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Little broken things and sad trinkets

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But little by little, as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice,

which you slowly recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,

determined to do the only thing you could do—

determined to save the only life you could save.

 

-Mary Oliver-

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

It was supposed to be like any other night, yet he sneaked into the room like some common thief and the thought had disgusted him, for Gilgamesh was proud and has natural claim of the world including anybody he came across. A decade of mediocre existence amongst mongrels and vermin had somewhat soured his perception on this incontestable fact, however. This modern world offered less and less for the mighty king of ages past, so Gilgamesh instead forged an alliance with a human he deemed his personal Fool.

The man in question lay on the bed Gilgamesh had been standing on for a few minutes now. He didn’t want to rouse Kotomine awake, far more content watching the slumber soften the priest’s usually stern features. He was at once overcome by the insufferable impulse to touch the other man either to caress or strangle him to death. The latter gesture seemed more plausible for Gilgamesh because he abhorred the idea that his fleeting penchant for Kotomine was becoming an inconvenience. The other man was a hollow shell, literally bereft of a beating heart, and held together by nothing else but the corrupted mud of Angra Mainyu flowing in his veins instead of real blood.

Why should Gilgamesh ever feel anything else but amusement for this wretched being in the bed? Kirei Kotomine was dead already, just a mere vessel looking for answers to questions that have ruined him forever.

Making up his mind then, Gilgamesh ripped the blanket off the priest and shoved his way into Kotomine’s side with his back turned. The other man had awoken from the abrupt physical interference and before he could ask what Gilgamesh was doing, the god-king grabbed hold of Kotomine’s arm and wrapped it around himself in an embrace he did not even want.

Some seconds passed before he explained, “The brat had offended me and I do not wish to share my bed with her tonight.”

Kotomine was quiet and only the rise and fall of his breathing gave any indication that he was alive beside Gilgamesh. With the priest’s arm still draped around him, Gilgamesh adjusted his position so he can have more room on the bed which finally made Kotomine follow suit, pushing himself to the other side as he turned his body completely to face Gilgamesh, his frontal area molding itself around the god-king’s back. They were silent the entire time even as Kotomine tightened his hold just a little around Gilgamesh, and the god-king wanted to wrench himself free all of a sudden but found much to his latent confusion that he couldn’t—and didn’t want to.

The room’s chilly air hardly bothered Gilgamesh who lay there facing the window, watching the night-sky outside through the glass. Everything in the priest’s room had a bluish glow and when Gilgamesh looked down on his own hand he noticed that even his skin had the same cool hue. His own chamber was the opposite in ambience because he preferred the yellow and orange colors brought out by the small chandelier he had installed by the ceiling as well as an assortment of decorative candles soaked in pleasing fragrances that remind him of women’s scents in general. Sakura occupied that room right now and after the small argument they had, he’d rather not return lest he would do something that he may ultimately detest. Perhaps Gilgamesh had gone soft after all, but he saw no need to punish the girl’s insolence. It seemed pointless.

Kotomine shifted in his position as he finally spoke up, “Did you go out?” He was of course referring to the fact that Gilgamesh was still dressed in a maroon turtleneck sweater and black slacks. He had only bothered removing his shoes when he got onto the priest’s bed. Kotomine slowly moved his arm draped around Gilgamesh so he can rest his hand on the god-king’s abdomen. His thick fingers were splayed across it in a gesture so crudely gentle that Gilgamesh wanted to scold him for it, but he said nothing instead. He merely pushed his back closer against Kotomine as one arm dangled over the edge of the bed while the other held onto the priest’s arm. He huffed once in a noncommittal response.

“Is there something my king commands of me?” Kotomine’s mouth was mere inches from his ear and its whispered question made Gilgamesh frown. The priest’s hand now moved upwards, rubbing circles around the god-king’s chest. Still, Gilgamesh did not respond. Unconcerned by the ongoing silence, Kotomine slid his other arm under Gilgamesh and cupped the back of the god-king’s head with that hand as he slowly turned their faces so their lips could meet. Gilgamesh responded to the kiss only slightly, breathing lazily into it as Kotomine swiped the tip of his tongue in a careful rhythm that was honestly comfortable that it made Gilgamesh lean into the contact without being aware of it. His own hand clutched at Kotomine’s shoulder, fingertips grazing on one of his smaller scars. Neither of them deepened the kiss as the priest used his other hand to grab hold of the turtleneck’s collar this time, pulling it down to expose Gilgamesh’s throat. He alternated between swirling his tongue and nipping the skin across the Adam’s apple with his teeth, yet Gilgamesh remained still under the priest’s ministrations. He lay there emptying his mind completely as he closed his eyes and allowed Kotomine inflict more touches and kisses on him like he couldn’t care less.

“What does my king command?” Kotomine asked him again but Gilgamesh only gave him a blank stare. The priest wasn’t discouraged in the least. He hovered above Gilgamesh now as he slid his hands under the sweater and slowly pulled it over the god-king’s head. Gilgamesh slightly raised his arms to accommodate him but he was ultimately uninterested in whatever Kotomine has planned for this carnal activity.

So why is he here? He could have left and strolled across New City like most nights in the past. He could have just paid a room in one of the expensive hotels he favored, and picked up a random whore, then send her away if sex was what his flesh required tonight. So why is he here with Kotomine instead, shivering slightly as the priest pressed against him now, arms holding him close for another calculated kiss targeted upon his mouth and throat? He could even go back to his own room and take Sakura for himself whether she gave her consent or not.

But instead, Gilgamesh parted his lips for another invasion of the other man’s tongue sliding wet and solid against his own. He let Kotomine’s hands roam from his chest down to his abdomen before they finally settle on the button and zipper of his pants. Gilgamesh even lifted his hips so the priest could easily peel the rest of his clothing away. With a horrifying compliance, he looked up at Kotomine as he pulled his own shirt over his head and then leaned down to capture Gilgamesh’s mouth as if he had done it a thousand times before.

For the first time in his life, Gilgamesh was unsure and unfamiliar of what his mind and body craved.

It was an indescribably dirty feeling.

“Stop for a while,” Gilgamesh found his voice and pushed Kotomine away so he could sit up and glare at the man. “There is something else I want you to do, and you best consider it a privilege for I have not granted it to anyone else in a long time. Do you understand, Kirei?”

“Yes, my king. Anything you like I am ready to provide it.”

“None of that,” Gilgamesh chided him, growing annoyed by the character Kotomine had taken since beginning this foreplay. He may have encouraged it the other night during their very first carnal time together, but as of the moment it was just jarring to the god-king. “Don’t speak like that. I don’t need formal address. Talk to me like you’ve normally done over the years. I much prefer you direct with your speech.”

Kotomine smirked and cleared his throat. “Very well,” he said as he started acting more of his normal self again. “What do you want then, Gilgamesh? What is this privilege you speak of? I’m quite surprised that you want to share my bed again so soon.”

“Don’t be presumptuous. I actually didn’t come with that goal in mind,” Gilgamesh narrowed his eyes at him. “Besides, didn’t you already have your fill earlier when you fucked the girl at church? Was she not adequate to you?” He smirked now. “Or perhaps you much prefer my cock inside you instead of yours inside her?” Gilgamesh slowly licked his lips in view of the other man.

“The King of Heroes is the one who is being presumptuous,” Kotomine returned his smirk with one of his own. The moonlight from the window spilled onto his face, and the shadows that formed there were almost menacing. The scar on his chest stood out much more so than the vine of command seals on his right arm. “Or maybe he is envious that he wasn’t the first one of us to claim the girl.”

“Arrogant little shit,” Gilgamesh moved his foot from under the sheets to kick the priest lightly on his stomach. “You’re getting very confident now about your prowess, aren’t you? As exciting as it may be for you now that you have learned to enjoy sex in copious amounts, I caution you not to sleep with the girl again lest you want any further complications. She seemed rather taken with you from the start.”

“Caution me? Or command me?” Kotomine grabbed his foot and slowly rubbed his fingers on the skin in circles. “Could you also be jealous?”

“Only mortal men are inflicted with such small-minded perceptions,” Gilgamesh’s ready reply. “Don’t dare mistake my intentions.”

“And what are your intentions for me tonight, King of Heroes?” Kotomine’s words were dripping with subtext. Normally, Gilgamesh would have basked in the priest’s newfound confidence and sexual debauchery. After all, he had helped Kotomine explore horizons over the years, and not just of the carnal nature which only happened recently. But tonight, unlike any night in the past, Gilgamesh was not feeling like his normal self at all. It was infuriating, and he wanted to take it out on Kotomine. But how? Gilgamesh wasn’t in a vengeful mood either.

He was feeling rather curiously empty. Did he really allow a foolish child’s words get to him so badly?

Gilgamesh must have been silent for a while because Kotomine now moved the hand on his foot towards his knee. “It would help to give me an indication on how we should proceed. Surely you have something in mind, Gilgamesh? You wouldn’t have come here out of some purposeless whim now, would you? That’s not the Gilgamesh I know…” Kotomine’s fingers were surprisingly cool against his skin. His continued utterance of his name was having an unusual effect on the god-king at that. He has no name for it and doesn’t trust himself to define it either. It wasn’t unpleasant, that much he can say. In response, Gilgamesh placed a hand on top of Kotomine’s left shoulder. Neither pushing him away or pulling him closer, the god-king kept the hand there, measuring his next words as best as he could.

“I want to try something, Kirei,” he said, “Think of it as experiment of sorts.”

“Oh?” the priest’s tone hinted his curiosity. “What manner shall you want to experiment on me then?”

Gilgamesh finally used the hand to pull Kotomine towards him, gripping his shoulder securely as the priest obeyed and leaned closer. Kotomine’s arms were now resting on Gilgamesh’s sides, putting most of his weight on the bed’s cushion by pressing on it with both his hands. Gilgamesh traced the sharp contours of the priest’s biceps with his other free hand, enjoying the sensation of their outline on his palm. Kotomine was firm and real, his breathing even, his nearness almost consoling. Their gazes met and in the dimness of the room Kotomine looked like he just came out of the darkest corner of the god-king’s imagination; a mass of gages and screws that for the first time Gilgamesh was unsure on how to work with. It was a weird moment, staring into Kotomine’s eyes and not exactly see what he had readily seen ten years ago when the other man was lost amongst his own cacophony of self-loathing. Kirei looked different to him tonight.

He looked like someone Gilgamesh could never recognize again.

This should be easy enough. The god-king could slam Kotomine back into the bed, spread him apart and take him savagely as the night before and the morning thereafter. But there was no pooling sensation in his gut, no urgent lust to quench. There was only that discernible emptiness that Gilgamesh has never felt—not since he abandoned the skin of his former self, one who used to bleed and fear death, one who used to cherish somebody else he considered an equal and friend. That was Gilgamesh of his own legend—the tale about a lonely offspring of royals and gods who had been tamed by a wild thing called Enkidu who can hardly be called a man himself. That Gilgamesh was dead.

Does that mean the Gilgamesh now is just a hollow shell?

Impossible. He is the rightful King of the world. He is Gilgamesh, always and forever, no matter what form of creature he took. He owns everything, owes nobody, and is the ruler of all creation.

“What is wrong?” Kotomine spoke up. “You’re so quiet. It’s unlike you.”

Gilgamesh squeezed his biceps with both hands now. “Listen, Kirei,” he began, “You and I will lay together tonight.”

He could see Kotomine smiling slowly but he interrupted it by adding, “And I shall take you to me. Do you understand?”

Do you understand that no one can ever take Gilgamesh? Not even the damnable Ishtar could sink her claws in him as coveted lover; not even the rest of the Babylonian pantheon scum who fancied themselves divine could even contain him. Do you understand, lowly Christian priest, that Gilgamesh belongs to no one but himself? Do you understand that you are being handed a gift that you may not entirely deserve, one this king can snatch away from you without warning if you displease him with one wrong word or action?

He said none of these things aloud as he watched Kotomine’s expression change into something less arrogant.

“I must admit I’m shocked that you would offer me the opportunity,” Kotomine remarked. “But if this is what you want, then it shall be done.”

“Who are you to deny me anyway, mongrel?” Gilgamesh answered as he shoved Kotomine away with both hands on his shoulders. But then he stopped himself from saying or doing anything hostile any further. He sighed; there was no need to let Kotomine know how he felt conflicted right now, so he tried a calmer approach, “It is what I want, yes. But you can’t ask me about my reasons for granting you permission to partake in the wonders of my body. Just consider yourself fortunate to have been given the blessing of it.”

Kotomine started laughing to his surprise. “I-I don’t know how you’re able to say such things with a straight face all the time.”

“What do you mean?” Gilgamesh was not going to allow the priest to make fun of him. He should be taught a lesson. “What is the matter with my speech? I only always speak the truth. Do you not believe that my body is a treasure that your mongrel self should consider a—”

And then the priest was framing his face with both hands. “Shhh,” he said, “You’re rambling, Gilgamesh. It’s unlike you.”

Gilgamesh pried the other man’s hands from his face and glared at him. “Stop saying that. How well do you think you know me?”

“I’ve known you long enough to know that something is bothering you at the moment,” Kotomine remarked. He placed his hands on the god-king’s knees now. “So, are you ever planning on telling me or do you just want to proceed with the physical endeavor you came here for? I’m fine either way…” his fingers curved around Gilgamesh’s knees almost seductively, as if he was ready to spread him apart. The insolence would have made Gilgamesh upset, but he was strangely ambivalent about Kotomine’s display of lust. It was unremarkable, given everything that has happened between. So why was he here then? What did he hope to find? Why had he instinctively sought out Kotomine?

“You’re right,” he decided to come clean, even just a little bit. “I am bothered by something.”

“And do you want to talk about it?” Kotomine looked genuinely interested. Of course he would be. Conversation with him is manipulation. Gilgamesh had taught him that, and only too well. He was somewhat finding that regrettable in this situation.

“No,” he easily replied as he grabbed Kotomine by encircling his arms now around his neck. It’s time to go back to something basic and uncomplicated, so Gilgamesh put on the charm and started to goad at the priest, “Talking would be futile at this point. Besides, you’ve already undressed me to your own leisure. Now how about you lose the rest of your clothing too, and we can begin that ‘physical endeavor’ that I have just promised you?” He nipped at Kotomine’s earlobe playfully, and the other man’s erection pressed further against his thigh. He didn’t hate it.

They easily fell back on the sheets with the priest now resting on top of him. Gilgamesh aligned his legs around Kotomine’s hips, enfolding the other man in a locked embrace of limbs. Their kiss was slow and wet especially with Gilgamesh still guiding its course and intensity. There was still something calculated about the priest’s display of passion, as if this was nothing more but choreography to a dance that has been rehearsed to death before the actual performance. But what else could he expect from a man like Kirei Kotomine? How else could this hollow shell of a man ever make love to another? Gilgamesh ended the kiss, cupping Kotomine’s jaw between his fingers as he did.

Before he could help himself, he asked, “How does it feel for you when we do this?”

“I feel flushed and very hard,” the priest smirked, pleased with his own answer. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Yes,” Gilgamesh said, “So I want you to dig a little deeper and give me a better response.”

“What are you asking of me?” Kotomine narrowed his eyes as he clutched at Gilgamesh’s wrist to pry off his jaw from the god-king’s clutch. “What would you have me say to you? Tell me…” he trailed his tongue across Gilgamesh’s fingers, “…I only want to be of service to you.”

Annoyed, the god-king snatched his hand away. “Didn’t I tell you to stop talking like that? Stop treating me like a king.”

Those words were out of his mouth before the gravity of uttering such a blasphemous phrase even registered. Kotomine’s eyes widened as he was frozen in place, hovering above Gilgamesh as they stared at each other for a while, mirroring one another’s shock. Trying to remedy the misunderstanding, the god-king justified, “What I meant is that I want you to cease pandering to me with your deceptive tongue of courtesy. I don’t like to hear any more of it, Kirei. That’s all.” He didn’t break eye contact the entire time.

The priest was frowning now, seemingly lost in thought. Finally, he answered with a more resolute tone, “Forgive me. I was under the impression that you enjoy it when your lover appeals to your vanity.”

“Lover?” Gilgamesh echoed the word using an incredulous tone. He pressed a palm on Kotomine’s shoulder, ready to push him away yet again. “Is that how you fancy yourself to be now, priest? My lover?” Digging his nails on the other man’s skin, he asked him again, the questions pouring out almost like toxic waste: “What is this, Kotomine? What have you suddenly revealed to me? Do you delude yourself into thinking that this could be something more than just a lousy fuck between two bored allies?”

Quietly and obviously unaffected, Kotomine only replied, “It’s hardly lousy. I wouldn’t characterize our fuck as that.”

And Gilgamesh had to laugh, as his abdominal muscles quivered almost painfully below him. Instead of pushing him off, the god-king further enveloped the pitiful hollow shell in an embrace and buried his face into the crook of Kotomine’s shoulder, still chuckling merrily. “You vile, disillusioned mongrel and fool…” he commented, sounding far too amused to his own liking. “Even after a decade you still—you have yet to bore me. I could have left you. I could have slain you. I could have done a dozen other things and yet here I am, in your bed, laughing at your utter insolence for describing yourself as my ‘lover’ just because we fucked once!”

“It’s just a technical term, Gilgamesh,” Kotomine said as one of his arms slid beneath the god-king’s back, almost as if to cradle him. “I didn’t mean any kind of insult or opinion by it. I could have easily chosen ‘bed mate’ or ‘fuck buddy’ or any of those more contemporary terms that were used to define two people who share sexual experiences together.”

“And yet you didn’t,” Gilgamesh pulled away to meet the priest’s gaze, “You chose ‘lover’.”

A pause. Kotomine cleared his throat. “So what? I told you it doesn’t mean anything special.”

“How about…” the god-king could feel his own expression soften as he looked up at the other man, “…we pretend for tonight that it does?”

Confusion finally touched the other man’s features “What are you saying, King of Heroes?”

“Shhh,” Gilgamesh placed a finger against Kotomine’s lips. “None of that. Pretend I’m not who I am for a moment.”

The priest’s eyebrows have furrowed together as he tried to process Gilgamesh’s request.

“Let’s pretend I’m just an ordinary man and no legendary heroic king.”

The priest let out a scoff of exhaustion and disbelief as he commented, “You mean, let’s pretend you’re a mongrel?”

Really, Gilgamesh had to be awarded for letting that insult pass by returning it instead with a playful jab. “And you, Kirei—you can pretend that you’re not heartless and cruel at all; that you’re capable of normal emotions. You know, something you’ve tried to become all your life before I made you realize that you don’t have to be any of that but only your selfish, sadistic self.”

“And now you ask me to revert back into the miserable fool I was? All for the sake of some twisted roleplay?” Kotomine looked slightly offended. “What is this, Gilgamesh? Are you so restless that you would attempt something that is clearly so beneath us?”

“Relax, Kirei,” Gilgamesh reached out to cup the other man’s face as he pressed their lips together in an uncharacteristic chaste kiss. Kotomine flinched away from that contact which was notable. “I just want to try something very different. Don’t you want to widen your experiences in this scope? Don’t you think it’d be interesting to have sex like normal people?”

“Since when did the King of Heroes decide to seek ‘normal’?” Kotomine pulled away and was sitting up again.

Gilgamesh, however, remained lying down. “Don’t argue. Just do what is ask of you, fool.”

“If you want to be treated like a normal person, Gilgamesh,” Kotomine remarked, almost grimly, “Then you also have to deal with rejection.”

On cue, Kotomine stood up and took his nightshirt from where it had fallen on the floor. “You should go back to your room.”

And Gilgamesh uttered something he knew he would never say again but it might convince the other man to indulge this experiment.

Swallowing down his prideful instinct, the King of Heroes said, “Please?”

Kotomine jerked his head towards the word in an almost comical manner. Gilgamesh repeated it in a meek voice, “Please?”

“Gilgamesh…” the priest sounded uncertain as he stared back, dumbfounded. It almost looked like he had a stroke.

Please let me stay with you tonight, Kirei…” Gilgamesh reached out to touch the hem of his nightshirt which Kotomine had almost buttoned up.

“What are you doing?” Kotomine’s eyes widened another inch. He was almost holding his breath, judging by the way his shoulders tensed and his abdominal muscles stiffened. Encouraged by this reaction, Gilgamesh even made an almost pitiful strangled sound at the back of his throat. Kotomine’s frown deepened as he asked the god-king again, “Are you really serious about going through with this nonsense roleplay?”

Gilgamesh kept holding onto the hem of the nightshirt while he bowed his head as if in embarrassment, feigning an inability to make eye contact. Deep inside, however, he wanted to start laughing boastfully. He is surprisingly good with this! Once again sounding docile, he repeated, “Please, Kirei, I want to be with you. Don’t you—don’t you want to be with me?” Slowly lifting his head in a gesture that’s supposed to convey both shyness and initiative, he met Kotomine’s eyes and asked him, “Don’t you want me, Kirei?”

And the priest snatched his nightshirt away by removing it forcefully down his body, kicking it back on the floor. He then clutched Gilgamesh’s wrists and almost flung him back into the mattress while their mouths bruised one another for a searing kiss. The god-king couldn’t conceal the squeal the other man’s rough action had caused from him, and he victoriously wound his arms around Kotomine’s back, clinging onto the other man as if there was nothing else in the world he’d rather be doing, and there wasn’t.

What can anyone hope to offer the ruler of the world if he already has everything? Well, Gilgamesh craved for something different tonight, and possibly something very new. He wanted to engage in an act of passion he could truly disappear into—where he could just forget the present, and pretend that it’s just as insubstantial as the millennium past. Kotomine is willing to provide it for him tonight. For how could he turn down the chance to be with the King of Heroes while he is caught up in the fanciful mood to masquerade as an ordinary man?

“If we do this…” the priest breathlessly remarked as he pinned Gilgamesh down the sheets, “If we do this then you have commit to this role to the very end. You will act not as a heroic king but as a mortal man like me. Is this really acceptable to you?”

“As long as you commit to your role as well,” Gilgamesh framed his face with both hands, “I want you to pretend that you can indeed feel things.”

Kotomine was still breathing hard as his eyes glazed over. “I could do that. I’ve tried that before, remember? I was good at it too.”

“Then,” Gilgamesh lowered one hand so he can press his palm on the priest’s chest where the jagged scar had cut through everything within.

“Let’s do it, Kirei,” his voice broke a little due to a chuckle that can’t be held back, “Let’s pretend that we can be human.”

 

 

 

 

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She had collapsed now, unable to hold herself upright. Her knees felt bruised against the cold hardwood floor.

Sakura never knew she could still hurt like this, and wanted to wail out. But she held it all in, afraid of who might hear—or perhaps more fearful that no one will come even if she could cry for help. Memories of her first murder engulfed her; a solidifying mass squeezing her body that was almost as real as the parasites roaming in her marrow. She felt the nausea creep in, acidic in her throat. Sakura squeezed her eyes shut and tried to breathe, despairingly counting the seconds until the suffocation in her chest relents. It doesn’t.

I killed someone I love and pretended it never happened.

The world spun. There were dark spots behind her eyes. Sakura’s fingers clawed at the hardwood floor, as if trying to write someone a message. Her nails bled instantly. The ache was sharp, cutting through her consciousness, yet it actually helped her regain back her sanity. Sakura gasped out as she raised her hands to see the damage she had inflicted on her nails, and knew that she had to wash the blood before anyone could see. Gathering her bearings now, she stood up, wobbling towards the nearby wall where she unintentionally slammed her back on. Just then, the sliding door was yanked open, and the light coming from the outside blinded her vision that she was unable to register who just came in.

That was until a fist made contact with her left cheek.

Sakura collapsed back to the floor, back on her knees. She clutched her bleeding nails to her chest. But somehow the pain had dulled a little on her chest this time, and was instead replaced by a faint recognition of something she had tolerated for a long time. Ah, yes, the punching—the kicking—the cussing—the vicious cycle of being beaten down and called a whore. Who else would do this but her dear, sweet brother?

“What the hell did you think you were doing, you bitch?” Shinji had grabbed a fistful of her hair and used that to lift her back on her feet. “Since when did you decide to just abandon your family, huh? To run away like the common slut you are so you can shack up with some guy?” Shinji tossed her against the wall again as if she was no person but a doll he had been accustomed to tearing apart. The impact could have shattered her spine but Sakura only coughed out while her eyes remained lowered to the floor. Shinji was still coming towards her, but instead of shielding herself from the next onslaught, she welcomed it. Do it. Punish me. I’ve been bad.

He punched her stomach, and Sakura swore she was going to laugh. It hurt—but it also tickled.

This is a comedy, one where Sakura had finally gotten sick of playing the same role over and over again.

Shinji raised his hand, probably to slap her silly again, but then—

“YOU GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BASTARD!” Shirou tackled her brother as they landed together on the floor. The boys began struggling to get the upper hand but Sakura turned away from them, afraid that if she didn’t, laughter would spill out of her. It was all too hilarious! She pressed her forehead against the wall. Sweat and tears covered her face. There was blood on her nails. Everything was sore and ticklish. She was going to scream, but still she kept it in. Her brother and Shirou were still writhing, grasping for dominance. As soon as she turned to see, Shirou had punched Shinji hard, making her brother’s head bop almost comically from the strength of it.

Her eyes widened as her protective instinct kicked in, and she ended up rushing to the boys’ side.

She grabbed Shirou’s fist raised on the air. “Stop, sempai!” she pleaded, “No more! Please don’t hurt Nii-san! He didn’t mean it!”

But he does. Shinji Nii-san hates me. He raped me. He hurt me. He will never stop.

“Sempai, please…” Sakura trailed off as tears leaked from her eyes. “Nii-san was just…he didn’t know what he was doing. He got carried away! Please, sempai. No more fighting…I can’t take it. If you both get hurt because of me…”

Don’t try saving me. I am not yours to protect.

Shirou had his other hand on Shinji’s collar which he immediately released so he can comfort Sakura instead. He got off Shinji who had shoved him away as well, glaring at the both of them as he fixed his uniform and got on his feet. Shirou’s hands were on Sakura’s shoulders as he helped her up. “I’m sorry, Sakura. I’m really sorry,” her sempai said. “I lost control without realizing it. But he was—he was—” he abruptly turned his head towards her brother and with an accusatory tone, he demanded, “Why would you lay a hand on your sister, dammit? What did she ever do to deserve you beating on her like that, you asshole?!”

“It’s none of your goddamn business!” Shinji had screamed back. “You’re the one to blame here, Shirou! Seducing my sister away when you have already had her many times here under your roof! She’s my family, you get that!” He took a step forward, as if prepare to have another round with Shirou again and Sakura forced herself between them before things could escalate, raising her hands up.

“Nii-san, enough!” she begged him, “Please! No more fighting!”

“What is going on here?” Suddenly, Fujimura-sensei appeared by the corner, hands on her hips. Her expression went from annoyed to horrified when she saw the gravity of the situation. Without another word, she placed herself between the two boys as well as her hand circled around Sakura’s wrist. It was supposed to be a comforting touch but it left Sakura more hollow than before.

“Matou-kun,” The older woman’s tone was calm but there was a cold edge to it Sakura has never heard before. “What have you done?”

Shinji looked like he was ready to argue but cut himself short when something in the change of demeanor from their teacher hinted that it wouldn’t be for his advantage if he picked a quarrel with her. He scoffed and crossed his arms now, citing. “I came here to pick up Sakura, that’s all. And then Shirou attacked me. It was all very barbaric. I don’t know why he had gotten so hot-headed all of a sudden.”

“You lying shit!” Shirou reacted but then Sakura silenced him with a pleading stare.

She interjected now, addressing their teacher. “It was all my fault, sensei. Both of them were faultless. You see,” she didn’t bother pausing, knowing to do so would mean either boy could tell a different story—the actual truth. She can’t let that happen.

“I think it must have slipped from our grandfather’s mind. That happens sometimes. Nii-san didn’t know about me having to stay here at Shirou-sempai’s place. He only knew about the renovations being done. I should’ve told him about it this morning but Nii-san went somewhere else. I’m really, really sorry about this misunderstanding! Please, Fujimura-sensei! Please excuse my behavior. Nii-san was just worried about my whereabouts and he had every right too! And—” she turned her gaze to Shirou, “Sempai here misunderstood what he saw. It wasn’t like that at all. I’m sure by now,” she stressed the next words, “…he can admit he was wrong. We all made mistakes today.”

Shirou looked absolutely scandalized at what she was hinting at. He opened his mouth to explain, but hurriedly closed it as Sakura continued to beg him with her eyes not to reveal anything to the older woman, for him not to let her get involved in this mess. Shirou was indeed torn because he settled for a gruff, “Yeah, I don’t even know what happened. Not anymore.” He turned away from Sakura as if she had betrayed him, and she probably had by covering up her brother’s bad deed that Shirou witnessed as clear as day.

“Sakura!” Fujimura-sensei lifted her hand in view. “Your fingers!”

She tore her hand away from the older woman’s reach, placing them behind her back, gripping them together. “It’s okay, sensei! It had nothing to do with this! I was just—well, there was a slight accident—”

“You’re bleeding!” Fujimura-sensei tried touching her again but Sakura took a step back, bumping into Shirou behind her back.

“Hey,” her sempai placed a hand on her shoulder gingerly. She looked up at him, eyes watering in humiliation and anxiety. He merely said, “Why don’t you go to the kitchen? Let’s wash up those wounds there. Come on, let’s go…” he placed his other hand on another shoulder. It occurred to her that he was trying to get her out of the way, most probably so he could explain to Fujimura-sensei exactly what happened.

So Sakura answered earnestly, “Can sempai come with me too?”

Shirou looked hesitantly at her and then at the older woman. “Well, you’re going to need some band-aids, maybe—”

“We can get them together, sempai!” Sakura interjected too eagerly, causing all of them to stare at her in surprise. “But first—may I please be allowed to speak to my brother in private? It won’t take a while…”

Shirou lurked a few yards away from her as she and Shinji went outside the door. She could feel him watch them intently.

Speaking in a hushed voice so Shirou won’t hear, Shinji said, “You’ve done it now, you idiot. What the hell happened there?”

He meant her bleeding fingers, never mind the bruises he inflicted on her face. Sakura felt self-conscious and covered her hands. She wished she had her black gloves right now. Everything would feel so much better if she had them on. Nervously, she stepped closer to her brother and explained quietly, “It’s okay, Nii-san. I will make sure that Fujimura-sensei won’t suspect a thing. I can make sure Shirou-sempai won’t inconvenience you again. I promise. Besides, it’s my version that matters here. They can’t do anything if I insist nothing happened.”

Shinji watched her expression the entire time. “You’d really cover up after me?”

This time, she finally smiled. It felt so odd in her mouth. “Of course, Nii-san. You’re family.”

Shinji just kept staring. Before he could say anything, Sakura added. “Also, Father Kotomine would like to see you at church right now. I was going to find you but I don’t know where you are exactly. Could you go now? He said it was urgent; maybe something about the War?’

“Be silent,” Shinji warned her. His eyes must have met Shirou’s from behind Sakura’s back. Leaning down an inch, he said, “Fine. I’ll go.”

“Bring your servant with you as well,” she said.

“I get it already. Now go back inside and distract them.”

As soon as Shinji was gone, Sakura took a deep breath to collect herself. She fixed her blouse and cardigan until she was sure she was presentable again before she went back inside. As soon as she did, she put on a ready smile to greet Shirou and the teacher. Hopefully it would disguise whatever needs to be kept under wraps. There is no need to cause further commotion.

“Shall we go get those band-aids?” she said, trying to sound cheerful.

“Sakura…” Shirou was shaking his head in disbelief. “What are you—Shinji was…look, you need to explain.”

She blinked. “I told you, sempai. It was all a big misunderstanding.”

“Sakura-chan,” Fujimura-sensei stepped forward. The expression on her face was sympathetic but Sakura felt nothing. “You don’t need to hide anything from us. We want to help. Please…” she paused, sighing, “We’re your friends, Sakura-chan. We can help you.”

You can’t. “I don’t know what you want me to say, though,” Sakura smiled again. “Nii-san just gets carried away sometimes.”

“He hurt you!” Shirou clenched his fists on his sides. “I didn’t misunderstand anything earlier, okay! I saw him punch you!”

“Is this true, Sakura?” The older woman placed a hand on her elbow, maintaining eye contact. “Had Shinji been hurting you?”

“No,” Sakura’s reply was quick and terse. There was no room for justification. She simply offered another smile and then turned away from them, saying, “I’ll go wash my hands in the kitchen sink. Thank you both for your concern but rest assured that I can handle this all on my own. There is no need to be so concerned. It’s a private business between family after all.”

She didn’t wait for them to wear down her defenses with their sentiments. There is no point in getting them mixed up in her private affairs. She could only endanger them if she did. Sakura started walking to the kitchen, her steps certain and firm on the floor. She turned on the faucet and started washing the blood, staring at the red tinge mix with the water the entire time. Now that she’s being honest with herself, she also believed that shielding both Shirou and Fujimura-sensei from the truth was also because of selfish reasons. Sakura doesn’t want any further exposure. She’s raw as scar tissue, and frankly tired of people probing her tender insides as if they are entitled to her grief and suffering.

She could hear Shirou and Fujimura-sensei’s hushed conversation from a distance. Next, the teacher came to see her first, standing behind her by the sink. “Sakura-chan,” she began with a tender touch of hand on Sakura’s shoulder. “Whatever you need, okay? And whenever you are ready. I understand how difficult this must be all for you. But I hope you can trust us enough in due time. Okay?” One last squeeze on her shoulder and then the teacher was gone. Sakura almost wanted to cave in right there and then. But she didn’t.

Instead she ran her hands through her hair to fix the state of mess it was in. She massaged her bruised cheek for a while as she mulled things over. Finally, she switched off the faucet and turned around. Shirou was already waiting behind her with the band-aids. They didn’t speak to each other at all. She only broke the silence when she told him, “I have to go somewhere. I won’t be long.”

As she moved past him, Shirou grabbed hold of her elbow and tried to make her face him. “Please, Sakura,” he beseeched her. “Let us help!”

Sakura did look at him, but she remained unmoved. “I appreciate the heroic optimism, sempai. But do let me go.”

Her words stung him instantly that his grip loosened. Taking advantage of that, Sakura wrenched herself free and stepped away.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” she informed him with her back turned. “There are just a few things I have to pick up.”

“Where are you going?” he sounded so sad now but she wouldn’t give in. It’s better he realized now that there are some catastrophes that not even heroes can prevent. There are some tragedies that are meant to be played out. Sakura admired his tenacity and good heart, but she knew only too painfully that there are some people who are beyond saving.

She returned his inquiry with another by saying, “Where else would I go?”

Sakura went ahead so she can put on her outdoor shoes. To her relief and also utter despair, Shirou didn’t follow after her as she walked out.

She stopped by the dojo’s entrance, looking around cautiously for anyone who might be around. Satisfied that she was finally alone, she called out for Lancer. The heroic spirit in question materialized before her with his red lance in hand. Something in his expression informed Sakura that he must have witnessed everything earlier. She waited for him to say something about it, almost daring him, but Lancer was just staring at her in a completely serene stance. Sighing, she said: “I need you to get something. That means you and I have to part ways for a while.”

“That’s not possible,” Lancer remarked, “I’m under strict orders to follow you anywhere.”

“Did Kirei use a command seal for that order, Lancer-san?” Sakura narrowed her eyes at him.

“No,” was his curt reply.

“Then there is no reason to stick around if you’re not compelled to.”

“I’m sticking around because I also want to, little lady,” Lancer answered her. His eyes hardened noticeably as he explained, “I saw what that vicious animal you call a brother did. I almost wanted to interrupt, but I knew it would only worsen the situation.” A pause as he muttered almost quietly, “You held yourself pretty well there, though. Good on you.”

Brushing off his tone of concern, Sakura said, “It’s not going to take a long time to fetch what I require since you can dematerialize and materialize at will. You’ve been at my school already, and inside the clubroom too, I assume?”

“I didn’t get that close, but yes, I have familiarized myself with the outline of the place.”

She then told him the objects he had to get for her. “I also need you to retrieve something at the dojo. It’s in the guest room. Can you find it?”

When Lancer heard the last item she wanted to procure, he only nodded.

“I trust you can find your way. As for me,” she walked ahead as he trailed after her. “There’s a situation that requires my attention.”

“Yeah?” Lancer’s presence was actually reassuring somewhat. “What is that exactly? And where are you going?”

“I must go home,” Sakura answered, her gaze steady as she walked the path to the Matou mansion. “And speak to my grandfather.”

 

 

 

--------:::::::::::::::--------:::::::::::::::--------

 

 

 

She could feel a hardness scooping her. It doesn’t hurt.

If she focuses, she could even measure the length as it penetrates her. He moves with careless determination now, and the short yet relentless thrusts burrow deep enough to maim and tear. Still, it isn’t the kind of pain Sakura knows well. It’s a new and heavy sensation, and it doesn’t hurt her at all. And so she doesn’t cry. What she does instead is to stare up into the glaring eyes of her brother, and see that he is the one in pain and not her. Sakura wants to reach out to touch his face and tell him it’s all going to be okay, but he has pinned her wrists to the ground.

She wonders how to comfort him and realizes that the best way to do it is to surrender her body to his machinations. Sakura closes her eyes now because she understands that Shinji needs this, and she has to be a good little sister. She promised everyone.

When her brother is done, he slaps her across her cheeks so many times that she lost count. She couldn’t move her body at all. It is still too sore, but she knows that the worms will fix the rest, and she just needs to wait. She turns her head to the side and watches Shinji zip up his shorts. When he catches her looking, he kicks her in the chest and says something mean.

People say mean things when they are hurt, and Shinji is in pain.

Shinji is now rolling her around the grass. Sakura lets him because she still couldn’t move and he is crying now, and she doesn’t want to make him feel even worse. He straightens himself up and doesn’t even look at her face again as he runs up the hill, leaving her there by the river.

The sound of water nearby is steady and comforting.

It doesn’t hurt. Nothing does anymore.

 

 

 

--------:::::::::::::::--------:::::::::::::::--------

 

 

 

 

He had been waiting for her. The stench of him was so recognizable that she didn’t even coil away.

The Matou mansion was deserted except for the abominations in the crypt, and Sakura could feel them squirming and writhing in the way her blood boils as soon as she stepped into the porch in measured steps.

They were hungry. He was hungry. And she had always been their finest meal.

Sakura suddenly wanted to turn around and run for her life; run like she did nights ago after Shinji’s assault. She stayed this time, no matter how much she wished she didn’t, as she reached out to place her trembling fingers on the antique door. Her palm was moist, testifying to her dread and fear, but Sakura was not dissuaded. Her courage might not be whole, but she would not falter. This has to be done.

The door didn’t creak when she pushed it ajar. Sakura first saw the outline of the living room where the arrangement of the upholstery looked as mundane as the last time she saw it. Sakura crept inside now as she gingerly closed the door behind her. She muted her footsteps as she walked forward, and crossed the threshold leading to the hallway where the antiquated iron door could be found at the end. There was an eerie lack of sound that seemed to permeate across the mansion, causing the hair on her nape to stand out in slow-curling paranoia. It was as if the entire place was holding its breath, controlling its heartbeat, and waiting for her to make a single, decisive move before it decides to come to life again. She paused only yards away from the iron door, listening for any indication that Lancer had come back and may be guarding her from the outside, but understood that by sending him for an errand to school, the chances of him making it on time as she came inside the mansion were slim. It wasn’t important anyway. Sakura knew she was still valuable to the Matou patriarch in some way, and she can be rest assured that the man she called Grandfather would not harm her unless she gave him a real reason to.

The door handle was cold. Her fingers gripped it, testing its weight for a moment before she gave it a push, putting in more effort than usual because it was heavy. The stench that wafted out the moment Sakura opened the door was indescribable and almost impossibly tangible to her as it stroked every pore and hair in her body. She didn’t coil away, not anymore, not after years and years of tolerance that chipped away layers of life force from her. There was a hole before her now, black and absolute, but all her senses knew how to find their way down. She still took a deep breath, however, as if it could make a difference in the world, as she put a foot down the first step of the long-winding staircase.

The amount of time to travel down the crypt was a familiar routine, and each step was closer to the awaiting horrors that the Matous have kept incubated underneath. Sakura wasn’t scared or disgusted anymore. This was her home; this ugly and desolate landscape of parasitic familiars was her home. And at the bottom of this pit was her Grandfather, a magus far older than anyone would be led to believe, surrounded by the swarm of blood-encrusted infestation that Sakura for the longest time called her friends. He was enthroned among these bugs, hovering close to the crypt’s high ceiling as if he was some twisted god in an underworld of his own creation.

With his eyes closed, he didn’t acknowledge Sakura’s presence at first but they both knew she was there. She didn’t want to wait.

“Good afternoon, ojii-sama,” she began. She paused, carefully choosing her next words. Taking a small step forward, she said, “I’ve wondered why you never came to the church yourself to take me back. You were never trusting of outsiders, especially someone who is from the Holy Church. Did you not tell me before that the Overseers were never entirely impartial about the war?”

She gulped down before she asked next, “Is there something particularly different about Father Kotomine?”

The swarm slowly descended as Grandfather finally spoke to her. His voice was soft with a brittle quality to it as usual, but due to the cavernous expanse of the crypt, it carried everywhere. Instead of answering her questions directly, he merely remarked. “I’ve seen through that boy’s soul once not so long ago. He is nothing like his father at all, which is just as well—” he laughed as if he was having a coughing fit. “Things are far more interesting when the players are more unpredictable, and Kirei Kotomine is quite the enigma, isn’t he, my child?”

Sakura only nodded once, afraid that speaking would give away her real feelings about the priest.

Grandfather chuckled low as he added. “And did you really wonder why I never came for you? I thought that should have been obvious.”

She shifted her weight from one foot to another as she breathed out. And then she said, “You knew I was coming back.”

“You always do, my dear,” Grandfather’s voice was raspier now. “We need each other, you and I—always and irrevocably, my Sakura.”

Sakura would never deny that especially since there is something they both require from each other at this point. She risked a few steps forward towards Grandfather, who was still hovering a foot from the ground. The bugs slowly dwindled in number and size as they eased him down. “Listen, ojii-sama, there is something I think we should discuss pertaining to the Holy Grail War.”

“A war you said you would never get involved in? One you have forsaken and handed practically gift-wrapped to your brother?”

Sakura didn’t want to lie. Zouken Matou could always tell, and even though she had honed the deceptions she would construct for other people, she was not confident she could deceive the man who had been inside her far more intimately than anybody else, including Kirei. So she explained to him, “I had enlightening conversations about Father Kotomine, and I’ve come to a realization during my stay under his protection.”

“Realizations?” Grandfather pronounced the word as if he was testing its texture on his tongue.

Clenching her fists on her sides, she told him. “I’m changing, ojii-sama.”

“Hmmm?” Grandfather fingered his cane while piercing his unnerving beady stare at her. With a slow grin, he said, “Yes…oh, yes, my child, I can sense it in you. Why don’t you come close? You’ve been gone for so long that I have missed you, little one. Come, come to your grandfather—” he was reaching out to her, his sinewy arms raised as the bugs instantly coated them. Sakura didn’t hesitate as she approached, keeping her eyes downcast to conceal her emotions. The bugs formed into tendrils now, slick and scaly at the same time as they slithered upwards to roam across Sakura’s legs. The black jeans she wore did nothing to shield her from their assault as the tendrils stealthily slipped through the garment and found her core easily like long-lost chicks coming back to their nest.

“Oh, yes,” Grandfather sounded almost lost in reverie. He described the feeding aloud as if they had an audience. “The priest has blessed you with his mana. It’s quite a serving. Very delectable. Still pretty fresh too. Nice, Sakura, my child. Your offering is much appreciated. Thank you.”

The tendrils moved more earnestly inside her now, probing uncomfortably. She swore she could feel small teeth burrow and sucker into her tender flesh. But Sakura kept herself upright throughout the process, refusing to sink to her knees and wail out, no matter how violated and desecrated she felt. This had been a natural occurrence in her life, a cycle that links her to the Matous as one of their own. She had been claimed like this at six years old, blood and life source depleted by the parasites that fucked the innocence out of her. Sakura wasn’t weakened by this feeding anymore, and refused with all her might to become empty after this. Something more ferocious has taken root inside her, a seed that will sprout and flourish as long as she nurtures it. No one—not Shinji, not Grandfather—will ever take away this life bursting proud and true within. She will tend to it from now on, and make it into a garden—a paradise—her very own Eden.

“Let me look at you, dearest…” Grandfather cupped her chin with gentle, bony fingers. His narrows slits bore into her eyes as he appraised her, “Changing, you say? That sounds delightful. You must be so proud of yourself.”

“I am changing,” she stressed again, growing more confident now. “And I think I’m ready to fight this war.”

He coughed another laugh. “Are you now? Do you mean to tell me there is a wish you finally want fulfilled by the Grail?”

“I don’t want to win it for me. After all, to fight in this war is already my wish…” With great care, she placed a hand on Grandfather’s own hand still cupping her chin. “I will win the Grail for you, just as what you have trained me for all these years. I will not run away from my obligation to this family anymore. That being said, I do have certain conditions if this alliance will ever work.”

Grandfather tightened his fingers on her chin. “What foolishness is this, little one? You are commanding me to see you as my equal?”

Sakura was not dissuaded. She lowered her hand to encircle it around Grandfather’s wrist, burrowing his nails on his skeletal wrist as well.

“I will fight in this war on my terms. I will win the Grail in my own way. That is all I ask, ojii-sama—all that I require.”

He was silent and so very still like he suddenly became inanimate upon hearing her words.

“You see it, don’t you?” her voice cracked as she asked him, but her fingers still gripped him in place. She had to do this, had to make him acknowledge that she wasn’t the same little girl he tortured and maimed, cowering away from his very presence and simply obeying his orders. “You can see the change now in me. And it…fascinates you, doesn’t it, ojii-sama? Because…because I’m capable of things that not even you could foresee. Didn’t you just say that the war would be more interesting with more unpredictable players?”

“You will win the Grail for me, you say?” Grandfather let her chin go and stepped backward. With the other hand, he moved his cane now, lifting it up until the tip touched her chest. “To fight for me also means the activation of that crest worm I implanted on you. You know what that entails, surely.” He smiled at Sakura, all uneven teeth showing like gruesome fangs ready to sink into her marrow. “Do you embrace the inevitable now? Are you truly willing to serve this family to the fullest?”

“Yes and yes,” Sakura’s voice didn’t falter now.

“And how would you do that?” he shoved the tip of the cane without warning against her chest as if he was going to stab it there. Sakura gasped out but stifled whatever moan almost came out. “You’ve been away for long and I don’t think I can part with you any longer than that again. My child, I depend on you more than any source of mana in this city. What shall become of me if you leave my side once more? No, I would not have it. You should live here in the dungeons for good. It’s where you belong after all.”

She expected for him to say that. “You’ve found ways to sustain yourself while I was gone, and you will again, ojii-sama. Besides, isn’t winning the Grail more important to you than your daily fix of mana?”

Sakura didn’t react fast enough, nor could she have, as Grandfather struck her face with the cane. She immediately started bleeding from the slash on her forehead. She took a step backward and almost fell if it wasn’t solely for her determination to keep upright. The worms living in her tissue have already begun repairing the damage but it still hurt. Grandfather’s expression was a blank sheet of well-disguised malice as he told her, “Don’t presume to know everything about what I want, Sakura mine. You may think you have found the means to rebel just because that Kotomine priest has liberated you and seduced you to his side, but don’t presume that my hold on you has also weakened.”

Using the cane again, he lifted her chin. He whispered, “Remember, child, that you belong to me—ultimately and without fail.”

I belong to no one but myself, Sakura could hear the phrase clear and absolute in her head. It lent her all the strength she needed.

“You need to listen to me, ojii-sama,” she began as she raised her hand to cover up the wound. Gathering up all the terror inside her and channelling it to her advantage, she tried to sway the old man with her conviction. “Don’t misunderstand what is happening right now; I meant no disrespect. I just want us to be pragmatic about this. For you see, I have finally recognized the error of my ways for not choosing to fight in the first place when the Grail summoned me. And now I wish to correct that mistake, and I can only hope you can forgive me and bless me with another chance to fight for the family. I am a Matou through and through. I am your tool, your child, your successor—your champion.”

Grandfather snorted and his smile became a crueler sneer. “And how would you do it? How would you win?”

She used her other hand to clutch at the cane as if it was a sword lodged in her chest she was ready to pull out.

“You will never know unless you let me go,” she said.

The moment between them was rife with possibilities, both sublime and gruesome. Neither seemed to breathe or blink. Sakura held the cane away as soon she felt Grandfather loosen his grip. She kept her eyes on his, counting the seconds to the eternity of his lack of response. The old man’s scrutinizing gaze was ice on her spine. She could feel him trying to tug at the seams of her lies but she reinforced them with the strength of her will. She stood there in all her immaculate lion-heartedness, maintaining the illusion of what he desired to see in a Matou heir.

Grandfather made a humming sound at the back of his throat as he pulled the cane from her, and crossed his arms behind his back.

“Then,” he uttered with a smile that stung like acid. “We shall see now, won’t we? But first things first…”

Sakura knew what he was going to say next. Without being prompted to, she slowly removed her cardigan and then pulled the blouse over her head. She unzipped her pants next. Grandfather stood there with a serene smile on his face as he waited for her to finish undressing. Once she was bare, Sakura felt the abnormal humidity of the crypts even more on her body but she had been very used to it by now so she felt no kind of shame being naked like this. The bugs gathered beneath her feet, seeking her warmth and the mana she could provide.

Closing her eyes and breathing through her nose, Sakura stayed uprooted on the ground as they swarmed all across her flesh, devouring and sucking into every part they could find; penetrating most of her orifices except her eyes and nostrils. She could hear Grandfather wheezing; perhaps he was having another laugh. She didn’t care. Sakura focused on the familiarity of the assault, the sharpness of it, while also making sure she would never get lost among the sea of vermin contaminating her. Nothing will threaten the wholeness of her person ever again.

Four hours passed before the feeding ceased.

 

 

 

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She took the framed picture of Kariya with her, as well as the English Bible Kirei had lent her.

I killed someone I love, and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life, she told herself as she looked at Kariya in the photo. But I don’t mind.

She opened the pages she marked with small post-its until she arrived at certain passages that she read aloud to herself:

 

“How long will you torment me and crush me with words?

Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me.

If it is true that I have gone astray, my error remains my concern alone.

If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me and use my humiliation against me,

then know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me.

 

Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.

He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; He has shrouded my paths in darkness.

He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head.

He tears me down on every side till I am gone; He uproots my hope like a tree.

 

All my intimate friends detest me; Those I love have turned against me.

I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth.

 

Grandfather was standing by the doorway of her room, leaning on the cane to steady himself. He lingered there like a phantom she could never shake off, watching her for what seemed like the longest moment until Sakura turned her head to his direction and he was gone. She turned her eyes back to the Bible open in her lap and whispered the next words as her own prayer of solace and renewed hope.

 

I know that my Redeemer lives,

and that in the end He will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,

yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see Him

with my own eyes—I, and not another.

How my heart yearns within me!

 

Closing the Bible, Sakura reached for the lowest drawer on her dresser and found the spare black gloves. She wasn’t sure where she left her last pair; it was still probably in Gil’s room at the church. She gazed out the window where the sky glowed with the brilliance of the sunset’s heat. She wondered if Lancer was already waiting for her outside the mansion. Sakura put on the gloves, opening and closing her fingers as she relished the smooth texture and warmth in them. She carried the photograph and Bible with one hand, and walked out her room.

Downstairs, Grandfather was nowhere to be seen, but Sakura could feel him everywhere in this haunted place; in the way it held its breath as she traversed its floors. Sakura pushed the door open and stepped out. She glanced back inside of the house, expecting the old man to be watching her from a corner, but there was nothing but the eerie silence that bade her goodbye. She locked the door and then looked for Lancer.

He was leaning against a wall, looking slightly bored. Sakura greeted him and was pleased to see that he had brought the items she asked.

“Where are we headed this time?” he asked as he stared into her eyes.

Sakura allowed herself a weak smile as she said, “Where else would we go?”

Lancer understood. “I think there might be a more efficient way to get there. You can—”

“Thank you for the offer, but I would prefer to walk there,” Sakura beamed at him kindly. “Besides, don’t you think it’s going to be a beautiful night, Lancer-san? I don’t want to miss the stars. I think they might appear more prominently later. I mean,” she lowered her gaze as sadness touched her features, “I certainly hope so.” She paused and then gave him another pleasant smile. “Shall we go, Lancer-san?”

Above her one of the windows flickered with illumination until it was snuffed out just as quickly as if it had never appeared.

 

 

 

+

 

 

 

Kirei had made the necessary arrangements with Sakura. All that’s left now is for the King of Heroes to see the fruition of that alliance.

Things are different. They are changing. Last night was a testament to just how much neither of them could go back.

Kirei finished the last Eucharist for that day around six, an hour before what was originally intended. Many parishioners still attended, and he even had a few conversations with elder men and women after the mass has ended. But Kirei was preoccupied with what happens after this. Shinji Matou would come; Kirei had ordered Sakura to make sure of it, and Gilgamesh would of course be accompanying his master.

He could recall with vivid sharpness the last time he had seen the King of Heroes. He could imagine those serpentine red eyes on his now, measuring his every movement both deliberate and accidental. Kirei can recall the firmness of his body and smooth skin; the wicked curve of his mouth; the hands that always knew how to make him shudder and surrender. He also remembered, much to his dread, how they pretended to be other people last night: a pair of ordinary men who have never been damaged or rotten, how they tried to make love together as if love had ever been possible to begin with. It was funny. It was pitiful. But Kirei could never regret it.

Shinji Matou arrived around quarter to seven with Gilgamesh nowhere in sight. When Kirei asked him about his servant, the boy crossed his arms moodily and merely explained, “The Archer class and its stupid independent action, you know. It took me a whole hour just looking for him in New City. I almost wanted to summon him using a command spell—but I didn’t. It would be wasteful. I was about to give up and come here when he finally made an appearance at the last minute.”

“So Gilgamesh is here?” Kirei tried to sense the god-king’s presence but found that he had disguised it well enough.

“King of Heroes?” Shinji called out, trying to sound as polite as possible. “Please unveil yourself to us and Father Kotomine.”

“We would be honored, King of Heroes,” Kirei played along as well.

The reincarnated heroic spirit in question was leisurely walking towards them now after he appeared from the corner of one of the pillars inside the church. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his slacks. Kirei took note that he still wore the maroon turtleneck sweater which meant that after the incident last night, he never returned to his room at all, and might have gone in one of his favorite spots in the city which Gilgamesh has never been forthcoming about with Kirei. It’s not as if Kirei concerned himself with such trivial matters either.

“Why are we here, Kotomine?” Gilgamesh spoke without looking at him. His tone was that of bored which Kirei was more than familiar with.

Kirei had communicated telepathically with Lancer twenty minutes ago. He knew that Sakura would be here any moment now.

“There is an important matter to be discussed concerning the war’s progress,” Kirei began. “Matou-san, how are things on your end?”

Shinji Matou scoffed. “Why should I divulge my game plan with the Overseer?”

“The same Overseer who helped transfer the command seal from your sister to yours,” Kirei replied curtly.

“So what?” Shinji Matou was glaring. “Am I supposed to be indebted to you now? You think I owe you anything?”

Kirei blinked, feigning surprise. “I was merely trying to bridge a gap between you and I, Matou-san. I am not your enemy.”

“I don’t think someone from the Holy Church could be considered my rival, Father,” Shinji Matou emphasized his title with some vehemence. “You can’t possibly think so highly of yourself that you believe that we can form—what? An alliance?” He glanced towards Gilgamesh now who was still a safe distance away from them. “This is ridiculous! Armed with a great servant such as the King of Heroes, I will win the Grail and punish everyone who had stood in my way!” He pointed a finger at Kirei now. “And that includes you!”

Kirei chuckled as he shook his head. He patiently explained himself, “I wasn’t planning on it, Matou-san. I don’t want you to misunderstand my intentions. I simply wish to aid you in your quest, and perhaps…” he trailed off dramatically as he held the boy’s gaze steadily, “…even offer you something that you most desired. Say, a master in particular—Rin Tohsaka?”

The boy’s interest was piqued but he still continued to glare, “What are you even offering me, Father?”

“A chance to eliminate a master so you can get close to the other one,” Kirei simplified it. “I am more than aware that you covet the Tohsaka girl.”

“What of it?” the boy looked at him more suspiciously now. “And how do you even know about that?”

“It’s pretty obvious,” Kirei allowed himself a small smile. “And I have my ways of knowing things.”

“That’s comforting,” the boy scoffed again and leaned against one of the pews. “So,” he added, “What’s your stake in this arrangement?”

“That’s a loaded question, Matou-san,” Kirei took a step forward, keeping his movements languid and non-threatening as much as possible. “I’m as impartial as I can be, but every man has ulterior motives. Rest assured our goals align.”

“I’m not banking on that, Father Kotomine,” Shinji Matou shook his head, looking more unconvinced by the second. “But you do raise an interesting point. Emiya has been quite the inconvenience, especially since Tohsaka seems to favor that amateur a lot. Can you believe she picked allying herself with him than me? What a joke!” he kicked at an imaginary dust. “She thinks she can just jerk me around just because she’s heir to her family’s legacy. As if the Matous weren’t a respectable clan before! I’ll show her! I’ll show all of them!”

He glanced sharply at Gilgamesh’s way now. “We will conquer this war and lay waste to every buffoon who ever wronged me! Won’t we?”

Gilgamesh didn’t reply. Instead, he only gave the boy a smirk. Kirei was edging an inch closer to Shinji Matou now, with hands clasped behind his back. He briefly met Gilgamesh’s gaze, and he could see that the god-king was puzzling over his next move when he realized that something was off. Kirei’s stance stiffen just slightly as he carefully moved one hand from his back, getting ready to summon his black keys. He will strike Shinji Matou any moment now as Gilgamesh watched. The anticipation was raw. Kirei was taut everywhere while the boy remained distracted, completely ignorant of his hubris about to take place. Gilgamesh’s stillness was a mirage; Kirei knew he was aware of everything. There is a pressure in the air now as Kirei took another step close. He can’t help but remember the night he murdered Tokiomi.

Just then, Sakura pushed open the church’s doors and walked in.

The three of them all looked at her direction at once. Her brother spoke up first, “Hey, why are you here?”

Her steps were too quiet that she barely made an impression at first. With one hand, she raised an instrument in view, while the other pulled out something from her back. It looked almost like an illusion since the rest of her body was undisturbed as she positioned her hands together, ready to take aim. Kirei swiftly lowered his arm which was about to strike the Matou boy. His stare was now fixed on Sakura, and the instrument she was gripping with both hands. Even from afar, separated by ten rows of pews, he knew exactly what it was she was holding.

So did Gilgamesh. The King of Heroes faced Sakura now, and even though Kirei can’t see his expression, he knew it was of captivation.

Only her brother was too caught up in his own questions that he didn’t see yet again what was about to happen. He was still asking her, “Who invited you to this meeting, Sakura? Go back to Emiya’s house. You’re the one who wanted to start living there anyway. I don’t even care—”

There was a rustle in the wind, a short and precise whoosh, as the arrow struck the boy on his knee.

Kirei choked back a laugh. This wasn’t the plan. He was supposed to dispose the boy. It was a beautiful surprise for her claim the kill herself.

The boy screamed and immediately sank to the ground. With hands shaking as he probed his wound slightly, he looked at the injury as if he couldn’t believe its presence. Kirei was grinning now as he saw the fear in the boy’s eyes which was mixed with the dawning realization that someone he never thought could hurt him finally did. Shinji Matou raised his head towards Sakura and shouted, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, you fucking bitch!” he forcefully spat out the next words, “Gilgamesh! Punish the fucking cunt! Make her suffer! DO IT NOW!”

But the King of Heroes was grinning too. Their delight over Shinji Matou’s agony has now become exquisite sexual foreplay.

Another arrow hit him on his shoulder this time. Shinji Matou howled.

“Wh-What are you w-waiting f-for!” he was screaming at Gilgamesh now as blood spilled from his shoulder blade and soaked his shirt. He was shaking uncontrollably now, jaw clenched as he tried to command his servant. “Pro-Protect me! You use-use-useless piece of sh-shiiit!”

Sakura had come closer now as Shinji Matou continued to spew out his pathetic threats. She was just five rows of pews away when she readied the next arrow. It hit her brother on the stomach this time. He tried crawling away as his hands reached for Kirei, but the priest merely sidestepped to his left, chuckling as he did. The boy begged for either man to help him, sobbing and grovelling. Finally, he pleaded for his own sister to stop. He tried to rationalize with her and when she said nothing and continued to stare blankly at him, he reverted back to calling her names, determined to abuse her to the very end. “Whore!” he spat out as spit and blood dribbled from his mouth. “Ungrateful little bitch!”

She lowered the bow the moment she reached her brother. With only a yard away, Kirei noticed that the bow she was using was an antique with intricate flower designs. The weapon was as terrifyingly beautiful as her, and it fit in her hands like the black gloves she wore. He wanted to start fucking her right in that moment while her brother lay in his own pool of blood and filth, and Gilgamesh watched and cheered. Kirei drank in everything like it was the most delicious wine he had ever had the pleasure of consuming. The scene was intoxicating. It made his head spin.

“Sakura…” Shinji Matou gasped out as tears formed in the corner of his eyes.

“I love you—” she uttered. Her own eyes brimmed with tears as well, “—far too much.”

“Then why?” her brother croaked as he struggled to stay awake while he bled into the church’s pristine floors.

“That love was toxic,” she was kneeling now as she placed the bow down to her side. “That love excused your faults, tore my soul apart.”

“Please…” her brother sounded so small and alone as he begged her, “Don’t…”

“Nii-san,” she reached out to cup his cheek as he leaned in to the touch. Kirei could tell that he was hoping she would spare him.

Kirei thought the same. He exchanged glances with Gilgamesh. They both looked doubtful now. And then Kirei looked at Sakura again to confirm that her will was still strong, but she seemed focused only on her brother, ignoring the fact that they weren’t alone. Her lips quivered as she tried to keep talking. While one hand was still cupping his cheek, Sakura was also reaching out behind her back.

Kirei’s eyes widened expectantly when he realized what she was about to do.

“I loved the boy you once were…” she muttered under her breath. “But not the monster that you became.”

She leaned closer with her hand lowering on her brother’s shoulder to grip him in place. And then Sakura viciously stabbed him with the arrowhead on her other hand. Her face turned pale, eyes wide in utter disbelief because of what she was doing, but she still pushed it in some more. Shinji Matou was choking under the pressure of the arrowhead burrowing deep into the flesh of his chest. His hands tried to claw at Sakura’s throat in one final attempt to fight her, but Sakura pushed the arrowhead again, crying out this time, until something snapped.

The sound was hollow but unmistakable. If Kirei had a heartbeat, it would be racing right now.

Slowly while she whimpered, Sakura pulled out her trembling hand away from her brother’s chest. The blood was absorbed by the blackness of the glove she wore that it seemed as if it wasn’t there at all. Only the pain and grief in her eyes conveyed the act that she had committed. Shinji Matou’s head lolled back now, his eyes unseeing as they met the ceiling above. Sakura immediately wound her arms around his lifeless body, sobbing loudly like she had been stabbed herself, and she might as well have been.

“Shinji!” she wailed, cradling the sibling she had just murdered with all the strength she could spare. Sakura squeezed her eyes shut for a while until she opened them again to glance up. Kirei realized she was looking specifically at the crucifix on top the altar. “God forgive me,” she whispered hoarsely in vain while rocking back and forth with her brother in her arms, “God forgive me!”

Gilgamesh finally made a move. He was approaching, walking past Sakura until he reached Kirei. They didn’t exchange words because there was no urgent need to. The splendid display before them was enough. But Kirei still reached out, grazing his fingers on the god-king’s arm as if he was testing his realness. Gilgamesh didn’t move and just stared at Kirei, waiting. Finally, Kirei clutched him at the back of his head and pulled him closer. Again, the King of Heroes didn’t offer any word of protest. His own hands simply curled around Kirei’s long coat, grabbing a fistful of the garment. The smile he gave Kirei softened his usually hard ruby eyes. Before Kirei could seal the distance between them with the alignment of their mouths, they heard her voice echoing in the silence of the church.

“My will creates your body, and your sword creates my destiny,” she chanted. Both men glanced at her now as they let each other go.

Sakura’s eyes were lowered. She had let go of her brother’s corpse, and now raised a hand in view which she just peeled a glove from. Taking a deep breath, she spoke the next part of the incantation more clearly, addressing Gilgamesh:

“If you heed the Grail’s call and also obey my will and my reason, then answer me, King of Heroes.”

Gilgamesh walked only a few steps to get to her. He kept his eyes on hers as he reached out to help her stand.

While their hands clasped together, he replied. “I swear your offering will be my flesh, Sakura Matou…”

He got her into her feet and touched his lips against the back of her hand.

 “…my new Master,” Gilgamesh uttered almost with affection.

A surge of red light burst forth from the girl’s hand as the command seal seared into her flesh. It resembled the petals of the tree she took her namesake from. Sakura was about to lower her hand as if to shield it away when Gilgamesh grasped it in place.

Whispering, he told her: “This shade of red is a good color on you.”

Kirei thought she would be deeply offended by the comment, and then wrench herself free from Gilgamesh; or cry again because of the murder she committed just minutes ago. But instead she gently withdrew away her hand so she can glance down at the violently vibrant red command seal, eyeing it as if in a stupor. And then she looked at Kirei, searching his eyes.

Brokenly, she smiled.

 

 

 

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Lancer helped her carry Shinji’s corpse all the way to the Matou mansion. They had wrapped it in Gil’s old silk sheets and left it by the porch. Sakura knew Grandfather could sense them, and she didn’t feel the need to see him again. The offering she had given him should suffice. This would finally make the old man see that she was determined to fight this war, even if it meant that she had to play dirty too.

Everything was sore and numb all at once. Sakura tried not to think about the awful thing she had done to a boy she once called family, but it was difficult. It had happened, much like the fact that she killed Kariya too. It was different though because back then she didn’t know any better, and Grandfather had poisoned her to do it. This time, Sakura willingly chose it—and though the guilt would crush her under its overwhelming weight from this point forward, she would not grieve about it for too long. There is a war to be fought, and the show must go on.

“That was a brave thing you did,” Lancer remarked as they walked back together to Shirou’s dojo. His tone indicated that he wasn’t entirely supportive of her decision, however, which was understandable and not entirely unwelcome. As if to confirm her suspicion, he began to elaborate on his response, “I understood the motives behind it, and that boy clearly deserved what was coming to him from the start, but by taking his life by yourself, you may have also tainted your soul.”

That afforded her a chuckle. “What part of me isn’t already, Lancer-san?” she said with a tight-lipped smile.

He didn’t answer that. Lancer looked ahead now but continued to match the pace of her steps.

Without thinking much about it, Sakura began to tell him a story. “When I was little, I had an older sister. This was when I wasn’t a Matou yet,” she sighed, “Anyway, she and I used to spend nights climbing up the roof of our house so we can watch the stars come out. Being closer to the heavens like that made it seem like anything is possible…and beautiful…and we had all the time in the world—just me and my big sister.”

Lancer said nothing but she could feel him staring at her now. They both stopped walking.

Standing there together, Sakura reached out to the favored side of her hair and pulled the pink ribbon loose from it. She curled a fist around its softness on her palm, smiling wistfully as she said, “She’s a Master in the war too,” she explained. “And I look forward to fighting her. I guess I want to prove that maybe—just maybe—our father chose the wrong heir.”

Sakura turned her head to regard Lancer with a tired smile. “Maybe it should have been me.”

She opened her fingers now and lifted her hand higher. A gust of wind blew away the ribbon from her palm. It flew upwards, just a forgettable string swaying in silence until it was gone. Sakura breathed out. Her chest expanded as soon a she did, and she was filled with an emotion she had no name for but cherished nonetheless. The valley of shadow and death that awaited her didn’t seem to terrify her as much. If it’s where she must go, then at least she gets to make that choice. This is her journey, and her path has never been clearer.

So she looked towards the heavens above and for the first time didn’t feel so small.

This is all there is for her for now—the deepening dusk that canopied even the stars that dared to linger in its vastness.

But Sakura hoped. It seemed enough to do so.

And so she uttered a prayer to herself, one consoling and resolute.

I must believe, she prayed, that it won’t stay night forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* ~ * ~*

 

 

 

 

 

 



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FOOTNOTES

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Bible quotations:

Psalm 34:18 | Psalm 147:3 | Romans 8:18 | 1 Corinthians 10:13 | 2 Corinthians 4:16 

Isaiah 40:28, 29 | Hebrews 4:15  |  Job 19:1-6, 7-10, 19-20, 25-27 

 

Quotations used for chapter openers in order of appearance:

The Invisibles by Grant Morrison (chapters 1 & 2) | Byzantium by W.B Yeats | Start Here by Caitlyn Siehl | Elm by Sylvia Plath (chapters 5-7) | Under their Breath, Someone Said by Warsan Shire | I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou | Journey by Mary Oliver