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Little broken things and sad trinkets

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“The world turns our key, and we play the same little tune again and again, and we think that tune is all we are.”

-Grant Morrison-

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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Chapter Text


 

 

 

 

“Our heads are big enough to contain every god and devil there ever was. Big enough to hold the weight of oceans and the turning stars. But what do we choose to keep in this miraculous cabinet? Little broken things, sad trinkets that we play with over and over.”

-Grant Morrison-

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The very next night, Gil offered her clothes that don’t fit her.

Some have the right length and thickness, but were still too snug to her liking, and they only ended up outlining her curves in the most distressing ways. It’s indecent! What would her sempai Shirou think? What would Father Kotomine think?

A few of the other clothes, on the other hand, exposed her skin too much that putting them on and seeing her cleavage in the bathroom mirror only made her cheeks hot. She threw them all into the tub then hurriedly wrapped herself in a towel, and wouldn’t come out after that.

“Don’t you have anything that a fifteen-year-old girl could wear?” she called out.

With an oddly cheery tone, the man from the opposite side of the door replied to her, “But that’s how fifteen-year-olds in my kingdom used to dress.”

Sakura paused. Indignantly, she sputtered out. “H-How about actual clothes that a fifteen-year-old in this era could wear?!”

Gil only laughed at her as if she was merely being silly. He told her, “Don’t be so insecure about your body. You are such a pretty thing after all.”

With a fresh surge of anger, she banged her fist against the wood and shouted at him. “How can you say that to me after everything?!”

There was a pause from the other side of the door. And then Gil spoke up again, sounding exasperated. “Sakura, really, do I strike you as the kind of man who would walk on eggshells just because someone had a bad day?”

A bad day? Is that how he chooses to generalize and describe the awful things that have happened to her all these years? Just a ‘bad day’? She clenched both fists now and muttered as tears formed in her eyes, “You’re an insensitive jerk…”

“Perhaps,” Gil answered. “Or maybe you’re just too close to it to see what I see. And in time you will learn that even the deepest tragedies can be a little funny.” A pause. “Now, darling, unlock the door and let me in. I promise I’ll find you something else to wear.”

Sakura stepped away from the door and quickly wiped her tears as she did. What did she get herself into? Are Gil and Father Kotomine really that different from her grandfather and brother? In a few ways, they were, Sakura thought, and maybe those differences alone matter to her.

But right now, Sakura felt weak and tired, and she wished Gil would just go away and leave her here in the bathroom. She could probably sleep in the tub. But she knew that even though he wasn’t the most tactful of people, Gil had accommodated her since she started staying in the church. He was…nice to her even if that niceness wasn’t conventional. When it came to people’s accessibility, Sakura understood at an early age that beggars can’t be choosers. She had learned to take whatever kindness comes her way.

She opened the door.

Gil rested his arm on the ledge as soon as she did, and he looked down to meet her gaze and smiled. Sakura swallowed a lump in her throat and asked. “You said you’re going to find me something else to wear? So where is it?”

He just stared at her as he told her. “The closet next to the window in the priest’s room. Second drawer to the bottom. There’s a black bag.”

Sakura blinked at him. “What’s in the bag?”

“The clothes that you wanted,” Gil offered another smile. “Hurry up, dear.”

She bowed her head slightly and muttered “excuse me” as she held tight on her towel and started walking toward Father Kotomine’s room. It’s only been the second night, so she was still feeling self-conscious as to how to conduct herself around this place and in front of the two men who had saved her life. She slowed her steps when the thought crossed her mind. Maybe saying that they saved her life is giving them far too much credit, but how else is she going to describe it?

Sakura knelt on the floor and pulled out the drawer as instructed. She found the black bag and took it out. Her towel almost loosened just in time as Gil walked in. Not wanting to expose herself to the older man, Sakura ended up dropping the bag on the bed so she can quickly fix her towel. Gil said nothing about it although his smile told differently. He just sat down next to the bag on the bed and eyed her. “I inspected the clothes myself. I think they’re exactly what you’re looking for.”

Without breaking eye contact with her, Gil unzipped the bag and grabbed the first thing he could. “See?” he said as he stretched out the piece of clothing which turned out to be a nightgown of some sort. “Dull and old-fashioned.”

In spite of his criticism of the garment, Sakura actually liked it. The neckline was high and decent while the color was a creamy white. There were blue laces on both the top and bottom hemlines. Its simplicity was appealing to her so she reached out for it, eager to put it on. But Gil wouldn’t give it to her at all.

“Wh-What are you doing?” she glared at him as she held onto her towel.

“Don’t you think you should put on underwear first?” Gil explained as he dangled the nightgown with one hand and offered her a paper bag in another.

Sakura took it, unable to say anything as she peered inside and saw a pair of matching red brassier and panties. She blushed and shot him another glare. “I-I’m not g-going to put these on!”

“Is it because they’re red? I knew I should have gone for pink. It was more of your color after all—”

Without another thought, Sakura hit him with the paper bag but there was hardly any impact, and Gil only burst out laughing. He clutched at his stomach and Sakura felt even more mortified. She clung tighter to her towel as she grabbed the nightgown from him. “I-I can just put this on w-without anything underneath! It’d b-be all right! D-Don’t follow me to the bathroom!”

As she almost tripped on a chair on her way out, desperate to get away from further humiliation, Gil called out her name. She made a mistake of turning around as another paper bag hit her right in her chest. She squealed and squeezed her eyes shut. Gil said, “Pick up the bag, you clumsy girl. It’s a different pair this time. You really should put those on because I think that nightgown you chose is transparent. We wouldn’t want Father Kotomine to see your nipples through that thing now, do we?”

Sakura didn’t have to look to know he was mocking her with that vile grin again. She simply groaned in frustration as she blindly sat on her haunches and reached down for the bag in question. As soon as her fingers grabbed onto it, she straightened herself up and ran off to the bathroom. Once she shut the door loudly behind her, she tore through the paper bag and was surprised to find that the brassier and panties were flesh-colored. Incredulously, she put it on with shaky fingers. She had to keep re-adjusting the brassier so it could hold her breasts properly, but other than that she had no trouble putting on the rest. The nightgown was loose around her hips and very soft and comfortable against her skin. The hem reached down her legs, just six to seven inches above her ankle.

Sakura let out a sigh, relieved that it was all over and that she finally looks respectable again. She stared at her reflection for a few seconds and was suddenly overwhelmed by the abrupt changes that have happened to her in just a span of two days. She began to cry again when she thought about the punishment that will be waiting for her back home, doing it as quietly as she could so Gil wouldn’t hear her outside. She was trembling so hard in spite of the insulation provided by her clothing, as if the cold was coming directly inside her.

Her ugly purple hair was still wet from the shower she took minutes ago, and her body might be supple and smooth now after she scrubbed her skin with soap water, but Sakura knew the uncontested truth.

She will never be clean.

Sakura pressed her thighs together and whimpered. She was thinking of Shirou again, and the feeling that overcame her was dangerous.

She resisted as much as she could, however. Sakura turned the faucet instead so she could splash some water in her face. She glanced at her reflection one last time and hoped her eyes weren’t too red. Afterwards, she folded the clothes Gil had previously given her to try on. She hung the towel on the hook located on the door and then twisted the knob with one hand as she carried the clothes in her arms. As soon as she stepped out, she heard Father Kotomine’s voice.

“Where is the girl?” he was asking.

Gil replied, “Probably crying in the bathroom. I sent her there to wash herself while you were gone. That was almost an hour ago. She was putting on clothes which also took a while, mind you. I forgot how picky young girls could be,” A chuckle. “My daughters were the same. Their mothers tend to spoil them when I’m not around—which is often, I suppose.”

Sakura began to walk quietly to the direction of their voices.

“You had children?” Father Kotomine sounded genuinely surprised.

“I’ve had plenty of wives, Kirei. Children were the results that followed those marriages, especially when people expect their king to sire an heir.”

“It must have been troublesome for you.”

“Hardly. My seed is a gift to my women, and they have done their best to make the most of its blessing. Besides, it’s not as if I was ever fit to raise the children…” Gil trailed off the moment he laid his eyes on Sakura. He watched her for what felt like forever with an unreadable expression. Sakura stopped right on the spot, blinking rapidly as the anxiety took over.

Finally, Gil smiled, holding her gaze. “My, my, don’t you look pretty?” he said.

Sakura bit down on her lip and lowered her gaze.

“Gilgamesh,” Father Kotomine spoke now, “Where did you get her those clothes?”

“What an unnecessarily stupid question,” Gil answered. “You know exactly where I got them, fool.”

Sakura raised her eyes and looked at the priest. He seemed rather standoffish now. With another hard swallow, she asked him shakily, “I-Is something wrong, Father? I-Is m-my appearance offensive to you?”

Father Kotomine glanced at her briefly but didn’t respond. He then looked at Gil again, hardening his gaze. Sakura felt small as she held her tongue this time, hoping that the priest was not cross with her as well.

“What?” Gil seemed annoyed as he returned the priest’s glare. “It was the only thing that she deemed acceptable to wear. What was I supposed to do, Kirei? She already slept on those torn clothes since last night. Worst of all, she dirtied the sheets. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep Egyptian cotton clean?”

Father Kotomine was terrifyingly quiet. Gil wasn’t intimated at all and just scoffed at him before he asked, “Do you want Sakura to undress this instant? Fine then,” he gave Sakura a nod as he demanded, “You heard the priest. Take off the dress, dear. You apparently are not fit to put on his late saint wife’s clothing.”

“Enough,” the priest’s voice was serene but firm. “I said no such thing, Gilgamesh, so stop acting like a scandalized brat.” A pause. “And I’m the one who washes those sheets so I would know better than you.”

To Sakura, Father Kotomine simply said, “Don’t take off the dress, Matou-san. It fits you quite nicely. You may leave us.”

She was about to obey his command but then the other man pulled her by her arm suddenly, and she was forced to move closer to him.

“No,” Gil countered as he placed his other hand on her shoulder next. “Stay exactly where you are, darling. This conversation has to involve you, I’m afraid.”

Sakura nodded numbly and then hugged the other clothes tightly against her.

“Gilgamesh…” the priest was glaring openly now.

Gil sounded just as stubborn when he said, “Kirei Kotomine…”

Sakura was holding her breath the entire time.

“She is not your daughter, King of Heroes,” Father Kotomine said. “So stop playing house.”

“You’re just mad because she looks so much like your dead wife now, doesn’t she?” Gil shot back and Sakura felt her blood run cold the moment he said that. “But you need to relax. Sakura needed something ‘decent’ to wear, and all the female clothing I had—you know, the ones my conquests have left throughout the years—were simply not up to her standards. Luckily, she shared your wife’s dire taste and fashion sense.”

Sakura decided she had to speak up. “I-I’m so sorry, Father! If I have known, I-I never would h-have…!” She swallowed. “Please! It’s not Gil-san’s fault! If anything, i-it was mine! I took advantage of his generosity and…and demanded for m-more. I’m so…” she couldn’t breathe as she felt the heat of tears flooding her eyes. If she was talking to grandfather or Shinji, this would be the moment when they’d hit her. “I’m so sorry…” she shut her eyes and waited for the blow.

It didn’t come. Instead, Gil just turned her over with his hand on her shoulder so they could look at each other. He looked a little baffled as he asked. “Are you crying again?”

Sakura shook her head and muttered. “No…”

“Look at what you’ve done, Gilgamesh.”

“Oh, this is my fault?” Gil squeezed her shoulder but not unkindly. He was still addressing the priest. “You’re the one who made a big deal about the dress.”

“I had no problem about that. What I had a problem with was the fact that you didn’t ask my permission before you touched my things.”

“Your things are my things. Everything in this world belongs to me.”

“Don’t even apply that same old convoluted logic in this situation.”

“You disrespectful mongrel!” Gil now let Sakura go and took a few steps closer to crowd Father Kotomine’s space. The priest wasn’t intimidated as he stared into the other man’s eyes. Panicking, Sakura decided to diffuse the situation.

“Please!” she spoke up, finding her voice as she continued to explain. “Please don’t argue anymore. I could just…I could just put on other clothes instead. I’m so sorry about your…your wife, Father. I understand your reasons very well, and I don’t want it to seem as if I’m besmirching your wife’s memory. As for,” she paused and added, “as for Gil-san taking your things…I think he just wanted me to put on something to wear as soon as possible because you were coming back soon, and I was still in my towel—please, Father Kotomine!”

She now rushed to Gil’s side and bowed down to her waist twice so she could fully display regret while she apologized profusely. “Please forgive me, Father! And please don’t fight with Gil-san anymore!”

To her shock, the two men laughed. Sakura straightened herself up, looking at both of them quizzically.

“Don’t waste your breath,” Gil was smirking at her. “But I do appreciate you defending my honor, Sakura darling. It was, in fact, hilarious!”

Sakura blushed and held the clothes tighter against her once more. She would have punched him if she didn’t.

“I wasn’t really mad,” Father Kotomine sat by a nearby chair, folding his hands on his lap. “And I know Gilgamesh well enough to know that he has no concept of personal boundaries whatsoever. I’ve learned to live with that for ten years and I have never been upset about it,” he narrowed his eyes as he added. “Although, I have to say that making you put on my late spouse’s clothes is definitely uncomfortable for me in a way.” He turned to the other man. “Were you really so bored, Gilgamesh?”

“I wasn’t trying to get a rise out of you, Kirei. That was just a happy accident.”

“Well, I’m glad that you guys had your fun…” Sakura muttered to herself.

Father Kotomine addressed her now. “Are you feeling better?”

She blinked at him but didn’t respond. She wasn’t sure how she felt. So instead of answering his question directly, she asked Gil instead, indicating the clothes in her arms. “Where do I put these away?”

Gil shrugged his shoulders. “You can do whatever you want with them. Donate them to charity, perhaps?” he gestured at the priest. “Weren’t you planning on doing that with Claudia’s clothes before?”

“Claudia?” Sakura didn’t mean to say the name aloud.

“The dead woman who used to own the dress you’re wearing, honey.”

“Just put those clothes inside the same bag where you found the nightgown,” Father Kotomine replied to her instead and didn’t bother acknowledging the other man’s obnoxious comments. “And please return immediately. We have important things to talk about.”

 

 

 

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It doesn’t hurt.

She knows this because she understands only too well what pain is—its sharp, honest tangibility, its pressure and weight all across her tender insides. She has been intimate with it in both its fleeting occurrences and deafening finality. It’s her friend, and the truest kind there is.

But this—this isn’t pain at all.

She could feel a hardness scooping her. If she focuses, she could even measure the length as it penetrates her. It’s certainly not as thick as the worms which resided in her body. But 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. Sakura tries talking instead, but there is a sock in her mouth which he shoved in just moments ago.

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. She recalls the names and faces of her previous family one by one in her head, and then she adds Uncle Kariya, and grandfather Zouken, and now Shinji. He is always so nice to her. Sakura should do whatever it takes so she can make him happy.

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. But Sakura knows he doesn’t mean it. 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. Sakura closes her eyes again.

Her only regret is that she is unable to ask Shinji, Are you happy now?

I gave you my body and my love as your new sister.

Sakura smiles but her lips feel swollen, and the sock is still there. She stares up the sky again and wonders when the stars would come out. She remembers how she and Rin used to race as they climbed the roof together just so they can get closer to the heavens. Sakura tries to move her fingers. She couldn’t feel anything in them at all. She lays there on the grass and pictures Rin’s smile. There are days she couldn’t remember sometimes, and she would cry about it because she misses her big sister, and the pain gets too real for her whenever she does.

But now? Now it doesn’t hurt.

Sakura tries to smile but fails again.

 

 

 

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She never grew up believing in heroes, which was why she never understood most of her peers’ fascination for a savior figure. She would often overhear the excited conversations of boys in her class about superheroes in manga or Western comics. Sakura was repelled by the idea that there could be empowered men and women, even in fiction, who would carry out good deeds and heroic acts just so they can save humanity. The concept just seemed so silly and immature. Perhaps her opinion is colored by the simple fact that when she was six or so, she did have someone who tried to save her: her ‘uncle’ Kariya. She had kept a photograph of him by her desk at home. It was not only a memento but also a constant reminder of what happens to heroes in real life—they don’t win, and they die; sometimes in front of the very person they have tried so hard to protect and save. Sakura will never forget this truth which she learned the day when Kariya slipped away from the steps of the dungeon where they both stood, and was devoured by the crest worms beneath. Sakura had stared at his mutilated body being consumed in just a matter of minutes, and swore to herself no one will have to die like that for her again. 

If saving her would require someone she loves to perish, then she’d rather not be saved.

Tonight Sakura sat on a chair across Father Kotomine inside the private quarters of the man of cloth in question. To her left, golden-spun and irresistibly eye-catching, was Gil, perched on the couch with his lean legs stretched out. He’d been wearing striking red leather pants that would look out-of-place if it was any other person who adorned them. The material fitted him too perfectly and beyond words. She spent a lot of time looking back and forth between the two men, whose respective gazes never wavered once that she felt rather anxious about their reasons as to why they were watching her like this. The priest was on another chair just like hers, but his form was straight and still, as if he was meticulously placed there like a statue of indifference. He spoke up first, relaying to her what occurred in his absence, and she was barely surprised to learn that he had in fact visited her house to talk to her grandfather.

Sakura never realized how aloof Father Kotomine really was until last night when she came to him after her molestation, and he regarded her with a steady hand and lifeless eyes as if he couldn’t be bothered to sympathize with her plight. She was hurt to have been deceived by him, for she truly believed he was an upstanding man of the faith who wanted to aid her. But she supposed she wasn’t exactly as forthcoming with him either, and given the present circumstances, she should be grateful that he still chose to take her under his protection. Sakura knew he almost wanted to turn her away, but something compelled him not to; something she wanted to figure out herself. Father Kotomine, she surmised at this point, is a cold-blooded person, but when he touched her cheek last night while they were near the altar, his fingers had been firm and warm. His dark brown eyes also seemed to be piercing through her very depths, and Sakura felt lost in their scrutiny. As that embarrassing thought crossed her mind, Sakura could feel herself blushing stupidly again, so she lowered her eyes to her lap and waited for the priest to elaborate on the conversation he had with her patriarch.

“Zouken Matou had been made aware of your situation,” the priest explained, his deep and monotonous voice calming Sakura for some reason as she listened. “I have not informed him of the exact nature of your illness, but he expressed concern over your welfare readily enough. I told him little, trying to see if he would fill the blanks himself because I assumed he must have been aware of what his grandson had been doing to you. You both live under his roof. He could not have been so blind, unless he chose to look the other way.”

Sakura said nothing. She was in no position to confirm or deny that assessment. To confirm it would betray her grandfather’s motives; and to deny it would be just as pointless since her outward appearance last night was enough to indicate that she had been savagely taken advantage of. She also allowed the priest to believe that it was her brother. Perhaps there is some way to remedy that?

Father Kotomine didn’t seem to mind her silence and kept speaking, “Naturally, he wanted to you be returned to his household, but I protested in accordance to my role as the overseer for the Grail War. He was surprised about my intervention, considering he claimed that you are nothing more than his ward, but I quickly corrected your grandfather, and informed him that you have just been selected by the Grail itself, as indicated by the sigil at the back of your hand. Upon hearing this, Zouken Matou seemed rather perturbed at first, but he gradually accepted that your participation was valid, and now you could be in danger of being targeted by the other masters once they’ve learned about it.”

She sneaked a glance at Gil who was munching quietly on a chocolate bar he retrieved from one of the pockets of his jacket. He was attentive, however, given the way his eyes seem to light up as he devoured his sweets. Sakura turned her attention back to the priest again.

“Since this development, I told him that I am officially declaring you under the protection of the church from now on, as long as you still possess that sigil and have yet to acquire a servant. I am tasked to supervise such matters.”

Sakura decided to reply now, “But Father—this has happened to me before. It was only a week or so ago when the sigil almost manifested at the back of my hand under the guise of a bruise. Back then, before I could even make a contract, I had voluntarily given up my command seals to my brother. He is the true participant and representative of the Matou family in this war, and not I.”

The priest was beginning to smile, and Sakura almost winced at the sight. She had seen that smile before, and it had been disarming. He replied, “Did you not know? Your brother had just been eliminated from the war since his servant was killed. He is currently without contract.”

“But…” she was shocked to learn that indeed. That would explain the appearance of the mark though. Carefully, she asked, “Does he still possess command seals? He could still be eligible to contract another servant, is he not?”

“Why don’t you tell us, sweetling,” Gil finally joined the discussion, abandoning his sweet tooth for a moment so he could sit up and lean closer to where she is seated. “Were you not with him just last night?”

Sakura clenched her hands into fists. She could not breathe. If she dwelt on the memory, her body would give up on her.

Luckily, Father Kotomine spoke on her behalf, “I believe losing his servant took a toll on Shinji Matou. Needless to say, he reacted poorly and abhorrently. And that’s when he attacked you, did he not? The timeline seems to fit.”

Sakura, again, said nothing.

Gil was now sitting on the couch’s ledge to be closer to her. He was watching her expression the entire time so Sakura cultivated one that is neutral and serene. She met Father Kotomine’s eyes from across her, keeping her voice even as she replied at last, “My brother is the true participant and the representative of the Matou family for this war, and not I. I would kindly ask for you to send for him so I can meet him and once again offer him my command seals so he can have a new servant.”

“You don’t seem to understand,” the priest looked almost pleased.

“Not understand? Please speak plainly, Father.”

“Did I not make myself clear last night?” Father Kotomine was smiling at her in that subtle yet disconcerting way that Sakura suddenly felt like she was a captive, stuck to her chair, and forced to hear him out. “I offered you another option to alleviate your suffering. ‘The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit’. In that sense, the Grail has given you another chance to take reigns of your own destiny, and yet you are still fearful of the opportunity.”

She just stared at him for a while before she responded, “I am more than aware, Father, for ‘He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds’. That being said, I have already made my choice, and that is to surrender my own command seals to the real heir of the Matou family—my beloved brother.” Some deceptions came easier than others, and this one is something she has practiced over and over to herself until it was pitch-perfect. Her performance should be flawless.

The priest looked rather pleased to hear her return a passage of scripture to him (and from the same source at that), but he did not comment on it. It was Gil who gave her his piece of mind this time. “How generous, Sakura! Not every young girl would bequeathe such a tantalizing gift to her rapist.”

“Whatever my brother may or may not committed against me,” Sakura measured her words, “does not change the fact that he is my better, and I am his modest sibling who is perfectly fine giving way if it meant that he shall reach glory for himself and for the Matous. I am only honored and privileged to be able to contribute to the war even through my limited capacity. This is my final decision.”

“Wonderful!” Gil was smiling brightly at her as he stood up in an exaggerated erect manner, placing his hands on his hips rather haughtily. “See how far and deep she had twisted everything for herself, Kirei? Tailored every word she says to us that aligns faultlessly to that of her warden’s insipid deceptions? How crafty, how pathetic, how needlessly insubordinate she had become under that foul creature’s tutelage! If he wasn’t such a ghastly scourge of this world, I would commend him for her consistent education.”

Father Kotomine was smiling wider now but said nothing.

Sakura looked confusedly at both men. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. A-Are you questioning my loyalty to my family, Gil-san? I don’t know what I did that gave you any reason to doubt it, though…”

And Gil laughed heartily, once again clutching at his stomach as he reached for the couch’s ledge to steady himself. When he finally recovered from his breathless giddiness, he was still addressing the other man as he said, “Did you hear that, Kirei? We should at least admire her dedication to the performance itself! Not long ago while she was still in the bathroom, she had cried her pretty eyes out and complained that I should not make comments about her body since it had been spoiled last night by no other than this so-called brother of hers—”

“I never said it was Shinji Nii-san!” Sakura protested vehemently, rising from her chair and clutching at her nightgown. “He would never harm me! He loves me!”

Gil’s eyes widened impossibly. He chokes out, “…loves you?” And then he started laughing again, but at least he tried to suppress it. “I-I suppose back in my time you could define rape as yet another form of a man’s love to the woman he had claimed as his. But I’ve lived in this era of yours for a decade now, and my understanding is that women have been liberated from such inferior, subdued roles in society. So, nowadays, if a man forces himself on another woman without her consent, then that is automatically violation of her rights as a human being, is it not, Kirei?”

He glanced briefly at the priest who nodded solemnly.

“So,” Gil was approaching Sakura now. She instinctively took a few steps back, but he kept on coming. His eyes looked like that of a hungry, predatory snake as he kept talking, “if this was merely a farce all along, and I have re-calibrated a few of my social conduct these days when I’m in public for nothing, then I’m very, very angry now. I should be angry, right, Kirei?” He suddenly grabbed Sakura by her wrists, fingernails digging into her skin. She was too shocked to even scream or get away. “All this time I thought women have ceased to be property that could be traded, sold, married off, or fucked by any man. If I have known this was still the way of the world, I never would have tried to pretend like I have to respect a woman’s boundaries when I am supposedly courting her!”

Sakura was whimpering louder now, eyes watering so fast that the man before her began to blur. She couldn’t find her voice as Gil kept holding her against her will. “Thank you for enlightening me about this mistake, Sakura.” He then slammed her against the nearby wall. She cried aloud this time the moment she collided on it. “Now be a dear and spread your legs for me,” he whispered into her lips, hot breath upon her mouth, “Since you are now under the priest’s roof, and therefore under mine as well, I impose complete ownership of your body, and I require its use right this instant.”

“STOP IT! DON’T TOUCH ME!” Sakura was hysterical as she trembled in his grasp. She felt helpless and couldn’t push him away. “PLEASE! GET AWAY FROM ME AND DON’T—DON’T HURT ME!”

“So polite…” Gil leaned close to trace his tongue on her neck. She panicked and kicked him blindly underneath. He just laughed it off.

“Please…don’t…” Sakura could hardly see as the tears flooded her clarity. “Don’t…please…Gil-san…!”

Father Kotomine was still on his chair, watching everything with an empty expression. Why isn’t he helping her?

There are no heroes

Sakura held her breath as she clenched her fists tighter. There was an inexplicable heaviness in her body that needed to be purged out. At the top of her lungs, she wailed at him, “DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME, YOU BASTARD! I WILL KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND!”

She wrenched her wrists free as forcefully as she could and struck the son of a bitch in the face.

Everything stopped.

Her throat stung as if it had been scratched. Her eyes were drenched in tears. Sakura felt both numb and sensitive all over her body. Her blood boiled. She couldn’t speak or look away from the offensive piece of shit who took a step away from her, his hand on the cheek where her fist had left a noticeable mark. Neither of them moved an inch at all. They just looked at each other in agonizing silence.

After what seemed like eternity, Gil only uttered a single phrase with a smile so wicked and layered with meanings.

He said: “There she is…”

Suddenly, from the other side of the room, Father Kotomine stood up. He walked towards Sakura, inspecting her like she just appeared before him. He didn’t even reach out to touch her. He didn’t comment on what just happened. Instead, all he said to her was: “‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’”

And Sakura slowly collapsed to the floor, knees buckling underneath her completely. She covered her face with both hands and wept silently. Father Kotomine was still speaking above her, “We respect your choice in the matter. As soon as your brother comes to visit this church, I shall accommodate him and inform him of your decision to volunteer your command seals yet again.”

A pause. “Stand up, Matou-san,” he commanded her firmly. Sakura looked up and saw a hand outstretched towards her. She took it without further protest. He instructed her plainly. “Go wash your face and come back once you’re done. And do excuse Gilgamesh’s behavior. I believe he was only trying to prove a point. He had no real malice, that much I can guarantee.”

The priest produced a handkerchief from his robes and offered it to her. Sakura took it and hurriedly wiped her tears and snot. Her gaze was lowered as she spoke softly, her voice still hoarse. “I won’t be in the same room with him unless he apologizes to me…”

Gil chided without missing a beat, “Is that all it takes with you?”

“Do it,” the priest intervened.

“Fine,” Gil acquiesced, sighing as he said in a petulant tone, “I’m sorry for exposing you for the hypocrite you are, Sakura.”

Sakura jerked her head to his direction and glared. Something in her snapped, but she held the broken strings together once more. A few seconds later, she composed herself and answered as pleasantly as she could, “Thank you for the apology. I accept,” and then she turned her gaze back to Father Kotomine, but not meeting his eyes directly as she asked. “May I be excused, Father?”

“You may,” he simply replied and gestured his hand towards the direction of the bathroom.

Sakura wanted nothing more than to sprint to the bathroom but conducted herself calmly as she walked away from them. Once she reached it, she closed the door softly behind her and then only managed to get a few steps to the tub before she collapsed on the tiles and had to drag herself upright again. Her hands grabbed hold of the sink instead. Her breaths were irregular as if each breath equalled a punch to the chest. She wasn’t going to cry again, however. She had wasted enough tears. Last night had been grueling but completely predictable. Shinji lashed out on her which was normal. He’s been under a lot of pressure lately from grandfather to accomplish his tasks, and Sakura knew he was confused and scared, and she would certainly not blame him for dealing with that stress by hurting her. Whatever that asshole Gil may say, Shinji is her brother who loves her very much. That’s why he had to discipline her whenever he perceived her actions to be crooked. He had every right to punish her…how did he put it again? Her ‘wiles’. She was a bad girl, sneaking around to stay at another boy’s place, a sempai at that, even though it was her brother’s friend. Sakura deserved what was coming to her by disobeying family.

That’s right. It was all her fault. She should aspire to be more understanding to her brother next time.

She looked at her reflection in the mirror, examining her face as she tried to process the new wave of changes that she had to adjust to. Now that her grandfather had permitted her to stay under the supervision of Father Kotomine, it meant that she had to interact with Gil again, and Sakura knew she could be civil with him during the extent of her stay. Besides, it wasn’t his fault either. The incident earlier was Sakura’s punishment for being naïve to the ways of men. She should have guarded herself better, and reacted with more dignity than she displayed. Sakura will never forgive herself for hitting Gil who had been nothing but generous to her. He was the man who saved her life years ago. And she repaid his gratitude by punching him? What is wrong with her? Gil belonged to another period in time, and she should have understood where (or, in this case, when) he is coming from. How could she be so inconsiderate?

After splashing water in her face and cleaning herself some more so she could be presentable, Sakura made a decision right there and then. If the King of Heroes wanted for her to spread her legs for him, she would obey. He and Father Kotomine are her benefactors, and she should aspire not be a burden to them especially since she was taking up space in their own home. Sakura rummaged through the bathroom to find her uniform which she still had to wash and repair by tomorrow. She searched her skirt’s pockets until she found her pink ribbon.

Sakura looked at herself in the mirror as she tied the ribbon around her hair again, feeling much more normal and at ease with herself as she did. She also recalled the passage that Father Kotomine just mentioned to her earlier. It had to be the Corinthians. She could remember him reading from that gospel once or twice during mass. Sakura smiled genuinely this time as she muttered her favorite lines from the same book.

“‘We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’”

She closed her eyes and kept repeating the scripture until her chest did not feel so tight anymore, and her nerves have calmed down. Afterwards, she opened the door and stepped out to meet her compassionate new patrons. She put on her brightest smile.

 

 

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She didn’t like the way Shirou looked at the blonde girl.

Sakura wanted nothing more than to believe than it was just her imagination, and perhaps her insecurity talking. However, she can’t shake the feeling that her upperclassman was attracted to the blonde girl he just brought home to introduce vaguely to them as an acquaintance of his late father from the past. The female foreigner in question was named Saber, and she had the greenest shade of eyes she had ever seen. She was fair in every sense, both in hair and complexion, and Sakura could not help but feel so puny and undesirable next to her. Shirou kept insisting to Fujimura-sensei that ‘Saber’ should stay with them, and their teacher didn’t have the heart to turn away the stranger so she acquiesced. Sakura was beginning to feel irritated, but she said nothing and tried to act less conspicuous about her disapproval.

Shirou was clueless of her inner turmoil, and focused all his attention on accommodating his new friend that he barely bothered wishing her a safe walk home. Fujimura-sensei may have noticed, but she chose not to comment on it, and the rest of their walk home was eerily silent, save a few snatches of feigned conversation here and there as they treaded the path together to her old family house. As soon as Fujimura-sensei bade her goodnight, Sakura was left to her taciturn contemplation about that ‘Saber’, and the exact nature of her relationship with Shirou’s father. It also made her think about how she and Shirou were connected, and found that the very idea was distasteful and unacceptable to her. Who is this foreign woman and why did she readily install herself into Shirou’s life as if it was a natural ordeal altogether?

Sakura would never allow herself to think ill of someone she just met, but she was not happy that this stranger was currently staying under the same roof of her beloved upperclassman, and that she was only a few rooms away from his own. She walked the long stretch of uphill road leading to her house with these murky thoughts and half-baked suspicions in mind the entire time. She was so absorbed with them that she only noticed that there was someone waiting for her at the end when she was about halfway through the uphill road. There were three or four lampposts in the area, and the figure was standing under the one located at the last one, just a corner away to her actual house. She was still far off, so she had to blink to adjust her sight. There was definitely someone there, and for a moment she thought it was an apparition, like an unexpected haunting.

It was ridiculous, of course, because the figure was that of a man, and Sakura didn’t doubt that he was made of flesh and bone. What immediately stood out was his golden hair. Sakura recalled Saber upon seeing that shade, but for some reason the man’s hair shone devastatingly brighter, and she was blinded by it in spite of the distance separating them. It was as if each strand was bathed in sparkles, and Sakura stopped dead on her tracks as dread crept at the pit of her stomach. She did not understand. The fear was palpable that she could feel it in her throat, and yet there was another feeling that didn’t fit and she just couldn’t seem to name it. All she knew was that the man standing at the end of the road incited that feeling. She let a few seconds pass before she bravely took a few more steps forward until she had resumed the pace of her walking from earlier. Sakura was getting nearer, and each time she does, her hands tightened from underneath her as if she was expecting something bad to happen once she reached the end. In any case, she felt she had to be prepared.

The man stood unmoving that he might seem lifeless, but he was looking right at her with an unwavering gaze that was unsettling and creepy. Sakura was becoming more aware of his appearance too as she kept walking. He had a dark jacket on and a lighter shade of black pants to match it. His golden hair stood out because of the outfit, and he had his hands on his pockets. Sakura also noticed that the white shirt he wore underneath the jacket was loose around the collar, calling attention to the flesh peeking from his chest, and making her imagine the lean shape of his overall torso. For a brief moment, it made Sakura wonder if his body was just as captivating as his beautiful hair. He definitely looked like he could be a model, but it’s probably because Sakura had never encountered Westerners in person until Saber a while ago, and so she chided herself inwardly. Perhaps she was merely stereotyping the man.

It was unusual to meet two on the same evening at that. Sakura slowed her steps again, considering that the man never moved a muscle and just waited for her to keep coming close. Sakura wondered what he will do or say once she arrived on the same spot where he was, and was oddly curious to know what would happen next. With just a few yards away, the golden-haired man finally began to approach her too. Sakura swallowed but did not stop walking either. Maybe he’d pass her by? Maybe he wasn’t really looking at her earlier, and he was just minding his own business. Maybe this was all just a huge misunderstanding—

“Hello, Sakura.”

She froze. Her eyes lingered on the stranger, and she was unable to say a single word. It was as if his voice was an enchantment. That, and because he knew her name; he spoke it so casually as if he had been doing so for a long time now. She felt numb all over as her feet remained implanted on the ground. The stranger was now two yards away, and she had to look up to him because he was taller than her, much more so than her brother or Shirou was.

“The priest was right,” the golden-haired man added after a momentary pause. “You have gotten pretty.”

Sakura opened her mouth to reply but she was still processing what was happening. The stranger looked as if he understood it so he filled the silence with her lack of response by remarking, “Do you always walk home by yourself in the middle of the night, darling? It’s so dark out, and anything could happen. But you probably already knew that.”

“Wha—?” she could not even finish a word.

He chuckled. The sound was melodious and it almost tickled her. Her stomach felt like it was going to drop to the ground.

“Don’t just stand there and gape,” he snorted and then grinned at her. His teeth were so white. His eyes were a shade of…red? No, that can’t be right. It must have been a trick of light. Sakura still could not make a sound.

“Well, this is unfortunate,” he said, his smile dimming a little. “I didn’t expect you to be so stunned by my presence that you’re barely breathing. What’s the matter? Have you never witnessed anyone so drop-dead gorgeous?”

Sakura blushed wildly. She lowered her gaze as if she was being scolded. This earned another chuckle from him.

Instead of giving her an immediate reply, he tilted her chin with gentle fingers until they were eye to eye again. She gulped.

Those eyes.

His hair.

She had seen him looking down at her like this once before.

Sakura found her voice at last, “I know you…” she whispered.

The stranger smiled again and answered her. His voice is exactly what she imagined honey would be like if it was a sound. Each word he uttered sticks to her skin like one. “No, not at all. At least not in the way we both want. But that could easily change. Shall we endeavor to do so?”

She held her breath for a few seconds. The stranger waited.

Sakura spoke up, “I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Neither do I, honestly,” he was cupping her chin with his hand now, still piercing her with that gaze. “Let’s find out together.”

“H-How…how do I address you?”

“Hmm, how indeed…” he paused. With another grin, he said. “You may call me Gil, if you like. My name is rather old-fashioned, and I have been thinking about shortening it.”

“I see,” she raised her hand to clutch his wrist. She wanted him to let go of her chin but couldn’t say it aloud. “It’s nice to meet you, Gil-san.”

Another moment passed before he let her go. He took a step backward but he was still eyeing her evenly, and his smile was intact.

“I know it doesn’t make sense right now,” he said, “But we might need each other one day. If you wish to see me again, trust in your heart that you’ll know exactly where to find me.” The words were so enigmatic that Sakura had no idea how to reply to them so she didn’t. The man who called himself Gil smiled at her one last time and with an elegant step to his side, he began to walk away from her, hands now back inside his pockets. Sakura didn’t turn around. She just stood there speechless as if she was still under his spell.

 

 

 

+

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

"All that man is

All mere complexities

The fury and the mire of human veins.”

-W.B Yeats-

 

 


 

 

The priest was already buried in another mountain of paperwork when Gilgamesh appeared in the office, a bottle of scotch in one hand, and a box of pastries in another. It was the fifth time this week that he spotted Kirei in the office by himself until late at night, writing or typing in reports that are of no concern to Gilgamesh. After being ordained officially by the Church since two years ago, Kirei became Father Kotomine, and would preside over masses in the mornings and afternoons, and so every day is essentially the same routine of work, work, work, with little to no room for play and entertainment. The King of Heroes was simply having none of that.

It’s been almost four years, and Gilgamesh had stayed with Kirei through most of it. They moved to the Vatican a few days after the Fourth Holy Grail War was concluded, and Gilgamesh really enjoyed living in Europe, as well as visiting random places that would catch his fancy while Kirei fulfilled boring obligations expected of a clergyman.

But when they had to move back to Japan just three months later—and back to Fuyuki at that—he admitted being a little unsure and annoyed by the inconvenience, but he’s always been flexible and eager to collect new experiences regardless of the change in scenery. In any case, Kirei had also provided him with a basement of barely living orphans whose souls he can devour for mana, regardless if he had any need for it. That pesky Grail granted Gilgamesh true incarnation, so he had little use for mana to sustain him. He did, however, accept Kirei’s gift. Not the dead orphans and their life force, per se, but rather that incredibly splendid expression of pride and satisfaction in the priest’s face on the night he first revealed the orphans to him. He stood across Gilgamesh in the deafening silence of the basement, practically glowing and gloating.

The dim lighting illuminated the rows of coffins quite menacingly in the background as Kirei wore an expression of sheer amazement over his accomplishment. It was so silly, as if he was a mere child showing his parent his first project, expecting to get a feedback that would testify to his excellence. Gilgamesh had smiled at him then, unable to hide or withhold that he was indeed quite pleased and proud of Kirei’s initiative and the results it produced. He had always known Kirei had potentials for great and terrible things beyond what his late father and mentor could have imagined. It was Gilgamesh who plucked Kirei from the safety and mediocrity of that traditional life, and look at what that singular moment of whim on his part had brought out to its fullest splendor!

Kirei is…well, he is beautiful, much like his namesake. Gilgamesh would have said it aloud then while they were standing across from one another in the basement, surrounded by children being drained of their essence. He did not. The King of Heroes thought it should go without saying. His constant presence should be enough to affirm to the priest that whatever dashingly horrific acts he had committed or would commit for the benefit of Gilgamesh’s entertainment has very much earned the King of Heroes’ approval.

“You work too hard,” he said as he climbed up the desk and strategically placed himself between the stash of documents and Kirei. The priest had immediately pulled his chair back to make room, having no choice on the matter, given the ease in which Gilgamesh occupied the space. He looked up with a sour expression, however, obviously annoyed for being interrupted in his work.

Gilgamesh only grinned and went on, “Rejoice, Kirei! I’m lending you the pleasure of my company for tonight. Instead of wasting your time with…” he gestured at the papers with slight disdain, unable to find any phrase to describe the eyesore, “you should instead drink and be merry. I have sweets. I have scotch. We could go for wine again after we finish this bottle first!”

He lifted the scotch and grinned invitingly. Kirei was still frowning and glaring at Gilgamesh. The King of Heroes shrugged his shoulders but stayed in place. He opened his thighs and then uncorked the bottle. He took a deep, long swig, enjoying the delicious burn of the alcohol going down his throat. As soon as he had his fill, he bequeathed Kirei another winning smile while he handed him the bottle. The priest didn’t move. He still looked annoyed. Gilgamesh narrowed his eyes and pushed the bottle closer.

“Just a sip, Kirei. Don’t be stubborn.”

“No,” Kirei curtly answered, placing his palm forward to push the bottle away.

Gilgamesh raised one foot and rested it on the chair’s armrest, ignoring the fact that he was also stepping on a portion of Kirei’s arm to do it. The position made his legs part earnestly before the priest, and though Gilgamesh was well aware of how suggestive he was posing, he was not one to be bashful. Besides, acting like a flirt makes Kirei cringe. Gilgamesh wondered sometimes if Kirei himself ever found the King of Heroes attractive. He also sometimes wondered what either of them should do about it if that was indeed the case.

“I’m not going away until I get what I want from you, fool,” he muttered warningly, baring his teeth not as a smile but with a snarl this time. The priest was unfazed.

“Go on,” Gilgamesh was undeterred still as he gave the bottle a little shake. Almost whispering now, he told Kirei. “Wrap your fingers around the neck and take it slowly with your lips. Taste the headiness of the scotch, and give in to the warmth it elicits inside your mouth and down your throat…” With his other hand, he loosely traced a finger down the priest’s Adam’s apple, smiling when he noticed that Kirei took a hard swallow as his eyes widened an inch to indicate his shock with the King of Heroes’ euphemistic manner of speech. “Come on, Kirei…” he further encouraged as he successfully pressed the tip of the bottle on Kirei’s lips which he still refused to part.

“Such stubbornness…” the King of Heroes muttered, sounding more amused by Kirei’s attempt to challenge his authority on the matter. “Do not deny me tonight, Father Kotomine. I have nothing else to occupy me for the moment, and you should be grateful that this King chose you, a lowly mongrel, to be his entertainment tonight. So…” he gently rubbed the tip on Kirei’s lips, testing the boundaries. “Let me see those lips open for me so you can drink my scotch.”

Kirei made the mistake of replying, “Stop th—!”

Gilgamesh pushed in and lifted the bottle so the contents would pour inside Kirei’s mouth. It took only two to three seconds before Kirei was choking it down and then shoving the bottle away with unexpected force. He then got up from his chair while wiping his stained mouth with the back of his hand. He looked so angry about it. Gilgamesh started laughing. He didn’t expect such a violent reaction!

“It’s your fault, you know,” Gilgamesh teased. He took another short swig from the bottle and then added, “You wouldn’t be in this kind of position if you simply indulged me and drank your share of the booze. Pathetic, Kirei. Minus points for inelegance—but definitely a plus point for the scandalized state of your person!”

He was, of course, referring to the fact that a good frontal portion of Kirei’s garment was drenched, and his cheeks were slightly flushed. He had never seen Kirei blush before. It was hilarious! Gilgamesh cackled again and crossed his legs this time, angling his body to the side to emphasize the dangerous curve of his thigh. If he was wearing something tighter right now like his favorite pair of red leather pants, for example, he knew that he would look so much hotter with this pose. Kirei decided then to interrupt with his narcissistic thoughts by whining.

“That was uncalled for, Gilgamesh,” he was still wiping his lips as if he could erase the taste of his degradation a minute ago if he rubbed his hands hard enough on the skin. “I do not understand why you have to be so incorrigible tonight. Did I not inform you that I have some important tasks to finish by the end of the week as ordered by my superiors? I thought you’ll be out somewhere, engaged in festivities. Did we not agree to stay out of each other’s way?”

Well. The priest sounded genuinely betrayed. Kirei put a hand on his chair and dragged it back to its place, ignoring Gilgamesh still perched on his desk. “I do not mean to be discourteous, but I simply have no time for your malicious games tonight. So, please…” he gestured with a hand and said, “…take your leave.”

Gilgamesh sighed. Did he hurt the priest’s feelings? Of course not. He had no feelings to speak of, anyway. But he does look grim as he tried to turn the King of Heroes away, and wouldn’t look at him directly in the eye at all. He would have pushed for an explanation for Kirei’s sudden change in mood, but Gilgamesh knew he would only get an evasive answer.

“Fine…” he rolled his eyes and climbed down the desk. He placed the scotch next to the box of pastries. If Kirei would simply ignore their invitation then whatever. But at least Gilgamesh presented him with the option of consumption. Really, if the priest hasn’t even learned to partake in certain small pleasures like food and drink yet, then what’s the chance that he could enjoy other activities Gilgamesh may have in mind in the future? He sure hoped Kirei won’t get boring in the later years. That would be a damn shame. He’d been such a promising plaything after all. Not bothering to glance back as he passed by Kirei, Gilgamesh walked out of the office altogether. Once treading the empty hallways of the church, he decided then to take one of his evening strolls in the New City of Fuyuki.

He found himself gliding across the bridge, passing by a few lovers on the way. While Gilgamesh leaned against the railings of the bridge, he saw a couple huddled together, and speaking to each other in hushed tones, just twenty yards away. Once they faced him, still continuing their conversation, he smiled at the pretty girl who had her arm wrapped around her boyfriend. She blushed the moment their gazes met. He wondered briefly if he could have a little fun with her. The guy she was with wasn’t that bad-looking either, but he was glaring at Gilgamesh now, probably not happy that his girlfriend was being flirted with. In response, the god-king gave him a salacious stare. The guy was surprised to receive it, but couldn’t will himself to look away which isn’t surprising. Gilgamesh then licked his upper lip and grinned invitingly at the other man, whose cheeks turned into a scarlet shade, especially since the pretty girl in question started nudging him in his chest to start walking away with her. She was clearly pissed for being ignored by both men and will not be made a fool of. As the couple headed off, she risked a glance at Gilgamesh’s direction, conveying her disappointment with that look. He choked back a laugh.

What a naïve simpleton. If she was feeling insecure about her desirability, she didn’t need doubt it. Gilgamesh after all is a generous lover, and would fuck her to satisfaction, then grant her boyfriend the same thing. He would make them surrender to the best kind of pleasure neither of them could experience with each other. He walked to the opposite direction and stepped down the bridge so he cold stop by the river, still chuckling to himself as his thoughts now turned to the priest back in his office. He wondered if Kirei was changing his robes now. Or perhaps the damn unholy man liked the scent of scotch that drenched his clothing, and would decide to keep it on instead. Gilgamesh let out a pleased hum as he pictured Kirei in those spoiled garments. Would he still be able to concentrate on his task, or would he think of Gilgamesh himself, and perhaps consider his offer for booze and company wisely next time—

There was a peculiar shape on the grass.

The god-king narrowed his eyes. The shape had no fur so it couldn’t be an animal. Even from a distance, he could guess that it must have been human. He could spot the smoothness of skin. Cautiously, Gilgamesh walked over to the shape, his curiosity piqued.

It was a girl.

Gilgamesh inspected the naked child with a neutral expression. His eyes first lingered on her purple hair, a rather gaudy shade. She had bruises almost everywhere, but the ones on her thighs caught his attention. He bent down to make certain. Once he was, he stood up straight again and stared at her face.

She looked familiar.

He shoved his hands back in his pockets and tried to think about where he had seen this child before. It wouldn’t come to him. It was a little frustrating. With a sigh, Gilgamesh glanced up the night sky where there were no stars. His attention slowly moved towards the city’s skyscrapers which seemed so far away from where he was standing. Modern man’s infrastructures held little marvel for him, however. They were ugly and barbaric, these unimaginatively constructed architecture that pierced the heavens. Gilgamesh remembered his might city from age past, and how Uruk stood uncontested as its own being, much like the will of its legendary king, even against the gods themselves with their fickle expectations and suffocating rituals. Gilgamesh looked across the expanse of bountiful fields in the New City of Fuyuki and found their fruitful bearings rotten and even indigestible.

Suddenly, the girl on the grass started convulsing, eyes now wide and uncomprehending as her mouth opened into a silent scream. Gilgamesh watched the curve of her neck where something seemed to be wriggling, choking her. After a few minutes, whatever was lodged in her throat stopped moving around, and her body calmed down. She just lay there immobile on the grass once more, still staring up in space without focus.

“What nuisance,” declared the god-king, as he took off his jacket and dropped it on her bruised body. She seemed so small that the black garment almost swallowed her. Gilgamesh was struck not at how pitiable she looked, but how he actually felt compelled to take her away. He had seen children her age in pleasure houses, and heard tales of men breaking into their maidenheads with enthusiasm and glee. He’d been told that spoiling children is a fine leisure that even those who aren’t privileged like royals can indulge in.

Gilgamesh didn’t care at first. His sexual appetites have never been aroused by any child, so he did not partake in such an activity. If anything, the ribald stories of lesser men declaring how fulfilling it was to break into a child is the reason why Gilgamesh, as king, made it punishable by castration. He found anyone who would boast molesting a child to be a laughingstock. One should never call himself a man if his cock would rather be inside a child than a woman. In fact, one should never have a cock at all.

While smirking because of the memories, Gilgamesh then snatched the molested girl from the ground, keeping her bundled up inside his jacket. Only her skinny legs were exposed. Her feet would once in a while swing to the motion of his walking. It was only once he carried her in his arms did her familiarity suddenly became clearer. Gilgamesh couldn’t help a smile as he clutched her closer to him.

“Your name is Sakura,” he told her even though he was sure she couldn’t hear him. “And you used to be a Tohsaka, weren’t you?”

He chuckled and started walking back to the direction of the church.

“What were you doing there all by yourself, hmmm?” he still spoke to her. “Did you think you were ready to die? Foolish little thing…”

He began to rock her gently against him, surprised to remember a time when he held his first born in his arms like this ages ago. She was a tiny, frail thing too, but pink and healthy in complexion. This one, however, was almost skeletal; the sharp protrusions of her malnourished and beaten body pressed against him that it’s hard to ignore her realness. This wasn’t a newborn at all but a corpse slowly withering, and Gilgamesh held it tighter to him because he had nothing else to do. He could remember the hollowness of mortality again, as if it was only yesterday when he feared that the end was coming for him.

Like a bag of skin and bones, her withering body resembled that of his beloved whom the gods condemned specifically so they can punish Gilgamesh for his arrogance. He held his beloved’s corpse in his arms like this too, didn’t he? Though wrapped in the finest silks and gems, its rotting scent can’t be disguised—and still, Gilgamesh refused to have him buried.

“Dying is easy,” he murmured as he paused to peek at the child he was cradling almost possessively now. “Only fools who don’t know that to live is to toll and labor are allowed to perish. And you—” he smiled at her with a kind of keen interest he only reserved for creatures that earned his appraisal. “—have a lot of work to do before you decide to die. I must forbid you to do so, Sakura Tohsaka.”

Feeling rather pleased with himself with this new decree, Gilgamesh now looked ahead as he walked closer to the church on top of the hill.

 

 

 

XxXXxX—( O )—XxXXxX

 

 

 

“She will be returned shortly,” Kirei announced after he finished inspecting the naked child Gilgamesh had brought home. The basement around them was humid and damp all at once, but this filthy ambience of death was already something the god-king had grown accustomed to over the years. He glanced briefly at the other coffins lined up before the two of them, and sighed deeply. In doing so, he inhaled the stale air accompanied by the scent of putrefying child-corpses. He could feel his stomach grumble.

Kirei called back his attention as he said, “Zouken will make contact, and I will deliver her to him when that happens.”

Gilgamesh had been staring at the priest the entire time since he started examining Sakura Tohsaka (—Matou, he corrected himself). Kirei had changed his garments after all, which was a shame. It was only half an hour ago, and Gilgamesh could still recall how scandalized Kirei had looked; scotch-soaked and blushing furiously, choking on the bottle Gilgamesh had pushed into his mouth. The sight was vivid and worth recreating one last time.

Right now Kirei looked just as appealing, for it was obvious to Gilgamesh that the priest was just as intrigued about the girl too. He could tell by the odd look in Kirei’s eyes. It was all too familiar to the god-king. Watching the other man again, Gilgamesh couldn’t help but sneer as he offered in a hushed tone. “Maybe you don’t have to.”

He was testing Kirei now—pushing his buttons, pulling the levers.

“What do you mean by that?” Kirei just blinked, ever insufferably slow.

The god-king only smiled as he offered again. “Why don’t we just keep her?” Really, why not? Gilgamesh had always wanted a pet. And since Kirei had time and time again refused to purchase a lion, then Gilgamesh would make due with this broken little girl instead.

Frowning, Kirei only replied, “She is not ours to keep, Gilgamesh.”

“But the thought has crossed your mind now, has it not?” The god-king kept goading, leaning closer to Kirei until their shoulders bumped.

“No.” Kirei just looked away. His gaze was now fixed on Sakura’s again.

“Liar!” Gilgamesh tried not to laugh as he poked the priest’s forearm with a finger. This was just too funny! “Even after all these years, you’re still lying to yourself about the things you want.”

“Pray tell,” Kirei was now looking back at him angrily, “Why would I want Sakura Matou?”

Isn’t that a loaded question?

“But what’s not to want?” Gilgamesh waved his hand at the unconscious girl beneath them as if he was merely presenting her as a gift. “She is beautiful.”

Kirei chose not to answer but even in the dim lighting, Gilgamesh could spot the faint coloring of his cheeks. It made him want to reach out and touch the priest so he could feel the flushed skin underneath his fingertips. He resisted, however, finding the urge rather pointless—and a little too soon to indulge in. Truly, he had forged a strange yet genuine connection with the other man. It was not kinship or any of that sentimental crap, but it was there nonetheless. Everything in the world belonged to Gilgamesh by default, and though he would boast often to Kirei’s dismay that even the priest was his plaything, it was more complicated than that. Kirei’s resolve and free will are astounding at times.

There was something unknowable and inaccessible about the other man that even frustrates Gilgamesh at times. The god-king might fancy himself as the Sun, but Kirei is a black hole. That darkness, cloying and so pure and splendid—is something Gilgamesh could only dip his toes in. He dared not take a plunge.

“How did you find her like this? Why would she be under the bridge? Did you think Zouken just left her there?” Kirei asked all questions in one breath.

Gilgamesh shrugged. “Who knows? 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.”

“What are you talking about? A rapist?”

Such an idiot. “Can’t you tell?”

Instead of agreeing, Kirei started explaining something mundane about crest worms and their process of violating a human vessel. Gilgamesh impatiently cut him off, unable to stop himself from rolling his eyes. He spread Sakura’s thighs apart to indicate the bruising. “Do you see them now?”

Still the wilfully ignorant, Kirei just reasoned out. “It could have been Zouken himself who did that.”

“Don’t be dense!” Gilgamesh almost wanted to slap him at the back of his head. This conversation is getting a little exhausting. “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.”

With a grim chuckle, he remarked. “A truly pitiful phallic substitute, don’t you think?”

Kirei just stared blankly. “Why would you say she was sexually penetrated?”

Narrowing his eyes, Gilgamesh scoffed at the priest and replied, “Oh, she was fucked, all right. Gods, Kirei! Must I prove it to you? Very well…”

After spreading Sakura’s thighs apart some more, he then dipped his fingers inside the girl’s cunt with an easy plunge, and then pulled out to show the priest the evidence which coated his digits. He had done the same thing once with one of his wives who was rumored to have been going to bed with one of his soldiers. She had been brought to him in secret in the middle of the night after she had left the wives’ communal chambers, presumably to meet her lover. Gilgamesh held her by the throat as his other hand dived between her thighs and into her center, to determine if she had indeed been freshly soiled by another man’s seed.

As soon as Kirei saw the blood and semen in Gilgamesh’s fingers, his expression changed dramatically. Gilgamesh doubted that the priest even realized that he was leaning closer, crowding the god’s king’s space. Not that he minded…

Whenever Kirei’s eyes would smolder like that, even the King of Heroes himself would be easily speechless.

“Did you inspect her in the same manner earlier?” Kirei whispered the words. His voice was shaky, unable to mask the eagerness. “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?”

Gilgamesh’s neck felt hot even though his white shirt had no collar to speak of.

“I didn’t have to do such a thing until now,” he managed to answer although he was distracted by the intense change in Kirei’s demeanor. “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 god-king stared into Kirei’s eyes and asked again. “Wouldn’t you?”

He wiped off the blood and semen on interior of the coffin as he continued to hold the priest’s gaze. Like a stubborn mule, Kirei just scoffed at him. Gilgamesh disappointingly noticed that the traces of brief arousal were gone from the priest’s features now. He loathed how the priest seemed to posses a switch for his bloodlust and libido which he can just turn on and off at will. If only Kirei would just forsake the decades long pesky self-denial and restraint his religion instilled in him…

…maybe he’d be more fun, and Gilgamesh could play with him more freely too.

“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.”

With a condescending grin, he told Kirei, “And apparently you are still too cautious to take for yourself. Your naiveté on such matters causes me sadness.”

Just to annoy him, Gilgamesh ran a finger from his eye and down to his cheek as if he was tracing an imaginary tear.

It elicited the response he was hoping for. “I have no time to waste on your riddles and presumptuous theories about the nature of what I want.”

Turning sharply away from the god-king, Kirei was already walking away from it all. “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.” Looking at Gilgamesh pointedly one last time as he reached the staircase, he demanded. “Just leave me out of it.”

“What nuisance,” Gilgamesh muttered under his breath as he scooped Sakura from the coffin and carried her out of the basement. When he reached his quarters, he pushed the door to his bathroom with his arm and elbow, and then placed the girl inside the pristine silver tub. He turned on the faucet and let the water soak her for a few minutes. She was still staring at nothing, uttering no sound. Gilgamesh took an unused loofa and soap then bent down on the tiles so he could start scrubbing her clean. If she was going to lie on his silk sheets tonight, he would hate for her to dirty them. The entire process annoyed him; he had never bathed another person in his entire life, but he knew enough based from the actions of the slaves he had growing up who had bathed him.

He scrubbed her thoroughly, unconcerned whether he was rough or not. The girl had endured enough violence to be desensitized to it, so Gilgamesh saw no reason to start being gentle to her now. She looked rather nice slathered in the suds of his rose-scented soap, however, and Gilgamesh fancied himself merely washing a doll as opposed to a real person. He slathered her hair next whose color still offended him. It was so unnatural and ugly. Gilgamesh spent another ten minutes running the water all over her body, cleansing her from the abominations she was caked in. He might have to use a strong disinfectant for his tub tomorrow just to make sure everything is sterile.

Wrapping her in a towel, Gilgamesh lifted the girl and carried her to his bed. He remembered he had a piece of a nun’s habit lying around here somewhere. Last week he had fucked one of the more impressionable nuns who visited the church, and he knew he kept her garment as some sort of trinket. When he found it, he immediately put Sakura’s body inside it, pulling the black tunic from her bony legs to her neck. It was too long and loose for her, of course, but it would also be warm enough. Next, he draped a thick blanket above her, almost burying her under its breadth. Sakura was just staring at the ceiling, but her breathing was normal and regular nonetheless. She may still be unaware of what was happening to her which Gilgamesh took as a blessing rather than a burden. He pulled the string from the lampshade on his bedside table, and then kicked off his shoes so he can settle next to her. Facing the ceiling as well, he watched the shadows which the light from his window had cast above. Their two figures on the bed stayed still, each unmindful of the darkness they have to share in this room. Gilgamesh turned his head to catch a glimpse of the child, and was surprised to see that her eyes were closed now. She must be sleeping at last.

Overcome by inexplicable warmth, Gilgamesh angled his body to the side so he can sling an arm over Sakura. His fingers gripped the blanket she was buried in. Her sleep was heavy, he could tell by the soft snoring, and he wondered if she dreamed. He quickly surmised that she’s probably the kind to be visited by nightmares often, and Gilgamesh instinctively tightened his hold on her. He was never sentimental, let alone paternal, but there is always something about an innocence of a child that even the King of Heroes himself is not immune to.

“Innocent yet corroded by filth; tainted but still pure within…” he murmured into the child’s ear. “I’m very fond of paradoxes such as you…”

Gilgamesh chuckled low as he closed his eyes, slowly and steadily giving in to the call of slumber. “So live…and…someday you’ll grow up…and might even prove fit…to entertain this king.”

 

 

 

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When Sakura came back to the priest’s office, her appearance was more put-together this time, and she felt less out-of-place. The pink ribbon on the side of her hair was weightless, and yet its very presence was reassuring. She wiped her palms on the borrowed nightgown she wore before she knocked on the door softly. Upon entering, her smile remained intact as she saw her benefactors—Father Kotomine and the old king of legend who insisted on being called ‘Gil’—watching her.

Unperturbed by their scrutiny, Sakura grasped her hands steadily together beneath her and asked them, “Have either of you had dinner already? If not, I would like to make you both something to eat. It’s the least I could to repay your kindness to me. I would like to be useful while I’m under your care, Father Kotomine, Gil-san. So, please…” she bowed her head and asked again, “if there is anything I could do to help with chores around here, allow me to do it.”

Neither of the men spoke up for a while.

Sakura decided to urge them some more. “I think I can make you both a decent meal…if there is a kitchen around here somewhere…?”

Father Kotomine replied. “It’s not necessarily a complete kitchen, but we do have a room with a gas stove, a sink, and an oven. There is a small fridge as well.”

She brightened up. “May I be allowed to use it?”

“I don’t see any problem with that,” the priest stood up and walked closer to her. “You haven’t eaten anything yet either, have you?”

“No,” she murmured, lowering her gaze. She looked up at the priest again with another calm smile. “But I didn’t really notice. I slept far too much earlier because I guess I was feeling a little under the weather.”

“Then please don’t strain yourself on our account, Matou-san.”

“No, that’s okay,” Sakura put up her hands to protest mildly. “I can manage. I know my limits, and I could still be helpful. I’d rather be doing something productive rather than just stay cooped up in a room and get more rest. I would like to stay busy, if that’s okay with the both of you.” She peered at Gil this time. “So what should I cook for us tonight?”

Sakura looked at the priest and inquired, “I don’t suppose you had any favorites from the previous lunches I’ve made for you weeks ago, Father?”

“He prefers his food spicy, actually,” Gil answered from the other side of the room. He was sitting on the couch’s ledge. “Unfortunately, I had to be the one to eat your lunchboxes because he simply had no interest or appetite based from what you had offered him. Don’t worry, I myself enjoyed them instead. So if you have to ask anyone for favorites, then it should be me.”

Sakura’s smile dimmed a little. “I see,” she looked at Father Kotomine with a sad expression. “You could have just told me about your preferences, Father. I could have made you something spicy—”

The priest cut her off. “It wasn’t necessary. And I didn’t want to impose.”

“I wouldn’t have thought of it like that, Father.” Sakura frowned.

“The formalities on you both!” Gil spoke up with a sneer. “It’s a little late in the game to maintain courtesies, is it not? Sakura knows by now that neither of us are respectable men of good motives, Kirei. And Kirei knows by now that you’re not the sweet, mild-mannered little lamb you keep acting to be, Sakura Tohsaka—oops, I meant Sakura Matou.”

She tried her best not to clench her fists together. “I was not—I am not acting.”

To prove her point, she bravely met his gaze and held it. Gil only smiled.

Father Kotomine broke through the tension by asking. “What exactly do you require, Matou-san? If you’ve made up your mind on making dinner, I see no reason to stop you. We don’t have enough in our pantry, however, so you could either make due of what is there…” he paused and then added. “Or you could tell me if there are ingredients you have in mind, and I shall buy them myself. I plan on going out tonight—”

“And do what, Kirei? Aside from the groceries, where are you going tonight?” Gil looked curious, and dangerously so.

“Nowhere in particular,” Father Kotomine barely looked at the other man. “And it’s not as if I can depend on you to buy the groceries.”

Gil narrowed his eyes as he uncrossed his legs. “Why not? Are you insinuating that I don’t know my way around a marketplace?”

“I wasn’t insinuating, no,” Father Kotomine responded with a small smile. “I was definitely and straightforwardly declaring that you don’t know your way around a marketplace, King of Heroes.”

“Sakura,” Gil called out her name but was silently glaring at the priest. “Fetch a piece of paper and a pen from Kirei’s desk and start writing down the items I’m going to buy in the grocery store.”

When Sakura just remained standing in place, Gil turned a hard gaze towards her direction and said. “Just be a dear and do what is ask of you.”

“I—I could go instead,” Sakura was already moving toward the desk in question. “I should go instead. After all—”

“You are not allowed to leave the church,” Father Kotomine simply stated.

Sakura bowed her head slightly. Before she could stop herself, she told him. “I don’t understand why I can’t—” And then she winced, realizing too late that she was being disrespectful. “I-I’m so, so, sorry, Father! I’m not—I wasn’t questioning your authority on the matter! Of course you’d know better and if that—if that is what you command of me then…”

“I’m glad you can understand,” the priest merely answered her, dismissing her doubts aside with the stern tone of his voice. “I personally believe that it wouldn’t be safe for you out there. After all, there was an attack in your school where most of the student body were found unconscious. Masters and servants have confronted each other in the school grounds, and you have been unfortunately caught in that fight. But my associates from the Church arranged it so that the authorities will not look into the incident deeply, but I can’t say the same for your sudden disappearance since last night.”

Father Kotomine walked toward Sakura, his eyes steady on hers. “I’ve informed you that your brother had just lost his servant during that incident in school, and he might be coming here tonight to ask for refuge himself. You, on the other hand, have informed me that you are more than willing to give up your command seals,” he nodded at the blood sigil at the back of her hand. “So I think it’s best you stay here where you can meet him for yourself. I would be there as well, so I could transfer your command seals to him.”

“I see,” Sakura smiled meekly in agreement. “Thank you, Father. Once again, I’m forever in your debt. You’ve been nothing but kind and patient to me.”

Gil snorted a laugh from across the room, but both Sakura and the priest ignored it. Father Kotomine replied, “I’m pleased that you’re recovering smoothly from whatever ails you, Matou-san. I shall pray for your continued recuperation.”

“Christ on a pogo stick,” Gil muttered. “All these fake displays of good manners—I think you’re both just trying to irritate me, aren’t you?”

“It will be a shock for you to learn this, Gilgamesh,” the priest replied, “but not everything is about you.”

“Just give me the damn list for the groceries so I can get out of here,” Gil smirked at him. “And you and Sakura can have the room all to yourself. I know you two have been dying to have yet another one of your ‘confessions’ and ‘absolutions’, don’t you?” The emphasized words were dripping with implications as his gaze landed on Sakura next.

Sakura was unable not to blush but tried her best to focus on writing down the ingredients as requested. Father Kotomine seemed unmoved by the comment. Sakura was relieved. The last thing she needed was for the priest to think that she had been thinking of sinful thoughts about the two of them together—which she had not—not frequently! And even when she had, it never went further than mere consideration. She made sure to recite her prayers as soon as such moments came, all so she could quell the dirty and inappropriate thoughts before they could even get…vivid or…graphic and…specific.

Her fingers were shaking when she handed Gil the piece of paper. The golden-haired man just smiled at her without saying anything, but his silence only meant he understood, and that he knew. Sakura prayed to God that he wouldn’t say a damn thing to Father Kotomine. Gil winked at her before he started walking to the door. She shivered and kept doing so even after the said offensive man left.

Now she’s alone with the priest whom she was determined not to make privy of her private, disgusting thoughts. Damn that Gil. Why did he have to say such things anyway? Sakura cleared her throat as she tried to meet Father Kotomine’s eyes. If she started acting awkwardly, he would know that something was amiss. But then again, nothing has been normal about this since she came here seeking for his help last night. She had been…hurt badly. Gil had aggravated her earlier. And now…

She looked down on herself. Her eyes widened.

That’s right. She was still wearing the nightgown which belonged to Father Kotomine’s late wife!

Sakura couldn’t stop from wrapping arms around herself when the realization dawned on her. What could he be thinking now? He had told her that he didn’t mind that she’s wearing the nightgown, but maybe it did bother him. Should she change? But her clothes still need to be repaired and laundered. And except for the other tawdry clothes Gil made her wear, there really isn’t anything else to cover herself up with. Besides, she doubted Father Kotomine would be comfortable seeing her in such figure-fitting clothes anyway. This nightgown was the only decent thing that suited her, and it was so unfortunate that it belonged to someone that the Father was…intimate…with—

“Matou-san?”

Sakura gasped as she looked up. “Y-Yes?!” She was loud! That was too loud!

Father Kotomine looked surprised by her reaction. “You look pale. Do you want something to drink? I can make us tea.”

“Th-That would be—” she swallowed and went on, “—lovely, thank you…Father.”

If the priest suspected she was being unusually tense, he made no note of it. He just turned around and walked over to a small table with a kettle and two cups resting on it. She didn’t notice that it was there before. Did he prepare it while she was in the bathroom? Probably. She watched him in anxious silence as he prepared the tea. Her eyes lingered on his steady hands. She trembled and turned away hurriedly. Sakura sat on the couch and tried to collect her bearings.

“Do you feel cold?” the priest asked with his back still turned from her.

“No,” she answered, her voice barely audible. She recalled that he had wrapped a portion of his garments around her last night when she practically collapsed on him outside the church’s doors. She remembered holding onto it as he half-carried her into his office where Gil was already waiting. She remembered…the scent of it—clean and ordinary. There was some sort of sage or incense mixed in the cloth as well. Sakura felt her cheeks grow hot as the memory became clearer.

She was so preoccupied by that sensory detail that she didn’t even notice that Father Kotomine had already taken a seat next to her. There was a space between them, an acceptable distance. But she wished he’d move closer, and scolded herself for thinking so. The priest was passing her the cup. She only blinked wearily at him, and tried to listen to him speak.

 

 

+

  

 

 

“Place the cup between your hands for a while. It’s very warm. It’ll help.”

Kirei watched the girl closely, taking note of her compliant behavior and taciturn silence. As soon as she took the cup of tea he handed, he had unceremoniously allowed their hands to touch. His hands rested on top of hers now as she gripped the cup. Carefully, he told her, “In spite of what Gilgamesh had said and done in the last few hours, rest assured that I don’t share his cavalier attitude about dealing with your situation, nor his apparent amusement over your fragility and helplessness.”

The Matou girl met his gaze, her attention now completely fixed on him. Taking advantage of that, Kirei added, “I’m not here to play games. I’m not here to goad or push you into making choices in the heat of the moment. Besides, Matou-san, I’ve already said my piece last night. I would like to think I’ve been nothing but direct with you. I meant what I offered then, and what I still offer now.”

Kirei paused, letting the words sink in for a moment. Sakura Matou bit her lower lip, looking more lost and faded than ever as he felt her fingers shake against his. Their hands were still touching, holding the cup together. It was an odd display, but Kirei didn’t mind the physical contact. He had learned that touch is important to humans. It can bring comfort and solidarity. To touch another person, even as a conciliatory gesture, is to show you are sympathetic and trustworthy, and Kirei needed the young girl to believe he is both.

Gilgamesh had acted impulsively and spontaneously in his various dealings with the Matou girl, but he had always been the blunt force in this arrangement whilst Kirei considered himself more of a precision instrument. Gilgamesh can be as forthcoming and random with Sakura Matou as much as it pleased him. Kirei simply had no control over the hurricane that is the King of Heroes, but he had learned over the decade of their alliance that he must wisely navigate the fickle seas that are Gilgamesh’s mood swings and actions. Under the intense gaze and probing of the god-king, the girl would be far too focused on enduring his attention that she wouldn’t notice what Kirei will be doing in the shadows.

As far as partnerships and complementary roles go, he and Gilgamesh had always been instinctively compatible, and what better way to showcase this than working together to make sure that the gradual corruption of the brittle and impressionable Sakura Matou comes to pass?

“What you offered last night,” she finally found her voice and spoke up. “I have considered it. And—and I already told you that I’m declining.”

Kirei nodded and slowly withdrew his hands from hers. Sakura Matou kept holding the cup, and showed no signs of drinking it. He leaned back on the couch and said, “You’re afraid.”

The girl bit on her lower lip again. She nodded.

“What I’m asking of you is a terrifying thing.”

“Why would you ask it of me then?” she lowered her gaze. “Why would you—a man of God—a kind and honest man—ask me to fight for a cause I don’t have any belief in; to take arms in a war I am in no shape or right state of mind to win?”

She looked at him directly now. “Why, Father? I want to understand…”

Kirei watched her for a few seconds before he chuckled and answered, “A kind and honest man,” he paused. “After what you have witnessed for yourself, and heard Gilgamesh’s opinion on the matter—how can you still believe I possess such frivolous and useless qualities?”

“Because,” she started, her voice resolute as she explained. “I believe people are more complicated than being simply pure light or dark.”

Kirei said nothing. His eyebrows furrowed together, baffled by her reply.

“And from what I’ve witnessed in the last few weeks we interacted,” she added, “my opinion on you hasn’t changed. I think you are an upstanding clergyman. I think you do take your vocation seriously. You were patient with me. You always listened. To call you kind and honest doesn’t exactly mean I also think you’re a completely good person. I don’t think anyone is. Following that logic…”

The Matou girl smiled at him brightly now, “…I think it’d be just as right for me to say that you’re not completely a bad person either. Gil-san is the same. I—I’d like to think that even I…even Shinji Nii-san. And Grandfather.”

Kirei still said nothing. Her line of thought was fascinating to see unfold.

“Father Kotomine,” she said, “I think it’s important to have more faith in people, as much as one can have faith in a higher power. Talking to you has helped me realize that. Faith is an extraordinary shield, isn’t it? And so is hope…”

“Hope,” Kirei now smirked, “is what keeps most men from living.”

The girl cocked her head to the side as if to inquire what he meant by that.

“I read that somewhere, I believe,” Kirei slowly rose from the couch, placing his hands behind his back as he walked to a corner. When he turned around to look at her again, he saw the girl now slowly sipping the tea, her hands cradling the cup protectively.

“You still haven’t answered my question earlier, Father.”

“What question is that?”

“Why you want me to fight…” Sakura Matou repeated, “Why you want me to…shed blood.” She almost whispered the last phrase.

Kirei sighed. He walked back towards the couch and stared down at her. “It’s war, Matou-san. Bloodshed is inevitable.”

“Not for me,” she answered, shaking her head before she took another sip.

He smiled at her. “You wouldn’t know unless…”

She looked up at him now, eyes widening as she inquired, “…unless?”

Kirei sat back down the couch a little closer to her now. She blinked at him again as color rose to her cheeks. He crossed his legs together and reached for the kettle to pour himself some tea. He raised the cup to his lips and blew on the tea for a while before he took a sip. The Matou girl sat patiently beside him. He could feel her staring, but he was undisturbed. Finally, he spoke to her again.

“You seem to think you’ve never fought a day in your life,” he told her, softening his tone, “…but you have—you are fighting every day for your life, aren’t you, Matou-san?”

The girl’s lower lip quivered. She slowly placed the cup down the table.

Kirei kept going, “You were right. I’ve listened to you these past few weeks. I’ve always listened. You don’t tell me what you want to tell me, however, but I know enough. And so when you came to me last night, I wasn’t that surprised. For a very long time, you were at war with forces you can’t understand, and you were unable to win the battle then. You were left scarred and bleeding instead. But that’s what wars would often do to someone,” he paused. With a deliberate motion of his hand, he reached out and let his fingers graze the girl’s cheek in a gesture that he hoped seemed caring and genuine.

Sakura Matou’s eyes clouded with something he could not determine, but he kept his fingers lightly touching her cheek, encouraged by the fact that she wasn’t pushing him away. He added, “When you came to me that day after Mass, and I asked you to confess your sins, you told me you didn’t have any. I believe that. But it’s as you said earlier—no one is pure light or dark. To come to terms that you have two conflicting sides and not necessarily choosing one over the other—is a challenge everyone must take up on. And I would help you…”

He paused, deciding to withdraw his hand first before he finished with, “…Sakura-san.”

A resounding silence lasted for a few seconds. Kirei had no idea what would happen next.

But then she smiled before she was suddenly leaning her forehead against his chest, hands resting gently on his forearms that he was forced to angle his body to accommodate her. This wasn’t entirely unpleasant. In fact, it was…exciting. It was exciting because she just caved in, right where he wanted her. She really believed he was going to help her become a better person, and that he sympathized with her plight. She was so young and innocent; eager for a piece of affection and understanding that she would seek it out from questionable places; desire acceptance from questionable people. And underneath all that misdirection, she also had every potential to become so much more—

—to transform into something like him, even.

Kirei tried not to openly smile as he wrapped one arm around her and pulled her closer. He could tell she was crying again and there was a part of him that wanted to wrench her away so he could take her face in his hands and lick her bitter tears away. She was so miserable and alone, and he wanted to drink it all in. He resisted though, and rubbed her consolingly on her back instead. She pulled away moments later to wipe her cheeks from the stain of tears. Kirei wore a neutral expression as he waited for her response.

“You’ve been so kind…” she murmured, her eyes half-closed as she clutched him by his tunic now, her grip firm and steady. She finally looked up to him. “Whatever happens from this point, I would trust you, Father. Because…because you get it. You understood.”

“Yes,” Kirei tried not to sound too eager even though laughter was threatening to spill from his mouth.

Sakura closed her eyes now. “If I had been your wife, I must be blessed to have been loved by one like you…”

Kirei’s eyes darkened. His arm behind her back, which he had lowered a little earlier with an intention to release her, now reached up to cup her nape. He was going to snap her neck, interpreting her speculation about his wife as a provocation. But reason had won anyway, and he found himself telling her instead, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, child. You know nothing about my wife.”

Sakura blinked, opening her eyes. She acted as if she couldn’t see him for a while, and then she opened her mouth and said, “O-Oh! Oh, I-I’m sorry! I didn’t—I didn’t mean to—I shouldn’t—”

“Shhh,” Although Kirei finally loosened his hold on her nape, he used it instead to pull her closer again. He stared into her eyes. “No need for apologies. It had been…an emotional moment for you. I can understand.”

He didn’t, though. Kirei had no idea where that comment about Claudia came from. But he was going to let it pass for now. That being said, his gaze traveled down the rest of the girl’s appearance. She was still donned in his late wife’s nightgown, all thanks to Gilgamesh being an incorrigible dick. It was almost as if that by putting Claudia’s dress on the girl, the King of Heroes had wrapped Sakura as a present for Kirei to open. It was despicable…and tempting.

He pushed Sakura away gently with both hands on her shoulders.

“I didn’t mean to sound insensitive,” she bowed her head in shame. “I-I didn’t mean to say that—I don’t know why I even said that…”

“It’s okay,” Kirei was staring at the top of her head, once again counting the strands of purple hair.

“I was just—Father, when I heard you were once married…”

“I see.” Kirei wasn’t sure why he was still talking, and why this topic of conversation was being raised.

“I couldn’t…I couldn’t help but…” the Matou girl lifted a hand to her chest and was clutching at the hem of the nightgown she wore. She was not looking at him, and her voice was soft. “I don’t know. I suppose I was…curious.”

Kirei just hummed with his hands on his knees. He kept his stance relaxed even though a part of him was retreating away.

“But then again, everyone was young once,” she finally met his gaze, her expression soft and even wistful. “And…everyone falls in love at least once in their lives, right?” She smiled meekly, cheeks coloring. “I guess…even you, Father Kotomine. You had someone…someone you loved before.”

Kirei hardly blinked as he just sat there staring at her.

“I don’t know how you lost her,” she said, “but I’m sorry that you did. I…I will include her in my prayers, but I’m sure she had already found peace.”

“Yes,” Kirei finally spoke up. He didn’t smile but instead just kept his gaze on hers. He asked, “Do you want to fall in love someday, Sakura-san?”

Her eyes widened. “W-Well, I, uh—”

He shook his head, chuckling. “You don’t need to answer that.”

Sakura sighed and lowered her eyes again. She gripped both hands together on her lap.

Kirei wanted to end this weirdness already, so he straightened up and offered his hand for her to take. “We could go to the church if you’ll be more comfortable there to talk. In the pews, I mean. Much like before.”

She blinked at his outstretched hand and then smiled afterwards as she placed hers inside it. “Yes, Father. I would like that very much.”

Kirei looked at their hands clasped like that. It came so easily for her to trust him in spite of the evidence that suggested that she should not. He wondered if she would offer him her own pulsating heart if he asked her nicely enough, and decided that maybe she might do so.

Claudia was just the same.

She thought that if she could show him that she was not afraid of him, or loathed him for what he was, then he would eventually feel something real for her. He would eventually love her back. In the end, she was nothing but a sheltered, naïve and weak-hearted sickly woman…who still haunted his dreams…and his thoughts of her death and sacrifice could sometimes overwhelm him. Sometimes.

“Father?” Sakura Matou peered at his face. “Is…are you okay?”

“Everything is fine,” Kirei pulled her up with one motion. She was on her feet instantly. She was surprised by it at first, gasping in shock, but then she looked at him again and smiled. He didn’t return it and instead turned his back on her and began to walk away.

“Follow me,” he called back to her as he opened the door and stepped outside.

 

 

+

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

When is a monster not a monster?

Oh, when you love it.  

 

Tell him that you will never know any better.

Pretend to understand why that isn’t good enough.

 

-Caitlyn Siehl-

 


 

 

 

Her lips cracked.

Blood leaks out easily and trickles down her chin.

“I’m sorry,” she could hardly hear herself speak. The blow that struck her on the mouth made her ears ring.

Shinji raises his fist again and hits her on the side of her face this time.

Sakura is brought down to her knees as she cushioned the impact. She put both hands up and begs, “Please, Nii-san! I’m sorry!”

He doesn’t listen. He never listens anymore. Shinji grabs a fistful of her hair, almost tearing it out of her scalp as he uses it to pull her roughly to the corner of her room. Sakura whimpers but stops herself from crying aloud. He wouldn’t like that. Instinctively, she licks the coppery taste of blood still dripping from her lips. The shortening of her breaths threatens to make her pass out, but she holds on as Shinji pushes her on her back completely by kicking her on the chest. She gasps and almost throws up, angling her body to rest on her left side as she immediately curled into a ball to prepare herself for the next onslaught of kicks.

He is a relentless stampede, cursing and shouting foul names at her as she pleads “Nii-san, nii-san, stop, please, stop, no, no, no more, please, Nii-san…” over and over in time with his kicks. She shields her face with her hands as she wraps both arms around herself, knees drawn up to her chin as she stays absolutely still. Shinji stops only to pull her hair again, forcing her to look at him. He moves his hand to her neck and forces her head against the floor as he climbs on top of her. She tries to wriggle free of him but he grasps her thighs and wrenches them painfully apart. The fabric tears multiple times from her uniform and panties as he yanks them down her legs. With her undergarments caught in her ankles, Shinji burrows his fingernails into the soft skin of her inner thighs and splits her open with forcible entry. Sakura arches her back from the intrusion as her eyes become bleary with sweat and tears.

“This—is—all—your—fault!” he grunts as he thrusts and thrusts and thrusts without rhythm or pause. “You—stupid—dirty—slut—!”

Sakura covers her face with her hands as she tempers her screams into sobs which get cut off each time her brother buries himself into her center with vicious intent, ripping her apart. His hands move to her breasts now, clawing them through her blouse as he breathes out hoarsely. Sakura removes her hands now to look at Shinji who meets her eyes at first before he grimaces and punches her chest, yelling for her not to look at him. She obeys with another whimper as her breasts begin to throb from yet another hard punch.

“Bitch—!” he shouts, hips stuttering as he empties himself inside of her.

The worms will consume his semen as mana soon enough. She just has to contract her muscles inside her core so it doesn’t leak out.

Her eyes are swollen from crying but she lies there silently, far too accustomed to the subjugation of the body to make any movement, or voice out any protest. Shinji ignores her completely, which in itself is a relief, as he unzips his pants and leaves her there in the room.

Her room , she thinks to herself as she weeps in her comfortless solitude. Sakura stares at nothing, her vision far too blurred by tears, and her nose and throat clogged by snot and phlegm. Her arms are still placed on either side of her head on the floor. The wrists are sore and sensitive from where his nails have dug in just minutes ago. He violated me inside my own bedroom, she thinks again.

How could she still sleep here? It used to be the only place in this mansion that she finds solace and sanctuary in—away from the bowels of the dungeon where grandfather would toss her in with the crest worms for consumption. How many days has it been since the last feeding? Sakura knows it is only a matter of time before the process starts again. Shinji knows it too. There is an unspoken agreement between them that he wouldn’t bed her until after the feeding; until after the worms are deeply embedded in her organs and—

She cries out this time because everything, for the first time in a long time, starts hurting again. It hasn’t hurt like this before though. She curls to her side and holds hers legs to her chest. With eyes squeezed shut, a memory floods in.

Sakura remembers the horrors of the first time she was thrown into the pit of worms. The cavernous hellhole swallowed her six-year-old body as a mass of parasitic magical familiars penetrated through all her orifices except her eyes…at least until the first hour. She was cooped up in there for two days. She didn’t rot or wither away. She was still all flesh and bone except there are now foreign creatures inside her body, clinging to her like ugly, twisted babes who need to suckle on her teats. Sakura’s spirit wasn’t broken though. And her mind was still intact after four days of implantation. She had survived it all.

She’s alive.

Sakura, Sakura, you’re alive!

She opens her eyes and slowly gets up from the floor. Unhurriedly, she puts back her uniform sans the undergarments. She shoves her feet into her shoes next, and then opens the door. Her steps are silent as she languidly climbs down the stairs. All she has to do is to get out of the mansion and find another sanctuary. Creeping on her haunches near the living room, she realizes that both her brother and grandfather are thankfully not anywhere to be found. She doesn’t hesitate then. There is no time to second guess.

She walks quickly to open the main door.

“I’m not broken,” she whispers to herself as she reaches the gates outside.

I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive…

Sakura is running, running for her redemption—to safety—to God and Heaven.

The church on top of the hill, she thinks, I must get there.

 

 

 

+

 

 

 

Kirei must be imagining it, but he swore that Sakura Matou—just Sakura now—has a spring to her step as she trailed closely behind him. They were walking to the church together, back at the pews where they used to have open conversations about her daily life prior to the incident last night. He kept his hands clasped behind his back as he walked in silence. Sakura, meanwhile, started chatting with him halfway through, mostly about banalities like his preference for spicy foods.

“There’s no mystery to it,” he replied, glancing at her as soon as she managed to catch up and was now walking beside him.

She had her hands clasped in front of her, ever so meek as she explained, “I read in a textbook at school once that there have been studies about the correlation between one’s personality with his or her food preferences.”

Kirei smirked at that, but said nothing.

Sakura added. “A preference for spicy food means the person displays a high risk-taking behavior.”

He chuckled now.

“I-I h-hope that wasn’t—wasn’t offensive or anything…”

“Why would it offend me?” he slowed down a step to meet her gaze. She was blushing again.

“You’re…a man of God.”

Still with that, huh? Kirei wanted to laugh but just uttered, “And?”

“That means you’re supposed to practice piety and an adherence to religious order…right?”

“Supposed to,” Kirei echoed suggestively, a small smile still on his lips as he moved his eyes forward and quickened his steps once more.

Sakura followed suit, saying, “I don’t mean to imply otherwise.”

“A man of God can’t be a risk taker then?” he posed the question innocently enough. “But don’t you think having faith—and safeguarding that faith when it’s tested—is the greatest risk a person can embark on?”

She had looked away from him abruptly. He must have struck a nerve again. There was no response from her after that. He allowed some time to pass before he asked her in complete nonchalance, “Are you sure you don’t want something warm to cover you up, Sakura-san? I’m sure Gilgamesh could lend you something.”

“No, thank you, Father,” she just beamed at him and added, “But I don’t want to be more of an inconvenience than I’m already being.”

“If I’m to be honest, Sakura-san, your presence has been nothing but welcome,” he told her as he stopped at the entrance leading to the church so he could regard her with another stare, and a smile that demonstrated gentility.

He really should be bridging the gap of formality between them. So, to further foster a mutual feeling of trust, Kirei shed off his blue long coat and wrapped it around her shoulders before she could say anything in contradiction. She was a really petite girl, but everyone else was always that way with Kirei, considering his towering height of six-five. Her eyes widened from his unexpected gesture, but she smiled as her cheeks turned pink once again. He let go and watched her pull the long coat closer, pale hands clutching it protectively around her.

Casually, he pointed out, “Gilgamesh is growing fond by you by the minute, and that is not an easy sentiment to inspire in our King of Heroes.”

Sakura paused, contemplating it for a moment, before she asked him, “And what about you, Father Kotomine?”

“What about me?” Kirei kept the smile in place although he was suspicious of where this topic was leading to again.

She was looking at the ground, smiling vaguely at something. Kirei waited for a few more seconds and was about to shake his head and gesture for her to walk inside the church when she finally responded. “I want to know,” she said as she slowly lifted her gaze back at him, “how Father Kotomine feels about me…”

He blinked at her, “What do you mean, Sakura-san?”

“I know that you…are more than what you seem. Gil-san was right to say that. What we talked about earlier—about war and bloodshed—about purpose—“ she shook her head slightly, hands once again tightening around the long coat over her shoulders. “Father, you said that the Grail has chosen me for a reason, and that I should…I should owe it to myself to figure it out. I was just wondering…why is Father so concerned about my choices?”

She was staring at him now wide-eyed with curiosity mixed with some lingering apprehension. “You’re supposed to be impartial about the Grail wars. So why are you…why are you so adamant in guiding me to make a choice that could benefit me? How—”

Kirei raised his eyebrows at her as she stuttered her way to the question, “…I mean—what does that say about how you feel about me?”

Whatever discomfort and reservations he may have in hindsight when it came to indulging a teenage girl’s transparent ply for his attention was inconsequential by now. He never considered himself a vain or presumptuous man, but it was hard to dismiss the possibility that Sakura may have developed a little bit of a crush—on him which he couldn’t bring himself to care about, aside from the fact that he thought it was amusing, and maybe something Gilgamesh himself would find quite droll too. Kirei decided that perhaps this could be used to his advantage.

It’s not unheard of for impressionable young people to admire older authority figures after all, and for that admiration to be leaning on the amorous side. Kirei thought it was particularly disturbing for Sakura, however. The girl was hopelessly clinging onto the notion that even monsters have humanity just tucked away from layers of atrocity. What would she think of him later on once he revealed his true motives about acquiring her away from Zouken Matou?

The thought of discovery—of seeing her hopes crumble before him—is thrilling.

“You surprise me,” he answered, smirking wider now as he looked down deeply into those tainted eyes of purple. “I didn’t think you would be so forward.” The last statement was dripping with implication that Gilgamesh would applaud if he was to hear it.

“O-Oh! N-Nothing like that!” she was flustered again as she raised a hand but he didn’t give her a moment to politely deny it again.

“I must say that I never thought you had it in you to be so bold as to gauge my feelings about you directly. But I appreciate this display of candor, Sakura-san.”

She was blinking rapidly as she bit down on her lower lip. How humorous.

“Very well,” Kirei wondered how to address this. But before he could tease her, he felt an unmistakable presence from inside the church.

He stopped talking and turned his head to the direction, eyes narrowing.

“Wh-What is it, Father?”

“Stay here,” he only told her. “Keep yourself hidden and don’t come out.”

Sakura was instantly frightened. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he gazed back at her. To appease her concerns, he placed a hand on her shoulder. His voice may have been gentle, but he kept his grip firm around her. “Just obey me, and don’t ask questions. It’s safer that way. Come!”

He pushed her to a corner now. She was shaking underneath his hands so when he managed to find a place where she can avoid detection, Kirei rubbed his palms on her shoulders but through the long coat he had placed there. She blinked at him, eyes still fearful, but as he spent a few more seconds just reassuring her with his touch, she finally conceded and let out a sigh.

“Please be careful, Father,” she told him as soon as he withdrew. Her hand caught his wrist. The gesture shocked her as well but she didn’t let go until he gave her another reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

Kirei took a step forward to one of the columns which can hide him from view of the entrance. He knew who it was, of course, but he had to keep up an act for Sakura’s sake. When satisfied that this display was sufficient enough, he walked back to Sakura, still feigning caution. She had just put on his long coat properly, though the sleeves were too long for her arms, making her look even more childlike. She was trembling a little as soon as he reached forward to grab her shoulders and whirl her body towards the direction of his private quarters.

“It’s nothing to be worried about,” he said in a hushed tone as he leaned downward to speak directly into her ear. His hands lowered down her forearms now as he continued to say, “This is a protected haven. Magic will not penetrate the confines of this church. I was simply mistaken earlier regarding the presence I detected. I didn’t mean to alarm you.”

“Are you sure, Father?”

“Yes,” he rubbed her forearms as he straightened up. “Now run along to the office and wait for Gilgamesh. You did say you were going to make us dinner, didn’t you?” One hand snaked back to her shoulder and squeezed. “I certainly hope that will take your mind off things.”

“But…” she began as she turned around to face him, “…do you mean to go back inside the church?”

“Yes,” he withdrew his hands from her. They were standing far too close for his comfort but he ignored it, seeing as it seemed to calm her down that his presence hovered above her like this. “Please don’t be so concerned. It’s nothing as ominous as I made it to be earlier. I apologize.”

“Okay,” she muttered. He can see she was unconvinced and that doubt was exactly what he wanted.

“Go on then, Sakura,” he pushed her gently on the back.

Kirei had already turned around to walk into the entrance. He didn’t bother seeing her reaction after he dropped the formality in her name completely, but he knew for sure she probably blushed about that. A smile formed on his lips.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Sakura burst into the office, quite shaken, as she charged toward the bathroom to fetch her tattered uniform. She sifted through the pockets of her skirt and found the black gloves she was looking for. Crouched with Father Kotomine’s long coat brushing the tiles beneath, she stated muttering a prayer to herself. Once she pulled the gloves on, she clasped her hands together, eyes shut. She wasn’t sure why she was so scared all of a sudden but at times like this she wished she had her rosary. It was only fairly recently that she learned to use one, but the shape of the beads on her fingertips has been comfortingly tangible. The prayer did help her now since she began to feel calmer a few moments later.

She must have been so engrossed in the ritual because she didn’t even hear Gil come in. He was leaning by the doorframe as soon as Sakura looked up. She managed to keep in a gasp as she scooted over just a few inches to the wall upon spotting him. He grinned and stretched a hand for her to reach, scolding her reaction under his breath, “Could you act a little bravely every now and then?”

“I’m sorry.”

“And enough with the apologies already. Stand up,” he commanded while still looking at her with a bemused expression.

She allowed herself to be pulled up from the tiles. Gil looked down at the gloved hand he was still holding and then back at her with a small smile. A few of his fingers pressed into her palm in a way that Sakura was sure was very intentional. She looked away from him but said nothing in protest as those fingers kept pushing into the soft velvet shield of the glove, prickling the skin beneath.

“Where’s the priest anyway?” he asked her as soon as he dragged her out of the bathroom and finally let her hand go.

“He…he might be in danger,” Sakura bit on her lower lip. “He told me to come back here and just wait for you though. He acted strangely earlier, but said that it was a false alarm, but…I can’t help but worry for him, Gil-san.”

Before she could suggest going to the church to check up on Father Kotomine, Gil had already intervened by saying:

“Let’s not waste time on trivialities,” he brought his hands up and slowly turned into a semi-circle while standing on the same spot, as if he was presenting something to her. He added, “I bought enough ingredients for a feast, and I shall expect you to prepare some quality dishes tonight, so you best hurry and focus on that task instead.”

Sakura stared at him, completely dumbfounded. “But, Father—”

“Kotomine can take care of himself,” Gil waved a dismissive hand as he sneered. “Besides, he said it was a false alarm, right? So it’s fine.”

She looked unconvinced, but didn’t want to disobey her benefactor’s orders. Come to think of it, it’s usually around this time of the night that she would be at Shirou Emiya’s place to prepare dinner for the three of them, including Fujimura-sensei. She briefly wondered if that girl Saber could even cook. A part of her wished she can’t, but there was also a part of her that does hope she’s capable, especially since Shirou has no one to accompany him in the kitchen tonight. He might get lonely, and he sure could use some help cooking. Sakura doubted Fujimura-sensei would lend a hand, considering the older woman’s unpredictable high-strung moods. So is it possible that the girl Saber is helping out? Are they standing on the kitchen counter together right now? Is Shirou giving her instructions on what to measure or chop?

Would their hands accidentally make contact every now and then?

“Sakura, what’s with you?” she snapped out of it as soon as she heard Gil speaking to her. “You were a miles away just now, weren’t you?”

“Not really, I was—”

“Follow me to the kitchen,” he interrupted her by walking away and exiting the office without another word. She gasped and ran after him quickly as she rolled up the sleeves of the long coat since they keep her hands from moving. Gil noticed it once they were walking side by side. He remarked. “I have something else that could fit you if you’re having a hard time with that.”

She shook her head, smiling shyly. “This is fine.”

It’s warm and it has the Father’s scent .

“You’re not going to cook while wearing that, will you? You’re going to get that stained…” he trailed off, blinking all of a sudden as if he was surprised. And then his expression changed into something dangerous as he bent down slightly to meet Sakura’s gaze as they walked. “I get it. You like it on specifically because it’s Kirei’s, hmmm?”

Ungracefully, she sputtered. “A-A-I—don’t know wh—what you mean!”

Gil scoffed and then shoved his hands inside his black pants. “Could you be any more transparent?” He started walking ahead of her now, chuckling to himself. Sakura’s cheeks felt hot but she bit her tongue and just caught up to his stride again without saying another word.

They passed by a few closed doors before they arrived to what was considered a kitchen in this place. It was as the Father described it; there was a stove, an oven, a small fridge and a pantry. The room wasn’t spacious at all, and drier and colder than she expected. Sakura instinctively rolled down the sleeves of the long coat. Gil was watching her; she could feel him staring from the corner of her eye. Without another word, he went behind her and pulled down the long coat from her shoulders. She shuddered but allowed him.

“You can’t actually wear this while cooking,” he simply said as he folded the long coat over his arm. “I don’t think there’s an apron you can use either, so you’re just going to have to make due with whatever is available.”

“That’s fine with me, Gil-san,” she smiled weakly and approached the small counter next to the stove. The counter has a sink, thankfully. She turned on the faucet and was relieved it was functioning. She turned back to Gil and asked, “And the ingredients?”

But Gil had already walked beside her in the counter, and placed down two full plastic bags next to the sink. Sakura thanked him at once and rummaged through the bags, taking out the vegetables first and inspecting them. Gil had provided her with a butcher knife with a red wooden handle, which he pulled out from his jacket nonchalantly as if he had been carrying it around all this time. It turned out to be heavy for her, but manageable enough. Sakura looked around for a chopping board next. She walked to the pantry, and then to fridge but found none. Frowning, she decided that she could flatten the two plastic bags and use that instead as a place to chop the ingredients. The second bag had the condiments like salt and pepper, as well as the meat.

Her eyes widened slightly as she peered in. She couldn’t even take the entire thing with both hands but she tried anyway. It landed in the counter with a dull thud. Gulping down, she then turned to Gil, who was leaning on the counter, munching on an apple he must have bought at the market for himself.

“Um,” she began, “This is…at least ten pounds of ground beef, Gil-san.”

“And you have big tits.”

Sakura’s arms instinctively shielded her chest in view as she took a step backward from the counter. “WH-WHAT?!”

Gil didn’t look at her. He was staring at his apple. “You stated an obvious fact. I stated an obvious fact. I thought that’s what we’re doing now.”

Although mildly irritated, she found herself talking back to him. “Gil-san, do you always enjoy ruffling someone’s feathers?”

“What a fascinating expression,” he looked at her at last with yet another grin. “But it sure fits since you are, in all respects, a broken bird.”

Sakura lowered her arms slowly, still staring back at him. “You could be nicer to people, you know.”

“And you could be a lot less.”

“I should get started on the meals now, Gil-san. Please don’t disrupt me while I’m working,” she walked to the counter again to lay down the vegetables on the flattened plastic bag. Next, she unwrapped the plastic sheet around the ground beef and tried not to wince as she thought about the servings it will take to finish all of it. She decided to save half of the unused beef in the fridge and just work on the quantity that the three of them can only finish. But perhaps Gil has a big appetite. He did strike her as…larger than life.

“I wonder,” she heard him speaking but didn’t look up from her work.

Still, she answered him, “About what, Gil-san?”

“About how your brother is going to react when he sees you here, living with me and Kotomine for almost an entire day now.”

Sakura said nothing. She had taken a bowl from a cupboard under the stove. There were three saucepans of varying sizes inside it, as well as a dipper. When she pulled them all out, she found the half-empty bottle of oil at the back. She was already working on preparing the flavoring for the beef as Gilgamesh went on speaking his thoughts aloud.

“I know how a mind like your brother’s works,” he discarded the stalk of his apple on the sink as he talked to her, “And he most certainly believes he owns you. That could only mean that he doesn’t share well with others either. Tell me, Sakura. How many times has he claimed you for his own over the years, hmm? Twice in a week? Maybe more?”

Sakura ignored him.

“How many days does the waiting go on before he comes charging in to use you as he pleases, and then puts you away wet like an old rag?”

“Stop it,” Sakura muttered as her fingers tightened around the ground beef. Gritting her teeth, she shot back, “Why would you say such horrible things about Nii-san? What did he ever do to deserve you bad-mouthing him like that?”

She finally looked back at him, glaring as sharply as she could. “My brother is going through a lot right now. And I’m here to lend him whatever support he needs. And that includes—”

Sakura raised both hands up to look at the blood sigil at the back of her right hand again, and realized, to her horror...

...that she still had the gloves on!

“Wha…” she trailed off, staring down at the velvet covering her hands. The fingers were now stained by the oil and salt that she used to mix with the meat just seconds ago. The rest of the gloves cling to her hands as if they want to possess them as their own. Sakura let out a whimper as she turned her hands around to stare at her blackened palms now.

How did she not notice that? She looked up at Gil now and wondered why he didn’t say anything. He knew, didn’t he? The oddity wrapped around her hands stood out menacingly. He had been touching her earlier through her hand too with the glove after all. So why didn’t he say something? He took off the long coat from her body moments ago. So why not say something about the gloves?

Suddenly, Sakura felt the crushing weight of anger and betrayal all around her.

Tears burst through her eyes until she was quietly sobbing where she stood. She shivered all over as she removed the gloves, almost like peeling her own skin as she did. The gloves fell on the floor like dead leaves. Sakura wanted to scream but couldn’t.

The foreignness of her hands continue to terrorize her. 

“Gil-san…” she croaked out pitifully as she met his neutral gaze, her lips trembling uncontrollably as she whispered, “Please, help me…”

She was reaching out for him with her ugly, numb hands as if in offering.

Without saying another word, Gil took a step forward and gripped her by the wrists. He pulled her closer and closer to him until she collided to his chest where she buried her face to cry. His hands remained clasped securely on her wrists, his breathing steady against her. She cried and cried until she couldn’t anymore. Gil was deathly quiet through it all.

Sakura wrenched herself away from him by pushing her disgusting hands from his chest. He let her go while still speechless, staring at her with nothing more but mild curiosity as if she wasn’t having a panic attack at all. She took a few steps back until she reached the wall behind her. Sakura slithered down the floor and wrapped her arms around herself as she buried her face on her knees.

She doesn’t know how long she stayed like that but when she looked up, Gil was still standing on the same spot, watching.

Clearing her throat, she asked him. “What happened to me?”

He blinked once and then shrugged his shoulders. “I was hoping you could tell me. It was…interesting, to say the least.”

She kept sitting on the floor, just gazing at him.

Finally, he started walking to her spot and then knelt on his haunches before her. He clicked his tongue and said, “You look haunted, Sakura.”

“What does that even mean?” she muttered under her breath.

“I don’t know, darling…” Gil reached out to graze his fingers across the stain in her left cheek where the tears marred it. “But you’re going to have to figure it out soon.”

Smiling at her in a way that could be mistaken as gentle, he leaned in close and whispered right into her lips, “…no one else can do it but you.”

Her eyes fluttered shut from the kiss that never came as Gil withdrew immediately and straightened himself up.

And then he left her there in the kitchen just like that.

Sakura gave herself a few more minutes before she gathered herself and continued to do what she was tasked to finish in the first place. She went back to the counter and turned on the faucet. As she let the water wash the hands which were not hers, Sakura’s mind drifted back to Shirou once more. He must be eating with Fujiwara-sensei and Saber by now. She wished with all her heart that she was there right now, sharing a meal she made for him. Her eyes began leaking at the hopeless thought. This time she didn’t bother wiping them away.

The gloves were still on the floor, however. She could feel their presence taunting her.

She ignored it.

 

 

 

 


 

Chapter Text


 

 

I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root:

It is what you fear.

I do not fear it: I have been there.

 

Is it the sea you hear in me,

Its dissatisfactions?

Or the voice of nothing, that was your madness?

 

-Sylvia Plath-

 

 


 

 

 

 +

 

 

Last night

 

Her previous words were still ringing in his ears.

“I have no wish for myself, so why does the Grail keep choosing me?”

Kirei has been carrying her from the moment she half-collapsed near the altar earlier. They were already halfway through the hallway leading to his office. He had taken her with both arms the same way Gilgamesh must have carried her all those years ago back when she was just a bag of skin and bones held together by the crest worms infesting her body. He didn’t mind the weight of her teenage body now, since she was still quite light. Every now and then, his eyes would dart downward to the blood sigil seared painfully real at the back of her hand—and he would smile. To him, she was a lovely mess of contradictions and hidden dark depths, and it would be a rewarding thing to watch her unravel.

“Make someone else bleed this time instead of you…” he muttered under his breath, addressing her, but her eyes could barely focus on anything. He’s pretty sure she can’t even hear him.

Her skin felt hot even under layers of her tattered uniform. Kirei suspected that she might have gotten a fever after the hellish ordeal she had gone through, but he had to find a place to put her down so he can inspect her some more to be more certain about it.

“What is this?” Gilgamesh stood up from his comfortable position in the couch as soon as Kirei entered the office with the young girl in his arms. Without preamble, he took a few steps backward to allow Kirei to position Sakura Matou in the couch. Earlier he had wrapped a thin robe around the young girl, and he had used that now as a blanket underneath her. For his part, the King of Heroes was quiet, and peered over Kirei’s shoulder every now and then as Kirei went about examining the young girl.

Her skin was too pale even under the orange glow of his office. She’s panting with her lips parted as if she’s having a hard time breathing regularly. With deft hands, Kirei loosened her collar and unbuttoned the first three buttons of her blouse before he placed a palm on top of her chest so he can ascertain what was causing the shortness of her breaths. Realizing that her physical condition was not in any way detrimental, he concluded that she must be suffering a panic attack instead. Her eyes have shut tightly since being laid down on the couch, as her hands were clenched into fists underneath her. The girl was clearly in a disturbed state of mind. He had to find some way to soothe her.

Thinking of that, Kirei can feel a smirk playing upon his lips. It’s such a wicked irony that he’s good with healing magic when all he ever wanted to do—even before Gilgamesh drove him to realize it—was to destroy. The evil he has allowed to take root and flourish inside him was a mockery of his natural gift for healing. Kirei will never stop laughing about it in private. The same irony is paralleled to the Matou girl’s own struggle. He knew there are still shards of light within her, but it won’t be long before she finally makes the same realization he did years ago as he watched the fires swallow Fuyuki—

—sometimes the void inside you can be fulfilling.

Kirei kneeled before her now and for a while it looked as if he was going to pray away her mind’s sickness but instead, he began undressing her. Carefully, he pulled down the long sleeves of her blouse, and then did the same thing for her skirt. He did all of this as methodical and as efficiently as he could, and wasn’t entirely surprised to find the Matou girl was without undergarments. Ignoring that irrelevant detail, he discarded her clothes to the side and focused on assessing any open wounds on her body that he could attend to presently.

There were a few cuts and abrasions here and there, mostly done by someone’s nails. As if on cue, Gilgamesh spoke behind him.

“That filthy brother of hers has molested her again, hasn’t he?” Gilgamesh sounded almost annoyed.

This comment made Kirei snapped his head at the other man, eyes widening slightly. "You knew? All this time?" 

The King of Heroes just smirked and said, "I had my suspicions...and you just confirmed them."

Kirei took note of the bruising on the top part of her breasts. It looked as if she was punched on those sore spots a few times. The skin was already tender, taking on a brownish purple. His eyes darted downwards where strips of dried blood (and maybe even leftover residue of semen) caked her thighs. The almost pink lines stopped an inch or so below her knees. It was the first thing he noticed moments ago when the Matou girl appeared in front of the church’s doors. The violence inflicted on her was sexual in nature after all, so their presence in that spot was hardly news. Still, he felt inclined to ask Gilgamesh to fetch a wet towel from the bathroom so he can wipe her clean. What was shocking was that the other man didn’t even complain or talk about how disrespectful Kirei was for making him fetch things to begin with. The King of Heroes returned momentarily with the wet cloth in question.

But then he told Kirei, “Spread her apart. I’ll clean her up myself.”

Kirei was curious about the softening of the King of Heroes’ usually boisterous demeanor, but he conceded to the request. He straightened himself up from his previous position so he can bend down by the waist instead, and hold Sakura Matou by her knees to pull her thighs apart.

“You look like you’ve done this a couple of times, Gilgamesh.”

A scoff. “I took her here once years ago, remember? We had her for half a day before that vampire scum picked her up.”

“But of course,” Kirei can’t help the chuckle that escaped him when he recalled that incident, “I never could imagine you tending to a child’s needs as you clearly had at that time, though.  But then again, you’ve always been fickle and tend to do the most spontaneous of things.”

Gilgamesh met his eyes steadily. His were so ruby and bright under the glare of the office lights. Even after all these years, just the sight of them still managed to make Kirei uncomfortable. “I could say the same to you this time, Father,” the god-king answered. “Maybe underneath that hardened core of dark intentions and piss-poor excuse of an artificial heart…is a softie who is prone to a few acts of kindness now and then. But I must say—humane acts look vile on you, Kirei.”

The King of Heroes licked his lips almost excitedly after that last comment.

Kirei only smirked wider at his comments and then his gaze fell back on Sakura Matou’s bare body. He brushed his palm on the sore spot of her chest first, tracing the veins that have become transparent on the skin. He almost hesitated to heal the bruises before they fully bloomed, simply because they looked rather pretty against the milky complexion of her young skin. But Kirei felt obligated to do just that. Besides, his repair of her could only go skin-deep. There is more damage to the Matou girl than what is visible to the eye after all. The thought of being able to unveil it was making him giddy, however. Gilgamesh was nearer now too, with an arm carelessly thrown around his shoulder as he leaned in and whispered into Kirei’s ear how obscene his expression looks right now.

Kirei’s hand then hovered down to the rest of her body to scan for any more injuries before he moved on to tend to the vivid handprints around her wrists next. Half-moon imprints from nails were easily distinguishable there. That brother of hers must have scratched her hard enough to draw blood, but it coagulated quickly enough.

Pulling away from Kirei, the King of Heroes remarked, “I thought she had worms inside her that can fix her up.”

“Intensively, yes. They’re probably doing so right now,” Kirei answered as he picked up her clothes from the side. Addressing the girl now, he said, “It’s okay, Matou-san. You’re safe,” before he lifted her into a sitting position with a hand behind her back to guide her to a comfortable pose. Sakura Matou obeyed. She no longer panted heavily like she was doing just moments ago. Blinking her tired eyes open, she could still barely move her head as she tried to inspect her surroundings. Finally, she was able to crane her neck to gaze at Kirei.

Kirei had sat beside her now on the couch, allowing her to rest her back against him while he helped her put on her long-sleeved blouse. The Matou girl didn’t ask any questions and moved her arms gingerly as she slipped them through the sleeves. She looked at Kirei again afterwards with a blank expression on her face. It was a hollow, haunted look he recognized from years ago; a satisfying firsthand glimpse of the cusp between terror and peace. He couldn’t help but smile at her, not caring to disguise the underlying malignity of it.

Gilgamesh reached out all of a sudden, placing a hand on the top of her head as he asked her, “Good evening, Sakura. Do you remember me?”

She blinked up at him as she answered, “Should I…?”

The King of Heroes sat down on the wooden table facing the couch. He ran his fingers across the tangles of her purple hair as he added, “I’m sure I’m not that forgettable. Try your best to think back, hmmm?”

And she did remember after a few more seconds of just staring into the god-king’s face. Kirei could see her eyes widened with recognition even from the angle where he sat beside her. The Matou girl definitely knew the god-king. Kirei was curious, though. When he found her outside the church doors earlier, didn’t she talk about the fact that she remembered Gilgamesh picking her up by the riverbank and bringing her here years ago? She also mentioned something about her grandfather and brother doing something to her…and if Kirei knew.

Is she putting on an act? Or does she have selective recall? It’s truly intriguing.

The girl opened her mouth to say something but no words came out. Gilgamesh only chuckled before the hand on her hair traveled downwards to cup one of her breasts. She barely moved an inch while his hand fondled that breast. Kirei narrowed his eyes, displeased by that action.

“You’re quite the well-endowed sister, aren’t you?” the god-king said. He held said breast as if he was merely testing its weight and realness on his palm.

Kirei couldn’t help but clear his throat and interrupt the King of Heroes’ salacious lack of personal space. He said, “You should try to sound less predatory when you say that, Gilgamesh.” Without thinking, Kirei reached for his wrist to discourage him from further touching Sakura Matou.

Gilgamesh ignored him and squeezed the young girl’s other breast this time. She wasn’t looking at what he was doing at all, unnervingly unconcerned. Instead, she looked back and forth between the god-king and Kirei, asking where she was and what happened to her. Neither man commented, but only because they were curious of how nonchalant she acted as if Gilgamesh groping her was an ordinary thing.

“You really should stop that,” Kirei was getting annoyed as Gilgamesh circled his thumbs on the girl’s nipples this time. To cover her up, Kirei moved closer and reached out to seal her blouse for her. The god-king didn’t complain and easily withdrew his wandering hands the moment Kirei was buttoning up the girl. Sakura Matou was still very neutral about the ordeal. She had to be shell-shocked. After Kirei fastened the last button, he took her skirt and asked her to put it back on, opting to help her stand if need be so she can properly clothe herself again out of propriety’s sake. Gilgamesh still sat on the table without saying anything, but his gaze remained on the Matou girl as Kirei lifted her to her feet by placing his hands on either side of her waist.

But then she dropped the skirt he just handed back to the floor, not even bothering to pick it up. Before Kirei could ask what’s wrong or even let her go, she suddenly reached between her legs, cupping her center with a palm.

Her eyes fluttered shut as she let out an unmistakable moan of…pleasure.

Kirei grimaced at her unexpected action and withdrew his arms around her rather sharply. But the King of Heroes merely laughed.

“Look at that!” he addressed Kirei with a grin, “She’s in a rather playful mood.”

“Something is off,” Kirei only remarked as he forced Sakura Matou to sit back down the couch. She didn’t care either way because she was too preoccupied touching herself inappropriately. This behavior was peculiar. Unlike Gilgamesh who seemed to be enjoying the show, Kirei was not convinced that this was something the Matou girl wished to do at this moment, especially in front of two complete strangers. With only some basic understanding about the crest worms and how they affect their hosts, Kirei then surmised that this spontaneous action is more or less driven by mindless lust. He was going to explain this to Gilgamesh, but then the King of Heroes seemed to have read his mind and waved a hand at him dismissively. Kirei raised an eyebrow.

“Are you not interested to know why she’s acting so out of character?”

“The technicality of how such parasitic organisms operate will only bore me.”

“The short version is that it affects the central nervous system. In a lot of cases, females infected by the worms…” he trailed off, almost dramatically, as he chose his words, “…start to display signs of sexual arousal,” he looked across the young girl in question but ignored whatever she was doing between her legs. “I don’t think she’s aware of what she’s doing to herself right now.”

The god-king chuckled. “We should still watch her for a bit, right? Just in case she would accidentally hurt herself.”

Kirei could only openly stare blankly at the god-king as he replied, “I have better things to do than watch a teenager masturbate because magical familiars are compelling her to.”

“Are there really?” Gilgamesh sneered, “Are there really better things you ought to be doing rather than watch her?”

Kirei said nothing, interpreting the inquiry as a rhetorical one. The god-king nodded at the Matou girl who had collapsed back to the couch. He uncrossed his legs under him, regarding Kirei with a long look as he asked him, “What do you think, Father? Should we help her finish?”

“Don’t be profane,” Kirei frowned now as he clasped his hands together behind his back. He glared at the other man. “That would be no worse than raping her yourself, King of Heroes. Unless that’s what you want?”

Gilgamesh shrugged as he said, “Not really. But I feel pity towards her right now. Just look at her…lying there and thrusting her fingers inside her like she hasn’t done something like that before. And probably so. It’s quite crude; definitely the wrong way to pleasure oneself. I would like to at least assist her…” he was pouting at Kirei now. It was vulgar to look at.

Kirei was specifically avoiding the sight of Sakura Matou on the couch, so he did not appreciate Gilgamesh describing what she was doing. He had already tuned out the soft sounds she was making even if he’s only standing a yard away from where she lay. He had to admit—it was a little difficult. Kirei could detect the primal scents the young girl’s body was giving off, and it’s unpleasant for him.

Maybe it has something to do with his conservative upbringing and cultural values, or his overall lack of interest in physical pleasures, but Kirei was never a fan of sexuality. Sure, he consummated his marriage with Claudia, and had fathered an offspring, but only because those things were required of him as a husband, but even the act of sex itself was much like every other activity he had engaged in for the sake of normalcy—something tedious but necessary. Of all the pleasures Gilgamesh indulged and partook in over the last ten years of their co-existence together, his blatant preferences for rigorous sex is something that annoyed Kirei especially when the god-king would bring home various partners when he knew Kirei was around to walk in on them by ‘accident’ (something the god-king clearly planned). He supposed he should try better to disguise his dismay whenever it happens since Gilgamesh clearly took some pleasure seeing Kirei scandalized.

But nothing about Gilgamesh’s pursuits is tedious or necessary, and Kirei had to admit that it was impressive how the King of Heroes’ appetites for everything are bottomless. He can’t help but wonder, however, if Gilgamesh’s frequent moments of mockingly seducing Kirei has some unconscious suggestiveness to them. Is Gilgamesh merely putting on a show of aggression and dominance by forcing Kirei to acknowledge his sexual prowess and magnetism? He’s an alpha by nature, and from what Kirei understood about jungle theory, this may be Gilgamesh’s kingly way to guarantee Kirei’s subservient role to him as his Fool. Or…

Kirei didn’t want to think about it before, but he’s beginning to consider that other possibility now.

Is the seduction genuine all this time, and the King of Heroes was indeed trying to get Kirei into bed with him?

It wouldn’t be unusual. Gilgamesh had bedded people indiscriminately after all.

“You’re suddenly a hundred miles away, Kotomine,” the god-king interrupted his untimely contemplations. “You know I don’t like it when you get quiet like that. So tell me what you were just thinking.”

Whether or not you want to fuck me.

“Nothing important,” Kirei settled with that answer instead as he walked away from him, and Sakura Matou who was still busy abusing herself in the couch. Really, though. He shouldn’t be so vain and conceited to think that someone like Gilgamesh—the origin of myth himself—would desire him. How laughably absurd. Kirei should be careful with such self-centered delusions.

He reached his desk now, and after some time he felt the need to comment. He kept his back turned from the spectacle, however.

“It’s fairly amusing that the girl can still touch herself like that, given the brutal circumstances she had just undergone, wouldn’t you say? But I suppose the worms are in control of her responses now so this might all be involuntary on her part.”

“I certainly hope so though it’s a little sad.” As soon as Kirei turned to look at the god-king, Gilgamesh had already stood up and approached Kirei with his hands shoved inside his pockets. “Either way, maybe we should give Sakura some privacy to enjoy herself for a little while. And then we can resume questioning her and whatnot. Shall we?”

Without gazing at the young girl sprawled in the couch, Kirei nodded curtly and headed towards the door with the King of Heroes trailing behind.

 

 

 

XxX—XxX—()—XxX—XxX

 

 

 

“I can’t help but feel as if I’m responsible for what is happening to that poor girl somehow,” Gilgamesh started speaking in a soft tone as soon as they stepped outside. The priest was about to walk away, but Gilgamesh leaned against the door to show he wasn’t planning on going far at all.

The priest stood on the spot now when he saw that Gilgamesh wasn’t moving. He then gave him an inquiring look about what he just said which dissolved quickly into mild irritation the moment Gilgamesh elaborated by saying, “I fondled her so well that she entered a state of arousal she can’t escape from, and therefore must relieve herself. I really should be more careful with these beautiful hands of mine.”

As he said those words, he spread said hands before him and looked at them in utter admiration and pride. Even without looking up, he knew that Kirei would try not to roll his eyes at him no matter how much he wanted to.

When he did look at Kirei again, the priest’s features were contemplative. Something seemed to perplex him.

“She was acting profoundly strange,” Kirei spoke up as he kept his hands clasped behind his back. His posture was relaxed overall but there was some stiffening in his shoulders which told Gilgamesh that there is an issue at hand he is taking seriously. The god-king, for his part, crossed his arms in front of him.

“Come now,” he inquired with a playful tone. “Under the dreadful circumstances, would you really expect normal behavior from her? I mean, she’s pleasuring herself inside as we speak. And she had just been raped. I would say that is truly profoundly strange as you’ve put it.”

Kirei shook his head. “I think there’s something more to it.”

Gilgamesh cocked his head to the side but said nothing.

“During the years of my formal education,” the priest explained, “I’ve read and studied in private a few books on clinical psychology. I was nineteen, I think, when I became interested in the study of the human mind and not just the heart and spirit as most of my formal studies in religious doctrine had been.”

“And also because you know there is something inherently wrong with you, so you hoped back then that if not religion then science would be an enlightening vocation that could explain why, didn’t you?” Gilgamesh added that remark nonchalantly. He knew Kirei wouldn’t disagree.

The priest went on, “There is a method that abusers employ on their victims that manipulates their perception and memories. The term, from what I recall, is ‘gaslighting’. Considering the trauma and the extent of ongoing maltreatment, Sakura must have been subjected to this too. It’s not hard to imagine. Zouken is a fiend of the highest kind. He had done things to the girl that have damaged how she looks at people and the world. I’m also basing this from the conversations we had together for months.”

Gilgamesh considered this. “I’m not familiar with ‘gaslighting’ but you said it had something to do with mental manipulation?”

“Yes,” Kirei now leaned against the wall next to the door and across Gilgamesh, “In cases such as domestic violence, the transgressor—say, the husband—would make his spouse think that the abuse didn’t occur, going so far as to imply that it was all in the wife’s imagination. It’s a rather delicate method to reinforce, and I think it would require limiting the victim’s interactions with people, while also being able to normalize the maltreatment she undergoes. The frequency of the abuse depends on the transgressor, and the victim would then be subdued by brainwashing her into believing certain half-truths about the violence inflicted on her. That’s how I think Sakura Matou was able to internalize the pain.”

Gilgamesh only hummed in response, unsure of what his reaction would be for now. The priest elaborated some more, “It wouldn’t be far-fetched for Zouken to go for such tactics. And the girl was only a child when she was first put under his care. Children are like clay you can mold to whatever shape you desire, and during the formative years at that.”

“So you’re saying that the reason why the girl was able to function daily was because her mind has processed the horrors she was subjected to as…somewhat falsified events?” Now the god-king’s interest was piqued. “That would mean she’s not just steeped in layers of denial. To know something is real but then actively denying its existence is one thing. It’s still a conscious choice. But to never know something is real at all only because its existence is negated by someone else so they can continue to both physically mentally torture you—that’s…diabolical, Kirei.”

To his ears, Gilgamesh sounded more impressed than disgusted. He can’t help but be a little bit of both.

“Add that to the fact that Zouken’s reinforcements are parasitic magical familiars that were also biologically rewriting her. That is why she’s masturbating now—” Kirei nodded back to the door where said poor girl was inside, “—as if it’s the only method that helps her deal with the trauma, no matter how unhealthy it is.”

“Oh my, you almost sounded like you pity her,” Gilgamesh smirked.

Kirei raised an eyebrow, amused. “I could say the same, King of Heroes.”

They stared at each for a while before the priest spoke up again. “The method doesn’t always have to hold, however. I’ve seen…glimpses of her self-awareness peeking through. It happened earlier when I found her by the doors. She remembered things. She knew that the things being done to her are without her consent. In her own way…” he paused. Gilgamesh can’t help but lean closer. Kirei finally said, “…I think she’s fighting to gain back control.”

“Then how about we tip the scales…ever so slightly in her favor?”

“And why would we do that?” Kirei looked rather enthralled by the suggestion. There are times like this that the god-king could actually read Kirei more easily than usual. The priest is a man with a few emotions to express, but once Gilgamesh managed to inspire one, it’s almost phenomenal to see it.

The god-king unfolded his arms and rested a palm on the wooden door as if it had a heartbeat he could listen to. He said, “She’s fascinated you lately, hasn’t she? And I’m just as fascinated too. Also, I think we should put your theory of gaslighting to the test.”

Kirei was inching closer now until he was leaning on the door itself, eyeing Gilgamesh with a lewd smile on his lips again. “How do you propose we test it then?”

“Perhaps we bring up Zouken’s misdeeds on her as often as we can, and gauge her reaction from there? I assume she has to stay here for quite some time. If not,” he narrowed his eyes at Kirei, “then it’s only a matter of negotiating it, right? I’m sure you can find a way. You’ve always been resourceful.”

The priest replied, “Indeed. I can make the arrangements. It’s time for me to have a chat with Zouken anyway. I might as well stir the conversation to our favor.” A pause. “Now about the test that you proposed—it sounds simple enough but I think how we approach the subject will determine the success of this experiment. Besides, I think we should touch upon her brother’s crime instead of Zouken’s misdeeds, as you’ve put it. She never actually confirmed that it was Shinji Matou who had hurt her. It’d be interesting to see tomorrow, once she’s functional again, if she will condemn him in front of us as her rapist. My guess is that she might not.”

“Really?” Gilgamesh chuckled, tapping his fingertips lightly on the door. “You sound pretty sure about that.”

“The girl struck me as someone whose hideousness is buried so deep in her subconscious and far from reach that it’s hidden even from her,” Kirei explained as he also unfolded his arms before him. “Every time I talked to her about her life these past few months, she was always careful not to reveal too much, and avoided the subject of her home life altogether. At first I thought she’s even more clever and discerning about what she chooses to share with me, but then it occurred to me that she’s not purposefully avoiding the subjects. But rather, she’s unaware of the troubling areas of that aspect of her life that discussing them aloud is not even needed. In her mind, I think she has projected being this normal, happy girl by default—or as a coping mechanism.”

“Wow, Kirei, those are stunning observations.” Gilgamesh couldn’t help the smile that formed from his lips. “You’ve given this some thought already. If that is the case then let’s establish our roles in this farce, hmmm? I would want to take it upon myself as an instigator. I’m pretty good getting under people’s skin after all. While you—”

“I’ve already earned some of her trust,” Kirei interjected. “So it’s best if I continue being the kind priest whom she’s been opening up to in the last months. That’s a role I have played quite well over the years. With the added pressure of your presence, however, she might feel cornered and threatened. She’d look for comfort. Who knows how she’ll react to you…”

“And you’ll be there to help her make sense of it, of course,” Gilgamesh nodded in agreement. “It’s almost like playing bad-cop, good-cop isn’t it?”

Kirei chuckled and remarked casually, “That analogy is funny because I don’t think either of us could play ‘good’ for just about anything.”

“Speak for yourself, mongrel,” Gilgamesh placed a hand on his hip and grinned at the priest. “You might dismiss emotions tied to compassion and generosity as generally non-existent in this world, but I happen to feel more things intensely than you will ever know. And that includes said frothy, stupid sentiments every now and then.”

“So the King of Heroes admits that he has a bleeding heart like a lot of mongrels?”

“Hold your tongue, priest.”

But Kirei was already chuckling again, teeth exposed and shoulders shaking a bit. Gilgamesh wouldn’t have forgiven him for such a vulgar display of disrespect but he was in a good mood right now, so he let it slide.

They stood there together quietly for a few more seconds before Gilgamesh smirked and asked him, “Should we go back inside? I’m sure she’s already satiated her needs by now.”

Kirei said nothing at first. His gaze on Gilgamesh was puzzling, however. And then he said. “There’s something I haven’t told you, King of Heroes. I think now is a good time to finally reveal this story to you.”

Gilgamesh stopped leaning on the door and stared at Kirei with attentive curiosity. “You sound like you’re ready to tell me a dirty secret, Kirei."

To his glee, the priest grinned back. That grin always held a promise to entertain.

“Last year around August,” Kirei lessened his smile so he can explain properly, “I received a call from Rin. She asked me to pick her up in an intersection just outside the New City. I had to drive at least an hour just to get there, given that it had also been raining pretty hard that night. It was around ten when I got there. Based from that, she must have been stuck at that place until nine before she called me.”

Gilgamesh gasped mockingly, “My, that’s quite late for a young lady of this age, even for someone without a curfew.”

Kirei only nodded and continued with the story, “She got into the car, soaking wet, shouting at me for being late. You know how Rin usually is. But on that night she was noticeably being aggressive and louder than the usual because she was covering up something. I parked the car to a lot so we can talk about what happened. She wouldn’t tell me what she was doing that night in such a far-off place, no matter how much I pressed on. She just faced forward and couldn’t look at me in the eye. I would have dropped it already since it’s hard to get through Rin when she’s particularly adamant to stand her ground so…”

Gilgamesh kept quiet and waited for Kirei to go on.

“I started driving away. We were back on the road, trying to make it through the heavy rain. I told Rin she can change her clothes since she might get colds if she stayed wet. She refused and said she was fine. Earlier when she got inside the car, she merely tossed her bag at the backseat, and now she had to reach for it to get something. Unfortunately, it would seem that she wasn’t able to zip it securely so as soon as she yanked it towards her, the contents of her bag spilled in the front seat.”

He stopped talking, that smile now widening again. Gilgamesh found himself returning the smile as he asked, “So what then?”

“Her school supplies got scattered on our laps,” Kirei answered, “…including a stick of lube and a box of condoms.”

The silence between them lingered for what seemed like forever.

And then Gilgamesh was laughing uncontrollably. Kirei was just grinning.

“D-Do you mean to tell me—?!”

“Rin hurriedly tried to put everything back in but she knew I already saw. She wasn’t going to address it though. I admit I almost crashed the car after seeing that…and because it took everything in my willpower not to start laughing right there and then, much like what you are doing now.”

Gilgamesh finally calmed down as soon as Kirei finished saying the last statement. He had to wipe the corners of his eyes as he asked the priest, “What else happened after that? It’s not like you to let a ripe opportunity like that to slip pass, so you must have taunted her about it. Of course you would, Kotomine. If you didn’t, I would have been sorely disappointed.”

“I remembered that there was a love motel near that intersection,” Kirei added, “I made the connection instantly and concluded that she must have walked from there to the waiting shed of the intersection where cars could drive by. That explained why she got wet. My guess was that—”

“Oh, I bet she was drenched real good,” Gilgamesh winked.

“Shh! My guess was that—” Kirei was trying to hold in his own laughter, “—she called me while she was still with whoever she was with at that motel. And then they went their separate ways.”

“Oh gods, that is just the most adorable story you’ve ever told me about the Tohsaka brat!” Gilgamesh was chuckling, a hand on his stomach. “And you didn’t tell me until now! You wound me, Kirei. I thought we tell each other everything!”

“It’s not like I did it on purpose. I simply forgot.”

“How could you forget something like that, idiot!” Gilgamesh slapped Kirei on the forearm as his laughter spilled out of him again. “A young woman’s deflowering is a momentous occasion, is it not? Weren’t you a least bit curious who bedded your ward? You must have been. And…and to think that she’s always been such a stubborn little thing! It must have been so horrifying for her the moment you discovered what she had been up to. How did you confront her about that?”

Kirei grinned again. “I didn’t. We didn’t talk at all during the entire car ride back to her house.”

“I don’t understand—”

“But I sent her a package a week later.”

Now Gilgamesh was moving closer to Kirei, unable to contain his mirth. “Oh, don’t tell me you’ve sent her ugly clothes again which she dislikes.”

Kirei looked at Gilgamesh as if he was the one being an idiot. “No, King of Heroes.” A pause. Gilgamesh could see Kirei was also struggling to speak as he was shaking from holding in a laugh. “I sent her a package containing books on sexual development during teenage years; self-help guides that discuss how to make most of those important years of self-discovery. A few of them were illustrated too, ranging from Japanese and English texts, plus a Dummies edition for dating and relationships. I think…I think there were a good t-t-t-ten of—of them—!”

They both burst out laughing together.

“I-I also wrote her—her…” Kirei was almost breathless as he tried to go on explaining, “…a note citing sources from religious texts about how sex is viewed, including bible passages about practicing it exclusively during matrimony.”

“That’s giving mixed messages, you cruel bastard,” Gilgamesh was wiping the corner of his eyes again. “Rin didn’t like that, did she?”

“She was furious, and didn’t see or talk to me for six months,” Kirei shook his head as his chuckles died down. “I’d like to think it’s only because she was busy reading all those wonderful reference materials I’ve bequeathed her with. She’s nothing if not a diligent student.”

“Yes, that’s exactly the reason why,” Gilgamesh grinned widely and then placed his hand on Kirei’s forearm again. A moment of silence stretched between them. And another. Their shared delight over making fun of Rin Tohsaka’s mortifying experience has finally passed, and now the god-king was just staring at the priest before his fingers closed in much tighter around that forearm he was still presently holding. Kirei looked baffled but didn’t say anything. His eyes had been inquiring though. Gilgamesh wasn’t sure how to respond.

Slowly, his other hand went for the familiar golden crucifix around the priest’s neck.

“Everything okay?” Kirei finally asked aloud.

With a shrug of his shoulders, Gilgamesh started playing with the crucifix as he loosened his squeeze on Kirei’s forearm.

“Gilgamesh…?”

The god-king slowly smiled back at him. “Has it really been ten years, Kotomine?”

The priest was silent.

“I’ve told you once that when a time shall come that you stopped being entertaining to me, you will be disposed of. Do you remember that?” Gilgamesh slipped the crucifix into the spaces of his fingers in a repetitive motion.

“How could I forget?”

A pause.

And then Kirei asked him point-blank. “Have I started to bore you by now, Gilgamesh?”

“Quite the opposite, actually,” the god-king said. “Much like certain wines of quality, you prove to get even better with age.”

Kirei’s expression was unchanged.

Leaning much closer now with a hand still wrapped around the priest’s crucifix, Gilgamesh uttered, “I’m almost tempted to have a taste of you.”

The implication of the phrase arrived only a second after he said the words. He was taken aback himself, but Gilgamesh didn’t show it. Kirei barely reacted to things unless they’re jokes made in expense of another person’s welfare or sanity; or someone had to be literally suffering in front of him. Gilgamesh was keen to observe that Kirei did look surprised by the statement, picking up on the innuendo easily enough, but other than that he didn’t respond except for a soft exhale. The god-king wondered if the other man was simply concealing his true reaction, which is probably the case. It’s time to teach him a lesson for his insolence then.

Gilgamesh didn’t say anything after that either, allowing the innuendo as it is to hover uncontested and unconfirmed between them. Kirei met his stare without flinching, his breathing even and his composure perfect. The god-king held his own ground as effectively as well. Now it seemed as if the two of them were daring one another to speak first and cut through the unavoidable tension that has suddenly engulfed them. Gilgamesh certainly will not. He had already spoken his piece. It’s the priest’s turn to decide on the next course of action that should be taken.

After a minute of stillness, Kirei finally moved an inch, a barely perceptible shift of weight from one foot to another which caused Gilgamesh to instinctively tighten his clutch on the crucifix around the man’s neck. Kirei’s expression changed this time. It looked smug as if Gilgamesh had given away his game, and perhaps that god-king did. In tightening his hand around the crucifix, Kirei seemed to believe that Gilgamesh had then confirmed that he was indeed propositioning the priest to come to bed with him.

Or take him up against the wall, whichever Gilgamesh felt like doing now, especially if it meant wiping off that smirk.

In haste and without hesitation, Gilgamesh pulled him down by his necklace forcefully to compensate for their differences in height, and then moved his head upward and went for the priest’s collar. Keeping one hand on the necklace and the other on Kirei’s forearm, he snatched the clerical collar with his teeth and bit down viciously until the piece of cloth came off with a distinct popping sounds of metal studs falling somewhere on the ground below them. It happened so quickly that Kirei was definitely stupefied as his hand went straight for his neck as if he had to make sure that it really did happen.

But the evidence was clearly there in Gilgamesh’s mouth. The god-king bared the collar between his teeth with a proud smile.

And then he spat it out just as quickly as he had taken it. Kirei’s hand on his neck lowered instantly as if in defeat.

But the King of Heroes wasn’t done. He tiptoed closer to Kirei, and swiped his tongue on the spot of skin that collar was supposed to cover up.

It was a swift lick, barely leaving any trace of wetness.

As soon as he pulled away, Gilgamesh let out an almost coquettish chuckle and as he now used his tongue to slowly lick his upper lip. Kirei’s eyes were wide and uncomprehending as he watched, standing there frozen on the spot. It was a comical sight!

“Well,” the god-king remarked as he took a few steps back to admire the devastation he caused. “I did say I only wanted to go for a taste.”

Kirei looked as if he was ready to respond, but then they heard the girl call out from behind the door, muffled by the wood between her and the men: “Where am I? Father? Father Kotomine?” And then it was followed by a loud thud. Without another word, Gilgamesh opened the door and stepped inside. Sakura was on her knees on the floor, fully-clothed now. She glanced up the moment he burst in. Kirei, on the other hand, was already walking toward her to help her up. She latched onto him and forced herself to stand even as her legs shook underneath her. Once she was sitting back on the couch, she caught her breath with her eyes downcast. The two of them waited patiently for her to gather herself.

She looked at them at last, blinking. “F-Father?”

“Yes, I’m here,” Kirei placed a hand on her shoulder.

She nodded, biting on her lower lip before she clutched her hands together to her chest. “I—I don’t remember…what happened.”

“You came to me earlier. You’re inside the church, in my private office,” Kirei explained.

“I see…” Sakura lowered her gaze again.

Gilgamesh decided to speak by asking, “Don’t you recall anything else since then?”

She abruptly raised her head to acknowledge the sound of his voice. The girl looked surprised to see him there as she blurted out. “You…you’re…” but quickly trailed off. A short pause. And then she began again, “You’re Gil…san…right?”

And the god-king smiled. “Well, at least you remember our conversation from days ago in front of your house.”

Kirei shot him a look. “You’ve met with her?”

Gilgamesh just nodded and then kept asking Sakura, “Is there anything else you remember besides that?”

She shook her head meekly.

Carefully, he prodded her, “How about the riverbank?”

Sakura visibly flinched which meant that she can recall that incident from long ago, but she shook her head nonetheless. The god-king now sat down on the wooden table before her and met her eyes directly.

“Dearest,” the term of endearment felt strange to use, but it seemed necessary in this situation. Gilgamesh then reached to take one of her hands which she still clutched close to her chest. With a softer tone, he squeezed that hand and told her reassuringly, “there is no need to hide anything from us. The fact that you came here means that you have nowhere else to go in order to feel safe. And we can do that, Sakura. We can make you feel safe. But you need to be more honest with us so we can help you. Am I making myself clear?”

She blinked up at Gilgamesh and then glanced at Kirei beside him before she gave a small nod. Tentatively, she withdrew her hand from his grasp and replied with her eyes back on her lap, “I do remember meeting you days ago. Also…years ago. The memory is fuzzy though. I don’t remember much of it, but yes—I’ve met you then. You...”

Looking up with those big purple eyes again at Gilgamesh, she uttered quietly, “…you saved me.”

The god-king wasn’t sure how to respond to that but he tried to smile back at her kindly which doesn’t come naturally these days for him. Addressing the priest now, he explained to him, “The girl can stay in my room and sleep on my bed for tonight. She’s also going to need a change of clothes. But let me worry about that. I may have something.”

Kirei didn’t argue. “I understand,” he answered and then told Sakura, “I’ve healed some of the bruises while you were semi-unconscious which was why I had to undress you earlier, in case you’re wondering about the state that you found yourself in while we were gone. I hope you won’t misunderstand what was done. Think no ill of us for doing it.”

“O-Of course, Father,” the girl answered earnestly even with a shaky voice. “Thank you for being so nice and accommodating. I do appreciate all that you have done for me—both of you…”

“It is in your best interest to rest now,” Kirei added. “It’s almost three in the morning after all. We can talk about your circumstances as soon as you’re feeling better and up for a conversation about what happened to you. Gilgamesh will take you to the room you’re going to be staying in. Please get some well-deserved sleep, Matou-san.”

Solemnly, Sakura replied, “Yes, Father. I understand.”

She tried to stand up. Kirei was going to help, but the god-king gave him a look as if to say that he will take over from now on, so the priest obliged. Gilgamesh stood on the spot as he waited for her while Sakura tested her legs and feet. She was still moving in a sluggish pace, but at least she can walk by herself now. Still, he placed an arm around her shoulder and gently pulled her close to him. Sakura looked surprised as her cheeks noticeably flushed. The sudden color was a welcome sight from her previous pallid features from earlier.

With another smile, he told her as they headed for the door, “You can hold onto me. It’s okay. We’ll take it slow…”

After some reluctance, Sakura slid her arm around his back to grasp onto him. They stepped outside and trudged the hallway together.

 

 

 

 

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The Next Night

 

Father Kotomine and Gil ate the dinner Sakura prepared and served for them with minimal compliments exchanged, which were still enough to please her about her hard work. The three of them sat together in the Father’s private office. Gil was perched on the couch as usual while both Sakura and Father Kotomine opted to sit comfortably on the floor, facing each other from across the wooden table. They ate in silence which was something Sakura is getting more accustomed to by now. Back when she would stay over Shirou’s place to dine with him and Fujiwara-sensei, the chats would be plenty among them, given how their teacher never seemed to run out of things to say. Shirou would ask her about her day, and advise her not to multi-task too much with school work and club work if ever the pressure would get to her. And Sakura would respond by reassuring him that she’s tough and can handle anything because she’s no quitter. That attitude was something she knew the older boy respects, so he would promptly smile upon hearing it, and that was all it took for Sakura’s heart to melt.

She had thought about Shirou less since coming here to the church and spending time with the two older men, but when she does think about her sempai, her chest would cave in painfully than which has never happened before. Sakura supposed that it had something to do with the circumstances pertaining to the Grail war. Both her brother and Shirou have become participants. So was Rin Tohsaka. Thinking about these three people—who are all so important to her—fighting one another to death just to win an ancient wish-granting device…

Sakura doesn’t want to think about it anymore. It’s too surreal. Why should this damn War have to happen? The bloodshed and the casualties—the look in her brother’s eyes when he held her down and all because he was terrified about losing his place in the War after being rid of his servant—the rare glimpses of Shirou’s smile—the foreignness of a sister she used to have in Rin—it was all too much to bear right now.

Dinner came to an end among herself and the two men, and Sakura cleaned up afterwards in silence, carrying the plates and utensils back to the kitchen by placing them inside a cart she can push around. She was fortunate to find it inside one of the unlocked rooms earlier. The church’s extended interior housed many of these rooms, and they serve as private quarters. From what she can tell, they’re surprisingly spacious. She had never been inside all of them, though, but judging by the space alone in Gil’s room, she surmised that most of them must have the same structure. Father Kotomine told her during dinner that seminarians and nuns from other countries would often come to visit and live here for missionary work, and so this church would provide the gests housing and amenities. He also added that once the Grail War began, everybody else who had stayed so far in the church’s shelter have to evacuate since this place would have been officially declared as a neutral zone.

That would explain why everything is mostly deserted now, and Sakura and the other two men are the only residents. From what she can understand, this church was supposed to be a haven for a magus who may seek protection from enemies after said magus has been defeated and is bereft of a servant. Rules dictate that such a magus can still become a master again once a new servant is summoned. This master can make a contract with that servant and join the war again. Her brother Shinji was one as such.

“And so am I,” she found herself whispering solemnly as she washed the plates by the sink. “I’m also still a potential master.”

She remembered Father Kotomine’s words.

“You were once again given a chance to fight. Don’t take this blessing for granted.”

She wiped the plates clean with a towel and placed them inside the cupboard. But I have no wish that needs granting, she thought.

Again, the priest’s words filled her head.

"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?”

Sakura stared into her hands for a while as she stood there by the sink.

“I can’t do that,” she whispered to herself. “I have an obligation to my better. Nii-san is my better. He is the rightful heir to the Matous. I must only offer him support. I cannot fight in this war.”

She slowly turned her right hand to look at the sigil which contained the command seals. They were shaped like a flower with three red petals. Something about their form reminded her of the cherry blossom, her namesake—as well as a story she heard once.

The tale was about an old couple who adopted a puppy and took good care of him. To show them his gratitude, he dug a hole somewhere and found them treasure which they have lived off of. A few years later, the puppy died and the couple buried him. From the spot where he was buried, a big pine tree grew out. To honor the puppy, the couple cut down the tree’s trunk so they can make it into a mortar where they can make the rice cakes the puppy used to enjoy. In doing so, a magical thing happened. The mortar was filed with unending rice which meant that the couple will never starve until the end of their days. It was a blessing from their puppy who loved them very much.

However, a greedy prince came and stole the mortar for himself, but the magic wouldn’t work at all. Angry, the prince had it burned and then made the couple carry the basket of its ashes back to their home. Heartbroken, they decided to scatter the ashes on ground but a powerful gust of wind made the ashes land on cherry trees instead. It was already wintertime so the couple was surprised to witness that as soon as the ashes touched the branches, the trees burst into full bloom. They considered this another blessing from the puppy.

The greedy prince was impressed when he heard about this, and upon gazing at the beauty of the cherry trees, he was moved enough to ask for the couple’s forgiveness for his misdeed. The couple gave him the rest of the ashes for the prince’s own garden, while the prince sent them silver and gold and proclaimed them with great honor.

Sakura smiled to herself when she recalled the story. Everyone had a happy ending; even the bad man was absolved and changed his ways for the better. What was so great about that story is that the puppy’s name was also Shirou.

A fluttering in her heart confirmed that thinking about that association had made her happy, even for a brief moment.

She wiped her hands on the towel and walked to a chair where the priest’s long coat was. She was going to fold it neatly and give it back to Father Kotomine, but then she decided to put it on one last time, savoring the thick warmth that engulfed her. It was so comfortable to be bundled up like this right now as if nothing will ever hurt again.

Shirou also means “white”, she thought.

Sakura remembered another story this time.

A soldier was walking around aimlessly one day. He had been wounded badly in a battle some time before, and he knew he was going to die. He stopped by a beautiful tree with white petals on his way. Captivated by the sheer beauty of the tree, he was then reminded of the transience of everything, including a beauty such as that. The soldier stumbled to reach the tree and ended up dying upon its roots. He passed away with the acceptance that all things end. His blood mingled with the roots of that tree, turning its previously white petals into pink.

That tree became known as the cherry blossom.

Recalling that story, Sakura’s eyes once again lowered to the sigil at the back of her hand.

I’m tainted too, aren’t I? 

Closing her eyes as she felt the walls around her cave in, she spoke aloud, “I will never be clean.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

She woke up that night inside Gil’s room after tossing and turning for almost half an hour earlier. Sakura couldn’t sleep at all. Every time she tried to, her mind would wander and take her to strange places. After much thought, she got out of bed and wrapped herself with the velvety cerulean robe that Gil had provided for her to wear so she wouldn’t get cold. She had already returned Father Kotomine’s long coat during dinner. She wondered if the two men were still up. The priest was doing some paperwork when she left the office, while Gil said he was going outside to walk around for a while. She glanced at the clock in mantelpiece across the bed.

It was a quarter past two.

On the bedside table there was a decorative white lantern with a scented candle. She pulled a drawer and easily found a matchbox. She lit the lantern and took it with her as Sakura unlocked the door, and started to walk the lonely hallway all by herself. She wore silk slippers on her feet so her steps don’t even echo. The air nipped at her skin, making her pull her robe tighter against her shivering body as she soldiered on. Like most sophisticated buildings, the entire layout and structure of the church was elegant in the mornings but most decidedly creepy at nights. The shift in the atmosphere was made prominent now that Sakura was alone, and only the light from the lantern illuminated the passage she was trekking. Finally, she reached the familiar door of Father Kotomine’s office. She knocked twice and called out gently for his name.

Gil’s unmistakable voice answered her instead with a simple, “Yes, Sakura. We’re here.”

She paused momentarily. There was odd cadence to his voice just now. Unable to understand it, she opted to just let herself in and face her benefactors. Holding the lantern in one hand and the sash of her robe with another, she peered in with her head first from the pillared corner that blocks the view of the rest of the room. She saw Father Kotomine sitting in one of the two other sofas while Gil was once again stretched across the couch in the center.

“I beg your pardon,” she excused herself as she closed the door and walked inside. “I know it’s late but I—”

Gil immediately cut her off, “Don’t worry about it, darling. Come! Partake in wine and conversation with us, would you?”

Sakura blinked. That’s why he sounded somewhat different. He had been drinking. He wasn’t being loud or boisterous or anything like what she had witnessed previously when she would often come across groups of people having fun in the more crowded places of the New City. Gil’s demeanor was certainly more somber, if not languid and particularly…soft. It looked to her as if he was floating in a sea somewhere, lost in reverie. His entire body was relaxed, almost like he could sink into the couch and become a part of it.

“Thank you for the offer, but I would rather not,” she hastily replied as she settled the lantern on the small table, and then took a seat on the other sofa across the priest. She greeted him with a curt nod, “Hello, Father. I hope I’m not interrupting you and Gil-san.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Gil was still the one who replied. “We normally go to bed on a much later hour anyway. But this is a new thing, isn’t it, Kirei? I could have stayed out, maybe even hunt for my latest conquest of the night—and you should still be on that desk, attending to yet another boring work.”

Father Kotomine said nothing. He just looked down at his wine glass.

Gil sat up slowly and craned his neck towards Sakura from the other side, “Be a dear and pour me another?” he asked her with his glass outstretched to her direction. Moving his body to face her, he regarded her with a trance-like stare as if he wasn’t truly seeing her right now.

Sakura forced a normal smile as she complied. She reached out for the bottle on the table and poured more wine on the glass. This was the first time she served alcohol to anyone, not even sake. She sure hoped she was doing it right. Is there supposed to be some etiquette she should follow? As she placed down the bottle, she looked at Father Kotomine as if she was looking for some sort of approval, but the priest was still unresponsive and indifferent to everything else but the drink he was sloshing around before he took one gulp from the glass.

Gil was spinning his finger across the rim of his glass in an absentminded manner as he spoke up, “And why couldn’t you sleep, Sakura?”

“Well,” she nervously clasped her hands together on her lap, “I’m not really sure.”

“Bad dreams again?”

She shook her head, “I don’t think so. It’s probably nothing. I’m not at all that tired, to tell you the truth.”

“Perhaps you’re still getting used to your new surroundings,” Father Kotomine remarked, breaking his silence at last.

“How about some wine then?” Gil offered her his glass. “Just a sip. Warms the belly. Could put you right to sleep.”

“Oh, no!” Sakura raised both hands to protest meekly. “I-I’d rather not!”

Gil looked at her pointedly for the first time through the haze of his languor. He said nothing but he kept staring.

Father Kotomine cleared his throat as he slouched on the sofa. He loosened his clerical collar and then placed an arm over his forehead, almost covering his eyes from view. Sakura was surprised by that. He seemed less stiff now and completely uncaring of how he moved and conducted himself before them. It was a different side to the priest which Sakura was embarrassed to witness so openly. She turned her eyes away.

“Sip,” Gil was moving closer this time, and pushing the glass to her more forcibly. “Now.”

“Gil-san—”

“Obey,” he said, drawling the last syllable awkwardly before he snatched her by the chin so swiftly and pushed the glass past her lips. She didn’t have enough time to reach as the rim collided with her gums. Instinctively, she tilted her face upwards to receive the wine more comfortably, knowing that she might choke on it if she didn’t. She still did a little, coughing slightly as she covered her mouth.

Sakura wasn’t sure about the taste. It was both sour and bitter and definitely heavy on her tongue.

“You haven’t changed at all,” Father Kotomine grumbled from across the other sofa. “You can’t just force alcohol onto people’s mouths with disregard of how they might respond, Gilgamesh. It’s not polite.”

“Fuck polite,” Gil retorted dismissively. “Fuck priest.”

“She’s a minor too,” Father Kotomine shot back. “Minors aren’t of legal age to drink alcoholic beverages.”

“Don’t care. She likes.”

“You can’t even speak in complete sentences anymore, King of Heroes. Just shut up.”

“Asshole.”

“Um, Gil-san, Father Kotomine,” Sakura interrupted their argument. “I-It’s alright. It was j-just one sip after all.”

“More,” Gil was pouring wine on the glass but then somehow his hand slipped an inch and the table was soaked instead.

“Oh!” Sakura instantly stood up and tried to look for something in order to wipe off the mess.

“Clumsy bastard,” Father Kotomine took Gil’s jacket hanging from the couch’s ledge instead, and unceremoniously dropped the garment on the wet spot. Sakura spotted a smirk on his lips as soon as he saw the reactions his gesture incited.

“Father!” Sakura was shocked but not as shocked (and infuriated) as Gil was when he suddenly tossed the bottle at the priest. The priest had fast reflexes though, and deflected with his arm, leaving the bottle to shatter on the side, unseen from Sakura’s angle. The impact’s sound was deafening and made her cover her mouth as she gasped aloud.

“That jacket was my favorite, you hell-begotten priest! You spiteful mongrel!” Gil lunged at Father Kotomine, kicking the table away to the side. The glass resting on it tumbled down and landed on the carpeted floor, thankfully unbroken. The lantern wasn’t so lucky. She chose to pick it up first and examine the crack on one of its glass panes. She screwed the top open and blew out the candle’s flame.

When she looked across the men, Sakura found herself frozen on the spot as she watched Gil push the Father further into the cushion of the sofa by pressing his weight on top of him. He was now sitting on the priest’s lap with his knees burrowed on the sides of the Father’s hips. Sakura couldn’t turn away from the sight. She tried not to make a sound as she stood there.

“Get me a new bottle, Sakura,” Gil’s voice sounded normal again. It chilled her that she almost didn’t follow his instruction.

Apprehensively, she began to search the place with her eyes until she spotted a hole located in the wall behind her. There were some untouched bottles inside that cavern, and they all look quite expensive. Sakura hesitated to take one but then Gil growled another command at her that she was forced to do it anyway. Still holding the lantern on one hand, she darted aside and took one. As soon as she approached the two men on the sofa and handed the bottle, Gil pulled out the cork easily with just his fingers and then…poured the contents on Father Kotomine’s head!

Sakura couldn’t even say anything. She just stood there a few yards away from the men, wide-eyed with anxiety as the wine soaked Father Kotomine. The strips of red run down the side of his face and to his neck area. Droplets darkened some portions of his clothes while most of them also fell on the floor, indistinguishable from the carpet below. Sakura covered her mouth, knowing she should say something to prevent things from escalating, but was too worried that she might make it worse somehow.

Gil was chucking in wild amusement and didn’t stop until all the wine was gone.

Father Kotomine looked up with an inscrutable expression as if he couldn’t be bothered to attempt a normal reaction. He looked rather annoyed around the eyes though, but he kept silent.

A moment of silence passed. With a low tone and steady stare, the priest asked Gil, “Have you had your fill, King of Heroes?”

“Not nearly enough, you fool.”

And then the priest smiled. It was the kind of smile that Sakura glimpsed once or twice before, and one that made her uneasy.

“Then,” Father Kotomine tilted his face further up and looked as if he was presenting his throat to the other man. “Have at it, my liege.”

Sakura was stepping a few steps away, careful not make any sound. Her hand tightened around the lantern.

Neither of the men noticed anyway. Gil leaned in and dragged his mouth across the Father’s clerical collar. Sakura could see him biting around it. With what sounded like a purr, Gil proceeded to lick around the collar a few times, swiping his tongue to taste the wine that drenched that piece of cloth. He seemed content to do it too. Sakura can’t help but feel rather transfixed with the scene unfolding before her. Her chest felt tight as heat rose to her cheeks. She can’t explain the feelings that this situation has invoked; all she knew is that it can’t be good thing.

Without hesitation, she turned away hastily and ran out of the room.

It was still dark out, but Sakura managed to trip only once as she rushed to the safety of the bedroom. She locked it as soon as she was in, resting her back against the door as she tried to gather her breath. She was clutching the lantern to her chest so hard that her fingertips were going numb. Sakura was shaking but not because she was cold. There’s a pooling sensation in her stomach she cannot explain.

What the hell was that?

Sakura knew what it was, of course. A logical part of her brain acknowledged it, but a more stubborn part of her psyche refused to name what she had just witnessed. No matter how hard she tried to bury that event as nothing more than a memory, she could not repress it at all. It flashed before her eyes as she stood there, far too fresh and vivid to be forgotten completely.

Cautiously, she set down the lantern on the mantelpiece and walked towards the bed. She stared down at the sheets before she pulled them away to the side and crawled into the soft mattress. Sakura buried her face in the pillow and took deep breaths.

What she saw earlier wasn’t something she could easily deny.

Stop thinking about it!

Making up her mind then, she sat upright and took something underneath her pillow.

The black gloves.

She had washed them earlier. They’re still a little wet, but they would do just fine.

She put them on and then lay back down the bed.

A few minutes passed.

Sakura faced the ceiling and glared at the small chandelier.

And then her foreign hands shoved themselves under her nightgown and started pulling down her panties. Sakura shut her eyes, determined to block it all out as her fingers furiously started moving inside her wet folds. She started whimpering—writhing—moaning—folding her legs with her knees pointing upwards as she spread her thighs further apart for better access. Sakura kept her eyes glued to the ceiling as the rest of her body did its own business without her mind’s consent. She bit on her lower lip so hard that it drew blood.

The coppery taste reminded her of something else now.

His fist collided against her face. The kicks wouldn’t stop coming. The fabric screamed as it was being torn apart.

Sakura’s gloved fingers inside her had slowed down as the memories flooded in.

He punched her on the chest twice. Thrice.

She parted her lips some more, gasping for breath.

Gil stood over her, his golden hair bright against the dark sky.

The church on top of the hill.

Father Kotomine touched her cheek with a warm, steady hand.

The vibrant red sigil blooming at the back of her hand.

Shinji burst through her room.

He punched her everywhere, kicked her while she was down.

The tactile comfort of the rosary beads against her fingertips.

Sakura turned to her side and groaned in pain. She removed her fingers from her folds and squeezed her thighs together.

"This is all your fault! You stupid dirty slut!” Shinji shouted at her, fucking and fucking AND FUCKING AND FUCKING INTO HER until his semen coated her insides. And then the worms feasted on its mana.

“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit,” she murmured to herself as her tears leaked out. “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds’.

Grandfather looked down at her from the pits and cackled.

Sakura recited, “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

He laughed and laughed.

“Do not lose heart, do not lose heart…” she shut her eyes and repeated the words until they didn’t mean a damn thing anymore.

Her hands regained their use again and she clenched them into fists as Sakura’s eyes fluttered open.

I’m alive, she thought. I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive!

And then her lips twisted into a smile, filled with scorn and promise.

But you’re going to wish I wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

This is rain now, this big hush.

And this is the fruit of it: tin-white, like arsenic.

 

I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.  

Scorched to the root

My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.

 

-Sylvia Plath-

 

 


 

 

 

Sakura was only able to sleep for two hours, and even then it wasn’t peaceful.

My name used to be Sakura Tohsaka and now it’s Sakura Matou, she recited for the nth time as she lay there on the bed that wasn’t her own inside a room that belonged to a stranger who had saved her life once, whilst she was now under the care of a man—a priest—whom she might harbor feelings she simply wasn’t equipped to deal with yet.

My name used to be Sakura Tohsaka, and now it’s Sakura Matou…and I could never go back.

She had been living a nightmare. The intervals in between when she’s at school or at Shirou’s house, thinking she was always happy and safe, had been nothing more than a well-constructed self-deception. Now she was faced with two choices: does she continue reinforcing the walls to keep out the truths of her situation from flooding in, or should she kick them down once and for all and allow the deluge to wash it all away?

But will I ever be clean? Her right hand where the sigil had bloomed suddenly twitched.

Sakura felt crippled to choose anything at this point. Admitting that alone was rather hurtful. She didn’t feel liberated at all to find out that everything she thought about herself and the family she was raised in (especially the family who had forsaken her), the friends she had made at the archery club, the boy she have had a crush on—to finally accept that they were nothing more but distractions to compensate for all the suffering she was forced to endure is…rather pointless. It was almost laughable.

She recalled something that Gil said awhile back. He said: One day you will learn that even the deepest tragedies can be a little funny.

And so she started chuckling now. She couldn’t help herself.

Because really, though. What about the sham that is her life? How could she ever hope to overcome any of this? There is no freedom to be had, no silver lining or hope. She just felt angry and used. Raped. Fed to vermin. Cut off from the rest of the world. She has nothing to gain and everything to lose. So why not take arms and join the war?

Father Kotomine certainly believed she could shed some blood that isn’t her own.

Sakura stared at the ceiling, tracing with her eyes each delicate bulb of the small chandelier hovering above her. From this angle they might as well be broken shards that could fall anytime now and stab her in several places. And it wouldn’t make a difference. It wouldn’t hurt. But please, it has to. Pain was the only thing she ever had, ever owned for herself, and to feel none of it anymore would be unthinkable.

Has it all been a lie? Was she ever even happy?

Is that why the Grail chose her? Because she possessed the simplest and most cliché of wishes there ever was?

To be happy? But what would that even cost? Is she ready to find out?

She squeezed her eyes shut in frustration. Sleep wouldn’t come at all but she forced it anyway. She tried. And failed.

 

 

 

 

XxX—XxX—()—XxX—XxX

 

 

 

Gilgamesh woke up with a sore neck. The flesh around his throat was particularly tender, and he smiled through half-lidded eyes at the memory of last night’s brutalities. They have left impressions in several spots of his body, all of which ached deliciously as he made some attempts to wriggle around. The sheets below him were soft enough to be an acceptable substitute for his very own Egyptian silk in his room, and he pulled them up over his chest, sighing deeply in content. Frankly speaking, he was a tad exhausted. Since being granted a corporeal form, Gilgamesh had pushed it to its limits just to see how well he had been remade. The mud which spat him out from the last war was no match for the craftsmanship of the Babylonian deities when they molded the god-king ages ago, true, but he can’t exactly complain now, because at least he had been granted with the opportunity to walk this earth without worrying about some magus sustaining his form with mana.

Right now, he had reached a certain amount of limit, which is an acceptable consequence.

It wasn’t surprising too for if there was any mongrel mortal who dared to challenge him in physical endurance and somewhat have a leeway, it had to be Kirei Kotomine. Gilgamesh opened his eyes fully now to gaze at the man in question who was already sitting on the edge of the bed, buttoning up his long-sleeved shirt with his back turned to the god-king.

Shifting to lie on his stomach this time and half-crawl to reach Kirei, Gilgamesh playfully nudged his back with his knuckles, announcing in a bemused tone, “Pay homage to your liege king, Kotomine. For as sure as the sun rises each morn, my magnificence is renewed each day.”

Kirei immediately turned and stared back into his eyes. His expression was neutral as usual, but Gilgamesh had no doubt he could change that with a little, well, coercion. With a slight narrowing of his eyes, the priest replied, “And good morning to you too, King of Heroes.” A pause. “You’re in a good mood today, aren’t you?” A small smirk appeared on those lips. There is also a scarring on the lower lip which the god-king is responsible of. He took too much liking nibbling on it last night.

Gilgamesh snorted, “Don’t get too cocky, Father. Now that you’ve set the bar high, I expect you to surpass it next time.”

“Oh?” Kirei cocked his head to the side in feigned innocence which was both a grating and arousing display. “I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a one-off thing,” he surmised unconvincingly, as one hand dropped back to the mattress, a short distance from where the god-king lay.

“As if you could resist any part of me…” To demonstrate his point, Gilgamesh laid back and threw off the sheets to proudly expose his bare body beneath. He smiled expectantly as Kirei’s gaze lowered before he stared back at Gilgamesh’s face again, his smirk widening just an inch to appreciate what was offered. Without being prompted to, he leaned closer and bent down to capture the god-king’s mouth upon his.

“That’s a good mongrel…” Gilgamesh murmured as he tilted up his chin readily and parted his lips, ensnaring Kirei’s tongue between his teeth. He trapped it within the suction of their mouths before he used his own tongue to roughly jab at in teasing intervals. A low rumble at the back of the priest’s throat encouraged Gilgamesh to claw him by his muscular forearms and pull him down until their chests collided, and Kirei’s weight draped over him like a mass of dark things which put a pressure on his gut as the pooling sensation went straight to his cock. Kirei had yet to put on the rest of his clothing, so Gilgamesh was very pleased to reach down and swirl his thumb at the tip of the other man’s erection.

“Debase yourself for no one else but for my delight, you false clergyman,” he murmured as soon as their mouths unclamped. With a scrape of his teeth on the scarring of Kirei’s lower lip, he added, “To whom other would you commit atrocities with than with me, Kotomine? Who else would destroy and remake this godforsaken city of yours into a kingdom atop a pile of ashes and darkness but I? Who is your real master who freed you from your earthly chains, my lowly servant?”

With no distance at all between their faces, Kirei’s empty eyes bore like the sharp puncture of a knife’s edge into his pupils as his little fool responded: “You and none other, Gilgamesh, my Redeemer.”

The deep, husky tone of his voice dripped like tar into Gilgamesh’s pleased ears. With an unrestrained aggression, the god-king burrowed his nails at the back of Kirei’s skull, fingers entangling through the priest’s already tousled, unfashionable brown hair. He was tempted to tear a few strands just to feel the scalp rupture and ooze with blood.

“Well, well,” Gilgamesh muttered, “It looked as if I’m beginning to share your predilection towards violent behavior during sex.”

“Bullshit, you’ve always been a savage yourself,” Kirei’s grin twisted his features into something so gorgeously grotesque that Gilgamesh wondered if he could retrieve the memory of that sight later on in solitude and furiously jack off to it. He most probably will.

Their mouths aligned sinisterly perfect once more, ravenous as their teeth clashed.

His Redeemer.

The turn of phrase sounded familiar and as soon as Gilgamesh recognized that it was from a bible passage Kirei specifically read during Tokiomi Tohsaka’s burial, his arousal increased tenfold until he was almost squirming in excitement, tightening his claim on the other man, bordering on suffocation. The god-king wrapped a leg over Kirei’s back to nestle the other man’s hardness better between Gilgamesh’s awaiting thighs. He thrust upwards once, and then another, and another, and another before Kirei met his demands with a decisive force of his own hips driving down against the god-king. Gilgamesh bit Kirei’s lower lip in response, drawing out the coppery taste of blood.

He licked it away as soon as it seeped through the kiss.

Last night after their wine-drenched foreplay at the office, he and the priest barely made it to the bed since both were far too preoccupied fighting for control as they dragged each other across the hallway. They couldn’t even properly walk into a room and close the door behind them. Gilgamesh swore the bed had gotten crooked in the aftermath. Kirei had been pleasing in his service though, since all his pent-up savagery finally found a carnal outlet for the first time in a decade. Their relationship—and Gilgamesh chuckles sardonically in characterizing it as such—has been steeped in ambiguities for far too long, and it was actually refreshing to define it by adding in a fun dimension.

As far as recreational activities go, sex is easily Gilgamesh’s most favored one, and not merely because of the physical release it entailed, but more of the degradation that came along with the other person submitting themselves to the will of another. The priest needed to experience it firsthand, and Gilgamesh would be remiss if he wouldn’t be the one to handle Kirei’s education about it. The priest may have been a novice but he was an eager and fast learner no less, so spectacularly deft with his hands and mouth that Gilgamesh was stunned into a cacophony of approving moans and groans every now and then. The best part, of course, was the painplay.

Ah, yes. The painplay.

As if he was thinking about the same thing just now, Kirei withdrew from their tight embrace, slowing down the rhythm of his hips in the process just so he can admire the dark spots splattered across Gilgamesh’s pale neck. He traced the pattern with the very fingertips that inflicted those contusions. His smile now widened into a malignant sneer while he did. From this angle, the god-king could tell that Kirei must be reminiscing about the first time he wrapped his hands around Gilgamesh’s neck last night and squeezed. He also timed it with the god-king’s relentless thrusts inside his body, heightening the headiness of the experience for the both of them.

Gilgamesh let out a chuckle now and asked Kirei pointedly, “Enjoying the view, holy man?”

No response. Kirei simply kept fingering the bruises as if lost in reverie, and he probably was.

For his part, Gilgamesh reminisced himself, and remembered what it had been like when he claimed the priest for his own last night.

He had shredded through Kirei’s thick garments then, making a display of it as he tugged and yanked everything in the way until the other man’s well-toned body was laid out before him in all its alluring completeness, ready to be feasted upon. Gilgamesh didn’t fail to remark the fastidiousness and discipline it must have taken for Kirei to look this damn good as he traced each supple of muscle and skin with his tongue, enthusiastically alternating between swipes and swirls. As he ran a palm on the priest’s hardening cock, mapping his shaft and balls with delicate ministrations, he whispered only sweet things to Kirei; like how regrettable he was that in ten years of living together, the proud king allowed himself to take Kirei’s appeal and beauty for granted, and that he vowed to remedy that mistake fully from this point on.

“You still taste faintly of only the finest wine, beautiful,” he murmured after some time when he stopped sucking on the priest’s nipples which were cherry-ripe by now. Kirei noticeably flinched by the term of endearment. Grinning, Gilgamesh had goaded him, “Would you like to be called that, hmmm, beautiful? It is your namesake. Beautiful, beautiful…beautiful.”

Each time he did, Kirei’s expression turned a shade darker than the last. It was absurdly fascinating.

Gilgamesh cackled loudly and then pushed Kirei further into his back. He slipped his hands roughly inside the other man’s thighs and spread them apart. With as much vicious intent, he announced: “I am going to fuck you, Kotomine. I won’t stop until I’ve turned you inside-out and begging for release; until you are at my mercy, howling and sobbing like the filthy creature of madness that you truly are!”

He expected the priest to resist him and fight, like he had so in the past each time they danced so close to the edge like this—like the pointlessly hypocritical fake man of God that he was. But instead, Kirei utterly surrendered himself for the first time and hopefully not the last to the absolute will and authority of his superior.

“As you like, my liege,” he almost whispered, gazing up at Gilgamesh with those black holes he had instead of ordinary eyes. And the god-king had crushed their mouths forcefully then, prying Kirei with teeth and tongue in breathless possession.

Withdrawing abruptly, he goaded Kirei once more, “You need this don’t you, greedy whore? You starving ghoul…”

“Yes,” Kirei breathed softly through his glistening lips as he answered. “I need it, King of Heroes, and you shall give it to me.”

“You forget your place! Don’t impose such self-entitled commands on me, mongrel slut!” the god-king had slapped him then. He had sat atop Kirei’s abdomen when he did it, glaring at him. But even as his cheek reddened with the clear-cut assault, Kirei simply erupted in laughter.

“Yes…” he slowly turned his face to meet Gilgamesh’s eyes again. When he smiled, there was some blood in his gums, testifying to the strength in which the god-king had hit him. “That’s it, you gods-hating prideful, mighty king. Hurt me.”

“Oh,” Gilgamesh was simultaneously shocked and aroused by the intense look Kirei gave him. “Oh, I shall, harlot. I shall. But first, there are a few things you must learn first in the art of pleasuring a royal king. I demand only the best treatment.”

Half an hour later—once Gilgamesh had been properly serviced that he was sure he might explode if he allowed Kirei to continue attending him with his hands and mouth—the god-king finally commanded the priest to receive the ‘blessing of his seed’. He also added that Kirei should feel extremely honored with the privilege of accepting a man of Gilgamesh’s prestige inside him. The priest said nothing to contradict his ludicrous announcements, which was impressive. Often Gilgamesh would talk in such a manner because he enjoyed seeing how Kirei would react to his colorful speeches and turns of phrase. It’s just no fun if he received no response. No matter. Kirei had probably been too aroused to bother commenting sarcastically on things.

Far from discouraged, Gilgamesh had then ordered Kirei to fetch the lubricant needed for the activity.

“I might have one right here,” the other man pulled out a drawer on his bedside table. “Should this suffice?”

And so they had used one of Kirei’s bottled scented oils that a visiting nun gifted him months ago. Once slicked, Gilgamesh first slotted his fingers inside the priest’s passage, stretching him enough that would allow for the god-king’s length to slip in later. He prodded him with the tip of his cock next while watching Kirei’s reaction the entire time. He even commented on how ridiculously hot the priest looked; lying naked on his back as the perfect contour of his abdominal muscles glistened with the oil Gilgamesh had also coated him in. With a twitch of his own hard cock, Kirei never answered him with words but instead pushed back against the thickness almost halfway inside him, demanding to be satiated. Gilgamesh had laughed and decided to stop torturing the poor man.

As soon as he slid in completely with one smooth thrust, however, Kirei lifted himself up and then reached out to wring Gilgamesh by the neck. He was shocked at first that his grip on Kirei’s thighs hardened and he stopped thrusting in.

“Don’t you dare,” he warned Kirei with gritted teeth, his eyes flaring with the same dangerous threat.

But then something completely uncharacteristic happened.

With an almost pleading tone, Kirei asked him, “I beseech you, King of Heroes. Grant me permission to do this.”

Everything stopped. Gilgamesh understood in that moment that this was what Kirei had always desired and was unjustly denied of. He wanted to hurt and maim and destroy because these were the only things that brought him true pleasure, and the religious order he was brought up in had shamed him for having such desires; trampling on them as if they were just weeds as oppose to something that could actually flourish and bear fruit if only handled with care. Well, none of that hypocrisy anymore.

“You will suffer no longer. Now do as you must, my little fool…” Gilgamesh had murmured as he bent down closer for Kirei’s sake, giving up some of the control. Kirei didn’t hesitate to seize it then with excited hands. He squeezed Gilgamesh’s neck as hard as he could and, in response, the god-king fucked into him with an almost crazed rhythm. In doing so, Kirei’s hands on his throat loosened and he hit the back of his head on the bed’s dashboard, eyes squeezed shut as he growled, half-pained.

After a few more unyielding thrusts, Kirei opened his eyes once more, and used the heel of his ankle resting behind Gilgamesh on his small back for leverage to prop himself upward and meet the god-king with each onslaught. His fingertips pressed around Gilgamesh’s throat, knowing exactly where to apply the pressure to literally make the god-king gasp for some air.

Between shaky breaths, Gilgamesh had remarked pleasantly, “Kariya Matou—strangled Tohsaka’s—wife like this—didn’t—he?”

Kirei’s only response was by tightening his clutch.

Gilgamesh just wheezed out a broken laugh as his own hands circled around the priest’s wrists. He lowered himself to rest on Kirei, making the other man bear his entire weight as he slowed his pace. The bastard took advantage of this temporary pause and interchanged their positions. He slammed Gilgamesh back on the bed, their bodies disconnecting instantly, and proceeded to suffocate him. The god-king felt the panic swell up for a while as he kicked at nothing below, but then Kirei loosened his hold as he breathed hot air into his face and murmured, “My king, my king…you would make a very exquisite corpse. You won’t be pale but remain golden even in eternal sleep…” he sounded almost mad.

And Gilgamesh bared his teeth and growled, “And would you fuck my corpse instead of the live one under you?”

Kirei didn’t pause as he answered resolutely, “Not at all,  but when you die I’d put you inside a glass coffin near my bed, so I can wake up each morning and go to sleep every night watching you corrode and rot beside me.”

“I’m sure you would,” Gilgamesh had then stuck out his tongue to lick around his dry lips, “…if I don’t kill you first.”

Kirei laughed and the mirth even reached his eyes. Gilgamesh had to smile back.

After a beat, the god-king reached out a hand to Kirei and traced a few short chest hairs as he told the priest, “Since you obviously want to keep throttling me, why don’t you climb properly on top so you can put my cock back in you and ride me?”

“That sounds reasonable enough,” Kirei had kept his hands around his throat as he did exactly what was commanded of him. He moaned low as Gilgamesh’s length had pushed through within his slicked walls once more, and then he tested the angle with a few short downward thrusts before he had finally gotten used to it. Kirei proceeded to rock against Gilgamesh then, almost in a fevered state, grunting out while squeezing the god-king’s throat with his hands. The pain around his neck had expanded and made it hard to speak, but it was what he also wanted. Meanwhile, Kirei’s cock strained against Gilgamesh’s stomach, flushed and leaking out pre-come.

Blindly yet sure, the god-king had reached down and jerked it off in time with Kirei’s thrusts. With just a few choice strokes, the priest had come undone soon enough, painting their fronts with the warm stickiness of his seed. His hands loosened again around Gilgamesh’s throat, overcome by his orgasm. In turn, the god-king swiped a portion of his cum to taste its bitter saltiness as he maintained eye contact with the priest.

Kirei almost whimpered at that and before he could continue suffocating Gilgamesh again, the god-king grabbed him forcefully by the hips and shoved him back to the bed to lie on his stomach, pinning him down. Kirei was obviously surprised by the strength that Gilgamesh had displayed. Clearly he underestimated that about him. He is humanity’s first hero and rightful owner of creation after all. Of course he knew how to subdue lesser men in any kind of physical confrontation. He’s almost insulted that Kirei had neglected to take that into account.

“Is my aggression upsetting to you, priest?” he bent down to whisper on the other man’s ear as he aligned his cock with Kirei’s hole. Without warning or waiting for his answer, Gilgamesh pushed through and began ruthlessly pounding his ass again.

After another full minute of unrelenting, steady rough plunges of his cock inside the priest, Gilgamesh had come apart with an abrupt sputtering of his hips, but he still pushed forward through the wet burst of heat, riding his orgasm all the way through until he collapsed on Kirei’s back. He panted heavily, mind wiped clean for a brief moment, unable to lift his rubbery limbs. It was Kirei who had moved first as Gilgamesh felt him slip away under him, stretching his arms to disengage the added weight of the god-king from his back. Gilgamesh had turned to the side and fell back on the mattress with a satisfied smile on his face. His chest heaved as he lay there, counting the stars behind his closed lids.

“What is that strange look on your face, King of Heroes?”

Gilgamesh blinked away the memory of last night and stared at Kirei who still lay on top of him, one hand on his golden locks with his fingers splayed, the other still loose upon his throat. “Oh, I was just thinking of how malleable your body was,” he replied curtly.

With a calm sigh, the god-king pressed a chaste kiss on Kirei’s unresponsive lips next. It could almost be mistaken for affectionate. Kirei obviously didn’t appreciate it because he bent his head on the crook of Gilgamesh’s shoulder and bit down hard, almost breaking the skin.

“Vile bitch!” Gilgamesh pushed Kirei’s head back before he viciously cupped his chin with one hand and glared. “I told you that you must ask my permission before you try to mark me. Do you want to be punished severely again?”

The look in Kirei’s eyes told him that it was indeed what the priest sought.

“Dirty whore,” Gilgamesh muttered under his breath as he withdrew his hand.

Now Kirei opted to kiss him on the lips. “The king has such a foul mouth in the morning, doesn’t he?” he said, smirking. “Yet I didn’t mean to offend you. Your skin—is just so tempting to decorate with my teeth marks. But I swear I would abide by your commands better.” A pause. With a deeper tone, he murmured in a way that can be taken as seduction: “I could still feel you inside me, you know.”

That comment was filled with heat, and so his previous display of insolence was immediately forgotten after that. Instead, Gilgamesh smiled back and answered, “Must be distracting…” He stuck out his tongue and licked the scarring on Kirei’s bottom lip.

When the priest kept quiet and just stared down at him, the god-king offered. “Shall I take you again now, just as roughly as last night?”

And Kirei chuckled at that which was all the response it took. He pulled himself away from Gilgamesh and began unbuttoning his shirt. The god-king openly gazed at him in anticipation. Once Kirei shed his clothing and was again naked and enticing before him, Gilgamesh leisurely sat up and then patted down his left side of the bed. “Then waste no more time, you soiled mongrel slut.”

Kirei was grinning as he sank back into the mattress as indicated. Gilgamesh then burrowed his knees on the bed as he hovered above the other man. He slapped Kirei on one of his thighs, proclaiming “Come on now, faithful fool of mine! Spread yourself apart!”

“As you command, my liege,” Kirei looked gleeful as he lay there, staring up at Gilgamesh with an expression of reverence.

“You are absolutely mine in every way now, Kirei Kotomine,” Gilgamesh declared and decided to return the favor from moments ago, and gnash his teeth on Kirei’s shoulder as well. He didn’t let go until he drew blood. Kirei winced but didn’t make a sound. When Gilgamesh looked at his face again, the priest only offered him a smile of utter compliance.

The god-king took the scented oil bottle from under one of the pillows and uncapped it. As he poured a generous amount of it onto his palm, he told Kirei rather haughtily, “You are a man of faith, are you not? Then I suggest that you start praying to all the gods that you could still please this king to the fullest of your abilities.”

“There is no need for that anymore,” Kirei replied with a hushed tone, “I have only you to worship from now on.”

“Good answer! But then again, you have always been a promising student,” the god-king beamed at Kirei and ran a hand across the other man’s erection before swirling his thumb at the tip, making Kirei pushed back against the rough touch. Keeping their eyes locked on each other, Gilgamesh inserted two of his fingers into Kirei’s awaiting entrance below. There were still remnants of last night’s indulgence that cling to that passage, and the god-king savored the way the tight ring of muscles resisted at first before it finally gave way.

 

 

 

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After some time, Sakura was waking up again. She did eventually fall asleep after all in spite of the murky thoughts that overcrowded her mind just a few short hours ago. In comparison, her head also started to feel much lighter which is a significant improvement.

There was no denying it, however; her perspective has forever been changed, both for the best and for the worst.

She still lay there immobile, burrowed beneath Gil’s luxurious sheets, as she gazed outside the breaking of dawn in one of the larger French windows to her left. The shafts of golden light piercing through the glass began to thaw the remnants of her nightmares from before. To be renewed each day—isn’t that all she could hope for? Sakura decided that she can’t remain haunted forever. The ghouls could nip at her heels all they want, but she won’t trip and fall again. She will stand on both feet and trudge the threshold of her darkest fears.

The valley of shadow and death,” she murmured to herself. That specific line alone had invoked a powerful imagery from her childhood grief. It had scared Sakura at first, but every time she would recite it as she does now, and hold the image in her head, her resolve hardens, and it felt as if she can shoulder anything, regardless of the weight. Thinking that now, Sakura sat up on the bed and the swung her legs to implant her feet on solid ground. She looked ahead, right across the sun on the horizon, and decided she doesn’t want to hide anymore.

She folded the silk sheets then fluffed the pillows, making sure there was no crease anywhere in the bed. The clock on the mantelpiece read six-twenty in the morning. Sakura put on the silk robe and then stretched her arms up as she took a deep breath. She was very determined to do something productive today since she had promised her benefactors to help out with the maintenance of the church.

First things first: she walked back to Father Kotomine’s private office, cautiously peering in first when she found that the door was left ajar. There was no one inside, and she surmised both men must have retired to bed themselves after she left them. Sakura had to wonder, though…did they go to bed together? She decided it wasn’t any of her business. The office was in disarray though so she cleaned up the rest of the half-empty bottles and pushed the table back to where it was. She had to do something about the stains of wine in the carpet later. Sakura waltzed inside the bathroom connected to the office next since that’s where she had left her uniform.

Sakura had discovered where the laundry room was yesterday, and now it’s time to fix the state of her clothes because it’s a Thursday, and Sakura thought it best to show up for school for this week, just to take back a semblance of familiar routine overall. She had been recuperating for far too long, and her friends at the archery club may have visited her back at the Matou mansion, only to be turned away—by Shinji, most probably, considering Grandfather only came out at nights.

Humming quietly to herself, Sakura carried her uniform to the laundry room and scrubbed them by hand and soap first before she used the washing machine. It was a pretty old model but it definitely worked, including the dryer. The vibration from the machine was somewhat comforting as she stood there and ran her hand through the suds. Everything smelled clean and brand new that it was enough to forget her troubles for awhile. She had to shake herself from out of the stupor though since still had a lot of things to accomplish for this morning.

She knew she had to repair the tattered uniform later as soon as it’s dry. Father Kotomine told her during dinner last night that there was a sewing kit inside one of the nun’s rooms. He had given her a key for it. Where did she put it again?

She searched Gil’s room for the key, and pulled out the top drawer of the bedside table, but then she remembered she specifically dropped it inside a decorative bowl with colored stones near the large windows. She smiled at herself for being silly and the picked up the key from there. As she walked along the hallway again, she took her time, caught up in admiring the way some of the gray pillars seemed to grow larger as the sunlight touched them, as well as the tranquil atmosphere of the entire building where only the sound of birds and certain insects can be heard. Sakura’s shoulders relaxed as she breathed in. The scent of this place reminded her of rainwater and solitude. It made her wistful.

By seven-forty, Sakura had been in the kitchen for half an hour, and was almost finished preparing breakfast for the men. She wasn’t sure what time they plan to rise, and she didn’t want to intrude on their slumber, so Sakura decided to put the food in two separate containers and perhaps write instructions in a piece of paper that they could be heat up it in the oven. To do that, she had to borrow a pen and paper in the Father’s office. She hoped he wouldn’t mind if she looked through his drawers without permission. Sakura would’ve chosen not to do this, but she also had to write them a note about her whereabouts once she leaves later for school.

Father Kotomine certainly kept a neat workspace which didn’t surprise her one bit. Everything about the man was exacting and frugal, and these are quite upstanding qualities she admired. Sakura blushed and almost broke the tip of the pencil as she recalled certain other vivid details about the priest—like how he would talk (he had such a serene deep voice)—or the way he had rubbed her shoulders when he reassured her that everything will be okay—the warmth of his steady hand grazing her cheek—their fingers holding the tea cup together—the way the Father looked at Gil after the other man poured wine over his head—the wine-drenched clerical collar and the spot of his skin peeking through—

Sakura bit on her bottom lip and shoved the thoughts violently aside. Instead, she focused on writing the notes.

The note on her whereabouts was written in a post-it, so she stuck it on the door of Gil’s room since she’s sure that they’ll look for her there first. Afterwards, she went ahead to unlock the room where the sewing kit can be found. Upon entering, she noticed that the room hasn’t been used in a while. There are layers of dust on the chairs and tables, while some cobwebs have formed around the windowsills. Sakura was tempted to start cleaning the mess, but knew that she might arrive even more late to school if she didn’t budget her time wisely by now. So as soon as Sakura found the kit, she locked the door behind her and then headed to the laundry room to pick up her uniform so she can start repairing it.

It was already eight-fifteen. Sakura had no time to iron her uniform, which was unfortunate, since she had no idea where the ironing board was. In haste now, she went to the bathroom next to the office (since she wasn’t sure she could use the silver bathtub in Gil’s room), and took a shower. The water was so cold that it shocked her nerves, though in a good way. Once done, she wrapped herself in a towel and ran back to Gil’s room so she can change. With some reluctance, she put on the extra pair of brassier and underwear he had bought her—the red ones. She had no other choice. Sakura did give it some pause as she stared at herself in the full-length mirror while wearing the undergarments in question. They don’t…look bad on her, necessarily, but it wasn’t…it wasn’t a color that suited her.

Once she was fully-clothed, Sakura put on her black shoes and then glanced at herself one last time in the mirror to tie her pink ribbon on the favored side of her hair, as well as her collar’s ribbon. She only planned to stop by the archery club to talk to the captain and Fujimura-sensei, considering she doesn’t even have her school belongings with her. Somehow Sakura wasn’t certain she could even go back to the mansion, given the circumstances. But she also knew that crossing paths with her brother later on would be inevitable.

Still, it was curious how less afraid she had become of Shinji since last night. She loved her brother. She will always love him. But that love will no longer blind her, or lead her astray from the one piece of heaven she wanted to secure at this point in her life. He was the family she valued, but he was also her captor—her abuser. And yet, and yet she loved him. But can love also co-exist with hatred?

To walk the valley of shadow and death,” she muttered under her breath as she pushed open the church doors and stepped out into the light.

 

 

 

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“SAKURA, THERE YOU ARE!” Fujimura-sensei instantly wrapped her in a tight embrace and almost lifted her off the ground. Sakura gasped in shock, blushing tremendously with the warm and enthusiastic greeting. Under any normal circumstances she would have been scandalized, but it had been some time since anyone ever held her like this. The crushing weight of all that has happened to her two nights ago bore down on her, and so Sakura wrapped her arms around her teacher, burying her face in the crook of her shoulder. Fujimura-sensei stiffened just a bit, understandably unaccustomed to Sakura displaying any kind of intimate gesture like this, but she made no comment about it.

The older woman simply loosened her hold and then patted her consolingly on the back. But Sakura knew she had to pull away, lest she arouse suspicions for her sudden change in demeanor and conduct. “Um, sensei…” she began as she withdrew from her teacher. “Thank you for the welcome. I really appreciate it,” she clasped her hands together in front of her as she lowered her gaze to the ground.

“Oh, no need to be so shy around me, Matou-chan!” Fujimura-sensei grinned widely at her as she waved a hand, “But we have been so worried about you! And by ‘we’, I mean especially Shirou!” She nudged Sakura with an elbow now. “He wanted to come by and visit you, of course, but…I don’t know what that boy has been up to, honestly. But hey! I’m sure that he’d be so happy to see that you are well. I think he might be around here somewhere…” she trailed off. “A-Are you okay, Matou-chan? You still look a bit pale…”

“I’ve recovered enough,” Sakura answered as pleasantly as she could. “But I suppose I’m not exactly in the best shape, and I only stopped by to see you and the captain. Where is…” she also found herself trailing off when she noticed the frown on her teacher’s lips, “Sensei? What’s wrong?”

“It’s Ayako-san,” Fujimura-sensei merely said, her tone noticeably grim now.

“W-What about Mitsuzuri-sempai? Is she okay?” Sakura blinked rapidly as she asked again, “Did something happen?”

“I suppose you wouldn’t know, would you? It was right after the incident at school and a lot of the students were sent home, including you,” the teacher led her to the nearby bench so they can talk more privately. “Ayako-san stayed behind yesterday here at the club to do some chores, I guess. I told her she should go straight home because it hasn’t been safe around Fuyuki lately—with all the unexplained crimes.” A pause. “Anyway, she went missing for a while. They only just found her earlier this morning.”

“Was she okay? Did she get hurt?”

“Hmm. I’m not sure,” the teacher closed her eyes for a while. “Her parents were very guarded about what exactly happened, how they found her…where they found her.”

Sakura clenched her fists on her lap. Fujimura-sensei must have noticed that because she placed her hand on top of them. When their eyes met again, the older woman smiled at her, “It’s going to be all right, Sakura. I’ll keep you posted directly if there is any news about Ayako-san’s recovery. I believe she was taken at a hospital, but they wouldn’t say which one, though.”

“It’s a tad suspicious, isn’t it?” Sakura couldn’t help but speak up.

“What do you mean, Matou-chan?”

“Everything about it, especially why no one could say how they found her—and what happened to her.”

“I’m sure it’ll all be cleared up soon once the parents are ready to divulge the details.”

“What if they don’t?” Sakura’s eyes hardened all of a sudden. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “What then, sensei? What if no one ever finds out who hurt Mitsuzuri-sempai? There are some families who would rather just keep secrets because they are far more concerned protecting their reputation even if it meant endangering their own child!”

“Sakura!” Fujimura-sensei reached out to hold her by the wrist as soon as Sakura forcefully stood up. “Hey, what’s the matter? You’re getting all worked up! Think of your own health, dear!”

She eventually did calm down. Before she could apologize for her outburst, the older woman asked:

“Why would you think somebody must have hurt Ayako-san?”

Sakura only blinked. She didn’t bother sitting back down.

“Matou-chan…Sakura…” Fujimura-sensei spoke carefully now, “Do you know something?”

The combination of suspicion and doubt casting over the older woman’s features was hard to look at. Instead of answering her directly, Sakura only replied, “So many girls could only suffer in silence because somebody else made that choice for them.”

Now the older woman stood up too, tightening her grip on Sakura’s wrist. She looked very worried. “Sakura? What happened to you?”

You wouldn’t have the heart to hear it even if I told you.

“I’m fine, sensei. I guess I’m still a little fatigued,” Sakura tried to diffuse the situation before things could get more out of hand than they’ve already had. Gently, she put a hand over the older woman’s that was still clinging to her wrist. “I’m very sorry if I frightened you. That wasn’t my intention. Please just forget what I said, sensei.” She forced a smile.

“Sakura,” Fujimura-sensei’s tone was still stern. “Your hands…why are you even wearing those gloves?”

Sakura’s eyes widened.

What?

She looked down at her hands. When—when had she put those on? Why couldn’t she remember?

“You’re not okay, are you?” the older woman released her and pressed a hand over Sakura’s forehead this time. “You are a little warm.”

“Then maybe I should go home…” Sakura’s voice sounded small. She was still looking down on her gloved, foreign hands.

Before Fujimura-sensei could reply to that, a voice from behind the both of them interrupted.

“Don’t worry, sensei, I’ll take care of her.”

Sakura’s chest ached. She couldn’t turn around to the direction of that voice, afraid she might give away her real feelings.

“Oh, it’s a good thing you’re here, Matou-kun,” Fujimura-sensei waved at him to come closer. “What’s going on here anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be a good big brother and take care of your sick little sister? You shouldn’t have let her leave your house in the first place.”

“Quit fuzzing over something so trivial, sensei,” Shinji finally stepped closer, judging by the nearness of his voice. Still, Sakura wouldn’t look. He continued to speak nonetheless. “And I’m not her keeper or anything. If Sakura finally got bored staying all by herself in our mansion the she is free to do whatever she likes including going to school.”

“It’s still your job to look after her, Shinji!” The older woman sounded a little annoyed now as she crossed her arms.

“Why do you think I’m here now?” Shinji returned the animosity. “I’ll just skip second class then since that is your English class, right?”

“Well…” Fujimura-sensei almost pouted.

“So what is it going to be?” Shinji sounded like he had just smirked. “Do I have your permission to walk my sickly sister back home, sensei?”

“Fine!” Fujimura-sensei gave in but managed to point a finger at him warningly. “But you better come back as soon as you get her safely home! You can’t skip the entire English class, you know!”

“I get it, I get it!” A pause. “Hey, Sakura, what are you spacing out for, girl? Let’s go!”

He tugged her by the arm without bothering to check with her. Sakura had no choice but to start walking next to him in meek silence. She didn’t even dare glance back at her teacher; too terrified to reveal something in her gaze if she did. When they disappeared from view and were now approaching the school gates, Shinji surprised her when he abruptly took her hand. Their fingers immediately interlaced as if it was the most organic thing in the world. He didn’t say anything about the gloves she wore.

Sakura risked a glance and saw that Shinji was just staring straight ahead, his expression devoid of any emotion.

She must have kept staring too obviously because now he met her eyes. Sakura winced.

A snort. “I said stop spacing out, you stupid bitch.”

His hand tightened around hers and suddenly it wasn’t comforting to be holding his hand anymore.

“I-I’m sorry, Nii-san.”

She wanted to pull away but knew the consequence of doing so would be grave.

“Whatever,” Shinji chided her again with a dismissive snort as he tugged her almost painfully now as they walked. “Just hurry up, for fuck’s sake. It’s bad enough that you’ve been shacking up with that priest, all safe and taken care of, while I had to limit my exposure outside in case other Masters try to attack me.” His hand moved upwards to hold her by the elbow now, his fingernails digging in. 

Angrily, he spat out, “Do you have any idea the kind of shithole I found myself in?”

Sakura’s voice shook as she answered, “I know, Nii-san. It’s my fault. Let me make it up to you.”

Her brother looked at her in utter disgust. “Don’t be such a slut. I don’t want to do that with you right now!”

“Th-That wasn’t what I—what I was…” Horrified, Sakura tried to explain herself.

Shinji stopped walking and pulled her aside to a narrow alley squeezed between two houses. He then sharply turned her body to face his. “Shut up,” he half-whispered as his eyes darkened with annoyance. “You’re coming with me to church so we can ask that Kotomine to perform the ritual. You are still going to relinquish your command seals and offer them to me, right?”

His nails once again punctured through her long sleeve, almost breaking her skin.

“O-Of course!” Sakura nodded in panic and tried to quell her fear, “I-I will do anything…anything to make sure you get your wish, Nii-san. But…but don’t you have to go to class?”

“Let me worry about that!” He yanked her arm some more.

“I’m sorry, Nii-san! Please don’t be mad anymore…”

Shinji stared at her for a while. The blaze in his eyes is almost gone. His grip slackened at last.

“Gods, Sakura, you idiot,” he just muttered as he let her go completely, taking two steps backward to gaze at her some more. “I don’t have a fucking wish. I just want to win the goddamn grail. Why are you always so dense anyway?” He paused. “Now come on! You still have a role to play in all of this shit, and I expect you to know your place very well.”

“Yes, Nii-san…” Sakura clasped her hands in front of her.

“Do you know the one place you belong to? Where you’re supposed to remain as?”

“As your dutiful sister,” was her ready answer.

“No,” Shinji tossed his hair as he smirked enigmatically at her. “You’re not my family. You’re just some bitch that we took in because we felt sorry for you. Don’t go having some high ambitions now. You will never be as half as good as a mage as Rin Tohsaka clearly is.”

Sakura’s eyes began to tear up in spite of herself but she said nothing in response.

“Your place…” Shinji stepped dangerously closer again, invading her space. Her back was now against the wall. Craning his neck downwards, he whispered, “…is under me. At all times, whether in this Holy Grail War—” one of his hands grabbed her breast, the thumb pushing into her nipple. She froze, petrified all over as he added, “—or when I’m fucking your dirty cunt. Do you understand…sister?”

Sakura could only nod stiffly. Fear had taken over, and she could not bring herself to argue with him.

Pulling away slightly, Shinji ended up breathing hot air into her face as he said in all malicious softness: “Now. We still have time before we can go to church. So why don’t you be a good little sister…get down on your knees…” his hands pushed her down by her shoulders, “…and suck me off?” A chuckle, dark and demeaning. “I mean, you did just say that you want to make it up to me, right? And I have missed you, Sakura. You’ve been gone for a while. Hold on…don’t tell me you’ve been fucking that priest?! First Emiya and now that old man!”

“Of course not!” Sakura protested, shaking to her core.

“I don’t believe you,” Shinji only smiled, goading her. “A slut is a slut. Now do the only thing you’re good at!”

She was already on her knees as Shinji grabbed her hands so he could guide them to unbutton and unzip his pants. She whimpered but didn’t protest or fight back. A rational part of her wanted to retreat and put an end to this once and for all. And yet, and yet—

“Come on then, slut, hurry up and do as you’re told!”

Wiping her tears with the back of her hand, she zipped down his pants and took out his half-erect cock.

“Do it the way I told you before. You do remember, yes?”

Sakura responded only by jerking the shaft with one gloved hand for a few strokes until it hardened. Shinji moaned above her. Without any kind of warning, he just grabbed her by the back of her head and forced her to swallow his erection as far as she could take it down. Sakura squeezed her eyes shut and tried to breathe through her nose while Shinji held her stuck in place, doing—as always—whatever he pleased.

 

 

 

 


 

Chapter Text

 


 

I am inhabited by a cry.

Nightly it flaps out

Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

 

I am terrified by this dark thing

That sleeps in me;

All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

 

-Sylvia Plath-

 


 

 

 

 

Shinji had dragged her by the elbow as they made their way through the pews. He shouted for Father Kotomine to come out. His voice was hoarse, mixed slightly with a tinge of unmistakable desperation that made her tense up involuntarily in his grasp. But Sakura kept her mouth shut the entire time. Her jaw was still sore from earlier too, as the aftertaste of her brother’s seed still lingered persistently on her tongue. She felt so nauseated that she was sure she was going to pass out if it wasn’t for Shinji holding her upright.

Shinji cussed now as he called for the priest’s name again.

Finally, Father Kotomine showed up from a corner neither of them noticed. Sakura couldn’t bring herself to look at him, not in her dirtied state.

“Good morning, Matou-san,” the priest said with that same deep, monotonous voice Sakura had learned to find comfort in. The greeting however was addressed vaguely. He could be referring to either of them, or both. Sakura had to raise her head to be sure which one, and when she caught Father Kotomine’s eyes and read the unusual twinkle in them, she understood that his cordial formality was all for appearance’s sake. She suddenly felt less alone just knowing he was here now.

“Cut the crap, Father, and do what you must with this,” Shinji let Sakura’s elbow go just so he can shove her before the priest. “I have no time to waste anymore! Besides, we’ve had that discussion last night, remember? I came to your church, seeking protection, and you guaranteed that I can enter the war again as a master so long as I can acquire another servant. And then, there’s this boring stuff you told me about command seals and transference, much like the last time, only more…surgical in nature?”

He chuckled at the emphasized word which made Sakura shiver and hug herself tightly. It occurred to her that the meeting Shinji had spoken about was the one where the priest told her to go back to the office and wait for Gil’s return. He acted as if she could have been in danger then. Did he know that it was just her brother all along? Why not divulge that information during dinner last night? But then again, Sakura shouldn’t be so bewildered about this, should she? It was already established that the Father and Gil were not always as forthcoming they seem. Of course they’d keep secrets from her. She was just a child to them, a mere possible casualty of the war. Why would she hope they trust her enough to keep her on the loop about things? Everyone has deceived her so far…

Father Kotomine started walking down from the steps of the altar so he can approach them. Without another word, he outstretched a hand towards Sakura’s direction. Understanding immediately what he was asking for, she walked forward and lifted one of her hands to place it on his palm. The priest reached forward with another hand and peeled off the black glove she’d been wearing without knowing, and Sakura winced as if the mere action burned her. At the back of her hand was the blood sigil shaped like petals. She was too upset to look directly, so she opted to avert her eyes to the side. The priest then returned the black glove which she quickly pocketed.

“See here, Matou-san? The command seals have already appeared fully on her skin,” Father Kotomine explained as Shinji walked forward to examine what he meant. “As we have talked about in length from your last visit, I still advise you to come to terms that your sister will always be the rightful participant of the Grail War and not you. But you already know this—you who do not posses magecraft and therefore cannot wield magic of your own.” Shinji was going to say something vehemently defensive about that, but then the priest continued, “After being selected by the Grail, Sakura-san went to all that trouble summoning Rider, and yet chose not to fight at all. It’s a baffling turn of events, that much is true, but you have stepped up to the plate…” the Father turned his eyes coldly towards her brother, “…only to fall short.”

Shinji gritted his teeth and looked as if he was ready to hit the older man but he said nothing and only sharply looked away.

Sakura never told any of these details to the Father during the course of her stay, but she wasn’t surprised that he found out about the arrangement among herself and Shinji and Grandfather. Maybe Shinji had divulged this information during their encounter yesterday. In any case, the cat is out of the bag. Besides, Sakura’s decision to give up her role as a master will never be changed no matter how many times the Grail chooses her. She can’t fight, not if it meant having to kill other participants—especially Shirou.

“But Sakura-san and I also had a conversation,” the priest explained. “And, much like before, she chose not to fight, and specifically asked to give you her command seals. So you come to me to do this task, and as the Overseer, I am more than willing to facilitate the transfer.”

Father Kotomine was still holding her hand. She felt two of his fingers graze against her palm which made her slowly look up at him. She detected a tiny smirk on his lips. As if she could read his mind, Sakura could feel her cheeks and neck grow hot. It was as if he was secretly communicating with her by his choice of words, and that additional skin-on-skin contact. That touch was most definitely intentional. Sakura kept staring at the Father. He seemed to have read her mind back since that smirk definitely widened as if to confirm her private thoughts.

She wondered if she should say something, but quickly decided against it since Shinji was still conversing with the older man, and she couldn’t be rude—let alone let him know the mutual understanding between herself and the priest. She decided to find solace in the fact that the Father was taking her side. There was no mistaking it. The priest may often be inscrutable in his motives but it’s always the little things in his speech and manner that often give him away. Sakura would like to believe she can be perceptive enough to detect them.

In the last few months since they started conversing, all she wanted was to know Father Kotomine better. He was an enigma to her—something to unravel—and getting close to him felt…natural for her. Maybe she does have that kind of feelings for him. Would it be so sinful to feel that way then? Of course it was because he is a man of God—but she just can’t stop herself.

“To acquire her command seals would entail me to perform a form of transference which requires a surgical technique, a rather advanced aspect of healing magic.” The priest turned her hand this time so that her palm was facing him. Then he used his other hand to trace a finger across the visible veins on Sakura’s wrist as if testing their texture. She could feel her pulse racing as he did, and so she had to look down just to avoid eye contact with the Father altogether. His touch was making her blush so furiously, as she was becoming even more aware of how deeply she was…drawn to the priest. But Sakura can’t allow herself to be so obvious about it now, not while her brother was standing next to them. He had already accused her of impropriety a while ago—of having relations with the Father—and she can’t give him any reason to further impugn the priest’s honor by insinuating any kind of indecency had been happening between herself and the older man.

“I don’t care! If it hurts then it hurts!” Shinji spoke up. The irritation in his tone was growing more ominous. “Just do it and give the command seals to me so I can take up another servant! Sakura knows her place and will do whatever is asked of her. Won’t you?” he gripped her shoulder and forced her to turn towards him. She followed, whimpering slightly as his nails dug into her skin again.

“Yes, Nii-san, I will obey,” was her ready, rehearsed reply.

Tersely, Father Kotomine said, “Then it is decided. Let us begin.”

 

 

 

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Byakuya didn’t even look at her during that first two months.

Kariya had already been consumed by the worms after he failed his mission to obtain the Grail, and so Sakura was commanded by the Matou patriarch Zouken to be adopted by the other brother. But Byakuya paid little attention to her in those months; merely sparing her a phrase or two about what she must do or which room to confide herself in. Sakura wondered if she could ever call her ‘father’ in his presence, or if she ever wanted to. But Sakura knew it’s dangerous to want things for herself. Zouken—Grandfather—strongly cautioned her against individual desires. As the new addition to the Matous, Sakura should only aspire to serve the family, and obey its men most of all.

Her new father, unlike the old one, was no mage of prestige. The late Kariya at least had the potentials and makings of one, but Byakuya showed no interest or capabilities to be a mage, and Grandfather didn’t bother training him either. Byakuya had a son, though. She heard Grandfather mentioned him twice during a conversation he had with Byakuya which she can’t help listening to from another room. Sakura wondered what kind of boy he was, and if he would ever come live with them in the mansion.

It was only about four days later that Byakuya brought his son Shinji to stay in the mansion and get acquainted with Grandfather.

Sakura had just come back from the pits and was still reeling from the worm infestation when Shinji stumbled upon her at the top of the stairs. She had collapsed at the final flight, trembling and muttering something incoherent to herself as she tried to summon all the strength she had left to make it back to her room and get the rest she required.

Shinji had come to her aid, rushing to catch her before her head hit the awaiting hardwood floor. He had shaken her awake, and breathed a sigh of genuine relief upon seeing her look up to him, even if she was still unable to speak. She would never forget the smile he bestowed upon her then, and how it brimmed with kindness and concern she wasn’t accustomed to since becoming a Matou.

He had pulled her closer to him and muttered, “I’m so glad! It would have been awful if my little sister got sick on the very first day I moved in.” Sakura was shocked to hear those words and it must have shown because Shinji widened his smile and just added, “My name is Shinji. I guess I’m your older brother. Father said you lost your family so we’re your new family now. Don’t worry, Sakura. We’re going to take care of you…” He had let her go then only so he can put a fist on top of his chest where his heart was.

With a more serious expression, he said: “I swear it in my honor as a man!”

And she laughed. It was the first time she did so since becoming a Matou. She forgot her ailment and fatigue and stood up so she can give him a small curtsey. Sheepishly, she told him, “My name is Sakura. It’s nice to meet you…” she trailed of, unsure how to address him.

“You can call me your brother!” Shinji beamed at her again, flapping his arms a little on the sides in a rather comical manner that instantly endeared him to her. “It’s okay if you do! I’m actually pretty excited to have a little sister!” He had paused, looking embarrassed now. “So yeah…just call me whatever. It’s fine either way…”

“Then I guess I’ll be calling you…” Sakura thought some more about it before she settled with, “…Nii-san from now on.”

“But isn’t that too formal?” Shinji pouted a little, crossing his arms in front of him now. “Onii-chan would be better!”

Sakura blushed now. “I, uh, I don’t know…Shinji Nii-san.”

“Fine…” Shinji looked deflated for a second before he smiled again. “I guess you’re a very proper girl, aren’t you, Sakura? So if you’re more comfortable with a more formal honorific then it’s fine with me. Although I think ‘onii-chan’ still suits me better, you know…” he said the last one with another pout but then he recovered fast again and asked her, “Have you eaten yet? I bought some donuts from this pastry shop we passed by getting here. Want some? Of course you do! Who doesn’t like donuts?”

Sakura blinked rapidly and couldn’t seem to stop blushing but she managed to clasp her hands together in front of her and nodded.

Shinji had taken her hand without preamble and was already guiding her down the stairs as he enthusiastically kept chatting, “The box is composed of a dozen, but I already ate three. I like the ones with colors than the plain-looking ones. I think the eyes should be intrigued too and not just the taste buds, and that’s why I ate those three doughnuts because they’re the ones that looked the most appetizing. You can have the pink ones. Maybe they’re strawberry-flavored. Do you like strawberries? I think they’re awesome. I once picked strawberries from a farm when I travelled with mother before she passed away. You put them inside these little baskets that are so cute and…”

Sakura had listened to the older boy ramble on and on about his adventures and preferences, and found that she felt light on her feet the more she did. Shinji had kept holding her hand as they climbed down. Their fingers interlaced quite naturally together that she imagined it was only the two of them in the world, and nothing else. The thought of that made her flush in silent joy.

She had decided then that she could follow him anywhere as long as he held her hand like that.

 

 

 

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Sakura bit down a scream that fought to come out as soon as Father Kotomine burrowed three of his fingers inside the flesh of her right arm. They disappeared right through her muscle and bone. The searing sensation of pain made her knees weaken, and she would have fallen right there and then if the priest didn’t keep her upright with his other hand which gripped her by the elbow to keep her in place.

“It will only take less than a minute,” he told her simply with a gentler tone as he probed around the same spot over and over as if he was unscrewing something loose. “Breathe in and out. Yes, like that. Keep doing it and focus on anything else but the pain…”

She shut her eyes and whimpered. Father Kotomine’s fingers wriggled around that spot again, but the pain has somewhat dulled momentarily before he slowly pulled out his digits. That very action caused all her nerve endings to react violently, and she almost wanted to wrench her arm free of his grasp. As if anticipating this, the priest started speaking again. He leaned down and whispered, eyes glued on hers. “It’s almost finished, Sakura-san. You’ve experienced something worse than this, so I know you can handle this small inconvenience.”

His words filled her with the determination to prove that this was indeed the case. She steadied herself and just breathed in and out in succession. After what seemed like a lifetime, the priest finally retrieved what looked like small ball of energy from inside her arm. Shinji immediately stepped forward and outstretched his hand towards Father Kotomine, who implanted the ball of energy at the back of Shinji’s hand as he recited a bible verse. Sakura listened to the words carefully as she watched the transfer.

“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

The sigil appeared at the back of her brother’s hand with one final flash of bright red.

“YES!” Shinji punched a fist upwards. “Now I’m back on the game!” He twirled around for a bit as well.

It is as it should be, Sakura thought, but there was no denying there was a sensation of loss she could even feel in her bones.

Sakura and the priest just stood there, waiting for him to finish celebrating. As soon as he did, Shinji faced Father Kotomine once more and asked him pointedly. “And now, for my servant? You said you can provide me one, did you not? So where is my new servant? What class of heroic spirit is it?” He raised an eyebrow as he rubbed his palms together in excitement.

“Yes, I have,” the older man answered. He paused before he suddenly called out: “Grant us the grace of your presence, King of Heroes.”

Sakura’s eyes widened in disbelief. Is this really about to take place? A part of her wanted to rebel but she held it in.

From a pillar near the altar, Gil stepped out. He had his hands inside his pockets as usual, and he walked almost soundlessly as he approached the three of them. He had his eyes fixed ahead, as if he couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge each and one of them. Once he reached Father Kotomine’s side, however, he glanced at Sakura once, but didn’t smile like she expected him to. This worried her for some inexplicable reason because it was if he didn’t even recognize her. The priest spoke up again with his deep voice booming within the confines of the empty church.

“Shinji Matou,” he began, “This is a heroic spirit of unmatched skills and stature, and must be respected as such. You are standing before the famed first hero of humanity, the mighty king of Uruk and Babylon—the demigod hero whose story of valor and conquest were depicted in an epic that is still being studied and interpreted to this day. Behold, Matou-san, your new servant of the Archer-class—Gilgamesh.”

Sakura had trembled as the priest made that impressive introduction about the man whom she had always suspected to be more than just an ordinary guy. When she heard his full name for the first time, she thought it was familiar but couldn’t place it. What she did ascertain is that he came from an ancient age, and participated in the previous Grail War as a former heroic spirit. That was all Gil himself had explained that first night when he brought her to his room and they have lain together to sleep. Afterwards, he insisted for her to call him by his shortened name. And now that the Father had essentially listed all of his credentials, Sakura was definitely in awe and slightly frightened about it. How could someone who belonged to another time—and a legend at that—be truly someone she had spoken to many times in the last two nights, and had even touched here and there? She felt self-conscious all of a sudden and tried to make herself inconspicuous now.

“Oh, wow!” her brother had exclaimed. “Yes, of course I know who Gilgamesh is! I read a book of that way back!” He addressed the King of Heroes now. “You’re the legendary Mesopotamian king, right?” The one whom the goddess Ishtar wanted to marry but whom he turned down because he thought she was a repulsive bitch!” He laughed now, “That was a rather amusing turn of events, by the way. Freaking hilarious! That really happened right?” He met Gil’s stare expectantly, as if he was really hoping for a confirmation.

But Gil barely blinked. His expression was so blank that even those penetrative red eyes seem to lose color.

It was Father Kotomine who spoke up instead. “You may form a contract with him now, Matou-san.”

But Gil finally said something, addressing no one in particular, “I must be taken to the Matou household today. There are things I want to see.”

Her brother was grinning, more than ready to accommodate the request. “Oh? What, pray tell, would you like to see?”

A fleeting expression of amusement crossed Gil’s features as he simply uttered in response, “The pits.”

 

 

 

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“This is my trading card collection!” Shinji had announced proudly as he opened a hefty box on the bed where he sat down. “My favorites are the Magic the Gathering ones, of course. Have you seen them? Ever played before? If not, you could buy a starter pack. It’s like a mixed bag of goodies, and if you buy enough you can begin assigning decks.”

Sakura said nothing. She just sat there on the chair and watched him, with one hand holding a powdered donut inside a tissue.

Shinji was so absorbed shuffling and counting cards, lost in his own little world, that he stopped paying attention to Sakura for a while. She didn’t mind. Sakura had never met anyone so exuberant and passionate—aside from the older sister she used to have, of course. Sakura smiled sadly at the memory. When Shinji had looked up from his preoccupation, he said, “You should finish that donut, Sakura. It’s better when it’s warm. That’s the pink one too! Pretty delicious, right?”

“Yes, very delicious,” Sakura muttered quietly as she started eating again, chewing slowly.

“Do you want me to teach you how to play cards?” Shinji had asked.

She nodded once, unable to meet his gaze due to shyness.

“Well, you can borrow one of my decks from Magic,” he added. “Let’s see…I’m going to lay them all out, and then you can just point to the deck that appeals to you. I only have four decks for now, and my favorite one is this!” He had pointed something on the bed but Sakura only glanced briefly so she wasn’t sure what it was. Still, she acted like she understood everything perfectly and smiled at him.

“Cute!” Shinji grinned back and then reached out to pinch her cheek. “Sakura is really cute when she smiles!”

Sakura only looked away and went back to eating her donut. Her cheeks felt like they were going to melt.

As the night approached, Sakura had stayed inside Shinji’s room and was even lying beside him on the bed as she watched him play his Nintendo. After a while he got bored and allowed her to play it as well. When Byakuya came by and told them to eat their dinner downstairs, both of them said they weren’t hungry, and so Byakuya commanded Sakura to go back to her room, and for both children to retire to bed early. For the first time in months, Sakura spoke to him by addressing him in his official role.

“Father,” she said carefully as she fingered the hem of the sheets Shinji had already wrapped her in, “May I please sleep in Nii-san’s room tonight?” She was so nervous that she could feel her teeth chatter. Sakura had never called Byakuya that until now, and she’s also afraid that by verbalizing such a request, he might finally express hostility and scold her. Before anything else could happen, Shinji also piped in.

“Pleeease, Dad!” he said, “Please, please let Sakura sleep here tonight! We promise we’ll be quiet! Pleeease!”

For a while Byakuya just stared at the two of them, looking slightly annoyed. It was also the first time he even looked at her directly like this, and the weight of his gaze was making her squeamish for some reason. Sakura tried to hide behind Shinji, dreading what he would say next. But then Byakuya’s expression had softened as he reached down to pat Shinji’s head, messing up his curls as he did. He didn’t have to say anything after that. Byakuya simply switched off the lights, closed the door and left them. Shinji was thrilled, and had hugged Sakura so tight she could feel her chest bursting, but mostly because she was also overjoyed. He had pulled away only so he can grab the sheets. He used what looked like clippers to hang them above the ceiling where a rusted hook was located. The pink and blue sheets draped over them like the delicate insides of a jellyfish. Finally, Shinji took a flashlight from his drawer and turned it on. The small space inside the bedroom where it was just the two of them burst forth with radiance against the darkness around them.

The box filled with his trading cards was on the edge of the bed near their reach, and he only had to grab it so he can show more of the contents to her. With a dramatic whisper, he had started explaining each deck and Sakura, wide-eyed, listened attentively, rapt by the words he used which she couldn’t understand fully, but were nonetheless intrigued by. A few moments later, Sakura had told him about her old life and how much she missed her family. They talked about Shinji’s mother too, and Sakura held Shinji’s hand tightly when he began to cry a little. And so both of them stayed huddled like that together; just talking and comforting one another. She hasn’t spoken to anyone in months since Kariya died. Sitting on bed with the flashlight illuminating the glow of Shinji’s face, Sakura had felt like they were sharing secrets no one else should know, and it was wonderful and intimate all at once. She had embraced him then, unable to stop her emotions from flooding in.

Shinji had said nothing about it and merely pushed off the box of cards back on the edge of the bed so he could slide down and place his head on her lap. His eyes were close, and Sakura surmised that he was probably tired and sleepy. She smiled in all tenderness as a hand brushed over his bangs. Leaning her back against the wall, Sakura rested one hand on her brother’s hair and the other on top of his chest.

They had fallen asleep together like that, with Sakura savoring the rise and fall of his breathing under her palm.

 

 

 

XxX—XxX—()—XxX—XxX

 

 

 

The water below the bridge had a dark clarity. It disguised the heavy currents, creating an illusion of tranquil waters without any creatures lurking beneath it. Gilgamesh observed it with some amount of scrutiny, but was in reality more preoccupied glancing at the girl beside him, who was only a yard away. Sakura had her arms resting on the ledge much like he was, serenely looking across the stretch of pale blue sky ahead of them. He must have been staring longer than he intended because the girl returned his gaze at last with a weak smile. Instead of smiling back, the god-king moved closer to her until their arms almost touched, separated only by his casual restraint. As if on cue, she lowered her gaze. She made no sound or indication that she wanted to put some distance between them, but neither did she start the conversation. Just as well. Given what had happened two hours ago, he could hardly expect that she would be in any mood to talk to him.

The meeting with that brother of hers left a rather distasteful impression on the god-king, not because Shinji Matou said and did something particular to offend him. In all respects, that boy was rather forgettable that Gilgamesh couldn’t even be bothered to waste any more brain cells contemplating him. What he was curious about was the Matou household, and the infamous pits where their successors were subjected to intensive training which, to an outsider’s perspective, is just a creative roundabout of saying torture. When Shinji Matou took him to the place, the god-king found it surprisingly homely. He wasn’t really sure what he was expecting, only that he had to see for himself the very place where Sakura’s nightmares took root for the first time. He had seen worst places in his time, but he supposed none of that mattered, and he doesn’t consider himself that callous to actually inform Sakura that.

“Things were getting interesting lately,” he remarked without any implication of note. It was just a general observation.

Sakura still wasn’t looking at him. She fiddled with her fingers instead, which is a clear sign of someone caught up in her own thoughts. Gilgamesh had the patience to withstand even the most aimless conversation, granted that the other party intrigued him enough to waste time on. It’s been only three days. That’s how brief he and the girl have been acquainted, and yet a lot has happened in between, and Gilgamesh wasn’t bored. At least for now. He can’t help but sense that another shoe was about to drop soon.

“I hope the arrangements are pleasant for you and Nii-san,” Sakura finally responded, clasping her hands together steadily this time. “He may not be able to wield magecraft as efficiently as most mages, but he is capable enough with basic spells. And given your credentials as a heroic spirit—I just think you and him were the perfect match. I’d like to also thank you, Gil-san.” She paused so she can finally look at him with a small, unconvincing smile. “My brother wanted to win the Grail, and by making a contract with you, I believe he was given more than a fighting chance this time around. So, thank you. It was very generous of you.”

“Is generosity the right term for it?” the god-king eyed her icily. “Or was it just dumb luck?”

Sakura shook her head. “You could have easily turned him down. Father Kotomine explained after you and Nii-san left together, that you have been reincarnated by drinking an elixir of youth, and therefore only need mana as an additional reinforcement of some sort, but it’s not necessary for you to retain physical form in this world. The Father also said you don’t want to win the Grail for yourself either. So why help Shinji win?”

Ah, so Kirei had fed her those deceptions already. Gilgamesh allowed himself a tiny smile as he turned his eyes downwards where the river meets the land. “I don’t want the Grail but I do have a need for it.”

“A need for the Grail?” Sakura sounded very interested about that, but he was in no mood to share.

Instead of indulging her curiosity, he asked her back instead. “What else did you and Kotomine discuss?”

He narrowed his eyes as he stared at her, and she deflated instantly under the scrutiny. She mumbled, “Nothing more.”

After a short pause, she added, “He had somewhere else he had to be right after you and Nii-san left. I stayed behind. I did some chores again. I even washed your jacket, Gil-san. I hope that was okay. And then I took a short nap.”

Gilgamesh just hummed in response. Earlier this morning after another carnal round with the priest, he got up to see how Sakura fared, considering she had witnessed the prelude itself. He found a note plastered to the door of his room instead, citing that she left to go to school. When he showed Kirei the note, the other man wasn’t alarmed about it, and was actually counting on it. He also theorized that Sakura would have unavoidably crossed paths with her brother, which meant giving Shinji the command seals would happen sooner rather than later. The priest could be clairvoyant that way. What was surprising was that Kirei requested for him to form a contract with that little buffoon. Gilgamesh would have turned down the idea but he didn’t really have any blatant reason to, aside from the simple fact that he doesn’t want to be bothered with the triviality of looking after someone like Shinji under the pretense of abiding the master-servant contract.

But Kirei insisted for the god-king to put up with Shinji which isn’t a difficult task. It’s very much like asking Gilgamesh to stand next to a harmless animal that has neither bark nor bite. There was still that matter about acquiring a vessel for the Grail after all, and Kirei had plans to make use of yet another Einzbern doll. Gilgamesh agreed to do his part of the equation by fetching the girl’s homunculus heart, and apparently having Shinji as a master is just another convenient cover. All this scheming and strategizing in the shadows can be an absolute chore to the god-king, so he didn’t complain and just let Kirei do whatever he wants as long as the Grail’s completion is guaranteed in this War. It was crucial. Gilgamesh has had enough of this ugly world to stay bound for another ten to sixty years in it. That just won’t do.

“Gil-san?” Sakura called him out of his thoughts, “Why did you bring me here exactly?”

“A change in scenery? Look, you don’t have to worry about your brother,” he answered her, turning his body to face her as he put one arm on the ledge. “After all, you saw how willing he was to send you off when I was the one who demanded for it. He did shock me. Considering the kind of slimy bastard he is, I would think him foolish enough to deny me. But he must be indeed desperate to ensure my cooperation without wasting a command seal, and so allowed me the blessing of your presence for the rest of the day.” He paused so he can finally smile at her. “Make that the rest of the night. I asked Shinji if you would like to stay here, and he couldn’t turn me down. Hell, I think he’s coming back to the church later because I also asked him to send for your clothes.”

Her eyes widened. “Y-You didn’t!” But she looked rather pleased about it nevertheless.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, darling,” he remarked insidiously, “We both know that you don’t want to go back home.”

Sakura said nothing. Her eyebrows just furrowed together as she slowly gazed back at the sky.

Softly now, Gilgamesh leaned closer to whisper, “I found you right there by the riverbank. On that spot.” He pointed without looking.

She still didn’t say anything but her eyes definitely followed the direction of his finger.

After another pause, she finally said, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Gilgamesh wasn’t trying to be insensitive. He didn’t care but he offered, “The church has a garden. You’ve never been, right?”

“I don’t think so,” she blinked up at him.

“Then shall we?” he offered his arm for her to take. It was a rare, involuntary action; one that he didn’t expect would be something he would do. Courtesy and chivalry had always been baffling and laughable concepts to him, but every now and then he would indulge on human social norms. Right now he thought some semblance of normalcy would be refreshing for himself and Sakura. Because why not pretend, even for a moment, that she can be a worthy enough companion for today? She was still a source of fascination, and something had changed about her since last night. There was a new look in her eyes as she met his stare right now—a spark of astuteness that hadn’t been there before.

For the most part, the girl spoke not a single word after her command seals have been taken from her. She had spoken of volunteering them since the day she came to stay with them, but Gilgamesh also glimpsed a lingering regret in her expression once the transaction finally took place earlier. Kirei only divulged that Sakura had already been a master from the start literally minutes before the Matou siblings appeared, and Shinji had demanded Kirei’s presence. As it turned out, Sakura summoned a Rider-class servant long before Rin Tohsaka or Saber’s master (whose name he never cared to learn) ever did. Gilgamesh was displeased with this misinformation from both the priest and the girl, and should find a way to make them regret keeping him in the dark like that, regardless whether it was intentional or not. In any case, things have proven to become more beguiling now that the stakes have been stacked against Sakura. She claimed disinterest about the Grail War, but the forlorn expression in her face when she saw that her brother will acquire the god-king himself as the servant spoke more volumes.

It was up to him to question her about it now. There was still the matter of unraveling the girl after all.

“Are you sure you’re okay being seen with me like that, Gil-san?” she asked. Her hesitation was rather endearing.

But Gilgamesh answered her dismissively, “It would be grievous to reject my offer, but you can do as you like.”

He dropped the arm he offered, but then she interjected. “No! I wasn’t saying that at all! Please don’t be angry with me, Gil-san!”

With a small step forward, Sakura slid her arm around his, linking them together. Her cheeks were understandably flushed. Gilgamesh didn’t care to comment on it, and buried his hands on his pockets as he began to walk in purposeful silence. She met his pace step by step, even as her head turned to the side one last time as if to glance back on the spot by the riverside where she could have easily perished years ago.

Perhaps she would have had if it wasn’t for my mercy, Gilgamesh thought.

He never fancied himself as anyone’s savior, but Sakura does owe him her life, and he wouldn’t mind exploiting that gratitude.

 

 

 

XxX—XxX—()—XxX—XxX

 

 

 

The garden at the church was less of an eyesore now than it had originally been when Gilgamesh first moved in. The church on top of the hill was the foremost home of the assigned Overseers of the Grail Wars, and a sanctuary for defeated masters who may have lost servants but are still in danger of assassination by their enemies. But aside from that primary function, it also served as a place for clergymen and nuns to gather when they are on missionaries, and this was why a hallway of living quarters is connected to the church itself. Years before, the place got nearly crowded, and Kirei performed so many ceremonies and attended to many duties that he was almost impossible to get a wind of. Gilgamesh understood easily enough that the priest had to devote himself to his religion, and normally, in a different time and place, Gilgamesh wouldn’t have cared. He would have other people to entertain himself with, women to ravish, and other men to compete and win against. But this era was not his own, and there are so many things about it that perplex and annoy him.

Whenever Kirei was steeped in his routine, Gilgamesh had often gone out by himself for long walks in the New City, throwing his money on new high-end clothing or certain types of food that appealed to his taste which were rare. He had tried his hand at gambling, and because of his inherent luck as bestowed by the old gods, he had acquired large sums of the currency, which he then proceeded to waste on more clothes, sometimes jewelry. They are nothing compared to what he had already collected in his treasury though. And then he bought a few whores from what is called an ‘escort service’, but had become tired of them after a whole month.

And Kirei still remained inaccessible, but the god-king would not, even then, admit that the priest was the only deserving company he found enjoyment talking to, even if Kirei would be resistant and unresponsive if Gilgamesh poked him too hard enough. 

The god-king sought stimulation and pleasure, and New City, this wretched Fuyuki, had depleted resources for that.

And then one boring afternoon he decided to explore the other corners of the church’s estate and found the garden.

It was horrid, composed of nothing but ugly shrubs, wild weeds and dead flowers. There was, however, a great Elm tree at the heart of it. It was as tall as the church which was probably why it remained hidden from view unless you know exactly where it was planted. In his youth, a millennium ago, Gilgamesh had climbed trees much like it and played and slept there, often distressing servants because he would purposefully hide there just to mess with them, or when he refused to study the day’s lessons. Only his mother Ninsun could make him come down, if she doesn’t climb the tree herself. She had been a vibrant, courageous woman who smiled more with her eyes than mouth. Gilgamesh had adored her. He would like to think she was carried to the pantheon of the gods much like his father, but Gilgamesh couldn’t be certain. So much of his ancestry has been diluted and fragmented for the consumption for today’s history books. He didn’t like to think about it because it only makes him angry, and he doesn’t like to get angry because he doesn’t want anyone to know he still cared.

“It’s so majestic, isn’t it?” Sakura spoke up beside him all of a sudden. He almost forgot her presence.

Gilgamesh turned to her and then gazed back at the tree. He said nothing.

“I didn’t know this garden was even here, but I suppose I wouldn’t have known unless I walked around the place for a while,” she added, still fiddling with her fingers, “It’s very nice of you to bring me here, Gil-san. Thank you.”

He let out a sigh. Still with her stiff manners and proper conduct, as if any of that hypocrisy would make a difference.

No matter. She’ll break. Intriguing things would pour out her then, and no more of this polite drivel she kept spouting.

“What kind of tree is it, anyway?” she asked him with another mild smile.

Gilgamesh only blinked at her. “It’s an Elm.”

Sakura sounded fascinated as she looked back at the Elm, “Really? It’s very big and beautiful. And look, Gil-san!” she raised her hand towards the sky where the sun is at its peak. She was giggling a little as she explained to him, “The shade is so plentiful that you can barely feel the sun’s heat on your skin, but it also helps you look right at the sun because the leaves act as a shield.”

Gilgamesh opened his mouth to agree on her observations, and comment that the Elm is indeed the only thing that is worth a damn in this church, if not in Fuyuki itself, but decided against it. She doesn’t need to know how he feels about anything, really. She’s just a child and a willfully ignorant one at that. But her innocence as a façade remained captivating to him.

“You’ve never been outside that much, have you?” he asked her in a dry tone.

Sakura slowly lowered her hands and looked away from him sheepishly. “Well, I ordinarily just go to school and then come home every day.” A pause. “I do stay by a sempai’s place to help him out with breakfast and dinner most of the time…but that’s the extent of my going out, I guess.” She let out a nervous laughter that softened her features. She wasn’t meeting his gaze again, though.

Instead of responding, Gilgamesh found a spot under the Elm and sat down, leaning his back on its sturdy trunk. Sakura remained standing, eyeing him uncomfortably. He merely indicated for her to sit beside him with a wave of a hand and she complied, if not with some reluctance.

“What does your brother think of that?” he immediately asked before she could even properly settle down on the spot.

Sakura impressively brushed off that question with a simple, “He doesn’t mind. The sempai is a friend of his.”

“Do you know what he said to me earlier after I told him I wanted to spend time with you today?”

She looked at him now, still smiling cordially.

“He told me that I can do whatever I want with you,” Gilgamesh lowered his voice into a hushed but ominous tone, “Your brother is under the impression that you have been warming my bed since you came to stay here days ago. I didn’t bother correcting him since you have taken shelter in my room. You have slept on my bed. It’s a technicality but it still counts, doesn’t it?” He grinned at her now.

Her expression darkened for a second but then she tried to put on another smile again when she asked, “And do you require me to service you in that capacity, Gil-san?” Slowly, she put her hands together on top of her lap and met his gaze more directly now. Sakura was trying her best to keep it together, to submit herself to his will because she believed it was expected of her, and Gilgamesh can’t decide right now whether to find her dedication to her role to be either laughable or pitiful. Or both.

“Your brother assumed I had been fucking you, and your response is to prove that I can definitely fuck you if I require it of you?” How dull.

Her lower lip quivered but she still tried to smile.

“Stop that. You don’t need to bullshit me,” he found himself commanding in an annoyed tone. Taking a short pause, he further lowered himself on the ground so he can stretch his legs. Using his elbows for support to prop himself up as he lay down on the grass, he told her, “At least the whores in Uruk want sex even as they sell it to their bidders. Unlike your whores in this period, the ones who existed in my time have devoted themselves in the womanly arts, and have taken some pride in it too. Sexuality didn’t have to be either trifling or excessive. It was a normal practice to acquire pleasure, or express private worship to the fertility gods.”

Sakura said nothing at all. When he looked at her again, she had her head bowed as if she was in mourning. No, she looked more as if she had just been scolded by a parent. And, in a warped way that’s almost comical, he had done just that. Gilgamesh waited for her to raise her eyes to meet his before he asked her in a serious tone, “Do you like sex?”

Her eyes widened. Such an improper question would shame a proper lady, of course. What nonsense. He chuckled and just said, “Of course you don’t. I assume that is the case given that the only sexual encounters you’ve ever had were not of your own volition. In time you will find that sex is a woman’s art, and I pity the men who will come across you, Sakura Matou. Even now, I could tell…” he gazed back at her, his smile widening some more, “…that you can become the kind of woman who can wield power over men. That is, of course, once you learn to control it first…nurture it. You are more capable than you yourself keep denying, Sakura.”

“I-I don’t…” she was grasping her hands together now, shaking a little. “I don’t think this is appropriate to t-talk about—”

Gilgamesh ignored her false protestation of modesty and declared in utter nonchalance, “So Kirei and I had sex last night. But you left the room so abruptly. I would have invited you in.” He gave her a tiny wink. “Would you have liked that?”

She was deathly quiet all of a sudden.

“I’m just going to assume that you do,” Gilgamesh sat back up properly and laughed.

“Father Kotomine is a priest and had taken vows of chastity,” she simply mumbled with her head bowed.

But Gilgamesh heard it and replied teasingly, “And Sakura Matou is a master of the present Grail War and had been given command seals. And much like you throwing them away, so did Father Kotomine with his silly vows when he and I finally explored each other’s bodies last night in agonizing detail, may I add. Did you know he enjoys some form of pain and punishment during—”

“Stop it,” she muttered quietly but with firmness in the tone.

Gilgamesh half-glared at her. “Are you commanding this king? Do you dare, little girl?”

“I am no little girl,” Sakura met his eyes now, “And you are no king. Not anymore.”

Gilgamesh grinned. And then he grabbed her chin harshly and pulled her closer. She didn’t make any sound or movement.

“See?” he said, whispering the words as he deepened his gaze, “You’re far more enjoyable to talk to when you speak your mind aloud like this.”

Sakura finally shook herself away from his grasp and then tried to stand. But Gilgamesh circled a hand around her wrist and kept her down as he said, “Won’t you stay, darling? The weather is pleasant and your company is most desired. I’ll allow you to talk back to me too, only if your words have substance and you do away with your manners. Those fakeries are not welcome in my presence.”

“You’re very rude,” she only uttered, glaring at him openly this time.

“And your mask is slipping,” Gilgamesh smiled brightly at her as he reached out with his other hand, cupping her cheek. “I want to see.”

She sat there immobile at first, her eyes still sharp as she returned his stare. But she remained just as quietly defiant as well; Gilgamesh was sure she wasn’t even aware of her change in demeanor. It’s quite pretty, just like before in the office, when she ceased from hiding in her well-cultivated lies. Sakura had walls much like most women, but hers have cracks in the foundations and that’s where he planned to slither through. Gilgamesh would be remiss if he doesn’t take it upon himself to educate the ignorant. Sakura has a well of grief in her, but her longing is far greater, and right now was the most opportune time to test those murky waters.

Finally, after what seemed like the longest pause in history, she asked him point-blank, “Are you and Father Kotomine…lovers?”

“Actually,” Gilgamesh lowered his hand, releasing her chin as he answered truthfully, “That would be the last thing I would use to describe my relationship with Kirei. It’s not something that can be explained or understood, so don’t ask.” He raised an eyebrow, “But this is progress, Sakura. Demure, polite you wouldn’t have asked something so…unrefined and vulgar, yes?”

Sakura lowered her gaze again but she wasn’t doing it to be shy or insecure. She did it because she couldn’t stand his presence anymore. The animosity is a good thing though. At least it was genuine. With a tone she tried to keep neutral, she replied, “You said sex is ordinary to you. A function. So am I right to assume that your encounter with the Father served no other purpose but self-fulfilment? That you simply used him as he…” she then shook her head. She gulped down and then looked up at him, “I can’t believe that you could do something so casually; treat people as if they’re objects, and care little about their feelings. Or perhaps…”

She trailed off for a few seconds before she gained confidence and voiced out the rest of her thoughts, “Perhaps he used you back.”

“No one is using me,” Gilgamesh easily dismissed her foolish ramblings, “The world is my garden, and everything in the world belongs to me.”

Sakura blinked at that statement. And then, miraculously, she laughed. It was a broken one, but also real.

“Your garden?” she asked him in what seemed to be a challenging tone, “Gil-san, you almost sound like my brother.”

Now that had crossed a line. Gilgamesh narrowed his eyes at her dangerously and almost lost his temper for a moment.

Quietly yet in a seething tone, he demanded, “You dare compare me to your insipid mongrel of a shitty sibling? Hold your tongue, little girl.”

She shook her head now, seemingly unable to reconcile what she heard coming out of his mouth. “I can’t believe you, Gil-san,” she said in that same tone of bemused defiance, “I know your claims do hold weight, I do. You are a legendary king and hero. But your arrogance—” she emphasized, “—is something so commonplace. I’ve encountered it before. It’s nothing new or impressive. But to have everything, to be everything, and then to condemn anything else as beneath you—I suppose this condition is unique only to you, a so-called King of Heroes."

Boldly, she added, “But you are…you are also a rather sad, empty man, aren’t you?”

Gilgamesh wanted to hurt her. He wanted to reach out and pull her hair; to cut her tongue and make her swallow it as she gurgle the blood and saliva. But he did none of that. What made him reconsider striking her from where she sat were those eyes. Her ugly, pigmented eyes of purple—they were moistening with tears. She didn’t say those offensive blasphemies to insult or try to injure his ego at all; she said them because she was concerned and sympathetic. One of her hands was on her chest as if her heart just broke and she was trying to hold the pieces together. This reaction was a lot more horrible than anything he had ever anticipated. No one had looked at him as if he was a wounded animal that needed to be nursed back to health. Not even Enkidu. And no one should. He was no broken thing to be fixed.

What nonsense. What utter, laughable and presumptuous nonsense!

Carefully, Gilgamesh countered her comments as icily as he could, “I am Gilgamesh, the origin of myth. I am an offspring of royals and gods. I posses the world’s greatest and most extensive treasury which overflow with weapons, jewels, material goods and even the finest of wines. I am no ordinary man. I am not one to be pitied or feel sorry for. You forget your place, you profane child. You would never matter as much as I do. You’re a mongrel to be tossed aside and was fed literally to vermin while I am the rightful king of the world. How dare you say such vile things about me? How dare you sit there and consider yourself equal to me!”

The god-king stood up now just so he can look down at her, like the peasant she is who belonged at his feet.

Sakura was indeed looking up to him as she replied, “Then I envy you, Gil-san…” her tears leaked out at last, staining her cheeks as she continued to speak, “You know who you are, what you are and what you will always be. And I…” she paused to wipe her tears and swallow a lump in her throat. “…I want to be like you, Gil-san. But in my own way, of course. I want to belong only to myself. I want to stand the way you do and tell the rest of the world that I am my own person. But...but I—” she chuckled, sniffing as she went on, “—I don’t need to rule the world like you do, though. I just want to take precedence over my own life…” she clenched her fists as she looked down on her lap.

Fresh hot tears watered down her skirt, forming dark spots. A few landed on her knuckles.

“What would it take?” her voice was now muffled by her sorrow as she wept and talked at the same time, “To be born in the right family and a privileged background? To be intelligent or beautiful or desirable or ambitious? I would have been all of those things. I was…I was a Tohsaka. But fate, it seemed, had other plans for me.” Almost crudely, she used one of her sleeves to wipe her tears, “So you’re wrong, Gil-san. You’re wrong. I know my place. And my place is beneath my brother like he said. Earlier—earlier before we came to church, he told me I belong under him to be…to be…to be fucked!” she forced out the word with so much anguish that her eyes screwed shut. “And I let him use me again, Gil-san. I let him do whatever he wanted because I was worse than vermin! I was the food that is fed to vermin!”

Now she looked up at him again with reddened eyes as she shouted the words, “You said so yourself! I don’t matter! I will always be tossed aside! I’m NOTHING!” She started pounding her lap with both fists, crying out.

Sakura then covered her face with her hands as she wept for a long while and Gilgamesh only watched her crumble apart below him. He said nothing and remained still like an imposing figure of self-made might, as distant as the sun above them. When there were no more tears to shed, she removed her palms from her face and slowly looked at him again. Her eyes have gotten puffy and small, and Gilgamesh just stared down, measuring the next steps to take. He honestly had no idea what to say or do. But it’s not even right to say that.

He knew what he could say or do. He could tell her she should accept her fate and smother that spark of hope that things can change. He could laugh at her face and drink in the fullest depths of her sorrow. Gilgamesh knew he could be a cruel man. He demonstrated countless of times he can take pleasure too in someone’s downfall and destruction.

But this—this wasn’t one of those times. He looked down at Sakura Matou and saw no need to crush her at the bottom of his shoe. To do so would be like trampling on a sprout in fertile soil; something that’s still growing and will one day blossom into a plant—even possibly become a tree like the Elm if the conditions are right. He could see that as clear as the time he saw her broken, molested body by the riverbank. She was an eyesore, much like this garden used to be, until he glimpsed that mighty tree at the heart of it.

Sakura Matou sat there on the ground with haunted eyes that don’t belong to someone so young, surrounded by wild weeds and dead flowers. He imagined her back at the pits now, covered in worms. He remembered her small breakdown in the kitchen, staring at the black gloves she wore in her hands as if they're shackles. All the world’s ugliness have clung to this girl, all sucking at her teat and diminishing her free will.

Something seemed to twist in Gilgamesh all of a sudden. He felt a little sick. The sensation was so foreign that he was unable to name it at first. When he did, it was a shock of electricity. It was something he had forgotten he could still feel, and would allow himself to feel again right now.

“If you value your life, you will stand,” he spoke softly.

She was still trying to catch her breath after crying so much earlier, but she obeyed him nonetheless. Her knees shook as she awkwardly tried to pull herself up. Gilgamesh waited patiently. Sakura found purchase on the Elm’s trunk as she carried her weight while she stood up. She swayed once or twice but did not fall back down. Sakura met his gaze again even though he could see that she would rather not. With one hand on the trunk, her other was clutching at her chest as if she was about to rip her heart out.

In complete silence, Gilgamesh stepped forward. It only took two steps to reach her.

After some time, he finally commanded her, “No more tears. The way of the world for someone like you is harsh and brutal. You are not special. You were not the first little girl in this world to be taken captive and raped and belittled. But you seem to know your place well enough. You said you belong beneath someone else, next to vermin and other vile things.”

Sakura bowed her head as if in agreement.

“What nonsense,” Gilgamesh clicked his tongue once and then tilted her chin up with a finger, “Did you choose to be in that place?”

“No,” she answered.

“Do you want to be somewhere else instead?”

No hesitation now as she said, “Yes.”

“You said you want to rule your life, to be beholden to no one else but your own self,” he leaned closer as he added, “But are those aspirations limited only to wishful thinking, Sakura? Are they only lonely declarations you whisper to yourself in the dark? Or could they become something more, like a threat—a promise to slay the very gods themselves if that’s what it takes to achieve power over your own life?”

“I don’t know,” Sakura’s eyes were tearing up again.

“Then find out,” Gilgamesh released her as he took a step back. “And no more tears, I say.”

She looked down at her hands in quiet contemplation for a while. She could either be imagining those black gloves again…or the sigil that she gave away, something that had belonged to her that she so easily surrendered. When she looked up at him again, the traces of regret and fear were still apparent. But she was smiling. It wasn’t the smile of vague, pleasant neutrality she was so used to displaying.

Gilgamesh had seen something akin to that smile before in Kirei, one that’s more malicious and indignant as everything burned around him.

But while Kirei’s desire swallowed this city in flames, Sakura’s would take root and absorb all the nutrients on land. It would burst forth from the earth like tendrils expanding upwards until its thousand wiry branches could enfold the entire city in a canopy of dusk.

 

 

 

+

 

 

Kirei had communicated telepathically with his servant Lancer to set up a meeting of his own as soon as Gilgamesh and the Matou boy left the church. Sakura stayed behind, clutching at her chest as if there was something painful lodged there. She had backed away some time during the conversation and was now resting against a nearby pillar. Kirei approached her slowly, waiting for her to make eye contact but she wouldn’t. She was now staring at her hands, one of them still gloved, but there was something uncomprehending about her gaze as she did. He frowned slightly and decided to speak to her, “Matou-sa…” he quickly corrected his address, “Sakura-san? Is something the matter?”

The girl in question still took several seconds to respond to his query. When she finally did, her head was still bowed and her voice was soft, “My arm still hurts because of the transference but I’ll be just fine, Father. You don’t have to worry. Thank you for fulfilling my request.”

Kirei nodded slowly. And then he asked her, “Are there concerns you may have about the arrangement? I’d be more than happy to enlighten you.”

With her head still bowed, she managed to ask, “I know that Gil-san was a former heroic spirit since he told me that much…and that he was simply reincarnated which was why he stayed in this world even after the Fourth War ended. But how…how exactly did that—?”

Kirei didn’t wait for her to finish the question. He was prepared for it after all. “Gilgamesh has sustained his physical form by drinking an elixir from his Noble Phantasm.” A blatant lie. He wanted to see, however, whether Sakura would buy it or not.

“An elixir?” She finally looked up, blinking rapidly.

Kirei nodded as he kept his face straight. “An elixir of youth.”

Eyes downcast again, she asked. “Does that mean he doesn’t necessarily require my brother’s mana to anchor him physically?”

Kirei muttered “yes,” as he secretly smirked. It’s amazing how she’s just swallowing everything being fed to her. No wonder Zouken Matou was able to condition her as well as he had. “However, he needs to be replenished by the elixir every five years or so. And a master’s mana is still a helpful addition so forming a contract with one is something he is inclined to do anyway, even if he had no desire to win the Grail for himself.”

“He doesn’t desire the Grail?” Sakura’s tone was doubtful which was understandable but Kirei didn’t explain further.

He walked closer until he reached her in an acceptable proximity before he placed a hand over her shoulder gently. “You don’t have to hide if you’re upset, Sakura-san. You know I will listen to you with an open mind. So if you need to talk about certain things, never hesitate to come talk to me. I’d like to believe that we have formed a covenant of trust by now.” The choice of phrase was intentional; he had been contemplating of a few ways to get her talking and reveal aspects about the Zouken Matou’s plans to attain the Grail. He knew she would have been privy of the details if not all. Unfortunately, she was so tight-lipped about everything, and Shinji Matou was the one who blabbered to Kirei yesterday when he tried to seek refuge in the church. Still, Kirei wasn’t discouraged. He knew Sakura had developed a fondness for him, and now he only has to continually exploit that. Squeezing her shoulder, he added, “I do care about you.”

The effect of that remark was instant. She lifted her eyes, widened with surprise, as her cheeks flushed yet again. Sakura looked lost for a moment, unable to come up with a reply, but Kirei held her gaze and smiled reassuringly at her. She smiled back, but only weakly, before she placed her hand on top of the one still clutching her shoulder. Kirei allowed himself to slightly glance at the back of that hand where the sigil used to dwell and felt somewhat disappointed in her for giving up the opportunity to fight in the war for the second time. Sakura must have read something in his expression because she suddenly asked him, “Did I make a mistake, Father? Did I choose right?”

Kirei met her eyes again and said, “I thought you were unshakable with your decision to withdraw from the Grail War. Why the doubts now?”

“My faith, I guess, is being tested,” she muttered.

“I see,” he only answered as he gently ran his hand from her shoulder down to her forearm in a gesture that seemed absentminded. It was deliberate, of course, much like that first time when he wrapped his long coat around her and rubbed her arms in a display of affection and concern. Right now Sakura’s eyes took on another glazed expression as she parted her lips and sighed. Kirei placed his other hand on her shoulder and did the same, his fingers tracing her arm in slow, comforting strokes. He asked her, “Shall we pray together before I leave?”

Sakura blinked. “You’re leaving? Where to, Father?”

“I have some appointment with a few colleagues from the church,” he easily lied. “You can stay here. I don’t think your brother particularly minded. He left you here after all. Gilgamesh’s room is still something you can use, don’t worry. You may rest. You certainly look fatigued.”

“Well, I’m really sorry, Father,” she explained, “I just left earlier without asking for your permission in person. I should have…I should have done that instead of leaving a note. I hope…I hope you’re not…angry with me or anything, Father. I’m really sorry.”

“Why would I be angry?” Kirei was genuinely puzzled. “I never forbade you to go out. I simply strongly advised you against it for your own safety, and because you were still in recovery. But of course you’re free to go back to school if you are up for it. Besides, it was nice of you tidy up my office at that. I think I’m the one who owes you an apology for what happened last night between myself and Gilgamesh.”

Kirei waited for Sakura’s reaction after he mentioned that incident. He was specifically curious about her stance on what she had just witnessed last night. She couldn’t be ignorant about things like that, considering what she had gone through. He wondered if she would ask him directly what happened later on with him and Gilgamesh after she left the office. Naturally, she wouldn’t have the courage to bridge into that kind of conversation. She’s still acting like a chaste, innocent sweet girl of sixteen, even after everything that has occurred after she stayed here in the church in the aftermath of her brother’s assault. Kirei believed that Sakura kept playing the role not out of any wicked intentions to deceive but simply because it was her default mode. She wouldn’t like to talk about unpleasant things, especially not in front someone she claimed to admire and respect like he seemed to be for her. It is a little frustrating though.

But Sakura smiled at him openly now as she clutched her hands together in her familiar way of primness. After a few beats where she was just staring up at him, she finally asked in a pleasant tone, “Apologize for what exactly, Father?”

He returned the smile as he replied, “I was worried that we gave you a fright, with the way both of us conducted ourselves last night. I hope you can understand that alcohol was involved which was the reason why our behavior—especially mine—was a lot more loose than what you are probably accustomed to. And that is why I’m apologizing for any kind of discomfort that I may have brought upon you.”

To his mild surprise, Sakura laughed, her gloved hand covering her mouth as she did. “Oh, Father. It’s quite alright. Nobody’s perfect. I certainly didn’t start thinking badly of you because of that one incident.” A pause. “Father Kotomine is a good man. I know this to be true.”

Kirei paused momentarily. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to punch his fist into her chest and squeeze her heart while doing it. A good man, she says. Was she really so dense? How far and how long is she going to keep up with this useless charade? But Kirei played along because it was more entertaining that way as he answered, “Thank you for being so understanding, Sakura-san. I don’t think anyone would have said the same thing if they witnessed their priest in such a compromising and vulgar position with another man. You must be very open-minded for still holding me in such a high standard.” He couldn’t help the sarcasm though.

Sakura colored deeply again as she smiled even brighter at him. Kirei withdrew his hands from her arms and placed one on the top of her head instead. Almost whispering, he told her, “And I think Sakura-san is a good girl too. Do you think you’re a good girl, Sakura-san?”

Her lower lip visibly quivered but she replied, “I could only hope so, Father.”

Oh, the useless charade. But Kirei only chuckled as he removed his hand and took a step backward. “Well then, I’m afraid I must go.”

He was already walking away when Sakura suddenly called out, “Um, Father!”

Kirei turned around. “Yes, Sakura-san?”

Sakura bowed, saying, “T-Take care of yourself!”

He blinked at that. Sakura still kept her head bowed down but she was fiddling with her fingers underneath her which is a clear sign she was nervous about something. It took a few seconds before Kirei finally figured out what she was doing, greeting him like that as he was about to go his way. Was she supposed to be acting like someone’s housewife, wishing her spouse for a safe trip to work? That would only mean he’s the said spouse in this scenario, wouldn’t it? Kirei felt a little awkward and hesitated for a moment on how to handle it.

“Thank you, Sakura-san. Please take care of yourself too,” he decided to reply. He didn’t wait for her to look at him again, and he resumed walking away. As fine as he was to exploit Sakura’s infatuation with him, it was still disarming every time the girl would express it.

Never mind that. He had more pressing concerns to take care of first. He had withheld information from Gilgamesh regarding Sakura’s role in the war, and he had advised the god-king to form a contract with a mediocre master like Shinji Matou. Gilgamesh will certainly pick an argument with him later in private, which meant he had to at least appease the other man with some form of good news. Kirei had already started the process of moving his pieces on the board, and pretty soon all this waiting in the sidelines will pay off.

 

 

 

+

 

 

He didn’t come back to the church until almost midnight. It wasn’t just that meeting with Lancer which kept him preoccupied with the rest of the day. A representative from the Mages Association unexpectedly picked him up by car on his way to the Chinese restaurant where he was hoping to gulp down three or four servings of mapo tofu. He had been taken to some remote location which the other party had ensured he won’t figure out, hence the use of a blindfold. Kirei didn’t mind the secrecy although he was pretty confident he could find the location again by himself.

Even at thirty-seven, Kirei is in peak physical condition but still he was worn out mentally before he even reached the gates of the church. The escalation of events was only unavoidable, but other unforeseen factors have to be considered. People around him are starting to put pressure on him, including his alliances. Lancer was quite the stubborn servant and mistrustful to the boot, expressing personal opinions every now and then every time he is put to a task. Kirei would rather have him mute, but in a way he also welcomed the banter. Maybe Gilgamesh’s habit of conversing with people just to gauge their reactions had rubbed off on him somehow. Speaking of the god-king—

Kirei was still incapable of accepting fully that he and Gilgamesh have had sexual relations last night (and the morning after). It was surreal and almost felt like it happened to someone else and not him. However, the soreness on his backside was more than testament enough that Gilgamesh has indeed claimed him twice, so it would be rather foolish to deny the evidence when he could still feel it in his body. The other man also had the marks of Kirei’s fingertips around his neck, which he covered up by wearing that annoying red choker. He probably did that to irritate Kirei which of course worked because the King of Heroes always knew which buttons to push. He supposed he’s just going to have to inflict more bruises the next time around, preferably in places where no accessory or layers of clothing could ever hide.

Next time? Kirei paused walking while he was only a yard away from the doors of the church.

Gilgamesh’s words echoed in his head: As if you could resist any part of me…

Smirking now, Kirei opened the doors and stepped inside.

Only the dim lighting from the moon outside illuminated the church, casting elongated shadows across the pews. They formed mysterious shapes, like twisted and fractured human figures cloaked in black. Kirei walked through the pews in a tranquil state of mind for God’s abode was always a place of comfort for him. It was the home which welcomed anyone, even the most blood-soaked sinner who seeks redemption. He hardly remembered the houses he grew up in, but he always recalled the churches in Italy where his father had served, and where he received his first communion and where he learned the more structured ways to be indoctrinated into the life of a member of the clergy.

In many ways, the church was where he belonged even during the most tumultuous times he questioned the contents of his soul, yet he chose to don on priestly robes in the hopes it could disguise his quandaries. They were nothing more than sheep’s clothing in the end.

It was only when he was crossing the threshold leading to the altar that he noticed Sakura standing on a corner. She almost looked like an apparition in her white nightgown. That belonged to Claudia too. He supposed Gilgamesh had made her wear it.

“Is everything okay, Sakura-san?” he approached her. He stopped abruptly when he noticed her expression.

Taking a deep breath, Sakura replied, “I wish to make a confession, Father.”

Kirei nodded once. “I understand. Shall we go to the office?”

“No,” Sakura shook her head and then said, “The confessional box. I want to use that instead.” A pause. “Please, Father.”

He said nothing for a few moments. When he did, he asked her, “You don’t want me to look at you as you confess your sins, do you?”

“Obviously,” she only muttered, lowering her gaze. “I hope you can understand.”

Kirei sighed as he placed his hands behind his back. “Then lead the way, if you must.”

Sakura didn’t need to be told twice. With resolute steps, she walked to the spot where the confessional was located. It was a standard box, made of antique wood. No one ever uses it because the enclosed space is very claustrophobic to a lot of people, not to mention it was now considered an archaic practice to confess your sins without meeting your priest face-to-face. But there were a few who do prefer the anonymity, who would rather receive absolution from a faceless representative of God’s mercy. Is that what Sakura Matou required of him tonight?

They entered their respective places inside the confessional.  

Before Kirei could begin reciting the short opening prayer to begin the session, Sakura was already speaking.

“I will never be clean,” she uttered.

Kirei was silent. There was something almost hypnotic about this situation, so he waited for her to go on.

“I’m not being dramatic or anything. I do mean I will never be clean deep inside. Not just in my soul. But definitely in body.”

She paused. Kirei was still silent, so she continued, “You’ve spoken to both my grandfather and brother. You knew more things that you care to admit, don’t you, Father?” Another pause. When she spoke up again, her voice sounded different. “I want you to be honest with me. I want to know what you know. I’ve had enough of deceptions. I don’t want to keep acting like nothing is wrong or that everything is okay. I am owed better than that. I owe myself better than that.”

Kirei was surprised. There was no trace of the usual cordiality in her manner of speech. She had almost addressed him informally at that. Is it because they’re not facing each other that allowed her to treat him as if they were equals in spite of the age gap and their differing status? This was truly a remarkable development. He can’t help but edge a little closer to the latticed framework, turning his gaze just so he can catch a small glimpse of her from the other side. Did she become a different person entirely?

Measuring his words, he replied, “I only know about the fact that you’re the chosen heir to the Matou magecraft and not your brother. You gave up that privilege even after you have already summoned a servant to fight in the War. The control of that servant was given to your brother instead. It was him who told me about these details when he sought refuge in the church the other day.”

“What else?” her voice sounded almost distant and uncaring.

He was compelled to answer, “Your grandfather was less forthcoming. I don’t think I should trust anything he said to me when we met up to talk about your situation. He was rather fine letting you stay here at the church, though. If you really want to know the truth, then I’m going to have to express my own insights on the matter.”

“Do so,” she said curtly.

Instinctively, Kirei placed a hand over his arm where the vines of command seals were located. “Zouken Matou might have already participated in the frontlines of the war. The man is…more than he seems. I’ve suspected he has taken a more hands-on approach this time.”

Sakura said nothing.

“You must have suspected it then, haven’t you?” Kirei leaned closer again to the latticework.

“He’s getting restless,” she only said.

“Restless enough to summon a servant himself?”

“You’ve talked to him,” Sakura remarked. “What do you think?”

This has all been very refreshing. It was almost like he was conversing with Rin Tohsaka. Kirei wondered what brought upon this change in demeanor. Was this really the same blushing tongue-tied girl he left hours ago? Was this the young woman underneath that mask she had worn so well? But then Sakura was speaking again, “I have several questions I want to ask you, Father Kotomine. I would appreciate your candor.”

“Candor” and not “honesty”. Therein seemed to lie the difference for both Kirei and Sakura at this point.

Kirei leaned back on his chair and said, “Then ask them away, Sakura-san.”

He could tell that she shifted in her seat as she asked, “What is the extent of your knowledge regarding the previous war?”

“Only information that was readily available to me,” Kirei answered easily.

“Readily available,” Sakura repeated, as if testing the weight of the words in her mouth. “How did you come across the information then?”

Kirei sighed as he allowed himself to smile. “You’ve demanded candor from me. I suggest you extend me the same courtesy.”

“What does that mean?”

“I think you have some idea on my role in the previous war,” he explained, “And you’re trying to gauge what control or power that gives me.”

“More or less,” she replied, sounding hesitant for a moment. A pause. Finally, she revealed her cards to him. “I know you fought as a master in the previous war. I know that Gil-san was your servant. Your late father was the Overseer of that war, and then when you were selected by the Grail, you abandoned your duties as a clergyman so you can study under the tutelage of fa—Tokiomi Tohsaka. You worked alongside with him to attain the Grail. I also know that the Grail’s manifestation was never completed in the previous war, and instead it…burned the old Fuyuki City. This was why the war started much earlier than its usual timeline. These are all the things that Grandfather had informed me when he explained to me the role I must play as a master.”

“That is plenty enough, actually.” Kirei mulled it over for a while. Sakura was quiet on the other side.

“Sakura-san,” he began, “What do you mean earlier when you told me that you will never be clean?”

When she was still silent, Kirei asked the question again. Sakura was still not answering him.

Before Kirei could try again, she finally spoke up, “I lied to you. I lied about so many things. I didn’t give up the command seals because I felt like I couldn’t fight or that I didn’t deserve to become a mage and wield magic for the sake of winning the Grail for my family. That’s only what I told myself since the very beginning. To me, it made more sense to believe that these are the reasons why I became a Matou and was chosen to become its heir. It gave me a purpose but not the kind I looked forward to, but the kind I dreaded to see into fruition.”

She paused for a few moments before she went on, “But when I finally summoned a servant—when she stood there before me, ready to be commanded—I knew I couldn’t fight. And Shinji Nii-san…he saved me even if it that wasn’t his intention. When he volunteered to become an acting master, I was relieved of the duty immediately but I know Grandfather was not pleased about that. Still, in giving up my place as a master, I couldn’t be forced to do things I don’t want to commit, such as murders and atrocities all for the sake of a wish-granting device. That’s what I thought at first. I could have never been more wrong.”

Kirei patiently listened to her rant on. Some confessions were so compelling that even he could not tune this one out.

“Grandfather implanted this crest worm inside me which is different from your average magical familiar,” she explained, her voice breaking a little as she went on, “It was conditioned for one purpose only; to condition me to keep fighting once I was chosen as a master. It will be activated once I formed a contract. So I didn’t…” she trailed off. He could hear her breathing heavily from the other side.

“Once activated, the crest worm will deplete my magical energy and harm my magic circuits until there was nothing left but a fate worse than being crippled or brain-damaged,” she went on even if each word was being spoken as if she was carrying a huge weight attached to it. She might as well be, considering the truth that her words revealed. “If I didn’t fight, then that activated crest worm will just deplete me anyway until I just die. But if I do fight, it would require me to use magic and therefore expedite the process anyway.”

She sounded closer to the latticework now as she asked him, “Do you understand, Father? Do you see why I didn’t want to fight this war? In forming a contract with a servant, I’m already sentencing myself to death. If I don’t fight, the crest worm will start the process of consuming me, and the only way to prevent that is by using magic and feeding it with enough mana to keep me from becoming its only food source. To do that means…means absorbing another mage’s magic during a battle. I would have to kill to live, but even then I wouldn’t live for long.”

“But the Grail could grant your wish if you won,” Kirei answered, “If being saved from your fate is what you are seeking—”

“Goddammit, you are not listening to me!” she shouted as her fist suddenly collided against the latticework separating them, “Did you not hear what I just said, Father?! I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t! AND MAYBE I DON’T WANT TO BE SAVED!”

Kirei narrowed his eyes but said nothing. He could her breathing heavily again as she tried to calm herself down.

Brokenly, she uttered, “What is so worth saving, anyway?”

He still didn’t say anything. What words of comfort could he offer that he himself even believed?

But Sakura filled his silence with more confessions. They poured out of her like a hailstorm. “I’m sorry, Father, but I don’t think there was ever a God,” she started laughing almost like she’d rather be crying, “It’s just a story, isn’t it? It has to be! It’s just a story we tell ourselves because we are afraid to face the truth that maybe only death and darkness awaits us when all of this is over.”

Kirei felt inclined to ask, “Then why come to church before? Why I attend the Eucharist? Why read the bible and seek my advices?”

“Because, Father,” she said softly, “I want to believe. I want to believe in the story of heaven so much I’m willing to endure hell.”

She was weeping at last. Kirei could glimpse a fractured view of her hugging herself through the latticework.

“I think…” she began, “I think I wish there was a God so I can say that a higher power made me this way. Maybe I actually believe more in the existence of Hell because I feel so black inside, and therefore must be punished for it.” Her voice quaked here and there, clogged by tears, but she kept talking to him anyway. “I need someone to punish me, and if not then maybe I would instead punish myself. But I also…I also wish there was no Heaven because I may never reach it in the end. Because if there is, I know I’m not going there at all.”

Sakura reached out to touch the latticework with one hand, her fingertips tracing it almost tenderly as if she wanted him to take her hand. “But would you still pray for me anyway, Father Kotomine?”

Without even thinking, he breathed out an uncertain, “Yes.”

She sounded almost overjoyed for a moment when she laughed in relief. But then she added, “Then I hope someone listens.”

With a muddled whisper, she says, “…I hope someone can forgive me.”

Kirei sat there just letting the deluge of her words flood the small space he was confined in. Her words have meaning that was not lost to him. It was a proverbial litany from a life long ago when his own questions that were never answered almost ruined him. Black inside, she said. Punish myself for it, she revealed. God had made me this way, she insisted. Kirei closed his eyes and felt a sensation swell into his chest where the hollow core that used to be a heart dwelled. Is it possible that there were still soft places within him like sand where someone could sink in?

Is he moved by this girl’s plight because a shard of its wreckage almost resembled his own, if not a match?

It was a horrifying thought, but he entertained it nonetheless.

Sakura was still crying though her sobs were almost inaudible as if she was disguising her presence; like she didn’t want to bother him with her own grief. Kirei reached out for the latch and stepped out of the confessional. He walked to her side and opened its door. Sakura immediately looked up, frozen in the spot. He stood there without saying or doing anything except to look at her. Her swollen eyes and deflated hope, the contrast of the whiteness she wore that seemed to wash out her already ashen skin, and the utter aloneness in her gaze.

She was like something battered with decades of rain and decay. And it was beautiful and he wanted it; wanted it like a corruption on the lungs; of smog and soot instead of air. Whatever she is—all that she is—child, woman, sinner—Kirei wanted to know more of her.

She made a sudden movement to jump out and Kirei already outstretched his arms to catch her, bind her to him as her arms wound around his neck. She felt incredibly real against him, a vessel of blood and bone, marred by parasites and someone else’s sins.

Kirei didn’t resist when she pulled away to crush her mouth eagerly on his own. He tasted the saltiness of tears and cupped the fullness of her bosom with both hands as he pushed her back inside the confessional. Sakura’s hands wandered across his long coat, caressing and tugging it impatiently as he ripped through his dead wife’s nightgown to fuck the girl who wore it in her stead. Her thighs quivered as he moved them apart so he can drag her panties down, and then slide his fingers in. Kirei was surprised to find her ready and looked at her face in an almost impressed bemusement. But her eyes were shut tightly; she was already too lost in the moment. He grabbed firmer hold on her legs and she wrapped them solidly around his waist, heels pushing at the small of his back.

He then unbuckled his belt and took out his cock as he aligned himself in her entrance. Without saying anything, he pressed himself into her core. She accepted his length without any protest or a plea for him to stop. Sakura simply burrowed her nails on his shoulders and whimpered with hot puffs of shortened breaths at every aching intrusion of his manhood. She whispered his title of holiness over and over into his ear as if the station ever defined him. It didn’t matter what they’re going to become after this was all over; none of it ever had to make sense.

For now it was only this moment of heat and degradation between them, trapped in a space where even rotten things could begin anew.

Each upward thrust sent her up across the wooden wall she had been squashed against, and she moaned and clawed at him as the mixture of pain, pleasure and damnation pulsated and soared between them. Kirei gripped her hipbone with one hand while the other was pushing into the wall for purchase, and he moved in an agonizingly steady rhythm. He punctured through her over and over and over again until he could hear her struggling to breathe in his grasp. His hand on her hip moved to her neck and he would have choked her if only she hadn’t opened her eyes and stared into his. Kirei ended up clamping their mouths instead, stealing more air from her.

Sakura banged her head as her walls closed in around his length. The moan that escaped her lips was almost a half-scream. Her muscles strained underneath him, her body convulsing as it reached the apex. He joined her almost a minute later and pulled out as soon as he emptied some of his essence into her. Kirei realized a moment almost too late that she was still a host for siphoning worms.

As if she understood his urgent caution, she pressed a palm on his chest and said in shaky breaths, “It’s okay. You’re safe, Father. They only really come for the mana…” Sakura then squeezed her thighs together once he let her down carefully so she can settle back on the chair below.

Kirei caught his breath easily and began to zip up his trousers and buckle his belt. His chest did feel like there was a new weight pressing on it, but he wasn’t sure he should care. With the haze of lust clearing up, he knew only too well that he shattered the final boundary between himself and the young girl. But it wasn’t really because of the sex. That was just another by-product of the underlying causality of events. The line in the sand was always going to be disappear, he supposed, and it was better to get it over with sooner rather than later. He glanced at Sakura who was still reeling from what just transpired and decided he could at least wait for her to gather her bearings.

Finally, she spoke up, “I’m so exhausted…not just because of…the things I said to you…and what happened here but also because…” she reached down to pull up her panties, looking away from him in embarrassment. “Gil-san and I also had a discussion while you were gone.”

“Oh?” Kirei was curious but he didn’t want to seem too eager. “Anything you want to share with me, Sakura?”

She blinked up at him instantly when she heard him drop the formal address in her name. Her cheeks were still flushed because of the exertion earlier and the color deepened some more. Sakura tried to stand up by placing a hand on the latticework to the side. She paused, cleared her throat and said sheepishly, “I-I think I dented it when I, uh, punched it earlier. I’m so sorry, Father.”

Kirei just shrugged his shoulders. “You got carried away,” he said dryly.

“What…” she trailed off, clutching the nightgown to her chest with her other hand. Kirei had almost shredded it so she was essentially trying to keep the entire thing from unraveling by the seams further. “What we did was wrong,” she finished saying.

Kirei just raised his eyebrows at her and chuckled. Instead of directly replying to her statement, he merely quoted a scripture, saying “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.”

He left out the last part of that passage: yet he did not sin. It wouldn’t apply in this scenario, of course.

“I lied yet again then,” she chuckled too but grimly and with a trace of obvious guilt. “You asked me before if I was a good girl, and I said I was.”

“You weren’t?” Kirei asked gently but he couldn’t help but smirk.

Sakura frowned and shook her head. She looked up at him, small and frightened but finally without a mask.

“It’s okay, Sakura,” he reassured her. He offered his hand for her to take. With some reluctance, she took it and allowed him to help her step out of the confessional. “After all,” he added as they walked to the corner where the doors leading to the hallway of the living quarters was located. “It was you who kept claiming it since the day you came to church and talked to me…”

Kirei let her hand go and opened the doors for her to walk out of. Sakura glanced at him one last time before she passed through them.

Smiling broadly with gleeful resignation, he said, “…but I never said I was ever a good man.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

By the time I’ve finished with you,

you won’t know whether you’ve been kissed or cut,

whether you were loved or butchered.

and either way you probably won’t care,

just grateful you came close enough to touch.

 

-Warsan Shire-

 

 


 

 

 

   

Anyone can change your life. One moment is all it would take; but to Sakura, it had already been a series of moments.

There had already been a few people who took her world for a maddening spin until it tilted so far beyond its axis.

At this moment, in this remote place of worship where the deepening dusk is all there is, Sakura felt less lonely than she ever remembered being. It was strange too because in all those times she felt afraid and helpless, Sakura can now look back at them and see with clarity that there were always choices she didn’t make that could have saved her from her greatest enemy: her stubborn, disillusioned self.

Sakura believed she only had to endure the pain, only had to learn how to take it, and that’s all there is to it. She thought she wasn’t worth saving, and that all the shitty things that happened to her was because some higher power had seen it fit to punish her, or that being someone’s plaything or sex slave was all that was required for her to be.

But as she knelt there in one of the pews close to the altar, head bent down with hands clasped before her, Sakura understood that there are scales weighing on her soul, something that measures all the good and bad, the law and chaos that governed each action taken and not. She had walked with Father Kotomine earlier to the living quarters and she did intend to retire to bed, but she found herself walking back to the church instead. She felt a need to say her prayers even if her resolve about her newfound faith had somehow weakened.

For the longest time, Sakura allowed everybody and everything else to tip those scales against her not because she was weak but because she had been duped into accepting a role of subservience. She didn’t try to aspire for something better because they made her think she belonged on ground, staring up as worms and vermin devoured her. Now Sakura could see that this shouldn’t be the case.

She wasn’t just food for a bigger, more powerful creature—a predator—to consume.

Sakura is alive; a person with worth and feelings, but she has aspirations most all. She aspires to take control.

I may have lived, but I was also dying for a while.

Sakura gazed at the crucifix before her. Shadows cascaded the figure of Christ, accentuating the outlines of his ribs with his skin pulled tight around the cage where his heart dwelled. Sakura knew that, even in death, his heart must still have beaten strong. He did not falter even as he had fallen many times bearing the weight of the cross. He carried that on top of the hill where they executed him. They had buried thick nails into the muscle of his hands, puncturing the flesh against the wood of the cross.

There was a crown of thorns upon his head, a sad trinket his enemies have fashioned as a blatant mockery. It’s as if they were saying: Behold him, this broken thing. See how he bleeds like the rest of us. He is not special. He is just a man. He is just a man with a delusion.

She unclasped her hands and stared at them. When she first read the Passion of Christ, she thought it was a harrowing tale of betrayal, suffering and injustice. It depressed her because if even the Son of God could undergo such terrible torture and misery, betrayed by a friend and denied by another; scorned and whipped and crucified as a criminal—then what more could be said about a girl like Sakura who did not even possess divinity, and whose own Calvary doesn’t seem like would ever end? What hope could she have to hold onto?

Resurrection? That only happens to figures of legends, and powerful beings that surpass human comprehension and can perform miracles and the noblest of deeds. And Sakura is just a girl who had everything to lose; who wanted to believe in something but had nothing to show for it.

Sakura ended her grim contemplations then and left them in the church as she walked back to Gil’s room. She was surprised to see the King of Heroes had displayed himself on the bed. He had adorned himself with a plain, one-piece white garment made of such a thin fabric that it hardly covered anything underneath, and she was forced not to stare directly at his visage. Gil had his eyes closed when she walked in, and only opened one eye to gaze at her as he asked her with every bit of indifference, “How was prayer time?”

“It was alright. Thank you for asking,” Sakura shut the door behind her and made her way to the bathroom, muttering, “Please excuse me.”

“Leave the door open,” Gil told her, “I need to talk to you.”

She did what was asked as she picked up the spare toothbrush she’d been using for two nights now. It was an ordinary toothbrush with a name of a hotel she recognized was somewhere in New City. The toothbrush had been a part of a kit which was composed of a tube of toothpaste, two small bars of soap in boxes, and another two small bottles of shampoo and conditioner, all bearing the name of said hotel. There were also ten sticks of cotton buds in another separate plastic. Gil had given it to her the next morning when he commanded her to wash herself, and Sakura had made use of them ever since. She guessed that Gil must have taken them a while back when he stayed at the hotel. Sakura couldn’t help but smile the more she thought about it. Even a king of legend can’t resist taking free stuff from an establishment, she supposed. In any case, Sakura was grateful for his hospitality. He even let her use a spare loofa, reasoning out that he didn’t want her dirtying his sheets further.

Sakura would not think that Gil’s generosity is borne solely out of simple kindness, however. She recognized that it wasn’t for her comfort that he had done these things but rather only for his own. She was fine with it. His selfishness was a given trait of his majestic nature, and Sakura used to walk on eggshells around him because of that, but after all that has happened, she realized that there was no specific reason to feel so comparably smaller next to him. The truth was she envied his unapologetic individualism; he doesn’t answer to anyone but only to himself.

She coveted it so badly. There was freedom in never having to care about whether or not everybody could condemn or reject you.

Sakura looked at herself in the mirror now as she kept her voice steady when she asked, “And what do you want to talk about?”

She wondered if he would notice her lack of polite address which still felt very new to her. Father Kotomine was taken aback by it earlier even if he was able to conceal it well. Would Gil be bothered by this? He doesn’t seem to be particular with manners and the use of honorific.

He didn’t seem to notice or at least acknowledge it. “How was your private confession time with Kirei? Did you get the absolution you wanted?”

Sakura blinked at her reflection. “I wasn’t seeking forgiveness.”

“Liar,” Gil’s tone was so effortlessly dismissive.

She sighed. “Yes, I was lying, wasn’t I?”

“You dare lie to me?” He let out a snort, a rather inelegant act that didn’t seem to suit him at all.

“You make it sound like it had anything to do with you though,” she replied as she applied the toothpaste. She only paused for a second before she added, “You don’t know a lot about me, Gilgamesh. I may have told you a few of my struggles earlier this afternoon, and you may have witnessed a particularly grueling one years ago when you found me by the river—but don’t make the mistake of thinking that that’s the entire book. There are still pages and pages of myself that I will never let you read.”

She didn’t care about censoring the content of her words at this point. Sakura just said the first things that came to mind. It was only while she was brushing her teeth that it occurred to her that she had spoken out his full name and it made her nervous how he was going to react to that. But what was so wrong about it anyway? He had addressed her without any formal address either so it seemed only fitting that she returned the favor. Sakura had been fearful of stepping on people’s toes and indirectly insulting them, but in doing so she was the one who got stepped on.

When she turned around, Gil was already leaning by the bathroom’s door frame. He was smirking openly at her. Sakura didn’t switch on the bathroom light since the door was left open anyway, but the dimness of the room and with the light of the bedroom behind him only made Gil’s red eyes shine in a way that’s disarming and creepy. Still, she tried to act unfazed as she leaned down the sink to spit out the toothpaste. She used her hand to cup the water from the faucet next as she busied herself cleaning her mouth and the toothbrush without looking at him. Sakura turned off the faucet and wrapped a tissue around the toothbrush before she placed it back inside the kit.

“You wound me, darling,” he finally spoke up as if he was only waiting to get her undivided attention all this time. Sakura felt inclined to grant him exactly that as she turned the rest of her body to face him. He was looking down on her with so much amusement that she could tell he was ready to burst out laughing. It was irritating. “And here I thought you and I have built a rapport, if not a kinship.”

He reached out to her with a hand. His fingers grabbed hold of the left strap of the nightgown. It slipped off while she was brushing her teeth moments ago, but Sakura didn’t get the chance to fix it yet. Gil pulled it up for her as his fingers splayed on her shoulder in a gentle manner that was unlike his demeanor. It surprised her to learn—as they stare at each other in utter silence—that Sakura wasn’t afraid of him at all. He could kill her right now. He could have his way if he wanted, but somehow Sakura knew Gil wasn’t the kind of man who would victimize for the sake of hurting people. Sakura can imagine him hurting people but not because it makes him feel good but because he feels it was his right, and that people deserve to be punished by him. It wasn’t about cruelty for him—it was about dominance foremost.

But unlike her brother, Gil was never so simplistic about anything. There is still something about the King of Heroes that confounds and deliberately leaves most things about him undefined.

She thought it was uncanny. She thought it was so admirable that he was not governed by rules other than the ones he made for his own use.

Sakura could feel her lips forming a smile. When Gil saw this, his own smile faltered a little as he raised his eyebrows in curiosity.

“You look rather dazzled by my presence, little one,” he pointed out.

“You are exceptional, Gilgamesh,” she only said.

Gil furrowed his eyebrows now. He seemed to have sensed that her comment was not empty flattery but a genuine one. That puzzled him, and it pleased Sakura to see that the other man was the one struggling to figure out her words. She decided to keep it going as she asked him, “Have you ever met anyone you considered your equal?”

It was just a simple question, free of implication, but Gil’s fingers on her shoulder tightened and it gave Sakura pause.

In a quiet, foreboding tone, he asked her, “And have you been made aware of my legend?”

Sakura blinked rapidly, taken aback. “I-I don’t think so. I only found out about it through what my brother and Father Kotomine talked about earlier. And from what you have told me on the first night I came to stay here.” A pause. “Did—did I offend you with my question?”

“Do you care?” his eyes narrowed at her now. His clutch on her shoulder remained firm. “You’re quite outspoken tonight. I can tell not just by your speech but by the way you carried yourself around as you stepped into the room. You have the bearing not of a cowering girl but of a woman who is ready to prove herself to anyone who would put her to test…” he leaned down and stared even deeper into her eyes, “And so you think you can just start treating me like I’m just some common man who shares your bed.”

“I have never done such a thing,” Sakura answered with a steady tone, refusing to be intimidated. “And we both know you will never be just a common man, Gilgamesh. Is it because I called you by your name that you think it was my way of disrespecting you?” With another pause, she tried to sound somewhat cheery as she quoted his earlier statement, “And here I thought you and I have built a rapport, if not a kinship.”

Gil stared at her for a few more seconds, eyes widening after her response, before he pulled himself away and finally started laughing. The sound of it was melodious. It brightened his features as his grip on her shoulder loosened. Sakura was transfixed. Gil was so free and uncaring, laughing rather mightily as both hands now clutched at his stomach. As soon as he recovered, he smiled more genuinely and told her rather enigmatically, “Chaste virgins are always fun to fool around with because they squirm so easily, but women of more experience and understanding of things make better company because they challenge the men who try to conquer them.”

Sakura cocked her head to the side as if to question that remark but she opted not to say anything.

“Come,” Gil was suddenly clutching her hand as he led her out. “Come lie with me, and we shall talk about your coupling with the priest.”

She gripped his hand tightly and stopped walking. He turned to face her, that glint of curiosity still in his eyes.

“He told you then?” she asked him in what she hoped was a neutral tone.

“He told me nothing,” Gil replied, still smiling. “I saw him walking back by himself to his room and when I tried to engage him, he asked me to stay out of his way. If it was any other mongrel, I would have taken offense but I’ve lived with the man long enough to leave him be when he gets that weird look in his eye that tells me it would be pointless to keep questioning him.”

Pulling her much closer to him now, Gil placed his other hand on her cheek, brushing through it at first before his fingers settled on her hair behind her ear. She had to look up to him now, meeting is gaze as steadily as she could.

He explained further. “When you came to the room, your gait alone had told me that something big had just transpired between you and the priest during confession. I assume you fucked. And I was correct, wasn’t I?”

Sakura was tempted to bite her bottom lip but she didn’t. It was a child’s habit and she wasn’t some scared little girl anymore. So she just kept looking into his eyes as she answered, “Yes, Father Kotomine and I had sexual relations.”

Gil let her hand go but kept fondling the hair behind her ear. He leaned closer to whisper into that ear, “And you’ve enjoyed it, yes?”

“I don’t think it’s any of your business,” she replied tersely. “And I don’t have to tell you anything either.”

He chuckled and dragged his fingers back to her cheek, caressing it. “Do I have to employ tactics to get it out of you?”

“You mean force me?” she narrowed his eyes at him warningly.

“There are other ways to coerce a ‘confession’…” his free arm circled around her waist.

Sakura couldn’t help but swallow hard when she understood the heated look he was giving her. She felt suddenly weak in the knees but not out of fear. She wished it was fear because that is something she had learned to cope with over the years. No, this pooling sensation on her gut was unmistakably…lust. The beautiful man standing before her and holding her against him was inviting him to his bed, and it was not like two nights ago when they simply laid together to sleep. Her mouth was dry all at once at the thought of the sensual experience being offered to her; she could not deny the rush of thrill filling her right down to her toes. It made her very aware of the flimsy thin fabric of his one-piece clothing. She could sense the contours of his muscles underneath it, and the clean scent of his skin was all around her. They were all very enticing. Sakura’s eyes must have glazed over because Gil was smiling with the kind of glee that was almost dangerous; his arm wrapped around her waist was lifting her from the ground. When Sakura realized what he was about to do, her hands shot up from her sides and she gave him a very strong shove. He was undeterred, merely laughing off her protestation.

As the panic swelled to her chest, she found her voice and said, “Don’t, Gilgamesh. I do not want you to take me like this.”

“Why? Because the priest had already soiled you? I don’t mind. Kirei and I are bed mates too, remember?”

The fear was back but her anger was more potent. She almost hissed at him, “I am not your toy or your whore!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you’re neither,” he answered her with a tone that sounded almost exasperated. On one swoop, Gil had carried her and threw her over his shoulder as if she had no weight to speak of. “I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want in bed, but rather I will make you want it. You will succumb to me.”

Sakura started hitting his back with her fists. “And where is the damn difference in that?!”

“The difference is you have a choice to resist me as long and as hard as you want. It’s actually more fun that way.” Gil let out another chuckle as he slammed her against the bed. Thankfully the mattress was soft, so Sakura wasn’t exactly hurt. He immediately climbed on top of her and pinned her wrists on either side of her head. “That being said, you need to relax, Sakura. I’m not going to fuck you unless you want to be fucked. I’m not that callous, in spite of the evidence to the contrary.”

“And what do you call this then!” Sakura tried to raise her knee to hit him on his crotch but he was far too strong, and when she moved her thighs apart, he was able to implant his torso between them, sliding his hips to fit perfectly above her. She grimaced and squeezed her eyes shut and shouted. “Goddamn you! You can’t do this to me! You don’t own me!”

“It’s taking all of my power not to ravish you right now,” Gil leaned closer as he went on in a hushed tone, “There is nothing more attractive than a woman who fights back after all.” A pause. “I will let you go now, but only if you promise not to run away once I do. I meant what I said that I would like to have a conversation with you tonight on things that will benefit you so long as you listen to me.”

Sakura tried to breathe normally again, but her heart was still banging against her chest.

With a sigh, Gil added, “I give you my word, Sakura.”

She slowly opened her eyes to see the expression on his face. There was an earnest quality in those red eyes that made Sakura answer him, even with some reluctance, “Yes, I promise. Just let me go and get off me.”

Gil did what was asked and lifted his body off her as he perched on the space next to her instead. Sakura instantly sat up as well and gave him an indignant glare. Before she could stop herself, she uttered, “You can be a real piece of shit, you know!”

He blinked in surprise, and then his arrogant smirk was back in place again as he replied, “You’re rather cute when you sulk.”

“This isn’t me sulking,” she argued back. “This is me feeling outraged!”

“As you should be,” he remarked as he crossed his legs together and placed his elbow on one of the knees so he can rest his cheek on his palm. “You’ve been assaulted several times over the years. It’s no wonder that your first response to any man who would handle you so roughly is by fighting back. Only it wasn’t always that way, was it? Do you recall that I tried to do the same thing before back in the office after you refused to admit that your brother is a rapist? I had to keep coming at you until you actually fought back.”

He grinned wider now. “Do you remember what you said to me back then?”

Sakura gulped down and gripped the sheets with her fists. “I don’t really remember…”

“But I do,” Gil lowered his tone as his red eyes lit up, “You said that if I tried to touch you again, you will kill me from where I stand.”

“Oh,” she could only say as she looked at her lap. The hem of the nightgown had been pulled up and her knees were showing, but she didn’t feel like fixing it. There was no point in faking modesty this time. Closing her eyes again, she told him quietly, “And I meant it too.”

Sakura turned her head to meet his gaze evenly. “I would have killed you. Or at least tried to.”

“And you would have failed spectacularly if you attacked me,” Gil answered. “But I get your point.”

“You’re not mad at me,” she posed it as a statement but there was an underlying question in how she said it.

“Do I strike you as someone who gets enraged over little things?” Gil sounded almost scandalized. “I suppose it depends on the person who has committed the act. If he or she has an existence that meant little to me, the offense wouldn’t even register. If it was a person I considerably dislike, then I would probably just find an excuse to punish the person, no matter how inconsequential his words or actions were...”

“So my existence meant little to you?” She couldn’t help but feel a little sad about that.

“You’re not letting me finish,” he countered, “The other thing is that if I’ve developed a penchant for someone, then anything he or she does can be excused…to an extent.” He narrowed his gaze at her. “So I suggest that you don’t test the limitations of that.”

In spite of herself and the incident that occurred just a minute ago, Sakura can’t help but feel her cheeks flushed.

The King of Heroes is fond of her?

Gil must have noticed it because he was suddenly patting her head in a rather consoling manner. How is it possible that he could be so intrusive and insensitive one moment and shockingly gentle the next? Sakura tried not to make a sound as she finally smoothed down the hem of her nightgown. Gil said nothing for a while as he laid back down the sheets with his arms folded behind his head.

Sakura waited as she just sat there next to him. Finally, he asked her. “So how was it? How was your experience with the priest?”

Mentioning Father Kotomine again made her press her thighs close together. She could still feel the remnants of him clinging inside her core even if the worms have consumed most of it. It’s a little distracting, and she wondered if she could excuse herself without giving away anything so she can hurry back to the bathroom and wash herself. Curtly, she replied to Gil, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Liar,” he remarked nonchalantly. “You do want to talk about it. And I’m the only one whom you can have a conversation about this. It’s not like you have a mother or a sister anymore. So do away with your reservations and reveal yourself to me. Where’s the harm in opening up? You don’t trust me? After everything? Have I ever mistreated you? Have I ever injured you physically or endangered you in any way?” A pause. “I wasn’t actually going to rape you, Sakura. I don’t have to resort to that. Women have had thrown and will always throw themselves at me first.”

Sakura almost wanted to roll her eyes at that. “No, you’ve never hurt me.” She answered instead. “I’m just…I’m just not used to discussing such things so openly with someone, let alone with another man.”

“You shall know a few more men as you grow older, Sakura,” Gil explained, “And I’m not only referring to the carnal sense.”

She let out a grim chuckle, “And what makes you think I could survive for that long anyway?”

“Not this again,” Gil snorted. “You don’t fool me, darling. You were never suicidal.”

Sakura crossed her arms before her. “Then what exactly do want to know?”

“Did you enjoy yourself?”

“That’s a given, isn’t it?”

“Oh…” Gil laughed. “So Kirei pleasured you well then? That’s good to hear. Maybe next time I’d let him claim me.”

She was blushing so hard now. It was a good thing the King of Heroes was still on his back and couldn’t see her expression.

Shakily, she asked, “You told me that you would never consider Father Kotomine your lover, and that you and him only…consummated the other night…so does that mean you…the two of you will still…?” she could only leave the question hanging. It was still hard to communicate such vulgar things lightly. It’s just not in her to do it.

“If he wasn’t in such a sour mood tonight, I would have been presently enjoying his company instead.” Gil explained. “So yes.”

“That’s…” Sakura sighed, “…I see.”

Gil finally sat back on the bed and tried to look at her expression. Sakura instinctively turned away.

“Jealous now, are we?” he teased her.

“Of course not!” she vehemently protested. “I don’t have any right to be because we don’t have a relationship like that, and it’s not as if anything else will ever happen between myself and the Father! What we did was…what we did simply cannot happen again! We just got carried away. It was a mistake…” she trailed off, quickly losing steam.

“How dull,” Gil remarked, “You’re retreating back to your shell again. Denial just comes too easy with you.”

She abruptly turned her head to meet his eyes. “And what would you have me say?”

“Oh, you know…” he was leaning closer to her. He circled an arm behind her, implanting his hand on the mattress securely as he kept goading her, “…only the truth. That you do want to have a relationship with Kirei, and that you want another sexual encounter to happen again. You also want to call him by his name, preferably when you’re under him in an actual bed, and he is fucking into you over and over…” he whispered into her ear now, “and over and over again until you come so hard your juices would drip down your thighs.”

“Stop…” she clenched her fists tightly on her lap. “Stop talking, you devil!”

Gil had stopped talking, but only because his mouth was on the side of her neck, teasing the flesh with his lips and tongue. Sakura didn’t move.

After a few more nibbles and licks, Gil pulled away slightly and said, “I’m going to put my hand between your legs now.”

“Wh—!”

Before she could say anything, he had cupped her easily underneath and started moving his fingers through the fabric of her panties until he found her swollen nub. Sakura let out a whimper but could not and would not force his hand away so she can close her thighs. Instead she fell back with his arm still behind her, supporting her weight. Gil yanked down her panties so he can envelope his fingers within her soaking center. Sakura winced as soon as he made contact, but she didn’t stop him from advancing further. She didn’t want to. It felt too good, especially when he leaned down and started mouthing one of her breast through the nightgown. Squeezing her eyes shut, she grabbed hold of the back of his head and moaned out his name, begging him to keep going. His fingers were solid and perfect, moving around her wet folds in a rhythm and roughness that she liked.

But as Gil tried to withdraw his hand (most probably so he could claim her in a more direct way with his manhood), that’s when Sakura interjected and demanded, “No! Don’t do that! Just use your hand instead! I just want you to touch me like that and nothing more!”

If Gil was offended or annoyed, it didn’t show. He did, however, still remove his fingers from within her.

Sakura would have started crying but she kicked at him instead and called him, “Bastard!” in a scolding tone.

Instead of getting angry at her insolence, Gil was smiling. He clutched her ankles and forced her legs up so he can put them over his shoulders. Sakura’s eyes widened as she met his gaze from above. They stayed immobile for a while. Gil wasn’t doing anything, really. He just towered over her, smiling so smugly she was tempted to sit up and wipe it off. The position he had placed her in left her exposed and wide open. She began feeling self-conscious about her body and how the nightgown now clings to her rather uncomfortably due to the heat and sweat of her skin. Gil’s eyes were glued on her bosom now and under such intense scrutiny Sakura could feel her nipples harden. On instinct, she lifted her arms and covered them up. He scoffed and took her wrists so he can pin them down while he finally lowered himself, resting his weight fully on her, almost suffocating her. She was almost curled into a ball now with her legs still on his shoulders.

Sakura could detect his stiffness against one of her inner thighs. It made her want to squirm away. With a hoarse voice, she said, “I don’t want this, Gilgamesh. I told you I don’t want this.”

“Why do you lie?” he only asked her back, gaze burrowing into hers, “Why do you refuse me so?”

“I don’t…” she stuttered, “I-I don’t…with you, it’s just not…” she paused and then tried again. “I think you are truly handsome, but I just don’t feel that way about you. My body…my body may want you, but my heart…my heart simply does not.”

“Who says anything about claiming your heart, little one?” his stare became sharper as soon as she reasoned out.

“But I…after what Nii-san did to me—I’ve decided from now on I would only give my body to the one who has also claimed my heart.”

“What is this now?” Gil chuckled dryly. “Weren’t you just begging me to fuck you with my fingers earlier?”

“And I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to mislead you. It’s just…I’m still new to this. And you are…you are irresistible.”

“Yet you dare resist me anyway.” He sounded really displeased with how this was going. “Do you not recall our conversation by the Elm hours ago? Did you not offer yourself to me then, even calling it a ‘service’? And now—just because you’ve experienced a decent fuck from an older man, you feel rather entitled to withhold yourself from whoever you think doesn’t deserve it, don’t you?” He leaned even heavier against her, further straining the muscles of her legs.

Sakura blinked up at him, noticing that for someone so perceptive and clever, the King of Heroes doesn’t seem to understand why Sakura had to reject him, and that it had little to do with her pride or an injury to his own. So she tried to make him understand by saying pointedly, “If you truly want my body, Gilgamesh, then why don’t you challenge yourself to claim my heart first?”

His gaze hardened. She could feel the full weight of his disapproval this time.

“Do you mean to say that Kirei had claimed your heart then?” he countered.

Sakura’s lips quivered. She had no idea what to say or how to answer that. Was it really only half an hour ago or so when she became intimate with said priest? If she focused on the sensations of her core right now, she could imagine his thickness within her again, stretching and filling her in a way that left her gasping with her mouth dry. But did she feel something else for him other than the carnal desire she had tried so hard to shove aside every time he was near? Is it something comparable with how she felt about Shirou, for example? Sakura had no way of knowing right now. Her silence was indicative of her doubts, and so Gil picked up on it and proceeded to glare at her more harshly.

“And yet you sound so very sure about refusing me, though, solely because of the reason you think you cannot love me.”

Even with her voice faltering, she managed to say, “I never said I could not.”

He looked lost for a moment. “What was that?”

“You’re giving up so easily,” Sakura said as a realization slowly dawns on her. “And that doesn’t make sense to me. I simply explained to you what it takes to have my body, and you want to back out because the condition upsets you. Why? I only said that if I could love you then you can have me as many times as you want. Can’t love be learned in time? Do you not possess the patience to see if I could start feeling that way about you? Don’t you think I can love you?”

“As if I would want a mongrel’s love!” His nails were digging into the flesh of her wrists now. “As if I have a need for it!”

Sakura ignored the way her muscles strained as she retained the grueling position. She was very determined to make him see the epiphany she had just been struck with. “Then, King of Heroes, shouldn’t it be clear to you then that maybe you don’t want me at all? Besides, would you truly want to have the body of someone who has no feelings for you, one who does not care for you or wants to make you happy?”

“This is so stupid,” he gritted his teeth. “Stop talking.”

She didn’t. Sakura just went on, the words flowing out of her mouth as if she had rehearsed them, “Or is it possible that you don’t think you can make anyone love you? Maybe you already knew this truth for a while, and so you would rather find yourself in bed with someone, or a series of bed mates, who could provide you the warmth of their bodies but not—”

He viciously slammed her wrists on the mattress. “I said stop talking!”

“Gilgamesh, I need you to understand that, as much as I admire and respect you, I don’t want the same things as you do, not when it comes to sex,” Sakura said. “You were right, though. Sex is enjoyable. I think I would enjoy having sex with you if sex is all I require. It would bring me immense pleasure because I have no doubt you are a skilled lover, but, at the same time, I’d still feel hollow once it’s all over. And that is because there is no love between us.”

To her mild surprise, Gil had loosened his grip on her wrists. She lifted one of her arms then to touch his cheek. “You’ve lived for a long time, have you not? Long ago, did you never have anyone taste these lips…” she tentatively traced them with her thumb, “...was there never anyone who loved you, who kissed you not because you had made them or forced them but because the kiss was freely given?”

He is so beautiful, Sakura thought, even when his face is twisted into a grimace, and the full weight of his harsh glare bore down at her. Surely there had to be a person or two who had loved such a beautiful, lonely king. She reached out with her other hand, cupping his cheek. Perfect and splendid in every way, she thought and recalled his proud boast at the Elm tree earlier about the overflowing riches he owned, and how the gods have molded him and bestowed so many fortunes upon his head. Sakura wanted to ask him: So why does it seem like nothing is ever enough for you? What could this world—and me—possibly give to the half-divine royal king who has everything already?

But she did not dare ask. Instead, she just continued with her earlier remarks, “That’s what I want…Gil-san.” At the last second she decided to address him politely again, “I know you opened me to the possibility that sex is enjoyable; something I should not be ashamed to want for myself, but…” she smiled weakly at him, “I also think you shouldn’t be ashamed if—if love is what you want.” Could that be it? Do you want a companion? After all—what good is the world’s riches, and the blessing of the divine, if there is no one else but you to enjoy it?

If he struck her down for speaking out of turn, she would be okay about it. She already said what needed to be said. Sakura didn’t know where she got the courage and insight to make him listen, but it occurred to her that someone like Gil wouldn’t behave like this just because he can. Since coming to live with him and the priest, Sakura had seen something in Gil’s eyes in the rare moments he displayed cordiality that made her question whether or not he was truly as arrogant and as self-assured as he was always acting.

She remembered the conversation they had by the Elm tree—and the devastating way he had looked at her then and read her soul. Those eyes were still bright red as they gazed down at her now, but they have lost their sharpness while he slowly pulled away from her.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she was able to stretch her legs down again. Sakura lifted herself from the bed with her arms so she can look at Gil whose back was turned away from her as he sat there on the edge of the bed. She wondered if she went too far, if this was just the calm before the storm before she would receive whatever punishment he deemed worthy.

Gil finally acknowledged her again by simply saying, “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you, Sakura?”

She blinked before she replied. “I don’t know. I was just…I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings between us.”

He hummed in response, almost non-committal. A few seconds passed before he stood up and walked towards a closet. He began pulling out a set of clothes, and then stripped down without another word. As soon as he started dressing in slacks and a maroon turtleneck sweater, and barely looked her way, Sakura had to ask, “A-Are you going somewhere, Gil-san?”

“Yes,” he replied. After another pause, he said. “Get some rest. I won’t be back for a while.”

“I hope you’re not upset with me…” Sakura sat up and pulled a blanket over her lap, feeling rather guilty all of a sudden.

“No,” he answered again but he still wasn’t looking at her. His tone was so devoid of any emotion that it was almost frightening. Gil walked towards the door as soon as he was dressed. “Goodnight, Sakura,” he uttered as he softly shut the door behind him.

 

 

 

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Sakura woke up to Father Kotomine knocking on the door. She glanced briefly at the clock at the mantelpiece and saw that it was already nine-thirty in the morning. She has overslept! Sakura wanted to wake up around dawn to make breakfast for herself and the two men, but after the events of last night, her mind and body were just too exhausted, and it was inevitable for her to recuperate. Still, she was disappointed and a little embarrassed that she didn’t get to accomplish her usual morning routine, most especially since the priest had to wake her up himself.

What an inconvenience it must be right now for Father Kotomine.

“Sakura,” he called out, his deep voice slightly muffled by the wood. The lack of formal address attached to her name made her stomach flip. She was beginning to prefer it. “Your brother stopped by earlier this morning to bring you a bag of your clothes and other necessities. He had to leave for school, but he told me that he expected to see you soon enough.”

“I understand, Father.” Sakura had already stood up from bed and was folding the blankets, careful to brush out all the creases from the silk sheets. She quickly grabbed a brush to untangle the mess of her bed-ridden hair, and then washed her face and mouth next. She was still wiping her face with a towel when the Father called out:

“Are you decent? May I enter?”

She made sure that her nightgown wasn’t showing any unnecessary skin as she answered him. “Yes, please do.”

Father Kotomine stepped in, closing the door behind him. He clasped his hands behind his back as usual and stared at Sakura lightly. She tried not to stare back too obviously but since it’s difficult not to be so aware of his presence, she ended up meeting his gaze anyway even as she tried to sneakily look at other parts of him—like the golden crucifix necklace he wore that glinted as the sunlight from the windows touched it, the snug fit of the blue long coat accentuating the shape of his shoulders and forearms which she held onto last night and felt for herself how well-toned they were, that gratingly modest priestly collar which Gil had spilled wine on and licked—

She looked away, hoping her cheeks weren’t flushed. Sakura shouldn’t be thinking of lustful thoughts in the morning. It wasn’t because it was necessarily wrong, but she’d rather not be having them while in the present company of her object of interest. It just seemed wiser to keep it contained every now and then. “Good morning, Father,” she muttered.

He didn’t seem to notice her dilemma, thankfully. “Good morning. Where is Gilgamesh?” he asked her instead.

“Was he not back yet?” she asked back.

“Do you mean to tell me that he left the premises last night?”

“Some time after…” she trailed off, choosing her phrasing carefully, “…well, I came back to church after we parted ways, Father. I was there for about ten minutes. And when I came here, Gil-san was already on bed. We talked for a while and then he put on some outdoor clothes and said that he’s going to be gone for a while. I didn’t know that he actually meant that he wouldn’t be coming home.”

A look of concern passed the priest’s face but he explained, almost as if he was only talking to himself, “I’m sure he hasn’t gone that far. Besides, he might have gone to the Matou household instead of here, considering that he formed his contract with your brother and therefore he is required to stay by the boy’s side. He might probably have met up with Matou-san already, and your brother simply did not find it necessary to inform me when he stopped by earlier. I’m just the Overseer, and masters are not required to give me a minute detail of their activities during the War unless an exceptional circumstance takes place.”

Sakura lowered her eyes in contemplation. “I see. Those reasons do sound probable. I was just…I just thought Gil-san could have said something before he just left me.” She wondered if she should tell the Father about the argument they had which may have led to the King of Heroes’ untimely departure. Does Father Kotomine really need to know about it though? It seemed far too personal…

“Sakura?” the older man called her name again. “Are you feeling well?”

“Oh, yes!” she answered almost hurriedly, “But I’m very sorry that I overslept. I wanted to make breakfast—”

But then the Father raised a hand to interject so she stopped talking. He gave her a small smile as he said, “No need to be so bashful and polite with me at this point, Sakura.” He walked closer to her. Every step he took was like a stomp on Sakura’s heart as it suddenly became hard for her to breathe and function properly. She just gazed up at him in silence, telling herself to stay confident and not to give any indication of anxiety but she ended up fiddling with her fingers underneath her.

“Listen,” he said slowly, “About what happened between us last night…” he looked unsure for a second but then he continued with his usual resoluteness, “I had taken advantage of you while in a vulnerable state, and there is no repentance for that. If I have caused you any further distress, I would like to apologize. You’ve been assaulted by your own kin, and I should have taken that into consideration before acting so dubiously, and in consequence, I’ve made you do something that was just as traumatizing—”

Sakura felt the need to intervene, and her voice was louder than she intended when she said, “No, Father! You can’t compare what happened to us with what Nii-san did to me! And it was morally wrong in so many levels, I know, but—but I didn’t…I couldn’t bring myself to regret it!” she took a pause so she can gather her breath. Her chest constricted so badly that she almost couldn’t go on but she did anyway. As soon as she had, words just started pouring out. “You’ve helped me a lot since I came to you months ago. And though I know you’re not always forthcoming with me, I feel that I can trust you anyway because when I do demand answers, you’re always willing to give them, and even expound on certain things that confuse me, like this War and my role in it, about Gil-san and anything else I may have questions about.”

Raising her voice to another pitch, she said, “So please, Father Kotomine! Know that I…know that I—that I…”

He was just staring at her the entire time with that same neutral expression he had always put on around her. But she knew that a thousand things must be going on in his mind right now. Sakura was very determined to break through that aloofness because the man she glimpsed underneath it every now and then—the man who does not always have to be a priest or a mage or anything else but just a human being—she had learned to care about that man, and she felt somewhat tethered to him, more so after they became intimate last night.

“Father Kotomine!” she continued, clenching both hands into fists now as she tried to make eye contact and hold it. “I…I like you very much! And I don’t expect for you to feel the same, not with the differences in our ages and experiences. You are a man of God and have obligations that outweigh whatever meaning my feelings may have. I can live with that.  I don’t mind the lack of reciprocation. If you choose to cut off our correspondence—if I have to leave the church now—I’d be fine with that too. I don’t ever want to be an inconvenience. I just…I just hope you won’t think badly of me because of this! It’s not something I could control...”

He unclasped his hands behind him and placed one of them on Sakura’s shoulders. She shivered right through her bones when she felt his touch on a part of her body. Lowering his voice, he told her, “I’m not inconvenienced at all, and you shouldn’t overthink things too much. I’m flattered you feel that way, but you are also right to say that a relationship is simply not possible between us. This is truly a problem, but something I have a hand in. I never should have…” he paused, looking worried all of a sudden.

He asked, “I need to ask you something, and I need you to give me a truthful answer, Sakura.”

“Of course,” she could feel her eyes water but she hardened her resolve and said, “Anything you want to know, Father.”

“Was our relations last night consensual?”

She blinked as heat rises to her cheeks, “Y-Yes! It was! I wanted…I wanted you, Father!”

He nodded curtly but didn’t address that embarrassing thing she blurted out. “Good. I just had to make sure.”

“I won’t tell anyone else about it!” Sakura insisted. “Although—although Gil-san knows…”

“That’s fine,” the priest was unfazed. “He can keep secrets too.”

“I’m sorry,” Sakura said, “I’m so, so sorry, Father.”

“Don’t be,” he squeezed her shoulder. “As long as we can agree on these things then it’s fine.” A pause. “You already know that I’m not an average clergyman. In fact, I’ve been an Inquisitor for the Holy Church before I was ever ordained as a priest. To make a long story short, it means that I have killed people, Sakura; more than dozens. I’ve mostly executed mages as heretics. I’m telling you these things because you need to understand that I wasn’t pure as snow.” There was smirk on his lips again, “It’s not as if you have soiled me, as if you alone seduced me into committing an affront against my vows. You also know that Gilgamesh and I had relations too, did you not? I’m sure he had talked about it with you, knowing his personality.” He withdrew his hand from her and added, “So stop bearing this imaginary burden where you think you’re responsible for my own questionable deeds, let alone my fall from grace. Like I said last night, I am not the good man you fantasize me to be.”

“I,” she began but could not put into words how much none of it mattered to her.

I am not the good man you fantasize me to be.

Even as he revealed this important knowledge, her feelings remained the same.

“You were right again to suggest that perhaps you should not be staying here at the church,” he explained. “There is…a tension in our interactions now, Sakura. As you can see, I can no longer distance myself from you by maintaining a formality that is simply not possible anymore. I hope you’re okay if I call you casually by first name like this. I’ll only do it in private, of course. Although…” he trailed off, his eyes darkening for a moment, “It’s best we avoid meeting in private, and alone together like this.”

“What do you mean?” Sakura knew it was a dumb question because she recognized that heated look yet again.

But Father Kotomine merely shook his head and turned away from her. Sakura was both relieved and disappointed by his dismissal. He was already walking to the door. When he reached it, he faced her again and asked her, “So would you be going back to the Matou mansion? I won’t stop you. I think it would be the best course of action at this point.”

“Well…” Sakura was hesitant about that.

The priest picked up on it and gave her a helpful suggestion, “You’re worried about your brother assaulting you again. Of course, that’s understandable. Then perhaps you have a classmate or friend you can stay with instead?”

Sakura immediately thought about Shirou as she nodded in response.

“Then do speak to that person and make an arrangement to stay there,” Father Kotomine said. “I could give you the number to my office if you ever need to contact me.” A pause. “I could get your luggage for you. I have it at my office.”

“Please, there is no need, Father! I can pick it up by myself!” she rushed towards him. In her haste, she half-slipped on her way. Luckily, her hand grabbed hold of one of the nearby chairs to her left. Father Kotomine made a slight movement to assist her, but stopped short when she managed to keep herself from falling. They ended up just looking at each other for what seemed like the longest moment in Sakura’s life.

It was horrible. It was looking at something she ached so badly for but could never have.

Father Kotomine was the first one to break the silence. “Are you alright, Sakura-san?”

Without even second guessing herself, she said, “Don’t call me like that anymore, Father. Remember you said you’re more comfortable addressing me casually…intimately by now? So please don’t hesitate.” Her cheeks were aflame the moment she expressed those words.

Why are you such a hypocrite, Sakura? Why do you act like a cowering little girl when you’re ready to prove that you’re a woman grown?

That was the voice in her head, and yet somehow it sounded like Gilgamesh.

Meanwhile, the priest’s expression was blank but Sakura was not deceived as easily anymore.

Dropping the formality of address, she said as she held his gaze, “Do…do you want to?”

With a lowered tone, he plainly told her, “You know I do. But we mustn’t.”

Does he really? Somehow the mere thought that the man before her—who remained so unknowable and dangerous—actually does desire her back was just too inconceivable. And yet…and yet he took her with such ferocity last night that it felt as if something just cracked in her, more so than before. Even now while fully clothed and standing in a distance from each other, the wretched sensations Father Kotomine had evoked in her continued to echo persistently throughout her skin. Everything was numb and sore all at once. Sakura’s lips quivered, betraying her own lust and she proclaimed, “I’m not a good girl. And you were never a good man.”

He continued staring squarely at her although his eyes narrowed a little at that.

“Don’t you remember we admitted that?” she asked in the gentlest of tones.

If I’m going to leave, I want him to remember this last time we have together, in case he might never see me again.

Who was saying that? The inner voice in her head was suddenly something she doesn’t recognize. Sakura should be afraid.

But she just wasn’t.

I want the ghost of me charred to his flesh. Is this love? I didn’t know love could be as dark and sticky as tar...

Why did she sound so different in her head right now? It was intoxicating!

Father Kotomine stayed where he was with a hand over the door knob, but he didn’t twist it open, at least not yet. 

Instead, he asked her, “What are you trying to say exactly, Sakura?”

Emboldened by the fact that he hasn’t made a move to leave, she answered him in all earnest:

“Show me what it means,” Her hand slipped from the chair, fingers shaking, as she took one step forward closer to him. He was so immobile that he looked as if he wasn’t even breathing. His eyes held a strange quality to them, however, and it was sort of vile and appealing to Sakura that she increased her steps until she was only a yard away from him with their feet pointed at one another. She became very aware of what dance she was trying to lead, of the sins she wanted him to commit for her sake. Softly, she told him, “I want you to show me again…Kirei.”

His eyes widened an inch before he raised an eyebrow at her, as if to further encourage her to impugn and debase herself before him.

The smile on her lips didn’t feel like her own as she said, “…how to be bad.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

 

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

Of things unknown but longed for still

 

-Maya Angelou-

 

 


 

 

 

 

It was a Sunday.

It slipped Sakura’s mind because her concept of time has been muddled lately. Still, it was rather convenient. After all, she had already been absent from school for two days and it’d be suspicious if she extended beyond that. At present, Sakura had made plans over the phone to meet with Fujimura-sensei at the archery clubroom. School was not usually open on weekends, but Fujimura-sensei informed her that she had access since she was a club advisor, and she decided to have the new members of the archery club make some extra time to practice.

She carried the luggage with her on her way to school. It was a bag with clothes that Shinji provided himself upon Gil’s request. When she inspected the contents earlier, she wasn’t that surprised to find that her clothes were carelessly stashed in. It looked as if he had emptied all her drawers without any consideration what he was stuffing inside the bag. It was okay; what would be unusual is if her brother cared enough to sort out her clothes and fold them neatly. That being said, she knew she would have done differently if the situations were reversed.

Sakura only has love and devotion for Shinji after all.

She had selected a simple white blouse and a pink cardigan from her own clothes, and then she put on a pair of black jeans that was tighter than she would usually wear. It belonged to one of the clothes Gil had her try on days ago. Sakura tried it on for size this time because it occurred to her that she never wore pants before; the late Byakuya made her wear uncomfortably lose and long dresses growing up, and this carried on when she had come of age and was able to shop for her own clothes. Sakura remembered thinking back then that the only reason she chose to wear dresses all the time was because she strived to look decent and feminine. Now she realized that in her desire of establishing propriety, she was also imposing restrictions on herself. It was quite funny too. Why the hell wouldn’t she wear pants anyway?

Kirei had caught her laughing to herself while she was staring at the full-length mirror inside Gil’s closet.

“You’re in a rather good mood today,” he remarked. “Care to share why, Sakura?”

She looked back at him with an easy smile, “Don’t mind me…” she had wrenched herself away from her reflection, and then walked past him while running a hand across his arm where the command seals were located. Her fingers lingered there for awhile, savoring the faint currents of energy that seemed to buzz against under her fingertips as she added, “I was just making fun of my own stupidity. It’s rather dull.”

The smirk on his face showed he was still curious, but Sakura didn’t say anything more and instead gave his arm one last squeeze before she let it go. It was nice while it lasted, she had thought, I still don’t regret the time I spent here, especially with Kirei. I never will.

“I suppose this is goodbye,” she said as she took the luggage near the door with both hands. She had hoped she didn’t sound sad.

But then Kirei spoke up, “There’s something I want you to know, Sakura.”

She had to look back at him, eyes slightly wide. “This sounds serious. What is it?”

The priest looked thoughtful for a while. Is it possible that he didn’t want her to leave at all? Ridiculous, Sakura had scolded herself. He isn’t the type to get sentimental. Still, a part of her wished she had meant something more to him than just a casual lay. But maybe the sex was only good for me because I have feelings for him, she quickly reasoned out to herself. He never told him how he felt, though. Should I ask him?

“Actually,” he said, widening that smirk she had started to adore about him, “Why don’t I just show you instead?”

Sakura couldn’t help smiling back. “Then lead the way.”

“Sakura-chan, there you are!” Fujimura-sensei’s voice interrupted with her reminisce, and she almost jerked her head abruptly towards the direction of the sound. The clubroom was only filled with six members so it was easy to spot Fujimura-sensei. Sakura put on a ready smile as she waved back to her teacher while the other hand still clutched her bag. She started walking to meet the older woman halfway.

“How have you been since yesterday?” Fujimura-sensei asked, peering at her face with concern. “I hope Shinji wasn’t too hard on you again.”

Sakura blinked as she recalled the circumstances when she last talked to the woman. Affording herself a chuckle, she responded, “Not at all. If Nii-san was ever tough, we both know it’s for my own good.” The lies just come out more naturally now, don’t they?

When Fujimura-sensei still looked anxious, Sakura brightened up her smile and said, “There is nothing to be worried about, sensei. I’m very glad that you made time for me, though. I mean…” she glanced down at her luggage. “This is a rather unusual request after all.”

“Yes,” the older woman narrowed her eyes at Sakura. “Why did you want to stay at the dojo again?”

“Well,” Sakura placed down the bag on the floor for a while so she could clasp her hands together in a display of bashfulness, “Several rooms in our mansion are being renovated and Grandfather wanted to extend these rooms further, and my own room unfortunately was on the way of that expansion. I’m not really sure why he wanted to renovate, but it’s not my place to question him, of course, so I just went along with it.”

“And your grandfather was okay with you moving in with us for a while?”

“Only for a few days or so,” Sakura added. “He actually told me to stay at the dojo with you specifically, sensei, since you had asked me to stay for the night once not so long ago if you can recall. And Grandfather trusts you enough, he says, since you’re a teacher, and a very responsible one at that.” With that last statement of subtle flattery, Sakura also beamed at the older woman some more, hoping that her cordiality would be enough to mask all that deception she spewed out. Why don’t I feel bad about this at all?

A rebellious feeling continues to grow inside Sakura, one that excites her just a little.

Fujimura-sensei let out a long sigh. She gave Sakura another lingering gaze before she said, “I see, I see. It’s pretty weird that your grandfather chose to make such drastic changes around your household like this without even consulting the rest of the family, huh? That’s none of my business, of course. But still! I wonder why he hasn’t called me about this himself and just sent you—”

Sakura pulled out a piece of paper from the back pocket of her jeans. “He wrote a letter, actually.”

Fujimura-sensei took it and started reading. “Ah, I see…” she said as she stared for a few more moments at the paper, “I must say though, Sakura, that your grandfather certainly has a very strong and steady penmanship! It’s even better than my own handwriting!”

It was actually a forgery written by Kirei, but Sakura shared her teacher’s opinion when she first saw the priest’s penmanship.

“You wouldn’t think he would write so well, would you?” Sakura smiled some more as she cocked her head to the side, “In spite of his old age, Grandfather can do things that might even surprise you, sensei.”

“Oh, that sounds ominous!” The older woman laughed as carefree as she always has upon hearing that remark.

You have no idea, Sakura thought as she returned the teacher’s laugh. “So, is there anything else you need from me, sensei?”

Fujimura-sensei just blinked at her before a smile of relief slowly spread on her lips. She folded the letter and handed it back to Sakura. “That’s okay, dear. I was just making sure that everything is okay. But to be honest, I’m really not that worried! You would never do something reckless. In fact, Sakura-chan is the last person in the world who would do something like that! It’s just not you at all!” The older woman stepped closer and started patting her back in an almost aggressively friendly manner.

“Well, thank you, sensei—”

“Sakura-chan is a good girl!” Fujimura-sensei cut her off. She nodded curtly as if she was stating an incontestable fact. “Now, do you mind waiting for me a while? We’re almost done here anyway. Besides, no one’s at the dojo since Shirou is doing part-time work right now. I swear it won’t take too long, Sakura-chan. Give me twenty minutes to whip these students to shape!” She turned around and stared daggers at the new members who all cowered and huddled as a group as they deflated at the sight of their advisor stomping her way through them.

Sakura kept her smile on, feeling rather refreshed to witness her teacher’s lively mood. It truly felt like she hadn’t seen Fujimura-sensei in ages.

Sakura-chan is a good girl! The older woman had announced so confidently.

“You’re very sweet, sensei,” Sakura muttered as she stood there by herself, eyeing the floor, “But you really have no idea…”

 

 

 

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The red vines stood out against his skin like pathways to another world, teeming with energy. They were almost like weeds that should have never sprouted so wildly across his arm, and yet she toured their jumbled patterns with the lavish worship of her tongue. Magic was infused in these markings and she could feel them thrumming faintly against her lips every now and then. She pulled away from memorizing their language with each lick only so she could capture the taste of the mouth of the man who owned them. She wanted nothing more but to imprint herself everywhere in this man until he dissolves inside her and becomes truly one with her. The thought of that union soaked her within.

So she spread herself on top of him, with her flushed skin growing more slicked with sweat as she did her best to turn the rest of his body into a map she could trace with her fingers and mouth. So very eager for the voyage, she let his hand cup the back of her head as he guided her down to the one place she actually got lost in for what felt like hours. All she could do then was savor the heavy weight of him across the wet stretch of her tongue as he easily glided in and out of her in a mindless, effortless feat. She agonized about never having enough of him even as her throat felt tight and full, enclosing perfectly around the thick, throbbing intrusion.

He made her stop, much to her dismay, and then pulled her up to lay her back down against the mattress. Like a musician to his instrument, his deliberate hands had wrapped around her delicate frame to produce a petrifying series of notes as he stretched her core once more with his manhood. She can’t help the desperate way her body pulsated madly for him. There was precision in his onslaughts and some degree of restraint, but even the mildest contact still bruised. Her legs folded beneath her as she dug her heels on the sheets to fuck back.

As she breathed out hot puffs of air, her nails burrowed into the hard muscle that could almost cut her palms, hoping to retrieve from memory later his every outline and shape. She wished there was no end, and so begged him to make her feel every inch of him in slower strokes. He was quiet the entire time, just staring down at her with a seething intensity that felt like it could melt her skin. He bent down once to kiss her, swirling their tongues together in a rhythm akin to the dance of their hips while she focused on the length pushing deep in and out of her in measured thrusts. The shared earthquake of sensations between their bodies made everything else in the background blur.

 

 

 

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Fujimura-sensei made good on her word. She had wrapped things up with the club members just in time for the oolong tea Sakura prepared for everyone. There was some light chitchat among them as the members lingered around for a while to finish their tea, and Sakura was struck at just how much time she has spent away from school and from other people her age. It was very nice to be back in such an amiable and relaxed environment yet again. Listening to her favorite teacher playfully scold and goad her schoolmates made her feel as if nothing has truly changed—except that it already had, and Sakura should never force herself to think it hadn’t.

During the conversation and banter, she mostly stared at the bottom of her cup, watching the leaves accumulate together to form a shapeless bond that she tried to make sense of. Nobody pointed out her silence because they were either used to her social awkwardness or did not care enough to notice her lack of responses anyway. Sakura was fine with both; the company of others has some calming effect on her, but even the kindest word or gesture is meaningless from now on,  especially in the grander scheme of things, considering what awaited her once she finally takes that plunge to the abyss she had so desired to escape from.

She recalled what she and Kirei talked about just an hour ago as they lay together on the sheets inside Gil’s room in the harsh afterglow of their union. Sakura fancied it could have been a cocoon where she can believe everything was safe and good, but in the company of such a man like Kirei who has his own brand of deception, she knew it was only a pitiful wishful thinking on her part. She wasn’t disillusioned to think he was learning to care about her, other than the purpose she might serve for him. Sakura knew now that the compassionate man of God she revealed all her secret aches to was just a shadow of the real man underneath that carefully cultivated persona he had worn around her. But since Sakura has been surrounded and was even raised by men of questionable ethics before, it wasn’t something that was new or disruptive to her. She knew now that there are many moments in someone’s life where they must use other people if it meant self-preservation and victory.

Sakura had her own battles she chose not to fight because she was afraid she will become such an exploitative person, but what is the point of acting chaste and showing restraint when everybody else doesn’t uphold the same thing?

She ended up becoming a prey caught in several traps. Nothing has worked in her favor for a long time, and now it’s time she learned to turn the tables around. Sakura stared into the tea leaves at the bottom of her cup and saw opportunities waiting to be seized, of choices that are of her own making and no one else’s. She will not be just another pawn in someone else’s chess game again.

Fujimura-sensei bid the students goodbye as Sakura washed the thermos and cups by the clubroom’s sink. The teacher was yawning aloud, stretching her arms up as she walked towards Sakura. She immediately placed her hands on the sides of her hips and put on a smile as soon as Sakura gazed back at her with an inquiring expression on her face. On cue, she asked the older woman, “So I take it that’s it for today, sensei? Or is there something else you have to do here at school? It’s still almost noon after all.”

“Nothing has gotten past me yet!” Her teacher was still beaming. She raised one of her arms up and slapped her bicep with the other hand in a display of comical toughness as she proclaimed, “I’m never one to brag but I’ve completed all the tasks for the next couple of days! That’s right! Taiga Fujimura is a one-woman unstoppable machine of accomplishments!”

Sakura had to chuckle, “If you say so, sensei.”

As she turned around to walk to the nearby shelf so she can put the cups and the thermos away, Sakura heard the older woman say, “There is something I want to talk about with you though. Do you have a minute, Sakura-chan?”

“Of course, sensei,” Sakura calmly replied as she wiped her hands on a towel. She still had her back turned.

“It’s about Ayako-san.” Once that name was spoken, Sakura felt her stomach curl but she ignored it.

“Ah,” she responded without any hesitation. “How was Mitsuzuri-sempai?”

As soon as Sakura turned around she noticed that Fujimura-sensei’s expression has gotten serious, an utter contrast to her usually jolly nature. The issue was a sensitive topic, however. Measuring her words, the teacher explained, “The parents were still vague about the incident, but they have informed the school that she’s recovering from whatever happened. Unfortunately, she won’t be coming to school for at least another week. Now I asked around if she was still in the hospital, but the parents said she’s been released and was under doctor’s orders to remain bedridden so she can properly recuperate.” The older woman paused and gestured for Sakura to take a seat at the bench facing the archery range. “Now after what happened to Ayako-san, and taking into account the other unexplainable crimes happening around the city, the faculty is concerned about students still loitering around during the after hours, which was why the admin decided to set the curfew two hours earlier than the normal. This was so the students can go home after classes are over. And that’s why even club hours have been banned for now.”

“Is this the reason why the new members have to practice on a Sunday morning?” Sakura inquired.

Her teacher nodded. “I don’t want to exaggerate or dilute the gravity of the circumstances that have been going on, but this place has become rather dangerous lately both for the adults and the kids. And that’s why I can’t help but be concerned for you since I haven’t seen you in a few days until yesterday morning.” She paused to chuckle, “I don’t want to overstep my boundaries but there was something…rather off about you then, Sakura-chan. Would it be alright if we talked about it since we’re here anyway?”

Sakura’s expression softened. “What do you want to know, sensei?”

Fujimura-sensei looked across the line of targets in the field before them. Stray streaks of light made the surface of each target gleam just a bit as the sun approached its highest peak. There were shadows on the ground that seemed to have spilled from the contours of the targets; long dark tails that were harmless and still yet disconcerting in a certain angle. Sakura’s eyes were glued on their shapes, imagining them expanding towards the shade she and the older woman sat on together. She saw images of their tendrils curling by her toes, linking around her ankles as soft as silk at first before their grip turns to steel, as they forcibly drag her down. Her heart faltered at such a grim musing.

“There is something about what you said before that stayed with me, Sakura-chan,” Fujimura-sensei was saying. “Something about how some families would rather just keep secrets because of reputation being more important than the safety of their own children? I hope I wasn’t misremembering these things.” A pause. The air between them crackled with something Sakura almost winced at but she kept her hands on her lap and stared straight ahead nevertheless. “You did say these things, didn’t you, Sakura-chan?”

The lie came easily enough as she replied, “I’m not sure. I wasn’t really myself then. I was still a little sick, sensei.” She inserted a chuckle, hoping to dissuade her teacher. “Why are you asking me about this? Is something the matter, sensei?”

When she turned to meet the older woman’s eyes, Fujimura-sensei was already staring at her. Clearing her throat, she added, “The way you just said it—you seemed angry about something. Look, Sakura-chan, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or uneasy but…I’m your teacher and I’m very worried about you. You haven’t been to school in a while and your own brother was also quite dodgy about answering questions concerning how you’ve been. Now I’m not sure what to think anymore, Sakura-chan…” her hand reached out tentatively to hover above Sakura’s neatly pressed ones on her lap. “But if you need someone to talk to, I’d be more than happy to listen.”

Sakura was just staring back at Fujimura-sensei, her lips curved into a small smile of pleasant neutrality.

“Sakura-chan,” the older woman tried again, “Are you having troubles at home? Is that why you want to stay with us for a while?”

“Nothing like that at all,” Sakura shook her head slowly and allowed the smile to deepen. “It was Grandfather who wanted me to leave for a while because of the renovations taking place.” Another careless chuckle. “I don’t know why you think that something else is going on.”

“Sakura,” the abrupt lack of formality showed just how much Fujimura-sensei was determined to break through her, “Please don’t lie to me. I only have your best interests at heart.” She withdrew her hand now but she kept their eye contact even.

Sakura feigned surprise. This was a rather pointless line of questioning because Sakura sure as hell wasn’t going to involve someone like her teacher who knew nothing about the world of mages, let alone the war her family has been caught up in. She has to find a way to diffuse the situation now. “I really don’t know what you want me to tell you, sensei. Nothing bad is happening to me, if that’s what sensei is getting at. As for Nii-san—I’m sure he’s just being evasive because he’s very nervous about people saying bad things about him all the time, and his anxiety may come off as brusqueness which is entirely false. Nii-san is very sensitive to criticism, but who isn’t?”

Fujimura-sensei narrowed her eyes. “I know Matou-kun is a good kid, but he does have a temper, doesn’t he?”

Sakura could already see where this was headed, so when the older woman asked, “Has he hurt you in some way? Even only by accident?”

She was ready to respond with, “He would never do such a thing, of course. People always get the wrong idea about Nii-san just because he tends to react impulsively and shout at people who misunderstand him. Sensei, you have to understand that there are only three people who live in our big household, and Nii-san often has to tend to Grandfather’s needs on top of school work, club activities and taking care of me as well.” She looked down on her hands in a display which she hoped seemed humbling, “He’s not always very graceful about carrying on with his duties, I know, but Nii-san tries, and that’s all that matters to me at the end of the day.”

A sigh. “Sakura-chan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that Matou-kun was anything but a devoted brother and hardworking student.”

Sakura looked up again, “Then please forget about whatever ugly rumor you may have heard about him.”

Fujimura-sensei just looked at her for a while. Her expression was still grave and she wasn’t smiling at all.

“Speaking of rumors,” she said, “There’s one surrounding your Matou-kun and Ayako-san. Do you know about it?”

Sakura wasn’t going to look away or let her voice shake. Surprisingly enough, she managed to do both things as she asked. “What rumor?”

“I hope it isn’t true, and I most certainly want to believe it’s all negative hearsay from students who are insensitive enough to even suggest it,” Fujimura-sensei explained, “But according to the rumor, Matou-kun was the last person that Ayako-san was seen talking to the afternoon before she disappeared. This is going to be hard to hear, Sakura-chan, but they speculated that your brother did something to Ayako-san. They are under the impression that he had hurt her in some way…and even—” she paused abruptly, clenching her fists slightly on her own lap before she continued, “…and even forced himself on her, they said. It’s really such a terrible affair overall.”

Shaking her head, she quickly apologized to Sakura. “I’m sorry you have to hear this from me, but I guess it’s better that you do. I would hate to see anyone approach you and taunt you about such cruel accusations about your own brother.”

Sakura lowered her eyes again. She knew what she had to say. She would plead for her brother’s innocence on his behalf, and become so heartbroken about these baseless rumors that she may even cry a little to her teacher. If the point is to keep up appearances then Sakura would do just that, and yet she didn’t. Instead, she kept quiet as she stared at the back of her hands, wondering where she had kept her black gloves.

“Sakura-chan?” Fujimura-sensei called to her but she offered no response. “I—I don’t know what’s going on with you right now, and it would help us both if you just tell me. I know that there’s something wrong, no matter how much you seemed determined to deny it. After all, you said another thing too yesterday, do you remember? You said something about how some girls suffer in silence because somebody else made that choice for them. How could I ever bring myself to forget that you said that? It was…” she was reaching out for Sakura’s hands again. This time the older woman did touch her, “…it was most likely a cry for help. So I’m here now, Sakura-chan. I’m willing to help you.”

Sakura looked up with another mild smile. “You’ve been so good to me, sensei. But really, please don’t worry about me.”

The teacher just stared at her again, frowning deeply at how stubbornly Sakura kept the façade going. “Okay,” she managed to say, “I don’t know how to approach this matter, not when you’re obviously refusing to talk about it. And it’s fine, I guess. I trust you, and I believe in you, Sakura-chan. You’ve always been such a quiet girl, and you don’t mingle a lot with the other students. I think Ayako-san was really the only one you connected with, but she was still more of your sempai than a friend.” Another defeated sigh. Sakura stopped herself from feeling bad.

Fujimura-sensei looked across the line of targets again and remarked, “I guess you never really know how unhappy someone truly is.”

Sakura clenched her hands into fists but offered no comment at all.

And then: “You know what, Sakura-chan, there’s something I want you to have. Stay here while I go get it!” The older woman withdrew her hand to stand up and walk towards the adjoining room that served as her office as the club advisor.

When Fujimura-sensei returned, she was holding a large black case with both arms. She beamed at Sakura with a hopeful expression on her face that stung Sakura like nothing else before. Before she could ask, her teacher knelt on the floor and then opened the case, revealing the contents. There was an elegant bow which looked handcrafted and antique. Sakura’s eyes widened when she realized what was suddenly happening.

“S-Sensei? I don’t think I follow. What does this mean?” she asked almost hurriedly as her chest tightened.

“This was sort of an heirloom,” the older woman explained as she looked away as if embarrassed, “And I, uh, want you to have it—if you want it, that is…” she let out a nervous chuckle as she rubbed the back of her head almost apologetically. “Look, if it’s too much trouble, let’s just say I’m lending it to you for an indefinite amount of time, and it’s your choice whether or not you want to return it. I’m truly fine either way. Archery is not really something I’m passionate about, but my great grandmother really loved it, I’m told.”

“Sensei…” Sakura’s eyes watered in spite of herself as she raised a hand to cover her mouth. She was almost trembling as she said, “I—I can’t have something precious like this! Why not…why not give it to Shirou-sempai instead? I…I mean, maybe even Mitsuzuri-sempai since she is the captain of the archery club. Or maybe, maybe you can have this appraised or donate it to a museum as a collectible or something…”

But her teacher shook her head and just laughed dismissively. “Look, Sakura-chan. I don’t want it to seem as if I’m bribing you to divulge what it is you don’t want to talk about. This isn’t like that at all. I just…I’ve been meaning to give you something nice for a while now. You and Shirou are…very important to me.” The older woman met her gaze with the warmest affection Sakura had ever seen. It made her features glow as she added, “And I know why you practice harder than most of the members here. Sure, maybe you joined because your brother and Shirou were members first, and you wanted to share a hobby with them. I know it started like that but every time I watch you here at target practice…”

Fujimura-sensei looked back at the bow inside the case and caressed it with a steady hand, “I knew that, little by little, something is changing inside you. You weren’t just practising archery because you want to fit in or impress said boys you grew up with. I look at you often when you’re holding the bow and arrow in your hands, Sakura-chan, and I think…” she paused and looked back at her again with another smile, “…I think you’re starting to create something of your own, something that’s only for you, something you can be very proud of.”

Sakura blinked away the tears as she found herself kneeling on the floor as well to stare at the bow. Shakily, her finger traced the intricate flower patterns engraved on its body. As if reading her thoughts, Fujimura-sensei remarked, “Those are cherry blossoms, alright. I was told my great grandfather has fashioned this bow for my great grandmother back when he was courting her. Suffice to say, it seemed to have won her heart.”

“It’s so beautiful, sensei…” Sakura murmured almost as if in prayer. “I have never seen anything so wondrous and unique.”

“I know, Sakura-chan,” her teacher answered with another chuckle, “That’s why I think it’s perfect for you.”

Sakura met the older woman’s gaze and felt the dread rising from the pit of her stomach and up to her throat.

Don’t say that. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Forcing a grateful smile, Sakura said, “Thank you so much for the kindness, sensei. I’ll take care of it.”

“I know you would!” Fujimura-sensei beamed at her as she slowly stood up. “We should close up. It’s noon, and Shirou may be coming home.”

Sakura nodded and turned to look at the bow one last time. How can I deserve something so pure and made out of love?

She let out a sigh as she carefully lifted the lid and shut the case.

After Fujimura-sensei locked the doors of the club room, she asked Sakura to start walking to the school gate and just wait there because there was still something she needed to pick up from the faculty room on the second floor. But before doing that, the teacher showed her that there were straps that can be attached to the case which will enable Sakura to carry it behind her back.

“Now are you sure you’re okay with carrying this and your bag?” Fujimura-sensei explained. “It’s not allowed for two people to get on a bike after all, so maybe you can just put your bag on the seat while we push my bike together?”

“That sounds reasonable enough, sensei,” Sakura answered as she put on the straps around her shoulders to carry the case.

“Okey-dokey,” her teacher said as she waved a hand before she sprinted away. “See you in a minute!”

Sakura watched her hurry past with another smile. As soon as Fujimura-sensei disappeared back inside the school building, Sakura began walking with the case secure behind her back as she gripped the bag’s handle with both hands. A presence made itself known to her out of nowhere. It seemed to appear from glittering flakes of dust. She jerked her head to its direction with a gasp.

Her mouth twisted into a frown quickly when she realized who it was.

“It’s not safe to show yourself around here, Lancer-san,” she addressed the blue-haired heroic spirit who had his red spear resting on top of his shoulders. He was a stunning sight, covered in blue tights that flattered his lean and well-toned physique.

“Never mind that,” he replied, “I’m just getting a little bored following you around like I’m some chaperone, little lady.”

“If you don’t like it then maybe you should complain to your master,” Sakura began to resume walking as she stared ahead, not wanting to engage with him further. “I’m not comfortable about this either, but Kirei wanted to keep me safe so it can’t be helped, I guess.”

“Wow, you’re really infatuated with my master, aren’t you?”

The comment made her halt as her cheeks flushed. “What brings this on all of a sudden?”

Lancer was smirking at her now as if he’s in on the secret. Maybe he was. Kirei did tell her he acted as the priest’s eyes and ears over the course of the War since it began. But the lackadaisical attitude of this servant was getting annoying. “It’s the way you light up when you say his name like that,” he remarked, “Huh. I guess neither of you mind the age gap.”

“I don’t think that even concerns you, Lancer-san,” Sakura faced him, glaring with intent as much as she could.

He shrugged his shoulders at her and then swung his red spear so it could rest on his right side instead. “I wasn’t judging. I’ve met ladies with husbands old enough to be their fathers. It’s a political thing, you see.” A pause. “Is your relation to my master that kind of ploy then?”

“Thank you for your candor and insight, Lancer-san, but they’re not needed.” Sakura’s reply was terse and lacking any kind of cordiality. She’s very uneasy to have this servant follow her around, but Kirei was persistent and said it was a necessary precaution so she was forced to concede. Still, maybe a display of manners would help things ran more smoothly so she decided to tell him, “Now, if you don’t mind, please? My teacher will be coming back any minute now. Please make yourself scarce, Lancer-san.” She bowed her head to appease him.

When she looked up, Lancer was just staring at her blankly. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders again and said, “As you wish, little lady.”

He disappeared as requested. Not a minute later, Sakura could hear Fujimura-sensei running and calling out to her.

 

 

 

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Upon their second meeting months ago, before the Holy Grail War has yet to start, Kirei—known to her then as Father Kotomine—had given her a list of biblical passages to read and reflect on. The books he believed suited her most were that of Isaiah’s and Job’s. Sakura had bought herself a copy of the Bible in Japanese, but since Kirei found out that her grasp of the English language was quite impeccable (she had blushed when she received the compliment), he had lent her a copy of the Bible in that second language as well for comparison’s sake.

It’s funny that she would think about them now as she lay there beside said priest in the aftermath of lovemaking, counting the crystal glass from the small chandelier hanging in the ceiling while she waited for her body to find its center again. Her arms and legs still felt rubbery as the rest of her body was weightless as if it had never been burdened by pain and suffering before. Only the place between her legs was sore in the most delightful sense. Tremors of pleasure still made her quake even as she stayed almost immobile on the silk sheets. As her fingers raked through them, she wondered what Gil might say once he found out that she and the priest have used his bed without permission—but Sakura frankly wasn’t that worried. This clandestine affair was a scandalous spur-of-the-moment, one that the King of Heroes may even find amusing. In any case, she should get up and remove the bed covers so she can wash them. It’s not always a fixed science when it came reading Gil’s moods after all. She could at least soften the insult by cleaning the sheets she had sullied.

She slowly sat up to sift through the blankets and find her undergarments. Thankfully she had changed them last night with the flesh tone-colored ones while the red pair of brassier and panties was still in the washer. A small part of her wished the priest had seen her in that color, however, and dared to hope he would have found her body more appealing in them. As soon as that thought came upon her, she squashed it out of the habit of guilt. She instead busied herself looking for her undergarments.

“They might be on the floor,” she heard his monotonous voice from the left side of the bed, and Sakura had turned to look at him. His eyes were already on her, making her freeze on the spot. She gulped as inconspicuously as she could while her eyes strayed down his exposed chest and at the scarring that stood out as prominently as the vines of command seals on his arm. She had pressed her lips on that scarring earlier ago, but she never asked him how he got it. She merely swiped her tongue on its jagged outline, savoring how rough it was against her tongue; so real and sharp like the rest of him. There was also a collection of scars on his back and though she hasn’t really seen them yet, her eager fingers have probed them while she held on against him. She could only imagine how they looked like in her mind, and the thrill of knowing no other woman would have the chance to memorize his skin and those scars was so intoxicating she would have come right there and then.

She must have been staring so longingly at him because Kirei returned it with a small chuckle and said, “Looking dazed becomes you, Sakura, but if you don’t want to get cold then you better find your clothes and put them on already.” As he said it, he threw one of the sheets at her as if to help her cover up. She gasped and ended up ducking out of view to find her undergarments and nightgown on the floor where they actually were scattered about. She slithered down to put them on out of sight. It was ridiculous that she would still be self-conscious, but Sakura found that the act of dressing up post-coitus was more mortifying than when one is having her clothes removed from her. And Kirei certainly had shocked and excited her when he lifted off the nightgown effortlessly from her body, and carried her to bed.

Sakura bumped her knees on the side of the bed as she hurriedly stood up in an attempt to shake herself from the stupor of lust.

“Clumsy,” Kirei only remarked but his tone was that of bemusement. Sakura didn’t even look at him anymore and hurried to the bathroom. She still hasn’t put on her panties so she shut the door behind her and started washing herself between the legs. As soon as she slid her fingers to probe the tender flesh, she bit on her bottom lip upon the shameful discovery that she was still quite soaked with her own juice and his. The sensation was staggering! It made her squeeze her thighs together as she sat there on the lip of the tub. She was quivering both in the embarrassment of how lewd it was that she had sex again with the priest for the second time—and the unmistakable and sheer deliciousness of the fact that she had sex with him again, and that it had been glorious. Sakura removed her fingers from inside herself and cussed.

“Why did it have to feel this good…” she muttered under her breath with eyes squeezed shut. And why do I still want more?

She finished up and returned to the bedroom. As soon as she walked back to the bed, Kirei stood up and excused himself to use the bathroom. She managed a weak nod as she focused on taking off the silk sheets from the bed, leaving the mattress bare. Sakura gathered the sheets on her arms and walked to the door. As she was turning on the knob, she stopped all of sudden when she heard voices outside. She couldn’t make out the conversation. At first she thought it might be her brother and Gil, but as she listened more closely, she realized they belonged to a pair of strangers. There was a knock on the door. The person knocked twice. Sakura took a step backward from the sound.

When Sakura didn’t open the door, the strangers started talking from the other side.

“Father Kotomine?” the voice belonged to a boy. “We’re just going out for a while. We have stuff to buy for school.”

“Sorry about leaving like this, Father, but we’ll be back soon.”

Sakura turned around just in time as Kirei stepped out of the bathroom. He had put on a black sleeveless shirt and his dark slacks. Without missing a beat, he replied to the voices outside, “Thank you for informing me. Please return as soon as you can for the next service at noon.”

“Alright, Father, see you later!” One of them responded. Their footsteps indicated that they were walking away.

Sakura breathed out a sigh of relief and then asked Kirei. “W-Who were they? I thought the church has been closed since the Grail War started.”

“I do allow civilians to come on a Sunday, however.”

She gasped, covering her mouth with a hand as she held the silk sheets on her arms closer to her chest. “A Sunday?”

Kirei gave her an odd look. “I still hold masses on Sundays, Sakura. You didn’t know? No wonder you haven’t been attending.”

Sakura hugged the sheets tighter as she said, “I was at school yesterday, wearing the uniform…but I went straight to the club room instead of going to class. My teacher certainly didn’t mention to me it was a Saturday yesterday, nor were club activities held on a weekend unless stated otherwise…” she trailed off, completely baffled. “And then Nii-san just took me to church and, well, you already know about that.”

“Maybe the school changed schedules?” Kirei offered. “I don’t know what to tell you, Sakura, other than it’s a Sunday today. I was up since five-thirty too. I had to prepare for the morning mass around seven.”

Sakura said nothing. She just stood there gawking at him.

“No need to make a big deal about it,” Kirei continued speaking as he walked back to sit on the edge of the bed. “If you’re worried about breakfast, the boys you just heard earlier have been volunteering as my acolytes for months now, and they have arrived an hour before to help me with the preparations for mass. They also brought homemade congee with them and were nice enough to share some with me. They came from a Catholic high school in Fuyuki City, and were interested in taking up the cloth themselves.”

“I see. I’m glad to hear about that,” Sakura paused as she lowered her gaze. “I’m very sorry if I have…if I have…”

“Seduced me into bed with you during Sabbath?”

She jerked her head up and glared at him. “You’re making me feel worse than I already do!”

“But why? We’ve established that I’m quite lenient about the vows I took.” Kirei crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows at her in bemusement.

“But you just presided over a mass earlier!” Sakura felt her cheeks grow hot again.

“And I shall so again around noon and later tonight at six.”

She shook her head at that and sighed. “It doesn’t bother you then that you have just lain with me?”

Kirei was silent for a while as he sat there unperturbed. Finally, he chuckled and asked her, “Do you mean to ask me if I can still face God even after I have indulged carnally with an underage girl? And twice at that?” His stare bore into her as he asked her again with a hushed tone. “Is that what’s making you so flustered right now, Sakura?”

“YES!” Sakura walked closer to him and dropped the sheets on the bed. “How could you still be a priest after everything?”

“Performing my duties during Eucharist, and then having relations with you really don’t affect one another, Sakura.” Kirei gave her a flat expression, devoid of any concern.

“And why not?” Sakura raised her voice unintentionally.

Kirei shrugged his shoulders and simply explained to her, “I make no excuses or justifications to myself. Who I am when I’m a priest, and who I am when I’m with you right now have become two separate things. I thought you would’ve understood that by now…” he had reached out a hand to circle around her wrist and she willingly sat beside him. Their knees bumped together but neither of them pulled away. He added some more, “I personally do not like to burden myself with such black and white perspective of things. And neither should you, Sakura, given everything that you have suffered through. Didn’t you say before that you believe people are more complicated than being simply pure light or dark?”

“Well, when you put it like that, I guess I’m inclined to agree with you,” Sakura relaxed a little as he started rubbing her wrist with his fingers in a soothing, repetitive motion. “I just can’t help but feel that I’ve done something wrong by being with you again in this way.”

And the priest snorted. “Don’t give yourself too much credit, Sakura,” his other hand reached for her chin to tilt up her face and meet his eyes more directly. “I’m an adult man capable of making my own decisions. And it just so happens that I decided on having sex with you for the second time, in spite of knowing the repercussions. And how about you then? Has this been a big mistake on your part after all?”

Sakura blinked at him and wondered how to word her response as delicately as she could but decided that there was no reason for it, so she replied truthfully instead, “Not at all. I wanted this. I really did.” A pause. She raised a hand to encircle on his wrist as well, and he lowered his hand from her chin, giving her that smirk again. She was undeterred, however, even if she could feel that her cheeks were still blotched with crimson heat. She told him without shame this time: “I really wanted to be with you, Kirei.”

She hasn’t said his name aloud in conversation until this moment, and it was something she was beginning to get used to.

Kirei simply nodded without withdrawing his wrist from her grip. “So it’s really not a case of a guilty conscience, is it?”

“I guess not,” Sakura allowed herself a chuckle.

They said nothing for a minute as they sat together. Kirei kept his hands to himself now, but Sakura was still holding onto his left wrist. Self-consciously, her other hand touched the side of her head where her favored pink ribbon was—but she realized she was no longer wearing it. She turned her head behind her on the bed but didn’t see it anywhere. She let Kirei’s wrist go so she can unfold the silk sheets, trying not to act so frantic while searching for her ribbon. The older man said nothing but she could feel him watching her.

“Where did I misplace it…?” she muttered to herself.

But then Kirei reached out to touch her hair from the back, pulling something off as he did. “Were you looking for this by any chance?”

Sakura’s eyes widened as she immediately reached out to retrieve the ribbon perched between his fingers. “Yes, thank you.”

“It’s very pretty,” Kirei’s tone sounded as if he was just commenting on the weather or something else inane.

Sakura stared at the pink ribbon on her palm that looked more like a thin, long sash. Sometimes she would do this whenever she felt sad and scared. It was a piece of her childhood that she can’t seem to ever leave behind even when all she felt now while staring at it was a rather hollow ache. Feeling bold, she said to Kirei, “I knew you before when you used to be father’s apprentice eleven years ago.”

“You have mentioned that days ago after your assault,” he answered. “What of it then?” And then he chuckled. “This is the first time you referred to Tohsaka as your father. I could call that progress, I guess. But why do you mention this now?”

Sakura smiled sadly. “Why pretend? My name used to be Sakura Tohsaka. I was the second child, and then I was given away.”

Kirei nodded. “I see. Is there something about this you want to talk about with me?”

“Maybe,” she admitted. “When father first introduced you to us,” Sakura met his gaze, “Do you remember that?”

Kirei blinked. “I can. But I’m not sure what you want me to remember about it specifically.”

“You probably didn’t notice me, not with Rin in the room,” she let out a laugh which sounded so foreign to her ears, “I mean, she just started arguing with you for no other reason other than because you were answering her in a way that seemed to annoy her. Even father was surprised about Rin’s reaction. She was usually very calm, at least when our parents were around.” Sakura smiled widely now, “I guess there was just something about you that had gotten under her skin.”

Kirei gave her a humorless smile. “Rin was very perceptive then and now.”

“Unlike me?” she asked him, genuinely curious. “What did you think of me then—and now?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Why do you bring up the past, Sakura?”

“I wanted to know if I even made an impression on you,” she said, “Before…before you met me again when Gil-san picked me up from the riverbank. I recall the two of you talking above me. The room you put me in was a little dark.”

“Ah,” Kirei smiled at her again. “So you finally admit remembering that incident as well?”

Sakura nodded. “I don’t feel like lying about things in my life anymore, especially not to you.”

“And why is that?”

How can she explain it to him? She didn’t know yet. Slowly, she started braiding her hair to the right side instead. He waited patiently for her response while she tied a knot around her braided hair, using the pink ribbon to do it. Afterwards, she reached out for Kirei’s wrist again to touch. She spoke up, “Because I’m no longer going to fool myself and feign ignorance—”

“Not that, I already get that,” he interjected as he leaned closer to hold her gaze, “I meant—why don’t you feel like lying to me specifically?”

Sakura blinked as her breath hitched. She tightened her hold on his wrist as she replied, “You should know, don’t you?”

Kirei just chuckled and then he placed his free hand at the back of her head, his fingers splayed on her hair. “I’d say that you already know the kind of man I am. It’s all the more reason why you should be on your guard more than ever. Rin certainly understood even then that I’m not the type to be easily trusted or believed…” he gave her hair a gentle tug as he cupped the back of her head. “So why do you, Sakura?”

She will not argue with that. Everything about Kirei Kotomine screamed danger—and yet here she is sitting beside him, allowing herself to be held by him in place. Sakura even wanted to disappear in his embrace like she had earlier when they were in the throes of passion.

Kirei continued on, “If you claim that you’re no longer the same naïve girl who puts up with everything including the abuse and deception—then why choose to confide in someone like me who may use your secrets and confessions against you if I see some purpose in doing it?”

She got quiet. Without really meaning to, her hand cupped his cheek. Kirei narrowed his eyes at that gesture but said nothing.

“I don’t have a reason to trust you, that’s true, but…” she trailed off as she pressed her thumb over his lips, “…you—and even Gil-san—are the closest thing I have to people who understand just what it’s like to never belong.”

“Never belong?” Kirei echoed. “You think the three of us are connected because of such a thing? It’s a common existential crisis, is it not?”

“I’m just telling you what I know…and how I feel when I’m with either of you.”

Kirei just hummed in response. He slowly let his hand from behind her head fall until he withdrew from her completely, and Sakura was forced to do the same. He stood up and walked towards the window across the bed. With his back turned, Sakura couldn’t tell what he might be thinking, but the priest’s expressions were inscrutable anyway so even if he was facing her, she still wouldn’t be able to guess his thoughts.

And this is the man you claimed to want—someone you will never figure out? Sakura felt lonely all of a sudden as she sat there by the bed, so she busied herself folding the silk sheets again. The silence stretched for another minute until Sakura couldn’t bear it anymore so she spoke up and asked, “If you don’t mind me inquiring it, can you tell me your exact age?”

Kirei was still quiet but he finally did turn around to acknowledge her. The light reflected by the window concealed some of his features, making it even harder for Sakura to read his expression. He answered her simply with, “I’m thirty-seven. And you are…sixteen, am I correct?”

Sakura nodded stiffly.

“Your late father was a few years younger than I am now. Maybe around thirty-three. He was my mentor, but the difference in our ages may have only been six years apart.” He clasped his hands behind his back as he walked back towards her. “That only means that I’m actually close to your father’s age now if he had lived. And you—you’re probably only a few years older than my daughter.”

Sakura’s eyes widened as she gasped out, “Your daughter?”

He smirked. “You have been informed that I was married before I was a priest,” he nodded at her, “You have taken a liking to putting on my late wife’s wardrobe lately.” He seemed to have waited for her react to that statement (which she did by blushing furiously once more) before he went on, “I consummated that marriage, of course. It was my duty. Claudia—my wife—was very sick, but she was still able to bore our child whom I chose to put into adoption after Claudia passed away. I wasn’t ready to be a parent then, and I’m certainly glad I made that choice. I’m sure that wherever my daughter is doing now, she’s making something for herself.”

“You never kept tabs on her or anything, just to make sure she’s okay?”

“No,” Kirei replied. “I don’t see any point in doing that.”

“But,” Sakura uttered softly, “She’s your child.”

Kirei narrowed his eyes at her now. “And did Tohsaka ever check up on you after he gave you away to the Matous?”

That shut her up. Sakura clenched her hands into fists and couldn’t look at him anymore. Quietly, she asked him, “Did you even name her before you gave her away? Tell me that you at least did that.”

“Claudia did,” he answered as he stood only a yard away from her now, “She named the child Caren.”

Sakura slowly looked up at him. “Didn’t you even…love her? Even for a moment?”

Kirei sighed. He seemed annoyed by the question but his tone was still calm when he told her, “You can’t force love. It’s either there or not.”

She swallowed a lump in her throat as she asked him, “And did you love your wife?”

For a moment he just looked down at her as if he wasn’t seeing her clearly. But then he looked to the side, unable to meet her gaze, and in the softest tone she had ever heard him use, he said, “I tried. It’s why I married her in the first place.”

Sakura found herself laughing at that, but not because she was making fun of him but because she felt bad and understood that this might be the first time Kirei was truly honest about something he felt or rather did not feel. It was awkward for her to be on the receiving end of his unintended confession, so she laughed because if she didn’t, she was afraid she might start crying instead.

“I’m sorry,” she replied as she covered her mouth with both hands. Her voice came off muffled as she said, “I’m sorry for laughing. I didn’t think it was funny.” How could someone with a positive name like yours never found someone to love at all?

“Actually,” Kirei was smirking at her now, “It might be a little funny.”

In spite of how she was feeling, Sakura found herself smiling back and agreeing. She can’t help but recall her conversation with Gil about carnal knowledge. Sakura wasn’t a virgin—she had her brother to blame for that—but she’s still unaccustomed to the small nuances that came with sex. She was learning now yet somehow there are a few things about being with someone physically, regardless of the pleasure derived from it, that still left her unsatisfied. Her first experience with the priest last night was unplanned, but today she took it upon herself to sleep with him again. She did because she liked him, more so than she would care to admit and especially now that she had lain with him twice.

Whenever she was underneath him, accepting him inside her body, it really did feel as if she was new again, that Kirei was the only man she had ever been with. She was able to forget for just a moment the truth of her circumstances where she had been used and dirtied. When Kirei was inside her, it felt as if it didn’t have to be the case anymore. It was pathetic and escapist, she knew, but it was comforting, and comfort had been scarce for her all her life. And what did she decide to do about it then? She spoke so high of trying to be strong and honest from now on and yet there are still so many things that cripple her; that she allows to have power over her.

When does she get to take back that power for once?

“Speaking of daughters,” Kirei finally sat back down beside her on the bed. “I became Rin’s guardian after your father died.”

“I figured as much,” Sakura looked down at her hands. “It’s actually the reason why I started going to this church. I wanted to see you and get to know you a little bit, in the hopes that maybe you’d recognize me. I wonder what you would say about it then. Grandfather already told me about who you are and your role as the Overseer, plus your involvement in the previous war. I was so intrigued by you, Kirei…even when I was a little and I would see Rin trying to fight you back when you would stay at our mansion for a night or two.”

“I recall that Rin was a very unruly child, yes.”

“She wasn’t like that with others, though. Just with you…” Sakura placed her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes. “And I couldn’t even talk to you. I was so shy around new people, and I was particularly scared of saying the wrong thing. And you were the first grown man I’ve ever met.”

“You always greeted me though,” Kirei adjusted his position so he can be closer to her, allowing his arm to drape around her back. “And one time while you were both running up the stairs, I was walking down and for no other reason than to be incorrigible, Rin stuck her tongue at me, but you boldly scolded your older sister for that behavior, and then you apologized to me.”

“Oh my,” Sakura chuckled as she pressed her knee against his. “You actually did remember me after all.”

“You were such a prim and proper girl,” he gave her a small nod, eyes glistening with something she couldn’t name.

But it made Sakura happy that he was not just looking at her but seeing her; add to the fact that he knew what she is and wasn’t at all disgusted by it. He had treated her with courtesy at first but now it had evolved into something that might even resemble kinship. Oh, how Sakura wanted to believe that is truly the case. She was still young enough to dream that there’s a person who could know her this well but would still choose to be with her anyway. Sakura dared to think Kirei could be that for her, but she was also old enough—maltreated and deceived many times enough—to know that he could only want her for the purpose that fits his needs at the moment.

I am not the good man you fantasize me to be, he told her very clearly.

Bewildered of her willingness to still want this man anyway, Sakura reached out to graze her hand on his cheek, much like the time he first did so days ago when she had mentioned his wife by accident. Kirei had asked her then if she ever wanted to fall in love. Who wouldn’t want that? Didn’t she read in the Corinthians once that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres? Kirei said he married his wife because he tried to love her—does that mean he believed too that love could be the only answer?

“Did she love you?” she asked aloud without being completely aware of it.

His eyes darkened once more, making it near impossible to see through him; not that it was easy in the first place to do so. Kirei didn’t make a sound or move away from her touch so Sakura bravely just stared at him, waiting he would answer her. But he didn’t. His other hand found its way on her knee instead, slowly going up until he had pushed up the hem of the nightgown to her thigh. His fingers were cool as he lightly massaged her skin. Sakura only whimpered at his touch, and then she spread her thighs apart, inviting him to touch her somewhere else closer to home. Before she even realized it, he had used the hand on her thigh to wrap it around her neck instead, almost as if in possession, as he captured her mouth for a searing kiss. His arm behind her back pulled her closer to him, holding her in place and Sakura let it all happen, emptying her thoughts from any distraction so she can open herself up to the pleasure he was offering her. She reached out to run her fingers through his hair as she moaned freely into his mouth. When she tried pushing him to the mattress so she can spread herself on top of him like before, he abruptly pulled away, grabbing both her wrists.

Dumfounded, she uttered, “Wh—? Is everything—?”

Kirei had interrupted her then and leaned down until his lips were close to her ear as he whispered, “You know what I think, Sakura? I think underneath all your perceived guilt and inhibitions, you actually do enjoy that being with me this is a forbidden act. It definitely makes it more beguiling, does it not, to lay with a priest, one sworn to God and chastity?” The words were making her weak in the knees. Her face was burning hot that she couldn’t see clearly anymore. But Kirei wasn’t done. “Talking about your memories about me when you were just a little girl—is it because you like the fact that I’m twice your age and you’re fucking me?”

“Stop saying such things!” Sakura squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s not true…”

“I thought you said you’re no longer going to be in denial?” He nipped on her earlobe.

“Shut up!” Sakura was able to shove him away. She could hear her pulse racing in her ears.

“When you blush like that…” Kirei remarked with that aggravating smirk, “…you almost resemble Rin.”

She tossed a pillow at him. “Don’t even talk about her!”

He laughed as he avoided the pillow effortlessly. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous…”

“You’re an unbelievably infuriating man!” she screeched in frustration. Sakura surprised herself when she jumped on him next, and even successfully pinned him down back on the mattress. Maybe it’s because the priest didn’t even attempt to fight back. He merely stared up at her and grinned. For a moment she was reminded of Gilgamesh, and the resemblance of their malicious expressions was both scary and crazy hot all at once. She could feel the anticipation building up inside her, making her sweat as the nightgown felt so tight around her body all of a sudden. Her core swelled with the expectation of being ravished.

Breathlessly, she said, “Yes, Kirei! I’m jealous! I don’t like hearing you speak my sister’s name! It bothers me a lot! And fine! I do like it a little that us fooling around is something dirty and forbidden! And…and…maybe…maybe the age difference is a little bit of a turn-on too!” She squeezed her eyes shut again as she felt herself getting dizzy by the proclamations she’s uttering. “There! I said it! Now can we just drop it?!”

There was a short pause on his end before he inquired teasingly, “You like it only a little?”

In retaliation, Sakura slammed his wrists against the mattress. “Goddamn you!”

Without any warning, Kirei flipped their positions in one swift movement. He held her down this time, pressing his entire weight against her. She squirmed a few times but not because she wanted to get way. Why the fuck would she want that?

“I think I ought to punish you for uttering blasphemy in my presence, Sakura…” he was already trailing kisses down her neck and across her collarbone. “And it’s the Lord’s day at that. You ought to be ashamed.”

Unafraid, Sakura gripped the back of his head. She wanted nothing more than to leave impressions of herself on him so she let her fingernails burrow onto his scalp. She then spread her legs apart so he can slide his hips between them easily. She could feel the press of his erection on her inner thigh, and the thought of being filled by him again almost drove her to a state of delirium.

Hoarsely, she tempted him by asking, “And what do you intend to punish me with?”

“That depends…” Kirei stopped sucking on the flesh of her neck long enough to stare into her eyes and say, “How about I just show you?”

 

 

 

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As soon as she and Fujimura-sensei arrived at the dojo, they found that Shirou was already making something in the kitchen.

“You know, Fuji-nee, you and Saber shouldn’t compete which one gets to eats the most around here. Give me a break every now and then…”

“Hey!” the teacher exclaimed. “Stop yakking and come here and help Sakura-chan with her bag, Shirou!”

“S-Sakura?” the older boy immediately dropped whatever he was peeling and approached them, eyes fixed on her the entire time. Sakura couldn’t believe it. Just the mere fact that Shirou was standing in front of her again seemed to have allowed a deluge of unspoken feelings and aches to pour out of her, but she tucked them away just as quickly. He was still eyeing her incredulously as he asked her, “What are you doing here? Uh, I mean—you were pretty sick, right? Are you finally feeling better?”

“Don’t be rude now,” Fujimura-sensei lightly chided him. “Poor girl came all the way here with such a hefty luggage, see!”

The teacher threw Sakura’s bag at Shirou. To his credit, he captured it easily but he was still staring at her, waiting for an answer.

Sakura tried not to get flustered. By habit, she placed her hands in front of her and slightly lowered her head in a display of meekness. “I’m sorry if this was so sudden, sempai. I was only able to talk to Fujimura-sensei about this—”

But the teacher in question interrupted and started explaining away about the circumstances at the Matou mansion which Sakura lied about. She kept her eyes on the floor as she waited for the older woman to finish. Once she did, Fujimura-sensei asked where Saber was and Shirou said that she was at the dojo. This information seemed to invigorate the teacher as she announced that she could use a little exercise before lunch, and how Saber proved she can hold out on her own. Shirou looked as if he was about to stop her but Fujimura-sensei insisted that he stayed and talk to Sakura, considering how long it has been since the two schoolmates saw each other. Afterwards, the older woman disappeared so fast that neither Shirou nor Sakura could move as they just stood there gawking after their teacher’s incredible speed.

Sighing deeply, Shirou spoke up first. “Hey, how are you, Sakura?” he asked her with concern written all over his face. “Listen, I swung by your place a couple of times but no one seems to be there to talk to, and Shinji was certainly not helpful.” He sighed again. “I suppose that’s no excuse. I should have made more effort. I’m really sorry about that…”

Sakura’s heart instantly skipped a beat upon hearing him express his disappointment over not seeing her. She almost couldn’t speak clearly as she reasoned out, “Oh, n-no, n-no—not at all! I didn’t…I wasn’t—I understand if you didn’t! I mean, sempai, I—” she stopped and swallowed first before she tried to explain more coherently this time. “What I meant to say was that it was very nice of sempai to even visit, and that I should be the one to feel sorry for not seeing him. I really would have, sempai, but—I was quite bedridden.”

“Yeah,” Shirou just gave her a weak smile. “I get it. I don’t want you to force yourself to get up just to answer the door or anything. Wasn’t Shinji supposed to be the big brother and taking care of you? Honestly, what is that guy doing anyway?”

Sakura shook her head too enthusiastically. “Nii-san has other things to attend to! And I can take care of myself anyway.”

“What’s more important than your sister’s health?” Shirou frowned now. He encircled a hand around Sakura’s wrist gently. “Are you sure you’ve recovered? If you still need some rest, I could take you to the spare bedroom.”

“No!” Sakura protested but didn’t withdraw from his touch. Her face felt so hot especially after knowing that Shirou has thought about her and fuzzed about her well-being. It was really nice. “Actually, I’d like to help out if you’re making lunch. It’s been a while since I cooked and I’ve really miss it.” I’ve especially missed making something with you, sempai.

“But if you’re not up for it—”

“Sempai,” Sakura stressed, adamant. “I appreciate you being so concerned for me, but I’m not made of glass, and I really have recovered.”

Shirou blinked at her response but then he let out a small laughter of relief as he let her wrist go. “Okay, okay. I don’t want you to start getting pissy at me again. You’re kind of a little scary when you do that.”

“When have I ever done that?” she was genuinely disturbed that he would think that of her.

But Shirou only laughed. “Oh, nothing. You’re actually cute when you’re mad a bit.”

Sakura’s eyes widened impossibly as she covered her mouth with a hand, “E-Eh?!”

Shirou also looked like he was embarrassed for saying that. In panic, he started saying, “We-Well, uh, if you’re, uh, going to help me with lunch then, I guess—here!” he untied the pink apron he had been wearing around his waist (which she only noticed now. How could she have missed it?) and handed it to her. Sakura took it, still bewildered about the events unfolding. When she realized that she had just seen him wear something so girly, Sakura began giggling. She couldn’t stop. Shirou was blushing wildly now too!

“Hey, come on, stop fooling around, Sakura!” he scolded her. He must have realized what she was laughing at because he said, “My own apron was at the washer, okay? And you left yours behind so I decided to use it…” he trailed off, wiping a hand over his face. “Geez, Fuji-nee really should have called ahead or something. This was all happening too fast.”

Sakura finally stopped giggling. She held the apron close to her and then realized she was still wearing the black case behind her. She gave Shirou the apron for a while so she can gingerly removed the straps from her shoulders. Shirou promptly asked her about it and she replied, “It’s a gift from Fujimura-sensei. I was very surprised about it.”

“What is it?” Shirou inspected the black case curiously as he took it from her and handed her back the apron. “It’s pretty heavy. Good thing you were able to carry this all the way home.”

“Yes,” Sakura said, “And it’s…actually an antique bow.”

“Really?” Shirou looked down at the case. “Fuji-nee really went all-out, huh?”

“Um, sempai?”

“Yeah?” Shirou must have caught the sudden shift in her tone because he looked worried again.

“Is it really okay for me to stay here for a few days?” Sakura gazed at him shyly. “I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”

“Oh god, nothing like that!” Shirou waved his hands before him to reassure her. “Look, if your gramps is okay about you staying here, then I don’t see why you can’t. Besides, you already have packed quite a lot with you,” he picked up the bag he had dropped earlier on the floor. “Hey, how about you continue peeling the vegetables I have on the chopping board while I put your things in the room you’d be staying in?”

Sakura nodded, beaming at him as she tied the apron’s strings behind her back. “Okay, sempai! Thanks again for understanding.”

They spoke a little during lunch preparation, which was mostly just Shirou asking her how she’s been. Sakura tried to answer as truthfully as she can manage without giving anything away. Otherwise, the two of them didn’t seem to know how to talk to each other so the conversation was minimal. Sakura could tell that the older boy was preoccupied and she knew that it was the events in the Grail War. Aside from the information Kirei had talked about an hour ago when he introduced Lancer to her as his own servant, Sakura didn’t know what’s been happening with Shirou’s side of things. From what Kirei told her, she found out that Shirou had formed an alliance with Rin Tohsaka, considering that her sister is a formidable opponent and Shirou is just a novice who really shouldn’t have joined the war.

She supposed it was admirable though. If it was any other person, she was sure he or she would have given up their command seals and would not summon a servant, let alone form a contract with one. But Shirou has always been different. He was the most courageous person Sakura had ever met. Of course he wouldn’t back down from a fight. But it doesn’t mean she doesn’t fear for his safety every day now that he got caught up in all this mess. His participation is the second reason Sakura didn’t want to fight. When she realized that he was going to be a master and that she might fight him one of these days, Sakura almost broke down. He was very important to her, and had even begged her brother not to hurt Shirou but at least try to form an alliance with him.

Too bad Rin had the same idea and now she and Shirou are working closely together—probably having secret meetings as they even try to get to know one another…dammit, it doesn’t bother Sakura at all!

Saber joined them for lunch and Sakura had to keep acting naturally around her in spite of what she knew about the other girl. When she met Saber for the first time, she did wonder where she came from and why she had to stay with Shirou at the dojo. And then Shinji told Sakura a few days after meeting said girl that she must have been the servant Shirou acquired for himself, which meant she wasn’t only a foreigner but rather a heroic spirit who had lived from a different era. She asked Kirei about Saber too, and he only gave her an enigmatic if not chilling smile. Afterwards he told her that she should ask Gil about Saber instead. The suggestion was unsettling. Besides, she wasn’t even sure how to face Gil after what happened. She knew sooner or later she’s going to have to. The pressure to make the decisions she has to make has been on since she found herself at the doorstep of the church, with Kirei pushing her to fight the war she has tried her best to run away from all her life.

Something has got to give.

“You were pretty quiet earlier,” Shirou commented as they washed the dishes together.

“Don’t worry, sempai, I’m not feeling sick or anything,” she appeased him immediately. “I guess I’m nostalgic about everything. It’s been so long since I’ve been here with you and Fujimura-sensei. I was quiet because I much rather watch you and her interact. It’s music to my ears.”

“How is any of her babbling and my embarrassment music to your ears, Sakura?” Shirou rolled his eyes at her as he busied himself wiping the plates. “You can be so weird sometimes, you know.”

She smiled brightly at him. “I don’t know. It’s just nice to see the two of you again, sempai, and to be able to spend time here.”

“Yeah,” he replied, returning the smile just a little. “I was very concerned for you. Shinji being the dick he is wasn’t helping either. He just said you have to be absent but that your condition was nothing serious. Told me to mind my own business, as usual.”

“I’m sorry if his attitude was too brash, sempai, but you know how Nii-san gets.”

“Don’t I ever?” Shirou sighed and put the cleaned plates on the rack. “Anyway, it’s great to have you here for a few days.”

“Really?” she tried to conceal her joy upon hearing him say that.

“Of course,” Shirou beamed back at her. “With you around, the chores get distributed between two people!”

Sakura chuckled. “I’m more than glad to assist you, sempai.”

“Yeah, well, don’t work too hard though since you had just gotten better,” Shirou rubbed the back of his head and looked to his side. “But on a serious note—I’m glad to see that you are doing better and that all my concerns were just me being such a worrywart. For a while there I was beginning to think you just didn’t want to see me or something…”

She blushed and looked away, taking her time wiping her hands. “Don’t be absurd, sempai. In truth…not seeing you had been hard for me.”

“Yeah?” Shirou placed his hand on the counter and stared directly at her. “How so?”

Sakura glanced at him briefly before she looked away again. “Well, I’ve gotten so used to having you around.”

Shirou was silent for only a second or so before he laughed at her answer. “Yeah, that sounds about right. I’ve gotten used to having you around too. This place just wouldn’t be the same without you, Sakura. You and Fuji-nee both are the finest friends I could have,” he lowered his voice and added, “But don’t ever, ever tell Fuji-nee that or she’ll get high and mighty about it and may even make me do extra chores here and at the clubroom…not that I mind the extra work, though. But you know how she is.”

“Okay,” she smiled back at him, meeting his gaze this time. “I won’t say anything to sensei. It’ll be our little secret.”

“Good,” Shirou raised his hand in a gesture that seemed as if he wanted her to slap it. Sakura awkwardly did, regretting it instantly.

He just laughed and suggested, “If you’d like, I can walk you to your room.”

“What will you be doing, sempai?”

“Uh, I guess I’ll be at the storeroom.” Shirou sounded grim when he said that so she had to ask if something’s the matter.

“Not at all,” he forced out a smile. “I’m just really exhausted about work. I should rest but, uh, I want to try repairing some machinery that I left in the storeroom. It’s been bugging me a little.” He shook his head. “I’ll figure it out soon. I just need to keep working at it.”

Sakura stared at him for a while. She felt as if he could be hinting at something else. Could it be about the Grail War? Sakura had no doubt that he could be practicing and trying to hone his craft as a mage. She felt sad and dreadful about everything all at once then. Sakura knew she can’t inquire about it no matter how much she wanted to be of help to him. But how exactly will she be able to help anyway? Maybe Rin could do it. They’re allies after all. Sakura wasn’t thrilled about that development but at least Shirou has someone to depend on. Even if it meant the possibility that Shirou and Rin will form a closer relationship, Sakura would be fine about it. It’s not her place to be Shirou’s friend, not when it came to this. Higher risks are involved if she even tried to divulge anything to Shirou. She could only put him in more danger.

But then she also recalled what she and Kirei have agreed upon earlier. If Sakura hoped to make the right choices and do right by her own sake, she needed to be sure her judgment is not being clouded by her infatuation with some boy—

…no, he’s not just some boy. Shirou-sempai is someone I love and admire.

“Hey, everything okay?” the boy in question was looking at her strangely. “You got quiet again. What’s going on?”

Sakura shook her head with a smile. “Never mind, sempai. I was just wondering if…maybe I could join you?”

“You might just get bored watching me fix stuff though.”

“We can…talk some more,” she offered hopefully.

Shirou sighed and allowed himself to smile. “Yeah, we should catch up. If you’re okay just watching me work then I don’t see why not.”

As they walked together to the storeroom, Sakura asked, “Where is Saber-san? Still at the dojo?

“Probably. And I think Fuji-nee was taking a nap.” Shirou used his key to unlock the doors of the storeroom. He stepped aside to allow Sakura to come in first, and then he opened the doors fully afterwards to clear the dust and allow the light in.

“This place could use some cleaning, sempai.”

“I know, I know,” Shirou sighed as he pulled up a stool she could sit on. “I’ll find time for it when school is over.”

“I can help,” she offered, warm smile in place as she took a seat from the stool he pulled towards her.

“No, that’s going to take some heavy-lifting. Maybe Fuji-nee could do it. Gods know that woman is terrifyingly strong when she wants to be.” As he spoke, Shirou began taking his mechanical kit and the machinery in question from a corner. He settled them down a tarp which he had been using for years now when he comes here to repair appliances. The older boy seemed to have forgotten that Sakura was there because he immediately started taking off his jacket and just carelessly tossed it aside. He wore a white sleeveless shirt underneath. Sakura tried very hard not to stare at his biceps which were pale and glistening against the shafts of light coming the afternoon sun. She tried not to be too obvious when she lowered her gaze. Weirdly enough, she remembered that Kirei was just as muscular, if not more so.

She sneaked another glance at Shirou. Yes, Kirei is definitely more toned which isn’t a surprise. He is—a man after all, and Shirou is just two years older than her. Sakura felt her cheeks flush yet again. She should not be thinking either Kirei or Shirou in such a way right now.

Keeping her knees together and her posture erect as she sat on the stool, Sakura kept quiet while Shirou focused on doing his work. About ten minutes in, he looked up at her and asked, “Are you really just going to watch?”

“Do you need any help?” she smiled consolingly.

“Uh, no, never mind.” Shirou chuckled. “I’m just feeling a little self-conscious that you’re just sitting there, watching.”

“I told sempai that we could talk, though.” Sakura remarked. What did she want to talk about then? She should start. After a short pause, a though occurred to her at last. “Oh! I remember a story Fujimura-sempai told me about you.” She gave him a sheepish smile, realizing that maybe she shouldn’t even mention that to him. Shirou just furrowed his eyebrows at her.

“If it’s Fuji-nee then she must have said something embarrassing, right?”

“I don’t think so,” Sakura smiled gently. She slowly brought herself down the floor where he was sitting. It was a good thing she wore pants today. Shirou looked quite nervous when she approached closer, but she could just be imagining that. “She told me that when you were young, you proclaimed that you want to be a superhero,” she explained, unable to contain her smile as she pictured her sempai as a kid, going around announcing such an adorable dream. Shirou, naturally, blushed when he heard her say that aloud.

“Come on, I don’t want to talk about that!” he rubbed the back of his head roughly as he looked away from her. He fixed his stare on one of his tools instead. “And damn that Fuji-nee for even telling you that. Why does she have to open her big mouth all the time?!”

But Sakura was in a cheerful mood. “Sempai must have been so passionate about it to say it so proudly around people.”

“Is that what Fuji-nee told you?” Shirou looked rather annoyed but it was so amusing that she can’t help but poke fun at him.

“It’s okay, sempai.” Sakura reassured him though, “I’m not laughing at you because I thought you’re being silly.”

“Good,” he said, dropping his hands on his haunches as he looked at her steadily. “Because I wasn’t fooling around then.”

“Oh,” Sakura blinked. “So, sempai, did you really want to become a superhero?”

A pause. “I do, Sakura,” he answered, sounding very earnest. “It’s all I ever wanted to be, actually. I want to be a hero of justice.”

Sakura almost choked on air as she suppressed her laughter.

“Hey! You’re still making fun of me!” Shirou gently patted her by the knee. “Stop that, Sakura.”

“I’m sorry, sempai,” she waved a hand at him in surrender. “I was just—really surprised. I didn’t know you liked that sort of thing.”

“Sort of thing?” he arched an eyebrow at her phrase.

“You know,” she only smiled, “Heroes. Sempai likes heroes and wants to be one.” It’s really cute.

“I get the feeling that you’re not actually taking me seriously at all,” he almost pouted.

Should she? “Sempai,” Sakura began, “I think you’re capable of doing many great things here in the present and certainly in the future. You’re honest, courageous and very kind to everyone. I have never seen you turn down giving favors or the chance to assist someone. In those small ways, you’re already a hero, sempai. I’m very happy and proud that you’re my upperclassman.”

“Sakura…” Shirou rubbed the back of his head again. “It’s nice to hear those compliments from you but,” he paused as he looked across the doors, peering at the sun outside, “I want to believe that I could do more. I have no problem helping other people with small things, but I also want to do something big; something a hero of justice can really accomplish.” Before Sakura could comment on that, Shirou chuckled dismissively said, “I don’t really expect you to understand. What I’m saying may be going over your heard right now. That’s fine.”

“No, sempai,” Sakura answered. “I can follow this conversation just fine. Tell me more about this dream of yours then.”

Shirou looked hesitant. He kept arranging his tools in front of him for a while before he decided to reply, “It’s simple, really. I want to become a hero of justice so I can…” he paused again so he can meet her eyes as he finished, “…so I can save people.”

Sakura’s smile was frozen in place, but she said nothing.

Shirou hurried on explaining further, “There are just so many bad things happening in the world, and so many evil people who get away from doing these things. I want to stand up for the sake of the weak and oppressed because they deserve better lives than what they are given. Somewhere out there, Sakura…” he looked off into the distance again, “…the world is ending for someone. I can’t…accept that. I wanted to change things, little by little, so people don’t have to fight, kill, starve or take advantage of one another ever again. And that’s why I want to become a hero of justice,” he looked back at her, his expression filled with pride and determination. “I want to save people.”

Their gaze lingered on one another and the silence that stretched between them was heavy. They might as well be sitting miles apart—that’s how the distance between them suddenly grew. Sakura didn’t know how to respond to what she just heard him say. Should she clap? It was an impressive speech. No, that would be foolish. Instead, Sakura wanted to ask him:

“Is that why you joined the Grail War? To prevent the spread of evil by wishing it away?”

“Do you know that heroes don’t always win and that they often die?”

“So what if the world has already ended for someone somewhere out there? What does it have anything to do with you?”

“Why do you think you have the right to save lives? Have you taken a look at yours? Do you think you need saving too?”

Sakura wanted to tell him: “I have nothing but respect for you, sempai. But you don’t understand anything. You can’t save people.”

Instead, she found herself asking the one question she didn’t want to ask: “If I become one of those bad people, sempai, will you get mad?”

Shirou was shocked to hear her ask that. Of course he would be. Shirou doesn’t know a damn thing about this War at all. He just blinked at Sakura for a while, lips slightly parted. Afterwards he managed to regain his composure and smile at her, “Sakura, why would you even say that? You’re never going to become a bad person!” he laughed nervously, looking as if he was uncomfortable by the line of conversation she just opened. “Okay, say, you do become bad—then I’m sure you wouldn’t mean it, and that it would all be just a big misunderstanding. You may have made a mistake but I’m sure any kind of mistake you will commit is something that can be forgiven easily.” He paused. “Now about me being mad—of course I’d be mad! I don’t want any harm to come your way, Sakura. If anyone hurts you—if you hurt yourself…”

He started shaking his head. Shirou doesn’t even want to entertain these unpleasant thoughts. He reached out to her all of a sudden and grabbed her hand. “Sakura, if anything happens to you, I’ll keep you safe, okay? So try not to worry about it.”

Sakura managed a smile but her chest felt cold and her next words were hollow, “I’m so relieved to hear that, sempai. I’m so happy you are the way you are.” She squeezed his hand back. “I care about you too, Shirou-sempai.” This time the words have more weight than she intended.

I even loved you.

Shirou was first to withdraw his hand and she easily let it go. He smiled back at her sheepishly before looking away.

Clearing his throat, he picked up his tool and said, “So now that we settled that…”

“I think I should head back to the house. I feel tired after all,” Sakura slowly stood up, more than prepared to take her leave.

“Oh, sure,” Shirou looked at her with some suspicion. “Get some rest, okay? I’ll just wake you up if anything happens.”

“Thank you, sempai,” Sakura beamed at him one last time before she turned away to head towards the doors.

She never grew up believing in heroes, which was why she would never understand Shirou wanting to condemn himself into some kind of savior figure. Admittedly, the concept just seemed so silly and immature. Just because he had defended other kids from bullies growing up, it doesn’t mean he has to keep doing that on a larger scale. Sakura knew her opinion is colored by her experience with Kariya. He was a constant reminder of what happens to heroes in real life—they don’t win, and they die. Sakura will stand by this truth.

As soon as she disappeared from view, Sakura rushed to open the door to the house. She shut it and leaned against it, overtaken by a memory she had suppressed for the longest time. She remembered now that she had pushed Kariya down the steps of the crypt. She had stared unblinkingly as his mutilated body was consumed by the worms in just a matter of minutes. Sakura looked at her hands again from where she stood—her dirty, foreign hands that have killed before. She looked up and saw herself as that child in the dungeon, calling Kariya a bitter disappointment right to his corpse; that this is what will happen when one doesn’t obey Grandfather.

She deluded herself into thinking that this awful memory was only a nightmare; that she really didn’t kill a man she loved like family. She vowed that no one will have to die like that for her again. If saving her would require someone she loves to perish, then she’d rather not be saved.

At least this is what she told herself in those sleepless nights until she believed the lie stubbornly enough that it became the only truth.

The truth was Sakura was a killer back then. Why should it be any different now?

Kirei was right about one thing.

She had always had it in her—the ability to destroy.

 

 

 

 

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Coupling with Sakura Matou was something he had never in a million years thought of ever doing, let alone actively want to be doing, but stranger things have happened to Kirei. He could not explain it, but there was something in the girl that beckons him, and it wasn’t the base desires of the flesh. If it was only that, it certainly never would have happened to Kirei because sex and the intimacy that it entailed were alien concept to a man like him. He had not desired it until now.

First, it was with Gilgamesh, but that seemed almost inevitable given the decade they spent in co-existence. The god-king was desire itself, generously speaking, and Kirei may have only prolonged the agony of denying himself the taste of that until it can never be ignored anymore. Falling into bed with the King of Heroes had been thrilling because it was as if both men had been aware of this electricity between them in every interaction they had in the past, but only chose to consummate it in a brutal manner of delayed gratification. Kirei would like to have Gilgamesh again because he could never get rid of the aftertaste of him on his mouth and other glands.

It was something else with the Matou girl, though. Kirei had never found her attractive in a traditional sense because she was just a young girl of sixteen, and Kirei was not that type of man. He had only been drawn to her initially because of her hidden potentials for entertainment, and the fact that she reminded him of Kariya Matou. His disease-riddled mind was quite fun to crack open and to watch disintegrate, and Kirei simply thought he could recapture that with the girl. But Sakura was a more complicated case, and her damage was purer, more devastating and therefore more appetizing. When she came to him that night at confession, muttering a litany about the corruption of her person, about damnation and crisis of faith, Kirei couldn’t help but see for himself how black she truly is inside, and if that black matched his. So he fucked her, hoping to scoop samples of the decay of her soul she spoke of because for the first time in a long time Kirei found someone who may have a deeper darkness than he was soaked in since birth and second birth by Angra Mainyu’s mud.

And when she offered herself to him again today, Kirei didn’t even think twice about the lecherous indulgence of the act.

It was in the aftermath of their second coupling for this day alone that Kirei came to an understanding that perhaps Sakura Matou may have been delivered by God Himself to his doorstep that day during mass, and then again when she came to him a few months later on that fateful night. She had been soaked in misery and degradation, raped and bleeding and oh-so ready to abandon all hope. Kirei had no intention to soothe her emotional ailments then, recognizing her only as a whimsical pastime. But upon seeing that blood sigil at the back of her hand and hearing her talk of having no wishes of her own, he knew that even the Grail has plans for her that he needed to see to their fruition.

Kirei glanced at this broken child now from the other side of the bed—with her eyes closed in exultation of their carnal union—and found that she turned out to be woman of promising opportunities. He never should have underestimated how valuable she could become to him, and to the answer he had sought for since ten years ago after the Great Fire.

The clock at the mantelpiece said it’s almost eleven, and his acolytes would have been back by now. Kirei has to leave to prepare for the next mass. It is still the Lord’s Day and there is plenty of time to indulge on the devil’s game later.

“You should eat something. I could heat up some of the congee and bring it to you here,” he remarked as he sat up the bed, glancing at her exquisite figure clinging to the bare mattress. Claudia’s nightgown was tight everywhere around her body, and Kirei could not deny that if he hasn’t noticed a female’s alluring shape, he absolutely does now. On the eve of her death, Claudia was nothing more but bones held together by paper-thin skin; a wisp of the person whose sunny exuberance once made him feel a hint of something human. Her clothes wore her instead of the other way around. But Sakura filled Claudia’s nightgowns in every delectable way; from the fullness of her breasts right down to the curves of her hips. Kirei has fantasized about marking her with bruises and bite marks. He wondered if she’d enjoy getting throttled like Gilgamesh, but he restrained himself, knowing he might scare her away if he sprung it on her out of nowhere.

He’s learned now that Sakura savors a slow courtship whose intensity burns slow but sure over time. Kirei was going to play his cards right. He used to think inflicting pain and torture on someone caught unawares was already good enough. Thanks to the education of the King of Heroes the other night, Kirei now knew that there is also an ultimate pleasure to be had with a partner who becomes a willing participant in the act of savagery. Sakura—underneath all that needless inhibitions and lies she tells herself about purity and love—is someone who can bend to the will of Kirei’s sadist. He just knew it, and that is precisely why he will take his time initiating her into the practice. He will fuck her in the manner she wanted to be fucked as much as she wanted in order to prepare her and make her completely pliable to his own preferences on a later date.

“Thank you, Father,” Sakura yawned and turned to her left side to meet his eyes.

“Treating me as a priest now as if I hadn’t been a paramour to you a minute ago, I see,” Kirei smirked at her as he reached out to lightly touch her neck. “How the dynamics shift…” he whispered as his eyes settled on his fingers wrapped around her precious throat. He imagined squeezing it and relishing on the dark bruises that will bloom. Something in his expression must have given away his sinister intention because Sakura pulled away from his touch so she could sit up, gathering the silk sheets she had discarded earlier.

With a small laugh, she told him, “I still have to call you that, especially with company around.” She was referring to the acolytes. “I better practice addressing you that again to avoid any suspicion of indiscretion.” Her eyes lit up with something akin to delight which she wore well on her face. Kirei had to smile wider at that as he reached out to splay his fingers on her stomach this time.

Sakura was still smiling when she leaned down to close the spaces between them, and in doing so it made Kirei’s hand travel upwards to squeeze one of her breasts instead. Kissing wasn’t something Kirei ever enjoyed before but—once again—Gilgamesh had changed his perspective about that. It was almost like stealing the breath out of someone; a playful jab of tongues that could easily become a little hurtful with a scrape of teeth here and there. After another minute, Kirei finally placed both hands on her shoulders and gently nudged her back, “We really should be getting up,” he said as he grabbed at his boxers and pants from the corner of the bed—and then Sakura reached out for his long coat and stood up to put it around her in utter nonchalance. Kirei raised an eyebrow but said nothing about it.

“I’ll heat up the congee,” he said as he unbuckled his belt, “You have to stay and wait here.”

“I know,” she smiled at him pleasantly as she sat on the edge of the bed with her legs crossed. She inserted her arms inside the sleeves of the long coat. “Can you stay with me for a little while though? Or do you have to leave already?”

“I think can spare half an hour,” he said, “Is there something in particular you want to talk about?”

“Nothing like that,” she shook her head. “It’s just nice to have your company, that’s all.”

She said it as if they haven’t spent almost an hour fucking each other twice.

Kirei put on his shirt and then headed for the kitchen. He was met by the acolytes inside who were chatting rather loudly. They immediately stopped once Kirei entered, greeting him almost awkwardly as they stood there together in the counter. He noticed that they have already heated up the congee and were getting ready to eat. “Are you here to have some too, Father?” one of them asked.

“Yes, but I was going to eat it in my private quarters instead,” he replied as he walked to them. The other acolyte was already fixing him a bowl. When Kirei returned to Gilgamesh’s room, he found that Sakura was still in the same position as before.

She beamed at him and stood up, completely unconcerned that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath his long coat except for her underwear, as she took the bowl from his hands. She glanced at the congee with another smile and then she looked up at him again to ask, “Oh, by the way, is it okay if I use your phone at the office?”

“What for?” Kirei sat back on the bed and picked up the silk sheets from the side.

“Well, I want to contact the friend whom I can stay with instead of going back home. I have to be leaving later, isn’t that right?”

Kirei nodded. “If you’d like. You may call later once you’ve finished eating and…” he looked her over, “…dressed more decently.”

“Of course!” she answered as she blushed yet again. Sakura looked around the room for a while before she decided to sit on a mahogany chair shaped like a small throne (Gilgamesh loved that chair). She placed the bowl on her lap and thanked him for the food. Without another word, she used the spoon slowly, blowing air through the scoop of congee first before eating. She looked up and smiled at him again, saying, “It’s good!”

Nodding at that, Kirei remarked, “I think I’ll put these on the washer for now,” he was referring to the sheets which he lifted up in view, “They have to be hand-washed, and neither of us have time for that, do we? I’m sure Gilgamesh won’t mind, wherever he is.”

Sakura frowned. “Did he really not tell you where he had gone to?”

“I still think he’s with your brother at the Matou household. Where else could he be at this point?” was Kirei’s casual answer as he stood up and headed to the door with the sheets in hand. “I’ll be back. Just finish your food.”

When Kirei came back to the room the second time, Sakura was still eating her congee, so she barely looked up when he entered. Kirei looked at her for awhile, sitting there in her wooden throne, wearing nothing but a man’s coat as if it was a child’s safety blanket. The soft blue texture of his coat brought out the natural paleness of her complexion, and made her purple hair stand out even more. She didn’t seem real, even as she was eating something ordinary liken congee. She looked to Kirei as if she could be yet another trinket in Gilgamesh’s already cluttered room of assorted collectibles. When the King of Heroes proposed that they should keep her years ago, Kirei didn’t even think twice turning down the previously horrendous idea. But now—now he was somewhat considering it because Kirei can now see that she can be a worthwhile source of fascination he and Gilgamesh can toy with. She was also beginning to fit so well in the routine of Kirei’s life here at the church.

Was this the reason why men keep women as companions? Maybe there is something more about having a woman around than just a trophy to display or a servant to do chores. Kirei never really cared much about that, not even with Claudia who was more of a patient he was stuck taking care of than a wife whom he can share his life and goals with. Something heavy swelled in Kirei’s hollowed chest again, and the feeling was almost sickening and unnatural so he did his best to smother it right now.

Sakura said earlier that she wanted him to keep her company, and Kirei still had time to spare before the next service. He found it to be a pointless endeavor if he didn’t at least reap some benefits of meaningful conversation from it, so he decided to engage her in idle chat for a while. He pulled up another chair to sit across from her.

He asked, “Tell me about this schoolmate of yours whom you planned on staying with. Is it a fellow classmate?”

Sakura paused eating, She started fiddling at the hem of one of the long coat’s sleeves. “Well, he’s an upperclassman of mine and is also a friend of Nii-san…” she trailed off. “You might even know him. He’s a master in the war.”

Kirei knew there could only be one person she’s referring to. “Shirou Emiya,” he pronounced the name like it was a private joke. “Of course.”

The odds are favorable that they would meet in this small city.

Sakura looked down on her bowl. It looked like she has something to add to that, but she decided not to speak up.

“Do you think it’s wise to stay at his place when you know he’s a participant?”

Sakura just shrugged her shoulders. “As long as he doesn’t find out any kind of connection then I don’t think it’s a concern.”

Kirei raised an eyebrow, “Matou-san’s participation in the War is something I believe Shirou Emiya may have been informed of. After all, there was that attack at school, and when as Overseer with my resources from the church helped in covering up that incident, Rin came to me and told me that a servant has been eliminated by another, and that servant belonged to your brother.” He paused. “It’s also worth noting to say that Shirou Emiya and Rin Tohsaka have formed some sort of alliance from then on. Were you not aware of this?”

“No,” Sakura looked pale all of a sudden. Kirei was hoping that would strike a nerve. “Shirou-sempai and Rin are working together?”

“It’s not unheard for masters to make short-lived alliances,” Kirei answered. “After all, I was aligned with Tokiomi during the previous war.”

“I meant to ask about that,” Sakura said, “I had suspected it considering you were his pupil. Grandfather confirmed it when I was of age to become legible to participate in the war. What…what happened to him? How was he defeated? Was it…was it a painful death?”

Kirei smiled, “Why do you want to know if it was painful? Have you wished for his suffering? He did give you up.”

Instead of responding immediately, she took another spoonful of congee and ate it in silence.

Kirei wanted to press on and gauge more reactions from her concerning issues with her family, but then Sakura decided to change the topic.

She asked him, “Shouldn’t it bother you that you and I have slept together a few times now especially when you know what’s crawling inside me?” Sakura maintained eye contact with him as she waited for his response.

The question genuinely surprised him, but Kirei decided to humor her so he admitted. “It bothered me at first, but it seemed that the worms inside you have bonded with your magic circuits alone and are not exactly non-transferable during a sexual act. If they were, then I suppose Matou-san should have been suffering from their affliction too. Has he only assaulted you twice?”

She got quiet. And then, “There have been several times in the past.” A pause. “Does that bother you?”

“I’m not sure what kind of answer you’re expecting me to say about it,” Kirei said, “I acknowledge that what happened to you was awful. What you’ve undergone all these years with your adopted family is a cruel fate that I told you before is something worth overcoming. The Grail must think so too. Otherwise, it wouldn’t provide you with the opportunity to fight for yourself. That’s how I see it.”

“I wasn’t the first little girl in the world to be raped and abused,” Sakura almost spat out the words as she placed her spoon down. “Gil-san said that to me yesterday. He wasn’t wrong about it though.”

“Did he really say that?” Kirei tried not to smile. “How terribly insensitive.”

“So it really doesn’t bother you that…” she didn’t even seem to want to finish the question, at loss for the ability to phrase it.

Kirei filled in the gaps, “You want to tell me that you think you have become less desirable because of the fact that you’ve been raped.”

Her lower lip quivered. Yes, that was definitely what she was trying to convey.

“And do you find me…desirable?”

Kirei thought the answer was obvious enough, given their throes of passion earlier and last night. He decided to let the silence and his scrutinizing stare be the answer to that. She merely looked to the side and said, “I’ve never felt desirable before. I never wanted to think about it especially after what Nii-san did to me…and the parasites inside me, corrupting me—that crest worm conditioned to deplete me of my life force. These things make me feel like—”

“You will never be clean,” Kirei repeated her confession from before.

But then she said, “I think my circumstances have become different now though.”

“How so?”

“This felt more than just the act of sex to me,” she paused to look at him again, “What I’m trying to say is that for the first time in my life it really felt as though I own my body. It is mine to give. When you and I had sex; when we’re together like this, it feels really good. And not only does it feel good, it also feels like something I shouldn’t be ashamed of. And I’ve been so ashamed my entire life for the way I feel when …when I’m with a boy—or rather someone of the opposite sex.” A long sigh. And then, “I like someone at school but he’s not aware of it because he treats me like a little sister. And I get these feelings for him…these desires when we’re alone together. I cursed myself for feeling that way. I thought I was dirty and filled with sin. But maybe—like most things in life—I’ve told myself that because pain and humiliation are things I’m more willing to accept.” She smiled, “I know now that it shouldn’t be the case.”

Kirei didn’t have anything to say to that so he just let her go on. “It’s like what you said earlier, Father. I do believe it’s more complicated for a person when it comes to making a choice between light and dark—good and bad. I worked so hard preserving what little light I had within me that I purposefully blinded myself to…the darkness slowly rotting me away.” Sakura placed a hand over her chest. “If the dark threatens to swallow me whole one of these days, then I’d like to make a choice on how much it will taint me.”

That intrigued him. “Do you believe it’s something you can control?”

“Maybe,” she answered earnestly, “Or maybe not. But I will never know unless I give it a try.”

“I can understand that,” he replied curtly.

The conversation drifted off after that, but Kirei has made up his mind on how to proceed next with this new information.

After she had finished eating, Kirei took the bowl and had one of the acolytes wash it. He also instructed them to start preparing for the next service. He stopped by his office to pick up Sakura’s bag. When he came back to check up on her, she was already inside the bathroom. Kirei decided to wash as well, so he left her things there and went to his own private quarters. Twenty minutes later, they were both presentable, so he accompanied her to his office to make her phone call. One of the acolytes came over at the office too and though it was clear he was curious as to who Sakura was and what she was doing there, he was polite enough not to ask Kirei about it, at least not at that moment. Sakura hung up a minute later after the acolyte left and explained to Kirei about meeting her teacher at school who was a club advisor and someone whom Shirou Emiya is close with. She said this teacher was a daughter of the owner whose dojo she could stay in, and that the same dojo was where Shirou Emiya lived. Kirei took note of that information and filed it for future use.

They returned to Gilgamesh’s room and put on new sheets on the god-king’s bed. The god-king could still come back, and Sakura didn’t want to leave his room in disarray so it was understandable she would try to clean it up. Kirei helped only because it didn’t bother him to do it. Afterwards, Sakura inspected herself in the mirror, specifically the black jeans she had put on. She seemed amused about something and Kirei pointed it out which she just dismissed. She walked past him with a hand trailing across his arm where the command seals were. “I was just making fun of my own stupidity. It’s rather dull.”

“I suppose this is goodbye,” she added as she took the luggage near the door.

Kirei spoke up, “There’s something I want you to know, Sakura.”

“This sounds serious. What is it?”

“Actually,” he said with another lazy smirk, “Why don’t I just show you instead?”

She seemed intrigued and replied, “Then lead the way.”

Introducing Lancer to her had been interesting. She reacted as he expected when the servant materialized in the room after Kirei telepathically summoned him, and she stood gaping at Lancer for a whole minute before she actually had something to say. They were questions, of course. “You’re the Overseer and yet you’re still fighting this war? But why? I mean, do you really have a personal interest on the Grail? But you helped my father in the previous war…” Kirei watched her expression as she tried to make sense of the situation.

“The Holy Grail War is really more than what it seems,” he interrupted her contemplation. “Nothing about it is what is readily presented in the surface.” Clasping his hands behind his back, he walked nearer to her so he can look down and meet her gaze. “Do you wish to know more about it? Do you want to know why it kept choosing you even though somebody else—” he paused to smirk and emphasized, “—somebody else more qualified could have taken your place now?”

“And you have that answer?” she narrowed his eyes at him as suspicion finally clouded her stare. “It’s not fair for you to play this card with me so suddenly, Ki—Father,” she quickly corrected herself, probably because of the present company in the room. “I get it, though. You couldn’t have told me while you weren’t yet sure about my own intentions. But…after what has happened, answer me this at least: were you ever planning on telling me about this?” Her expression told him she felt betrayed.

Kirei nodded easily. “You’re right. I couldn’t tell you then but I’m telling you now because of the one thing I didn’t expect.”

“Which is?”

“You are changing, Sakura. And I know that you know it too. The girl who came to me months ago—the girl who came to me agonizing about her situation—she has discovered things about herself in just a short time when she stayed here, hasn’t she? And she’s standing before me now, looking to me for answers to questions that used to terrify her before but no longer. So, tell me, Sakura Matou—have you figured out what must be done? You have more than enough time and reflection to realize it, haven’t you?”

He knew his words carried weight. Sakura looked as if she was about to cry or loose her ground again, but that was the old Sakura. This one he was addressing now is no longer that child who has no direction in her life but madness and despair. He waited for her to speak and after some time she did by asking more questions. “What if it’s too late? What if it won’t amount to anything?”

“We won’t know unless you try. Isn’t that what you told me just minutes ago?” Kirei knew what levers to pull this time; he could see the buttons in her psyche, and knew which ones to press. With a more resolute tone, he explained to her: “A theory proposed that a cat inside a box can be both alive and dead, and it is only by opening that box that the answer would become certain. You are standing in the precipice of making one choice a reality over another. So…I ask you again, Sakura—do you know what needs to be done?”

No hesitation this time when she replied, “Yes.”

“Are you willing to do what must be done?” Kirei could feel a sickening giddiness at the pit of his stomach.

“Yes,” she echoed but her conviction faltered just a bit after saying it.

So Kirei encouraged her some more, prodded her with an incentive. “Then we will see each other again after this, won’t we? For now, I think it’s best you go out  there and say goodbye to the life you have at the present because once you decide to move forward to the next one, then it’s only necessary to severe the ties that are holding you back. You’re wrong to say that it’s too late, Sakura. In my opinion, I think you’re actually right on schedule.” He walked a few inches closer, keeping his eyes steady on hers.

Before she could ask him again, Kirei added, “Lancer will accompany you. He is my eyes and ears. You can trust him to keep you safe.”

“Don’t you mean he could hold me hostage in case I didn’t—”

“But you would,” he placed a firm grip on one of her shoulders. “I see it in your eyes, Sakura, as clear as the night I saw it for the first time. When I asked you if you’d be willing to spill blood instead of other spilling yours, to make someone else bleed this time instead of you—I saw that you could, that maybe…” he lowered his voice as he leaned in closer, “…you already have before which only meant that you can do it again.”

He felt her wince in his grasp. “You can’t possibly know that.”

“Don’t I, Sakura?” He cupped both of her cheeks now, unconcerned that Lancer was still watching this exchange. “Look at me and tell me I’m not the kind of man who had seen through the blackest pits of that soul you tried so hard to keep pure when it hasn’t been that way in a long time. You said it yourself, didn’t you? You’re black inside. And I think it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” He gently fondled her cheeks and she leaned in to his touch as if by instinct, almost tiptoeing, anticipating for him to close the distance further. It was so perfect. He kept going. “If it’s who you are, and who you could be, then why deny this darkness, Sakura? Why not see where it takes you? Perhaps in doing so, you will find real joy.”

Sakura was already peering at his lips, and he decided to indulge her as he leaned in to align their mouths for a kiss. But then she asked: “Is that your reason, Kirei? Is that why you’re fighting this war? To win the Grail and find real joy? What is real joy to someone like you?”

He didn’t respond with words. Kirei just stole the air out of her again as he buried his tongue all the way in her mouth as if he wanted to rip her apart from there. She moaned into the savagery of the kiss as she burrowed her nails into his forearms. After another breathless minute, they let each other go as a small trail of spit hang loose between them. Her eyes were unfocused as she stared up at him.

“I’m not ready for this,” she murmured. “I will never be ready for this.”

“Neither of us is, but here we are still…” Kirei almost wanted to grab both her breasts and shred the skin and muscles of her chest. He wanted to punch her ribs into dust and dug out her beating heart from the rotten mess. He knew it was his to claim, to utterly turn as black as these feelings they share for one another. Kirei never cared about frothy sentiments but maybe this is what love should be like; it should feel as if you are stepping into the abyss holding another person’s hand as you drag them down.

“Then what could I do?” Sakura asked him with a hint of fear in her voice.

“What you were always meant to do, Sakura,” Kirei slowly released her face, lowering his hands to her chest as he had wanted, but instead of taking out that fragile heart, he just stared longingly at its cage, caressing it with the intention of breaking it apart once all of this is over.

He whispered, “Choose to know what lies in that valley of shadow and death, and I’ll be here to provide you every means to get there.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

The free bird thinks of another breeze

And the trade winds soft through

The sighing trees

And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright

Lawn and he names the sky his own.

 

But a caged birds stands on the grave of dreams

His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

His wings are clipped and his feet are tied

So he opens his throat to sing.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

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.”

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* ~ * ~*

 

 

 

 

 

 



 +

FOOTNOTES

+

 

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