letter, Rin thought that she'd cry, but by the end of it, she realised that there was nothing to be sad about.

    Instead, she found herself completely at peace, and felt happy that she had been able to grant Saber happiness and peace that she had longed for. She walked to the window and kept staring down the street for some time, as if waiting for Saber to come running from the high street with bags full of groceries in her hands, but it didn't happen. Finally, she accepted that Saber was really and truly gone, and gave out a long sigh of relief.

    Then she re-read the last sentence, and once gain felt a warmth in her heart.

    "Man, that's just like you..." she whispered with her eyes closed.

    Just as she was about to fold the letter, she noticed that there was one more sentence, written in smaller letters, at the very bottom of the page. She had to squint her eyes in order to read it.

    "P.S. Sorry about the food. I got hungry."

    Rin stood paralyzed for a moment, staring at the paper, and then bursted into laughter.

    ***

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ________

    Author's Notes:

    - Here it is folks; an edited and slightly rewritten version of my submission for Arashi's Fanfic Contest which was held this August; the story that won Darples an Akiha figure.
    - I did my best to brush up the spelling and grammar, and took into consideration all the comments from both the 'common folk' and the official judges ( Lianru, Tech and Arashi - and I want to thank them all for their constructive criticism; I hope I have shown an improvement in writing since then, although that may be in part due to the fact that I had all the time I needed, while the entry for the contest had been hastily written in less than two days and only barely proofread once ).
    - Those of you who have read the original version have probably noticed some changes in the script; some parts were rewritten completely, some added, and I generally tried to improve the style. It's still not perfect, I know, but I just don't feel like bothering with this story any more, since I have many other projects to which I want to turn my attention.
    Last edited by Polly; October 16th, 2013 at 11:33 AM.
    My attempts at being a (fanfic) writer:

    Eclipse - a Saber Alter oneshot
    Requiem for a Race - Altrouge and Ortenrosse hunt the TAs ( 1/3 chapters, discontinued )
    Memories of a King - a 'Saber Origins' story ( 8/? chapters, discontiuned )
    A Small Warmth - a post UBW-Good oneshot, Saber/Rin
    Devil's Thrill - Narbareck hunts down a DAA Blackmore ( 10/10 chapters, finished )
    Boundary of Loneliness - Ryougi Shiki/Alphard Al-Shua oneshot. Lemon-flavoured

  2. #2
    Venus Swordman Ergast's Avatar
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    Dammit, Polly! You almost manage to bring a little tear to my eyes, and then you give us this!

    "P.S. Sorry about the food. I got hungry."
    I completely lost it when I read that! (although you managed to bring tears to my eyes, just from another reason) *laughs*

    Now, with that out of my system, I had to say that this is certainly very heartwarming. I always thought that, at the end of the day, and after all the layers of tsundereness, Rin was probably the kindest character of FSN, and oneshots like this prove my point. Sure, she is selfish, she is stingy, and she can't wake up in the mornings even at the cost of her life, but when she discard her magus persona, she is also the one who doesn't need any impulse to do something for the others. If anything, she has to make excuses for her magus side.

    And Saber had always been someone with regrets. That they had been addressed and solved is something really nice, although I have to say that this is the first time I read her going away after UBW good.

    The only but I find is that she didn't wait to see Shirou once again, but that's just me.

    All in all, a great oneshot. Emotional, powerful, sweet but with a touch of bitterness. Just perfect for the Nasuverse.

    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by shiningphoenix View Post
    Rin: "I wanted Saber..."
    Archer: "What? But Archers are all insanely OP, it's like a rule or something, why would you think Sabers were better?"
    Rin: "Sabers are more molestable..."
    Quote Originally Posted by Vigilantia View Post
    AC!Rin. Fixing problems one moan at a time.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sage of Eyes View Post
    Denizens of another dimension, meet Rin Tohsaka, Tsundere of Mass Destruction
    Quote Originally Posted by Christemo View Post
    I dont even know what Lunatique is. I assume it's terrible for the sake of argument.

  3. #3
    Dapper Deathwing YeOfLittleFaith's Avatar
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    That was cute. And heartwarming.

    Well done, Polly. 8D



    Quote Originally Posted by RadiantBeam View Post
    Not my fault Shirou is an awesome bro to lesbians.

  4. #4
    死徒 Dead Apostle DezoPenguin's Avatar
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    D'awwww. *sniffle* Heartwarming and sad all at the same time.
    Quotes & Stuff...No, no stuff, just quotes
    Quote Originally Posted by Mcjon01 View Post
    Oh, man, you ruined it, I was typing up a big thing about how "three reams" equals 3000 sheets of paper, and that it connects back to the ancient Japanese legend about how folding a thousand paper cranes will grant you a single wish. It was going to be wonderful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kotonoha View Post
    Not really, more like he knows that realistically he can't save everyone but he's going to strive to do so no matter what regardless, because Fuck The Ideal Police.
    Quote Originally Posted by I3uster View Post
    It's not procrastination, it's pressure-assisted output management.
    Quote Originally Posted by I3uster View Post
    I'm a neckbeard, son. If I ever multiply it'd be through cell division.

  5. #5
    Evil Good RadiantBeam's Avatar
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    Definitely my favorite entry from the contest. I've already given you my thoughts on this piece, so all I'll say is you definitely earned the win.



  6. #6
    I'm bored Polly's Avatar
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    Thanks Beam. You might have noticed that I've taken your thoughts and opinions on the original into account when rewriting this.

    And thanks to the rest of you, too.
    My attempts at being a (fanfic) writer:

    Eclipse - a Saber Alter oneshot
    Requiem for a Race - Altrouge and Ortenrosse hunt the TAs ( 1/3 chapters, discontinued )
    Memories of a King - a 'Saber Origins' story ( 8/? chapters, discontiuned )
    A Small Warmth - a post UBW-Good oneshot, Saber/Rin
    Devil's Thrill - Narbareck hunts down a DAA Blackmore ( 10/10 chapters, finished )
    Boundary of Loneliness - Ryougi Shiki/Alphard Al-Shua oneshot. Lemon-flavoured

  7. #7
    I enjoyed this version more. Props for improving it a bit.

    since I have many other projects to which I want to turn my attention.
    You know what I want to tell you, right?

  8. #8
    I'm bored Polly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daiki View Post
    You know what I want to tell you, right?
    Yeah, yeah, I'm working on the new chapter, dammit!
    My attempts at being a (fanfic) writer:

    Eclipse - a Saber Alter oneshot
    Requiem for a Race - Altrouge and Ortenrosse hunt the TAs ( 1/3 chapters, discontinued )
    Memories of a King - a 'Saber Origins' story ( 8/? chapters, discontiuned )
    A Small Warmth - a post UBW-Good oneshot, Saber/Rin
    Devil's Thrill - Narbareck hunts down a DAA Blackmore ( 10/10 chapters, finished )
    Boundary of Loneliness - Ryougi Shiki/Alphard Al-Shua oneshot. Lemon-flavoured

  9. #9
    And a dash of salt The Geek's Avatar
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    This is the best Saber/Rin story I've ever read. I mean seriously, you got me to care about Saber.
    JP Support

    Spoiler:




    US Support
    Spoiler:



  10. #10
    Evil Good RadiantBeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Polly View Post
    Thanks Beam. You might have noticed that I've taken your thoughts and opinions on the original into account when rewriting this.
    I did. The rewrites made it even more enjoyable than the first time, good work indeed.



  11. #11

  12. #12
    ジュカイン Lycodrake's Avatar
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    Best contest entry and very good one-shot. ^^
    Quote Originally Posted by Seika View Post
    Yes, excellent. Go, Lyco, my proxy.
    F/GO SUPPORT

  13. #13
    I liked the story, except it feels wrong to me that Saber would just leave without even waiting for Shirou to come back.

  14. #14
    the "P.S - Sorry about the food, i got hungry", i lost it there

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