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A man clad in leather and khaki rises amidst charred rubble. He lifts the loaded glock in his hands into the air, and only then does information rush into his head in a blast of pressure. A brief vision of blooded stripes flashes before his eyes.

He knows in that moment that he is an Avenger-class Servant and that his True Name is United States of America. As to who or what summoned him as Avenger, he is unsure.

Knowing this, Avenger releases the safety on the glock in a well-oiled motion and scans the perimeter as a precaution.

The sky is thick with dark clouds tinged flame orange, skeletal buildings jutting out from the horizon like spines along a vertebra. Drifts of unidentifiable debris extend in all directions for several hundred feet before petering out into dusty plains. He only registers days-old traces of Servants in the vicinity; no humans anywhere in sight.

Still cautious, he lowers the glock and instead inspects his body. Though he is vaguely aware that he existed long beyond the 20th century -- long enough to at least know that he now stands in an era beyond the Age of Humans -- he is clad in the fabrics of the second World War which once consumed the world in that very century.

Beyond that, his memories are a frustrating grey void.

Regardless of his current state, Avenger feels a faint pull in his gut.

The pull ebbs slightly when he walks down the crest of rubble he stood atop. When his feet meet dusty ground, he marches at a military pace in the direction his gut seems to compel him towards. This pull, while different from that of the Holy Grail compelling its selected Servants towards a Holy Grail War, feels nearly as strong and laden with magecraft, he notes.

He continues like this for what could be hours or days. Soon, the landscape flattens out into a uniform plane of dust, and Avenger finds himself wondering if he walks not on Earth but on another planet entirely.

And then, just when life has flattened itself into the grey void around him, a figure becomes visible in the distance.

The pull in his gut grows more intense when the figure turns to meet blue eyes with green.

Before he knows it, Avenger stands a mere step away from the strange figure and reaches out a finger to stroke along the figure’s cheek.

The stranger is clad in clothes which seem to exist somewhere between a long pirate coat and a gilded Victorian suit. Rich taffeta and jewels cascade over his shoulders like fountains of solidified wealth. And, judging by the intense energy which emanates from the figure’s core, this man is a Servant.

The knowledge of the nature of Servant classes rushes into Avenger’s mind as if it is familiar knowledge.

“Ruler,” Avenger smiles mirthlessly. “You must know who I am.”

Ruler’s eyes flash gold for a moment. His eyes widen.

“Avenger.”

His voice hitches in his throat.

“True Name: United States of America.”

Avenger would be tempted to say, “ You have the man, the one and only ”, except that he doesn’t understand where such thoughts arise from. So, he remains silent.

Ruler approaches Avenger cautiously, his gilded boots almost gliding over the distance between them. When he sees that Avenger isn’t poised to attack him, lily-white fingers ghost along Avenger’s cheek and his body unconsciously leans into the touch.

“Are you truly the darkness which the Holy Grail holds within?” The question isn’t truly directed at Avenger. “I would’ve never supposed that we’d see each other in this manner, and yet…”

“We knew each other before our summoning.” The statement is a bygone conclusion to Avenger.

Something flashes in Ruler’s evergreen eyes. “Yes. We shared a special sort of relationship.”

A special sort of relationship. Avenger feels that Ruler is withholding information from him.

“My True Name is United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” Ruler continues, eyes meltingly warm. A chill spreads through Avenger’s body. “I do not understand either why we are here or who or perhaps what summoned us, but either way I hold no desire to see you come to harm.”

"Perhaps you could provide such answers yourself, Ruler." 

The lilted voice came not from Avenger but from above.

Avenger and Ruler jump back just in time to avoid the katana which cleanly slices the earth where they’d stood in two. A dark-haired Servant dressed in a pink hakama and a dandara-patterned blue coat lands on his feet with said katana brandished. The light-footed assailant narrows his eyes when he sees Avenger standing by Ruler’s side.

“Sakura Saber,” Ruler says frostily towards the enemy Servant. “Or, rather, Japan.”

Chapter Text

“Japan?” Avenger steps back, a shudder reverberating through his body.

He feels as if he should know that name, and yet he feels the memories struggling towards the surface fade away in an instant as Saber launches forward and nicks Avenger’s side with his katana’s edge. Blood streams forth.

Avenger tries to sidestep the next lunge, but five more wounds open across his torso as if Saber wielded six blades at once. He gasps in pain and stumbles backwards, glock nearly falling from his hand. 

In an instant, Ruler stands before him, hands curled around a golden staff tipped with a lion’s snarling head. Avenger raises his glock and places his finger over the trigger surprised by how easily he and Ruler fall into the positions of protector and protectee. 

“Noble Phantasm: Art of the Eternal Blade,” Ruler declares, voice calculating and authoritative. “Though normally a Noble Phantasm powerful enough to cut through space and time would be a threat to most Servants, you have little hope against me.”

“You should not take sides in this war,” Saber growls, raising his katana over his head. 

Avenger is suddenly struck by how diminutive Saber looks in comparison to his long katana, though the wiry muscle in his exposed forearms belies hidden strength. 

"There is little wrong with fighting in humanity's best interests," Ruler says neutrally. 

Saber sneers. The expression looks foreign on his soft face. “And yet, here you are, the supposed mediator of this Grail War fighting for another Servant as if you yourself hold a wish for the Grail to grant. Does that not violate your rules as a Ruler?” 

“There were no rules to begin with when the future of this world is at stake.” Ruler taps his fingers against the sparkling jewels set into his staff -- a subtle threat. “You must know already that, in the end, all of us fight for our peoples’ glory -- just as we did in life.” 

What happens next seems to happen in slow motion. As Saber shifts his feet into a ready stance, Avenger hears the crashing of ocean waves and looks up to see a clear blue sky stretching overhead. Ruler points his staff at Saber, and a ring of warships rises from the ocean below like a cat’s claws closing around its prey. Avenger and Ruler now stand together at the wheel of the largest ship in the fleet while Saber stands on a small island in the center of the formation, suddenly looking quite insignificant hundreds of meters below. As Avenger watches, awestruck, several squadrons of planes rush overhead into position with smoke trailing behind like ribbons. 

The flag -- a Union Jack, Avenger knows somehow -- tied to the mast flaps heavily in the wind overhead.

Ruler lets out a cry, and the barrage begins. 

Dozens of cannons open fire on the island from the sides of each warship with a deafening roar, each cannonball throwing up a geyser of sand and debris. The planes -- Royal Air Force , Avenger’s brain supplies -- drop their payloads all at once, consuming the island where Sakura Saber once stood in flames and thick smoke. Powerful waves ripple through the ocean after each shockwave, rocking the ship which Avenger and Ruler stand upon. 

By the time the smoke fades away, there isn’t even an island left.

With a quiet gasp, Ruler drops to his knees and the illusion dissipates. Avenger rushes forward and catches Ruler in his arms, paying little heed to his own bleeding wounds or the charred spot where Saber had stood only moments before.

“England!” he cries, the name torn from his chest by instinct. He searches desperately for wounds on his partner’s body until his hands are smacked away insistently. 

“I’m fine, love,” Ruler says, his breaths evening out. He gives Avenger a concerned glance. “Really, you should be more concerned about yourself.”

Avenger frowns at the rather affectionate epithet, but his discomfort quickly fades away when he sees the strange warmth in Ruler's green gaze. Just moments before, those eyes had seen the utter destruction of a seemingly powerful Servant in a blink of an eye -- and yet, there is nothing but affection in Ruler's eyes when they are trained on Avenger. 

“Come -- let me tend to your wounds.” Before Avenger can protest, Ruler places his hands over the open cuts and pours mana through the glowing magic circuits in his arms. He then tears off bits of the ornamentation on his clothing and applies them as makeshift gauze. 

“Don’t we both need mana to manifest in this world?” Avenger pants, feeling warmth pool in his torso as his wounds stitch themselves back together. He frowns, trying to think through the fog surrounding the memories he needs to make an informed judgement. “We aren’t Master and Servant -- we’re both Servants. Can you supply mana to me like this without losing your own power?”

“We both possess the trait Independent Action -- you especially,” Ruler says. Avenger furrows his brow, hearing a subtle joke that he can’t understand. “As a result, we can manifest in this world without a Master. Though, the ley lines supplying environmental mana in this location certainly don’t hurt either. Nothing more to it, love.” 

Once again Avenger feels as if Ruler is deliberately hiding something from him. He has a gut feeling that his partner doesn’t have his best interests in mind -- and yet, Avenger knows all too well that he has no chance without Ruler. After all, he himself only possesses a glock for self-defense, and a modern handgun is little help against Servants with weapons as superhumanly potent as Saber’s katana and Ruler’s military. 

And so, even if only for his own self-preservation, Avenger has no choice but to entrust his fate in Ruler’s hands. 

“There is a city nearby,” Ruler says. He links his fingers with Avenger’s as if that is the natural thing to do. “I sense multiple Spirit Origins there. Let’s go.”

As they trek through blooms of dust, a stray thought enters Avenger’s head.

Why is Ruler’s Noble Phantasm so powerful? The Holy Grail War should've been long won if he can defeat a rival Servant in just seconds, and yet...