“The world turns our key, and we play the same little tune again and again, and we think that tune is all we are.”
Kirei had looked at the world around him with weary antipathy and begrudging disinterest for as long as he could remember.
There were only a few scattered events to which he had a noteworthy reaction to—when he actually felt things and was human for a while.
The first time was when his deluded wife killed herself for him.
Kirei could never forgive Claudia Hortensia’s saintly selflessness. He loathed her crushing devotion to him which she sustained to the very end. Her light and goodness only served to pronounce his emotional poverty.
Some nights fantasies of her would haunt him, fantasies in which she had lived. He would then repay her love by choking her, doing so very leisurely at first, with his fingertips molded lightly on her skin. He would throttle her without warning next, and stare into her earnest, lovely eyes as the soul is drained away.
This dream happened first on the night after her funeral when he slept by himself on their marriage bed. Kirei stirred awake from it, bathed in sweat and lingering regret. There’s the unmistakable sensation of cum spilled in his abdomen, and he had curled up in shame and screamed into the pillow.
The next day a blood sigil appeared at the back of his hand.
The second time was when he plunged the exquisite dagger into Tokiomi Tohsaka, puncturing him near his spine and right through his glands. The blade sinks smoothly into the burgundy coat Tokiomi was so fond of wearing. One could hardly tell the difference between the blood and burgundy, and between the blood and the carpet where Tokiomi crumbles to.
What did stand out were Gilgamesh’s wine-dark eyes, and the vines of command seals in Kirei’s arm that were vibrant, violent red.
An understanding passed between himself and the King of Heroes then, like a whisper of silk, sublime but meaningful.
This was Kirei’s first taste of real independence, the liberation from a misguided life of foolish attempts to prove he was faithful, godly and sane.
The third time was when he fought Kiritsugu Emiya, and saw for himself that the other man was nothing like him.
Kirei was all alone in the world after all, but he has made his peace with that.
Kiritsugu was glass. And the hammer that shattered him forged Kirei into steel.
The fourth time was when the Grail granted his wish, secret and unknown to him at first until the Grail yanked him back to life and granted him a glimpse of what his soul has lusted after and was deprived of all these years.
It was when the city of Fuyuki burned in a conflagration so maddeningly beautiful that Kirei was joyous and brought near to tears, clawing at his face to rip the mask of sanity forever, so he could free the starving ghoul beneath and behold his dream of entropy.
Gilgamesh brought the unconscious and severely beaten Sakura Matou to the basement of the church one night.
Kirei found the god-king attending to the girl while he was sprawled at the steps of the staircase, cradling her head in his lap as he was massaging her cheeks with his thumbs. It was a curious, almost enticing sight that Kirei didn’t make his presence known at first until Gilgamesh slowly pushed three of his fingers into the girl’s mouth. He wriggled them for a few moments, as if trying to carve out something. The Matou girl wasn’t even choking on them at all. She was eerily silent. Her big, pigmented purple eyes staring up without focus as Gilgamesh probed deeper into the cavity. Finally, he pulled out three or four nasty slugs lodged down her throat and still squirming. He let out a noise of utter disgust as he carelessly tossed the vermin away.
“Those are crest worms,” Kirei spoke up at last, eyeing said atrocity as he walked leisurely down the steps to meet them. Gilgamesh didn’t bother to look up at him, and was instead caressing the girl’s face again. His display of tenderness was not uncharacteristic. Kirei had seen him touch certain items from his treasury in the same manner, and he framed the girl’s face with both hands as if she was clay that he needs to mold. Sakura Matou was only still staring up in blank submission. As Kirei bent closer, he noticed how her parted lips were peeling with dead skin flakes. They were caked with dried blood and glistening with saliva from seconds ago. Dark lesions peppered her sallow thin neck where the crest worms suckered into the flesh for nourishment. Unperturbed, he reached out to lift the jacket which Gilgamesh had wrapped her loosely in.
The girl was bare with skin pulled tight around her ribcage as if it could tear any moment. The rest of her small body from upper torso to her joints was marked with a brutality so precise that it’s almost symphonic in execution. Kirei was tempted to commend the conductor for this astonishingly unique concerto of torture. There were wounds upon wounds, wounds that haven’t even scarred yet all across her withered, wasted vessel. She was angular; all sharp edges with no discernible flab or curves as if she had been starved for weeks, which Kirei knew without a doubt was the case.
But she was alive. Her breathing was shallow. Her eyes were unseeing. But Sakura Matou still lives. It was uncanny, and Kirei couldn’t help but run a finger or two across her abdomen where there were dozens of tiny puncture wounds like she was pressed against a device that prickled her skin many times. He had to be sure she was corporeal; this mutilated little girl who had been experimented on day after day by a vampiric madman who once likened Kirei to himself.
As soon as that ugly thought crossed his mind, Kirei withdrew his hand as if he was burned. Gilgamesh gave him an odd, questioning look but he didn’t try to justify himself. He simply straightened himself again and tried not to stare back at Sakura Matou’s vacant gaze.
Instead, he told Gilgamesh, “Why don’t you carry her down so we can put her inside one of the vacant coffins? I shall endeavor to examine the extent of her injuries.”
“Oh, we have an opening?” Gilgamesh jested, which Kirei always found a little grating. The god-king’s gallows humor was always intact no matter the circumstances.
“Yes,” Kirei answered. “I discarded one of the children yesterday. The carcass was already depleted, and there was no sense in keeping it housed down here.”
The two of them walked down. Kirei led the way so he could switch on more lights. Gilgamesh trailed close behind with the girl secured in his arms. Kirei spoke up again. “You should have come to me before you decided to bring her to the basement. There are still preventive measures to take in case of emergency.”
“Were you just ordering me around?” Gilgamesh was offended. Of course. “Surely, I misheard. Even I’m not above error. That’s the only explanation this king accepts because I know that Kirei Kotomine knows his place. Besides, did he not build this basement to accommodate my needs? And am I not his sworn liege?”
Kirei held his tongue as Gilgamesh caught his eyes and glared. “And are you not this king’s obedient fool, eager to service my every whim?”
“I do not forget our roles, Gilgamesh.” Kirei did not break eye contact.
“Then tell me this: what do you plan to do to this child, Kotomine?”
Kirei walked again and directed Gilgamesh to the casket in question. The King of Heroes scoffed at him once before he unceremoniously dropped Sakura Matou inside, unmindful if her form gets contorted. Her body barely made a sound as it collided on the wood. Kirei sighed impatiently, and fixed the girl’s position to something that would allow him to examine her better. Gilgamesh removed his jacket to expose the Matou girl’s body. The wounds were fresh, but Kirei could tell that they were beginning to heal slowly as the crest worms incubated inside her went about to fulfill their function. Gilgamesh bent closer and started playing with the Matou girl’s pigmented purple hair. He grabbed a fistful and yanked it, hoping to wake her from her trance. It did not work.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Kirei warned him. “If you managed to make her come to her senses, she would panic the moment she sees us, and would scream for help.”
“Does it look like she’s capable of doing anything like that?” Gilgamesh countered as he shook his jacket repeatedly to air it out. “If it wasn’t for the abundance of prana coming from her, I would have ascertained she’s already a corpse. Her heart beats faintly, but it’s clogged with those vile worms.”
“Why take her, Gilgamesh?” Kirei now asked, eyeing the King of Heroes in both amusement and suspicion. “Zouken Matou is not going to be thrilled about this abduction. She is the heir to their magecraft, and a promising one at that.”
“I found her near the riverbank under the bridge,” he explained in a neutral tone. “I recognized her from the photographs in Tokiomi’s living room. Besides, it was dark. There was no one around. If that foul creature Zouken wants her back then he could fetch her himself."
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“What can I say? I felt a twinge of compassion, seeing her like that; cast aside like a putrid doll no one wants to play with anymore.”
Kirei crossed his arms before him as he stared down at the broken thing in the coffin, observing her passive form with her veins teeming with prana. As tempting as it may be, he wouldn’t want to try depleting her as yet another food source for Gilgamesh. He was not that confident he could safely and successfully experiment on the complex intricacies of a Matou magecraft. Besides, he wouldn’t want any bad blood to occur between him and that fetid Zouken.
“We can shelter her until Zouken takes notice of her absence, which should be any moment now.”
“But she was discarded like garbage when I found her. What makes you so sure they still want her?”
Kirei was about to reply when they noticed that the Matou girl’s skin started hollowing out as the crest worms’ outline etched out visibly on the surface of her body. She gave a violent shake once, and then was subdued once more. The worms made their way through her bloodstream flawlessly, gliding across her like fat rats whose shape was bulging in her arms and legs, stomach and small breasts. Gilgamesh hummed beside him, clearly fascinated by the sight. Kirei had seen this process on Kariya before, and the nostalgia hit him in the most alluring way possible, almost weakening his knees.
“She will be returned shortly,” he finally answered Gilgamesh. “Zouken will make contact, and I will deliver her to him when that happens.”
“Maybe you don’t have to.”
Kirei slowly turned his gaze towards the King of Heroes, dreading to see what wicked expression he has on now this time. “What do you mean by that?”
Gilgamesh only held his gaze back. A subtle smile settled on his lips before he licked his upper lip with the tip of his tongue. The action repulsed Kirei but he said nothing as he listened to Gilgamesh suggest, “Why don’t we just keep her?”
“She is not ours to keep, Gilgamesh.” Kirei can’t believe this topic was even being brought up. The other man’s whims are always so fickle.
“But the thought has crossed your mind now, has it not?”
“No.” Kirei frowned deeply and tore his gaze away from the other man so he could instead stare into the abyss of the child’s haunted eyes.
“Liar,” the King of Heroes poked his forearm with a finger. “Even after all these years, you’re still lying to yourself about the things you want.”
“Pray tell,” Kirei jerked his head back almost angrily at Gilgamesh, “Why would I want Sakura Matou?”
“But what’s not to want?” the god-king smiled wider as he gestured unabashedly toward the naked child below the both of them. “She is beautiful.”
Kirei didn’t agree aloud, even though he and Gilgamesh certainly shared the definition of beauty in this context. He just let his eyes linger on the crest worms burrowed underneath Sakura Matou’s skin, still squirming and sucking her from within. Before he could help himself, he was asking questions he knew he might regret hearing answers to. “How did you find her like this? Why would she be under the bridge? Did you think Zouken just left her there?”
“Who knows,” Gilgamesh replied. “Maybe somebody wanted to dispose of her body but panicked and didn’t get to push her into the river.”
“Who would do such a thing?”
“Her rapist, probably.”
Kirei slowly looked at Gilgamesh, blinking. “What are you talking about? A rapist?”
Gilgamesh just nodded his head at the Matou girl. “Can’t you tell?”
Kirei looked closer, inspecting the wounds once again, but found that nothing stood out aside from the obvious affliction. Sighing, he just remarked. “The crest worms were supposed to be intensive parasites that inject themselves through all orifices of the body. One can consider their unwanted presence as a violation on the body especially without the consent of—”
“Not that,” Gilgamesh must have rolled his eyes at Kirei, but he was already leaning to grab at the girl’s ankles so he could spread her legs apart. Kirei merely narrowed his eyes, unfazed by the deliberate action, as he looked at where Gilgamesh was trying to indicate his scrutiny to. “Do you see them now?”
There were bruises in her inner thighs, shaped like fingers as if someone had grabbed her thighs and forced them apart. It definitely made Kirei pause. Still, their revelation does not immediately mean that Gilgamesh was speaking truth.
He was right about one thing, though. A person—not the crest worms—had inflicted those marks on Sakura Matou.
Kirei shrugged his shoulders, truly unconcerned about this development. “It could have been Zouken himself who did that.”
“Don’t be dense,” Gilgamesh chided him in derision. “At this point, the ugly old man is incapable of fucking her, isn’t he? He has no cock to speak of. It’s not to say he hasn’t been raping her at all because, clearly, another way of looking at his obsession of implanting crest worms on her is exactly that.”
The King of Heroes chuckled as he added, “A truly pitiful phallic substitute, don’t you think?”
But Kirei was more concerned as to how Gilgamesh concluded that a person had raped the child. The placement of the bruises was telling, but he was still unconvinced. “Why would you say she was sexually penetrated?”
“Oh, she was fucked, all right. Gods, Kirei. Must I prove it to you? Very well..”
With a roll of his eyes, Gilgamesh unceremoniously reached out again to cup the girl’s mound this time. Kirei almost wanted to look away since he could tell that the god-king was probing her folds with his fingers. He was curiously nauseated by it. As soon as he pulled out, Gilgamesh showed Kirei his digits, now coated with sticky traces of blood and what Kirei could definitely detect was semen. The stench and substance were unmistakable.
That settled it then. She was raped by someone decidedly male. Naturally, it was information that wasn’t that interesting or vital to Kirei at all.
“Did you inspect her in the same manner earlier?” Kirei had to ask though as he lowered his voice into a whisper. “Was that the first thing that the King of Heroes did when you found her? You put your fingers inside her vagina for no other reason than a hunch that she had been violated?”
Kirei realized that he was actually quite offended about the thought. But it was also…beguiling.
Gilgamesh must have seen something lewd take over his expression because now he grinned almost proudly as he answered. “I didn’t have to do such a thing until now. Besides, if one sees a naked little girl by the river, bleeding all over—anyone would have thought the same by instinct, wouldn’t they?”
The King of Heroes’ serpentine eyes sharpened for a moment as he asked Kirei. “Wouldn’t you?”
Without missing a beat, Gilgamesh wiped off the blood and semen on the tattered cloth covering the interior of the coffin.
Kirei merely scoffed. Instead of humouring his thinly-veiled accusation, he said. “You know we can’t keep her, Gilgamesh. You didn’t happen to pick up a stray animal in the streets. What you did was brought home a damaged girl who belonged to a mage family you do not want to get directly involved with.”
“I wasn’t being that serious about it,” Gilgamesh laughed and waved a dismissive hand at Kirei. “I understand that it’s unrealistic. I was merely responding to your obvious awe and fascination for her, Kirei. It’s been a habit of mine since we started living together. I always try to offer you what you don’t want to say aloud—what you still so desperately try to conceal, even to me.”
He shot Kirei a knowing, condescending grin. “And apparently you are still too cautious to take for yourself. Your naiveté on such matters causes me sadness.”
For emphasis, Gilgamesh ran his finger from his eye and down to his cheek like he was tracing an imaginary tear.
“I have no time to waste on your riddles and presumptuous theories about the nature of what I want,” Kirei was already walking away from the conversation. With the King of Heroes, it’s often wise to disengage. “We will keep her here. But since you’re the one who found her, you are responsible for her recovery. Feed her, bathe her, clothe her—I don’t care.”
Before Kirei started climbing up the staircase, he looked at Gilgamesh pointedly one last time and said. “Just leave me out of it.”
Over the years, each time Kirei comes home, Gilgamesh would already be sprawled in his couch, wearing yet another ensemble of whorish wardrobe which Kirei was supposed to appreciate as stylish, but ended up despising altogether. The god-king’s choices of clothing were always worn tight around his body, serving to flatter the contours of his muscles and the overall appealing physique that he is so inclined to parade anytime, anywhere—including in Kirei’s presence. It was only irritating the first few times, especially once Kirei became sure that the King of Heroes was purposefully looking and acting lascivious just to get a rise from him. But Kirei learned to get used to his provocative appearance.
The last thing he wanted to do was to reinforce bad behavior by commenting on it. Not like it did anything to stop Gilgamesh from dressing up the way he did. For years Gilgamesh had acted less of a royal king and more of a savage slut who indulged and partook in every pleasure, sexual or otherwise.
It was only mildly disgusting.
And—in some odd places Kirei would never admit aloud—alarmingly endearing.
There were small moments sometimes when Gilgamesh becomes a sticky adhesive on his pores that Kirei wants nothing more than to submerge himself in boiling holy water to wash it all off.
If he was still the same man who repressed his inner turmoil, Kirei would have easily shaken off the allure through mere prayer and solitude. But he has changed slowly over the years of his co-existence with the incarnated heroic spirit, and became more and more aware of the growing magnetism that was developing between him and the other man. It was only because of his considerable amount of self-restraint and stoicism that had prevented him from doing anything scandalous and regrettable.
Kirei is still a man of the cloth, and there are certain demons he still wishes to keep at bay.
Sakura Matou was in the second row of pews, singing serenely to the hymns with the rest of the churchgoers as if she had done it many times before. She looked absorbed in prayers and praise-giving during the entire Eucharist, almost inconspicuous if it wasn’t for the fact that Kirei was the priest of the ceremony, and he noticed her all throughout. She even stepped forward during the offertory with a bouquet of lilies which she placed down the altar’s feet. She genuflected afterwards, meeting his eyes with ease as she did. Her smile unnerved him.
Kirei didn’t stare that much at all as he recited his sermons and went over his rituals. He was, however, intrigued by her presence not just because he knew she was never raised Catholic, but also because she looked so different from the bloodied and bruised child from years ago. She looked pristine in her school uniform, and she had tied her hair back into a neat bun. Looking back at it, he had seen her in a few occasions, but only from a distance, whenever he would send a familiar to track Rin at school just to keep tabs. Other than that, this was the first time that he was in the same vicinity as the Matou girl since that small incident in the basement with Gilgamesh years ago.
Kirei wasn’t sure what to make of it, but Sakura Matou’s presence became more constant than he anticipated after that. She kept coming to church since, mostly just on Sundays, save for one or two occasions where he spotted her praying by herself during a Friday after school hours. What stuck with him was that her fingers were in black gloves, and she was clutching a bright red rosary while she knelt, focused on reciting her prayers under her breath. She was still in her uniform too, so those additional accessories were very noticeable. Also, how did she know how to pray the rosary? The sight was enough to give him pause but he never approached her. He wondered briefly if she was trying to call attention to herself—specifically for his attention.
Finally, on the third month, Sakura Matou lingered among the crowd who always came to Kirei for concerns on personal matters, or simply so they could greet him with words of warmth about another accomplished service. Kirei knew she was there the entire time, but he focused on speaking with the others, clutching hands with them, exchanging whatever niceties were expected of him to say. As the number of the people dwindled, the Matou girl was also moving forward closer and closer until she was the only one left, and Kirei had no choice but to be confronted. He waited for her to begin the dance, which she did in a spectacularly natural and courteous manner.
“Good afternoon, Father Kotomine,” she beamed at him, “My name is Sakura Matou. I’m a student from the nearby school. It’s my first time attending a Catholic Mass. If I’m to be honest, I would just like to say that attending has been very helpful to me. And you are a large part of that…”
She trailed off when she said the last statement, lowering her gaze. Her cheeks flushed. Kirei was loss for words so he just waited for her to say something else.
“I’ve really enjoyed your sermons, Father. They were so insightful and you don’t mince your words at all,” she added after some intervals, her fingers moving nervously below her even as she grasped her hands together in a display of demureness. “I haven’t read much about the Bible per se, but I’ve studied most of the passages you chose, and they’ve been remarkably helpful to me.”
Her overall countenance was far too cheery and sweet—a complete contrast to what Kirei would have expected from someone who had suffered tremendous pain and horror as a child. The juxtaposition was bizarre yet captivating all the same. He knew it had to be a mask. Kirei himself donned one and a costume to match it over the years after all. Kirei could not resist the urge of taking hers off.
“In what way did they help you, Matou-san?” he finally spoke up, catching her gaze as he did. He allowed himself a smile. “Is something troubling you? I only ask because it is not uncommon for young people your age to come here when they feel as if they need to seek guidance from a higher power.”
He placed his hands behind his back and took a step closer, maintaining an air of formality and harmlessness.
“Oh, yes,” Sakura Matou nodded eagerly, her eyes widening along with her smile. “I suppose you could say that, Father.”
Kirei tried not to give anything away as he stared at her. Despite being Zouken Matou’s plaything, the girl grew up to be very comely, with eyes bright and full of wonder. Objectively speaking, Rin was obviously the more attractive sister, but Kirei supposed that Sakura Matou has her own charms. Her hair was still the strange purple hue which would have made her stand out. Other than that, there were no traces of sickliness to her. On the surface alone, she certainly seemed healthy both in mind and body, but Kirei knew better. He had seen her degraded before to the point that she was barely even recognizable as human. This young schoolgirl standing before him now—saying the right responses, exuding warmth and appeal—is not real. He should know more than anyone else. After all, no one could undergo such trauma without carrying scars and remnants of its ugliness. He let out a barely discernible sigh as it occurred to Kirei that he had to see for himself the extent of the damage in this girl’s psyche. As far as he’s concerned, Sakura Matou was a bait far too irresistible not to take, and she should have stayed away from him in the beginning if she didn’t want to give him any excuse or opportunity to peel away layers of her. Now it’s all fair game.
“Tell me, Matou-san,” he said, cocking his head slightly to the side to feign innocent interest. “Have you taken a confession rite before?”
She bit on her lower lip for a while, looking lost for a moment. “I know what it is, but I have no wrongdoing to confess though, Father.”
Kirei allowed himself a chuckle. “The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is not strictly for airing out sins and grievances, young lady.”
She only offered him a weak smile in response.
“But do you think there is something you need absolution from?” he asked gently, coaxing her with his words as if he was physically reaching out to touch her shoulder. He took another step forward.
Sakura Matou’s expression remained open and pleasant, unmindful of how much he is closing the distance between them. “Of course not, Father. But if you think I can benefit from the sacrament, I would be very much willing to try. Religion is a foreign practice for me because I was never raised on such values at all,” she laughed by raising her hand to her mouth, “but I’ve been going to this church lately, and listening to your sermons. I…I feel like I could already trust you, Father Kotomine, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Kirei curbed his expression into something that could be perceived kindly this time as he measured his next words. “The house of God is open to anyone, regardless if they are Christian or not. If you think you need Him in your life at this point in time, then allow me to be your shepherd and welcome you to His flock. I’m always very pleased when someone decides to embrace the faith.”
In response, Sakura Matou suddenly reached out to take Kirei’s hand and squeeze it. It was a surprising and awkward gesture, as far as Kirei could detect, and definitely not something a supposedly timid and proper young woman should do. But Sakura Matou’s display could be interpreted as strategic, designed to take him aback. She certainly exuded enough youthful innocence to pull it off, but Kirei was not fooled for a second. Still, he tried not to react visibly to it yet, and instead listened to her say, “Thank you! Thank you so much, Father! You don’t know how much this means to me…”
He waited for a few seconds before he lifted their hands still clasping each other. Kirei squeezed back, widening his smile an inch as he did. The Matou girl blushed again which he knew should have been an involuntary act, but he did not trust anything about her. It’s best to keep his guard up from now on.
“You’re welcome, my child,” he managed to reply when he found his footing again, and let her hand slip through his. “If you are free for the rest of the day, we could talk right here in the pews. I have nothing important planned anyway.”
“Would that really be alright?” she looked hesitant enough.
“Why wouldn’t it be, Matou-san?” Kirei tried to sound worried about her second guessing herself.
“Are we—” she stopped, and then gestured at the wooden confession box behind him with a subtle tilt of her head. “Aren’t we supposed to do this there?”
“Not necessarily,” he reassured her. “I’ve been told that it’s archaic and a little stuffy. We could just talk as if we’re only having a normal conversation. It is in my experience that young people often find it more comfortable to do so.”
She brightened up with that suggestion. “Oh, of course! That sounds rather lovely, I guess. I wouldn’t mind talking to you for the rest of today, Father. I…I’ve actually wanted to do that for…some time now—” she immediately started shaking her head. “I-I’m s-sorry! I didn’t mean to sound so forward! I only meant—!”
Kirei narrowed his eyes this time. Her reactions don’t seem to be rehearsed at all. Perhaps, he considered dimly, she had been made to forget. He wouldn’t put it past someone conniving and fiendish like Zouken Matou. Perhaps this was a persona he had forced upon her so she could function in the world outside, and discourage any suspicion about her actions. But for what purpose? Zouken could easily just keep her imprisoned in whatever dungeon he had her stashed way until the next Grail War came around. Instead he allowed her to have a normal school life. It was indeed baffling, the more Kirei thought about it. No matter, he should still play this accordingly as if she was purposefully trying to bait him.
He softened his expression now as he met her gaze, trying to look appeasing.
“There is no need to justify and explain yourself. I do not think ill of you at all, Matou-san,” Kirei gestured at one of the pews. “Please do sit down. You can tell me anything you feel you should unload. I promise to listen to everything.”
The Matou girl smiled and blushed yet again. Young girls could be so gratingly self-conscious and wilfully ignorant. Kirei had to remind himself that she wasn’t exactly one of them.
“You’re far too kind, Father,” she almost whispered the phrase.
Kirei widened his smile again as he watched her take a seat. “My only duty is to make sure that someone as impressionable as you doesn’t lose your path, and give in to whatever darkness that has a hold on you…”
He let his words and the implication of something else sink in. Her expression noticeably became solemn this time. For a moment, her eyes grew blank and absent as if she was seeing something else from the depths of her thoughts. Those eyes resembled the ones from years ago which Kirei had sometimes dreamt about every now and then. They were more mysterious and unknowable than the expression Kariya had while under the control of the crest worms. Sakura Matou’s misery to Kirei seemed purer and deeper, and he wanted to dip his fingers into the tar of her wretchedness and feel it stick to his skin. The haunted, gaunt look for her was more becoming than this shy and cheerful countenance, and Kirei decided that he would do anything from this point on to bring forward the hideousness the girl has concealed so well, even from herself.
“God is great and just, and He forgives all,” Kirei sat next to her now, placing his hands on his lap as he turned his body towards her to openly scrutinize her. “Tell me, child: was there ever a moment in your life when you felt as if you have lost your way?”
Without missing a beat, she nodded in response, unwilling to look him in the eye.
Softly now, Kirei asked. “And do you want to find a way back?”
Sakura Matou closed her eyes, swallowing before she nodded for the second time. At that, Kirei smirked. This was just too tempting. The familiar sense of curiosity mixed with shameful delight passed through him, making his stomach coil. When she looked at him again, he fixed his smile into something acceptable and one that conveys concern as he said, “Then let me help you, Matou-san.”
“Yes, Father.” The Matou girl grasped her hands on her lap again. “I put myself under your care from now on.”
To trust a stranger just like that, even if he was a man of God, was unsettling for Kirei because Sakura Matou really should know better. But she is a well of untapped potentials, much more so than Rin who is so fixed in her own stubborn ways that raising her had become more of a trying chore than he ever imagined. But it’s different with the Matou girl. There is a shoe that’s about to drop, and Kirei is going to be there when it happens.
One night during a storm, the two men were cooped up in the office, waiting out the outpour. The orphans in the basement have all rotted away in their coffins and cells just a month ago, so Gilgamesh decided to slake his thirst with bourbon and chocolates instead. It was after a silence that lasted for a good ten minutes when Kirei at last told Gilgamesh about the conversations he’d been having with Sakura Matou. It was the fifth time he met up with her earlier that day. The King of Heroes would have been mad about Kirei withholding scintillating information, but Gilgamesh was far too absorbed demanding to know every single detail of what they talked about.
Kirei was on his chair by his desk. He had a clear plan in mind before he broached the subject. He was going to make sure he only gave short answers and a brief summary about the events surrounding Sakura Matou’s appearance in the Church and the subsequent talks they had. But Gilgamesh is nothing if not silver-tongued and persuasive and Kirei ended up abandoning paperwork in favor of sitting by the couch next to the other man, weaving narratives for the god-king’s entertainment. They opened other bottles in Kirei’s slowly dwindling wine collection that Gilgamesh had shamelessly raided and plundered over the years of living together. But Kirei never minded. It was always much more enjoyable to partake in drink when he had an invigorating company to share it with as well.
“Maybe I should visit her,” Gilgamesh said, “I’d like to see her for myself. You said she had gotten pretty?”
“I never said that.” Kirei replied with a dismissive snort. He was still sitting on the couch, and had to look down as he conversed with the other man. “You know I don’t notice those things unless as an objective observation.”
“That still counts,” the god-king was sprawled on the floor now, abandoning the softness of the couch completely. “Besides, I think she might remember me a little. Or at least I could be one of those faces she couldn’t exactly place where she might have seen before…”
“That’s too risky,” Kirei remarked. “And what could you possibly gain from it anyway? What if she does recognize you? What then?”
The King of Heroes just shrugged his shoulders and placed his hands behind his head, grinning. “If she did, I wonder how she’d react to me, knowing that I know her secret. The crest worms. The rape. The attempted murder.”
Kirei frowned. “So do you want to taunt her about those things? It sounds very pointless to me.”
“I wouldn’t be so insensitive to make fun of her victimhood,” Gilgamesh seemed to actually take offense as he shot Kirei a glare. “I’m no common sadist. Not every kind of suffering appeals to me. I find no joy or satisfaction from kicking a puppy, or in this case, humiliating a young girl about the tragedy she has lived with all her life. It is, as you put it, pointless.”
“Then why reveal yourself to her? Why try to gauge her interest?”
“I could ask the same thing to you, Father,” the god-king’s serpentine eyes were fixed steadily on Kirei now as he nudged Kirei with his foot. “Why haven’t you turned her away yet?”
“Because,” Kirei began, but then he took another swig of his drink before he continued, “I made a promise to help her find her way back.”
“Oh?” the King of Heroes chuckled, more delighted than before. “And which way are you going to help her find then, hmmm?”
Kirei was smirking when he answered. “I don’t know yet. Neither of us do for now. And I think that’s why it’s been interesting so far.”
The god-king only laughed before he raised his glass so he could clink it against Kirei’s in a mocking toast. Kirei himself wasn’t sure there is anything to celebrate just yet, but he complied and finished the contents of his glass in one swoop.
Gilgamesh was getting drunk, a rare scenario that even after all these years Kirei had never gotten to observe. In a very anticlimactic manner though, the origin of myth merely fell asleep. He took to liking on Kirei’s left arm though and would not let go of it even while unconscious. Kirei had no choice but to stay stretched out on the floor with Gilgamesh clinging onto him like wild weed. He kicked his shoes under him as he tried to keep the closeness of their bodies from crossing any lines of personal privacy, which was difficult because there was little room to move away from. Kirei opted to lie still on his back, staring at the dull orange glow of the lights in the ceiling. Gilgamesh was snoring softly next to him, muttering a few stray words in what Kirei guessed must be in the language of Akkadian. He listened to the foreign string of words from the god-king’s lips until their rhythm and the wine on his belly were enough to lull Kirei to pass out before he knew it.
Sakura Matou liked to cook. She started bringing Kirei lunchboxes around the seventh time they met up. At first he didn’t think it was a good idea to encourage this practice, since it could be deemed inappropriate. But there was something about the way her eyes come alive when she offered those lunchboxes to him that intrigued Kirei, so he decided to string her along. He never ate them in front of her, of course, and simply thanked her for the generosity and hard work, before he put them aside in his private quarters so they can begin their weekly chats. Gilgamesh was actually the one who would consume them every night after he got home from whatever party or high-class event he attended, so Kirei never had to worry about returning the empty containers the next day. The girl seemed very pleased every time he did, believing that by making him food, she is also repaying the kindness of the priest whom she was in friendly terms with at this point.
He thought her skewed view about it was absurd and laughable, but a worthy deception to maintain. Gilgamesh obviously shared the same idea. He also liked getting a delicious, free meal. According to him, Sakura was actually an excellent cook at that.
Kirei decided to keep up with this charade, pushing through the humdrum quality of conversation about her life at school with friends and her studies and club activities. If his goal was to form some sort of sustainable bond with her that would enable him to puzzle out why she was doing any of this in the first place, Kirei had to play the role of a father figure he knew very well she never had. Besides, both of them had wordlessly seemed to agree to keep their private ‘relationship’ (Gilgamesh always giggles at that label) under wraps; Sakura was also always discreet in approaching him after each mass, and Kirei never outwardly acknowledges her whenever she’s a part of the crowd.
However, Kirei was getting worried. Sakura Matou was forming an attachment to him that he would rather not deepen lest he become a constant part of her life. It was strange that Zouken Matou had never once objected to this, leading Kirei to believe that it was either Sakura Matou was more skilled in hiding her indiscretion, or that the two of them have planned this all along. Either way, Kirei won’t let them get the advantage. He never once stopped calibrating his responses while examining hers. Gilgamesh was getting impatient, on the other hand, and suggested rather pointedly that Kirei coaxed the Matou girl to open up to him some more and get her to spill secrets.
“And how do you propose I would go about it? She may be amiable whenever we discuss things alone in private, but she was very much still reticent and formal towards me, and sometimes avoids certain subjects,” Kirei explained to the god-king one night after he finished his paperwork for that week. “There was still the possibility that this has all been an elaborate act too. I cannot trust her.”
“I don’t think so,” Gilgamesh countered. “I think Zouken really has no idea that his little girl is associating herself with the likes of you. But he might find out soon enough, and it’d be interesting to see how he would act next. Perhaps he may use the girl to align himself with you, Kirei, seeing as you are the overseer for the Holy Grail wars, a position recently occupied by your late father.”
“I would never form an alliance with that abomination.”
“You could always lead him to believe that you can be capable of it,” Gilgamesh suggested. “After all, Sakura Matou has been my favorite hobby this year. I would hate for us to lose her. She’s a very delightful distraction.”
Four months later, the fifth Holy Grail War began. Rin Tohsaka summoned her servant, and Shirou Emiya—Kiritsugu’s adopted son, and one of the orphans from the Great Fuyuki Fire—was the last master to summon his servant from the Saber-class. The two teenagers visited his church one night and then were sabotaged afterwards by another participant from the Von Einzbern clan.
A week later, Sakura Matou was pounding by the church’s doors in a rather frantic and frenzied manner. Kirei was very surprised to see her standing outside, since it was already two in the morning. He was even more shocked when he saw the soiled state she was in. Her clothes had been ripped and covered in dirt in a lot of places. For a short moment she was deathly silent, but upon meeting his gaze, she began to cry hysterically. Kirei made no immediate effort to console her, but instead his eyes lowered further until he saw that there are lines of dry blood seeping down her legs. There was no doubt in his mind that it happened again. It would explain why she was grief-stricken. Kirei met her gaze again but his expression was, for all intents and purposes, empty.
Was it committed by the same man? Does this happen frequently, or is this only the second assault? Gilgamesh would have asked such questions if he were here. Or maybe he would let Kirei ask the questions. He debated on what to do next.
She was still sobbing as he stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder lightly. She didn’t attempt to throw herself at him or hold him, to which he was grateful for. He probably would have given himself away because he could never bring himself to be comforting her.
The girl covered her face with both hands the entire time as she sobbed. When she tilted her head up after a whole minute passed, she looked Kirei straight in the eye and asked, “You knew, didn’t you?”
Kirei wasn’t sure what she thought he knew so he didn’t respond.
Sakura Matou hardened her gaze and repeated. “You knew about war. You knew I was one of the potential masters. So don’t just stand there and say nothing. I knew who you were—long before all of this…way back when I had another life…another family—a sister, and a father and mother who gave me away.”
Kirei still said nothing. There was no point. She was soliloquizing about her pain, and as her priest, he had to listen.
The girl clutched him by his arms now, or at least as far as she could reach him with their steep difference in height. “I-I remember th-that night. H-He pi-picked me up from th-the riverside, and took me t-to you. I remember you-you two talking above me. For a few days it was a relief to get away from grandfather. That man with golden hair—he was actually nice t-to me the entire time, or at least not cruel like everybody else ha-had been…” she was tearing up again. “And so many things have happened after that, but I nev-never forgot.”
She loosened her hold on Kirei’s arms and squeezed her eyes shut as the tears came. “I had to know you. I thought that…that maybe I could find other means to escape…from my own mind, even just for a while. There was…Shirou-sempai…and….and now you. I come to you every week because…because you were my father’s…you were Tokiomi Tohsaka’s…you studied under him and—and…”
Kirei just listened. He didn’t want to interrupt her breakdown.
“…I was hoping you…you could—gods, I don’t know what I wanted. I don’t know why I keep coming here, and why I am here now. But you must have known…and that seemed enough for me…that someone else…Father, tell me that you must have known what grandfather was doing…what my bro-brother was doing—”
Kirei’s eyes narrowed at that and he heard himself asking flatly. “Shinji Matou? What of it? What was your brother doing…” he paused, “…to you?”
Shinji was one of the masters. At least he was until he got his servant Rider killed.
“Sakura,” Kirei finally dropped the formality and cupped her chin with his hand as he looked her in the eye. Without bothering to disguise tact with his questions, he just asked her, “Did he rape you that night years ago? Did he rape you again?”
Another round of her insufferable sobbing confirmed it for Kirei.
Sakura was hugging herself now, rocking back and forth slightly as if the rhythmic movement would appease her. Kirei watched her for a while before he decided to take off a portion of his robe so he could wrap it around her trembling body. It was the most reasonable thing to do at this point so she would calm down.
They stood there together for another minute. Sakura’s head was bowed down the entire time. She wasn’t crying anymore at least. Kirei was just watching the top of her head, counting the strand of purple hair. There was simply no sense of urgency on his part. Zouken was probably already looking for her. Shinji may have tracked her here already and was about to make his appearance anytime now. He could just let them take her. It wasn’t any of his business. Should he even let her in? Stupid girl. Can’t she tell at this point that he had no concern or affection for her all this time, and that she picked the wrong man to align herself with and ask for help?
Why don’t we keep her?
Gilgamesh’s ridiculous proposal from years ago suddenly echoed at the back of his mind.
Why would Kirei want her?
What’s not to want? She is beautiful.
Kirei finally reached a decision and grabbed her by the shoulder so he can push her inside the church. She didn’t resist him, and allowed herself to be led as he wrapped an arm around her so he could help her walk across the isle. They passed by the pews as they headed to the altar. There is a door on the left corner that leads to Kirei’s private quarters. Sakura was in a catatonic condition as far as Kirei could tell. He had no explanation for his actions right now though, but he knew he was not doing this out of the kindness of his heart. His was artificial, given by the Grail ten years ago. It doesn’t beat like a normal heart anymore which suited him just fine. It was only befitting for him to have a hollow core.
As they neared the entrance, Sakura abruptly stopped and let out a pained groan. Kirei inspected her to see if she was hurting somewhere and spotted the blood sigil at the back of her hand instantly. He stared at the mark for a few seconds, and understood then what must be done. Kirei took the hand where the Grail had imprinted her, and ran his thumb across the sigil.
“Congratulations, Sakura,” he said dryly. “You were once again given a chance to fight. Don’t take this blessing for granted.”
“I don’t want to participate,” she whispered, snatching her hand away from his grasp. Brokenly, she muttered, “I don’t want any bloodshed. And I have no wish for myself, so why does the Grail keep choosing me?”
Kirei laughed. He couldn’t help it. This scenario was far too familiar and similar to his crisis long ago. He replied. “You’re lying…aren’t you? You may not know your wish yet, but I’m certain that you wouldn’t mind spilling blood to find out. Yours has been spilled over the years…how about you make it someone else bleed this time instead of you?”
There were only a few scattered events to which Kirei had a noteworthy reaction to—when he actually felt things and was human for a while.
The fifth time was when Sakura Matou sharply turned to him as if to disagree with his proposal, but Kirei could see in her eyes that she was already considering the other option. She is beautiful, the god-king echoed.
Yes , Kirei was running his hand on her cheek now, as beautiful as the destruction that she could potentially become.
If Gilgamesh were here, he would have remarked that this new development will surely yield some worthwhile entertainment. With the god-king's predilection for the morbid in mind, Kirei at last allowed himself to smile genuinely at Sakura who flinched upon seeing him without his mask. He hoped that she would gradually slip out of her own in time, and reveal her own cloying darkness.
"Come with me," he told her in his most tender, inviting voice.
He knew Gilgamesh would want her too, and together they could unwrap her like a present.