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A House of Dust and Darkness

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The first time he nearly starves, it is the result of negligence in its purest form: true thoughtlessness, the lack of concern that can only result from the delusion that there is no cause. In the end, it is the priest’s fault only because Gilgamesh is above blame by virtue of being Gilgamesh.

Nevertheless, here he is, physical body and all, ostensibly independent of prana, and the priest has been on business in Italy for two weeks. Gilgamesh hasn’t lacked for amusement. There are games to play, movies to catch, waitresses to abuse. If he wants sex, he can, and does, get it. If he wants a more elaborate sort of amusement, he can get that too. And as boring as it is to get drunk alone in the basement of Fuyuki’s church, the wine continues to be excellent.

He has such a substantial quantity of said wine that he doesn’t even remember starving. There is only the wine, and the couch, and the Japanese dub of Die Hard still playing on the television when the priest comes home.

“Took you long enough,” Gilgamesh says.

The priest still has a suitcase in one hand. “Did you expect me to bring you something?”

“Whatever it is, it’s already mine,” Gilgamesh says. Really, the priest should know. This bottle of wine is almost empty now, empty enough that there’s no sense in pouring it, but it always tastes better out of a glass, so he folds his fingers over the neck.

His hand meets only air.

His physical body is not as physical as he thought it was.

It would not be becoming of the King of Heroes to panic.

***

Sobriety hits him toward the end of the second round of mana restoration, when the priest has the nerve to hold Gilgamesh to the bed face-first. Gilgamesh remembers bucking, throwing him off but not out, and not succeeding the first time. Or the second. But by the third it’s not bucking so much as demanding the pleasure that’s his at the pace he wants it and the priest is as obliging as a Master should be, whether or not he is a Master anymore.

If they don’t finish at the same time, it is only because of the priest’s inattention. Gilgamesh is hard enough, even after being spent in, to wrestle the priest off the edge of the bed and fuck his mouth. Solidity, permanence, is not to be taken for granted. Neither is Gilgamesh. He curls his fist in the priest’s hair until he can be sure that he’s not only touching his own fingers. The priest’s hair is getting longer. It’s unflattering. Gilgamesh thinks about coming instead, and does.

“What was that?” the priest asks, almost as soon as his mouth is free.

“Damned if I know,” Gilgamesh says. Drunkenness still clings to him, enough that his first instinct is to spread out across the mattress and sleep. He gives the priest’s hair a jab with his knuckles--that length wouldn’t be flattering on anyone, honestly--cracks some air out of his shoulder, and lays down. It’s summer, too hot for sheets. They still cling to the corners of the bed like last year’s ivy.

Through the haze of drink and impending sleep, Gilgamesh watches the priest stand up, remove the rest of his clothes, drape them over the reading chair by the window. “I thought your body was complete.”

“You dare imply that you found it lacking?”

“Of course not,” the priest says, with one of the faint smirks that Gilgamesh used to be so proud of him for.

Gilgamesh doesn’t dignify that with more than a scoff, mostly muffled by the gap between two thick pillows. He sleeps, after that, regardless of where the priest intends to.

***

Someone is sleeping too near to him, encroaching on the province of the King. Gilgamesh reaches out to the insult, gropes around until he’s sure whose arm it is. Hard muscle meets him, blissfully familiar curves, and Gilgamesh draws back his testing hand only to sock him in the shoulder.

Enkidu punches back.

They laugh and tussle in the dark, rolling about on the bed. Gilgamesh grabs Enkidu’s wrist, slams it down, takes a hit in the shoulder but holds on. Pillows topple to the floor. Enkidu laughs, tangles his legs around Gilgamesh’s, flips them both over.

“So this is how you wake me, friend?”

“You sleep in my bed,” Gilgamesh says. “You wake when and how I say you do.”

Enkidu curls his free hand in Gilgamesh’s hair, leans down, brings their smiles closer together. His breath is warm as ever. “Very well. I’ll sleep on you instead.”

Gilgamesh grins, pushes up against him and makes his intentions clear. “Not now.”

It is a fight but not a struggle. They vie, as they always have, and grab and kick as often as they kiss. In the end, it comes down to hands they didn’t mean to spare, thighs overlapped and tightening, a rough spool of hair that isn’t his own matted to Gilgamesh’s shoulder.

“It seems I will outlast you,” Enkidu pants against Gilgamesh’s neck, tightening his fist.

“As ever you threaten it,” Gilgamesh laughs, speeding his own, “I never allow it to be true.”

“Together, then--”

“As if there could be another way--”

And that is all it takes, for both of them.

After, the room is still in darkness. Enkidu is a pleasant weight, legs interspersed with Gilgamesh’s, warmth and slickness where their skin meets. “What demon has disturbed your sleep?”

“A dream, my truest friend.”

“It is no dream. I know a demon when I see one. It darkens your eyes.”

“And you can see this in the dark?”

“Your eyes shine,” Enkidu says. “They are like blood on bronze.”

Gilgamesh splays his hand to shove him off, and finds nothing to touch.

***

The priest has a hard bed, as unwelcoming as ever to wake in. Gilgamesh found, long ago, that it was unfit to share. He doesn’t know, on waking, whether the priest has slept, or has slept here, since he wakes alone. The smell of strong coffee trickles down the stairs.

It’s too early to be awake, but even the King cannot force himself to sleep.

***

The second time he nearly starves, it is intentional. The priest is an asshole. Gilgamesh has known this for weeks and still walks into the trap.

But after another long stint, another strong magic somewhere not here, another month or so without a mana transfer, the priest insists, “I have nothing to give.”

“Liar,” Gilgamesh says.

“Search me,” the priest says, opening his arms as if he’s telling the congregation a joke about their dead god. “I’ll attend you in the morning, but there’s only so much prana I can spare.”

Liar,” Gilgamesh says again.

But it’s true, of course. Both that the priest is a liar, and that he doesn’t have the energy to spare. He simply leaves his arms open, as if he’d welcome Gilgamesh into them. As if Gilgamesh is no king.

“Fine,” Gilgamesh says, “I’ll wait until morning.”

And in the morning, he is ten years older.

***

Enkidu laughs at him from the windowsill. “Does Uruk weigh so heavily upon you?”

It’s something he’s said before. Gilgamesh’s response has changed. “Its boredoms and fripperies? Never.”

“The gods?”

“Trifles, where I am now. The world is done with them. I am done with them.”

“Such a world,” Enkidu says, as sarcastically as he’s capable, which is to say with more amusement than disbelief. “Do you rule it?”

Rather than answer, Gilgamesh gets up from the bed and punches him.

***

He doesn’t even wait for the priest to be awake. The priest has restored his prana overnight. It’s enough. Gilgamesh throws the blankets aside, yanks the priest’s pants down, and gets to work, stomach churning with loathing and hunger.

For once, it makes nothing easier.

He waits for the priest to come and the magic to suffuse him. It’s quicker work than he meant it to be. The priest takes pleasure in this, after all.

“Is that enough for you, King of Heroes?”

If his semen weren’t so vital to Gilgamesh’s existence, he’d use it to wipe the smirk off the priest’s jaw.

***

There is a potion, somewhere in Gilgamesh’s vault, which will reverse the effects of this world on this physical body. It won’t make him any less beholden to the priest, but it will make him look it.

He needs sufficient prana to open the Gate of Babylon.

Like hell will he ask for it. It should be given to him. Presented to him. Bestowed on him like tribute. The priest, not he, should he the one reduced to begging and demanding. He is the King of Heroes. The priest is merely a priest.

So Gilgamesh does not let on what little he can spare. He idles in the basement, spends the priest’s money (and his, but he spends the priest’s out of spite), watches racing shows and martial arts competitions and movies with massive explosions. He does puzzles. He reads. He goes out at night and hits up bars and restaurants, and sleeps like, if not a normal man, a man of this era with cash and time to spare. He expends as little prana as he can.

It works.

And the priest finally comes to him, if not quite on his knees, and bestows a gift.

The gift is in the catacombs.

***

“Can you honestly abide this?”

“You dare ask the King what he can abide.”

Enkidu elbows him in the hip. This dream is dark again, and Gilgamesh wishes it weren’t. He curses his weakness, but then, is it weakness to solicit the council of a friend, his one and truest friend, and crave his face?

“Is this what the world has come to in your absence?” Enkidu scoffs, and his breath doesn’t quite reach Gilgamesh’s shoulder. “Are men taking up the cruelties of the gods in their absence?”

“Men have always been cruel. And idiots.”

“Then abandon them as they have abandoned you.”

“They are mine. These people are my subjects. I am the King. If they have gone lawless for the lack of my rule, it is left to me to rebuke them.”

“And this is how you’ll do it?”

Gilgamesh has only one fear. Enkidu was the agent of the gods in teaching him that fear. The gods may be dead and defeated, but that fear can still be taught, the same way it was taught to him--

“What does this world hold for you? Enkidu goes on, and the laughter has left his voice even if the strength has not.

“It’s mine,” Gilgamesh says, and that is all that needs to be said. “It’s mine and I must live in it to rule it, or else I am what I despise.”

Enkidu says nothing after that. But Gilgamesh sleeps feeling his presence like an anchor beside him, and curses the dawn.

***

The third time he nearly starves, it is because the children are dying too quickly. The priest’s machine, abomination, whatever it can be called, is a marvel of surgery and craft, but still the work of one twisted man.

Gilgamesh tells the priest, unambiguously, “I told you so.”

“It will take some time,” the priest says, “that’s all,” with the sort of cat-in-the-cream-pot only possible in someone who’s recently discovered what truly makes him happy. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to survive. You’ve managed so far.”

There is only one thing to be said to that. “No.”

“No?” The priest chuckles, runs his fingers over one of the coffins. “No, you haven’t survived.”

“No, I won’t tolerate you dangling this over my head, you mongrel. Bad enough that I’ve sullied myself coming down here at all, bad enough that I’ve been reduced to subsisting on this--I will not have my due dangled over my head. I am the King of Heroes! I am the origin of myth!”

“You are my Servant,” the priest says, “and that’s my prana in your veins.”

***

“You are in hell,” Enkidu says.

Even in dreams, Gilgamesh laughs for hours.

***