Chapter 16: Emiya residence
As they had planned to do when they came to Japan, Arturia and Illya left the large Einzbern mansion empty and moved into a small but comfortable apartment a few streets away.
It had two bedrooms, a large kitchen that was also a living room and a bathroom. For the two of them, it was more than enough. They didn’t have any servants, because Arturia was quite certain that in Fuyuki there were few people that could be trusted, and she didn’t want to risk Illya’s safety by having unknown strangers in the house.
In Germany, it had been different, because the servants had all been homunculi created by Jubstacheit, and most of them were loyal to the girl.
Aside from the security danger, Arturia also wanted Illya to learn to clean a house and become self-sufficient. The girl was young, but she had been used to a life in luxury, and even if that had not spoiled her, it was best that she learned to be autonomous nonetheless.
There was another reason for which Arturia had decided on such a course of action. More than five years had passed since the end of the Fourth Grail War and, according to the books she and Gilgamesh had consulted in London, after seven years, the time would be right to do another summoning… and they could attempt to destroy the cursed cup once and for all. However, the King of Knights was well aware of the fact that the operation was a very difficult one… and she knew that, even if she didn’t doubt her own skill, she might not survive.
Therefore, her objective was to make certain that Illya would be able to manage life on her own. Arturia had made sure that any other legal tutors could not touch the girl’s inheritance, and only she and Illya herself – when she would come of age – would have the right to do anything with it.
The two lived together peacefully; Arturia taught the girl how to go through the occasionally tedious chores of a house, showing her how important and often difficult they were. Illya was genuinely curious and eager to learn, and that made the woman very happy, allowing her to feel slightly less worried about the girl’s future in case something happened to her.
In a surprisingly short amount of time, Illya became very skilled around the house, working and going shopping together with Arturia and never forgetting to clean up after herself.
The only household chore in which Illya’s ability was a bit inferior to Arturia’s was cooking. The King of Knights had a humongous appetite, and she had found out, to her own surprise, that she seemed to be naturally talented in the kitchen. And even if the girl was learning to prepare her own meals, she unabashedly admitted that she much preferred her legal guardian’s cuisine.
After about two weeks in Japan, Arturia had discussed with Illya the possibility of her going to school.
The girl had been very wary of the idea, mainly because she liked learning with the woman she considered part of her family. Arturia explained to her that they could try with a private school, since her education had been quite different from other teenagers’, and see how it went. She also told her it would be useful to begin to talk with other people her age, and not always be around adults like her or Gilgamesh. To that, Illya vehemently protested that she loved spending time with them… and Arturia calmly placated her by explaining that they were not going to disappear if she started to go to school.
So, after debating with herself for a while, the girl agreed to try.
At the private school, Illya had to answer to some tests that she did easily. She was aware of the fact that she appeared younger than thirteen, but she was admitted into a class with people one year older than her nonetheless. Even so, she was accomplished enough to already know most of the classes, therefore she was given a special program, and according to that, she only had to go to school three days a week. Arturia was pleased, because that way the young girl would socialize a little but at the same time be able to continue practice Magecraft and read through other lessons with her.
Illya liked being in Japan. She had been able to take her father’s death well enough, mostly thanks to Arturia’s steadfast presence right beside her. School was not bad, and Fuyuki was a nice place, too. The housework was perhaps not her favourite, but she understood its necessity and did well in it.
And of course, she absolutely loved living with Arturia. Not only was the King of Knights a very good and reliable kind of person, she also had genuine affection for the girl – and Illya returned it whole-heartedly.
The girl had, however, a person she wanted to get to know: her adopted brother, Shirou Emiya.
Arturia had no real interest in the boy that Kiritsugu had taken under his wing, but she respected Illya’s wishes, and agreed to take her to him.
Gilgamesh, who lived with Kirei but had phone calls with Arturia every evening – Illya sometimes chimed in, excitedly saying ‘hi’ through the mobile –, asked, well, actually, insisted… or rather, demanded to come with them. The young girl was only happy to have him together with them, but Arturia, while internally glad for his company as well, did not understand his reasons for it.
She proceeded to ask him that as they were stepping into the car – Gilgamesh had dematerialized from the Church right next to the girls’ apartment. Arturia was the one driving.
“Why do you wish to come, Gilgamesh?”
She noticed him staring at her effortless way of manoeuvring the car, but decided – as she often did – to ignore his eyes on her. And as more and more often happened, she found it increasingly difficult to do.
He gave a non-committal kind of shrug.
“I am bored with the priest.”
Arturia was aware that that wasn’t the complete truth, but she knew she wasn’t going to get anything else out of him, either. So the rest of the ride was spent in silence, at least between the two kings, because the young girl sitting in the back chatted excitedly the whole time, trying – and failing – to control her enthusiasm.
When they arrived at the Emiya residence, an energetic young woman with short brown hair welcomed them. She didn’t know who they were yet, but their appearance was respectful and distinguished enough to prompt her to be polite and invite them in. Arturia, speaking for them all, after introducing herself and her companions, asked to talk with her but also in Emiya Shirou’s presence, since they had some important matters to discuss which involved him as well. The young woman, who had introduced herself as Fujimura Taiga, seemed a bit confused, but agreed nonetheless.
Explaining that twelve-year-old Shirou was preparing tea and biscuits to offer to the guests, she excused herself to go give him a hand.
As soon as they were alone, Illya nervously smoothed her green dress, making sure it wasn’t wrinkled anywhere. She was a little fearful of meeting her adoptive brother in person.
Arturia, who at Illya’s pleading request was wearing the same kind of dress but in a lighter shade of green, so to match her eyes, smiled encouragingly at the girl, who returned her smile gratefully.
The King of Heroes, who was wearing black pants and a dark green shirt and had his hair down – something that Arturia had not been able to avoid liking –, observed their silent interaction with interest.
The door opened again, seeing Taiga enter with a tea tray in her hands, while behind her a young red-haired boy was holding a plate with sweets.
As civility required, Arturia and Illya stood up to greet their host, and after a warning glance from the King of Knights, Gilgamesh stood up as well, his expression slightly annoyed.
From the entrance door where the boy was, only the two adults were visible, while Illya was partially hidden by the couch. And when Shirou saw Arturia, his eyes widened.
Her regal posture, the spring dress that matched her eyes and her blonde hair braided on her head mesmerized him… and he did not even realize that he dropped what he had in his hands.
Awe-struck, the boy stuttered, gaze fixated on Arturia, “You… you are… beautiful…”
The King of Knights was merely mildly surprised when the first thing Kiritsugu’s adoptive son said was a compliment to herself… but she could not ponder over it, because she instantaneously felt a murderous aura explode next to her in reaction to those words.
Gilgamesh, who was standing on her side, possessively wrapped an arm around the woman’s waist, pulling her to his chest, and glared ominously at the boy.
“Watch your words, you unworthy brat. You don’t have the right to even gaze upon her beauty, much less address her directly.”
His dark aura was impossible to miss, and even Illya felt a bit intimidated by it.
Shirou, on his part, fell backwards, more terrified than he had ever been in his life.
Taiga, who had luckily just laid the tray on the small table in the middle of the room, took one step back in instinct. It was apparent to her that it was not wise to be on the receiving end of the tall blond man’s wrath.
Arturia had not expected Gilgamesh to react that way, and without a warning, she found herself pressed against his chest, with one of his arms holding her around the waist and the other coming up to surround her upper body and her shoulders. Not having enough time to stop him, she found herself in his protective embrace and their bodies closer than they had ever been before. Her hands had gone up in instinct and they were intimately resting on his chest. She could feel every inch of his body thanks to the closeness, and how muscular and perfectl–..
No. She was not going to allow herself any distractions.
She could see that Gilgamesh was still seething and glaring at the poor boy, who was cowering in fear on the floor. It was best to defuse the situation before things got out of control.
She gently applied some pressure on his chest with her hands, trying to avoid thinking about how close they were.
That small gesture was enough to catch his attention, and his dangerous aura seemed to come to a sudden halt when he turned his head to look at her.
Being in his arms, their faces were the closest they had ever been. Arturia had never seen his blood red eyes from such a near distance before. Only mere centimetres separated them.
Realizing that her mind was wandering into a dangerous territory, the King of Knights forced herself to concentrate on smoothing out the situation at hand. She opened her mouth to speak… but it did not help when his eyes immediately fell down on her lips as they started moving.
“Gilgamesh, please calm down.”
Her voice was low, so that only he could hear her, and it was much softer than she intended it to be. More importantly, it strangely seemed to do the trick.
His eyes, which had been burning with anger, seemed to clear up and focused on her face more securely. The malevolence emanating from him seemed to have vanished, and the three other people in the room relaxed slightly.
Arturia moved one of her hands from his chest to his arm, indicating the wish to be released. His grip on her loosened, but he did not let go of her. When she gently tried to press on his chest again, the look in his eyes made her stop. Had they been alone, she would have perhaps broken free completely using her powers, but it was best to let him cool off on his own terms since they were in someone else’s home.
So she settled for remaining still, her small figure still surrounded by his strong arms.
Taiga went to help Shirou stand, cleaning up the sweets and the plate that he had dropped on the floor, before leaving to get other biscuits for the guests. The young boy, still trembling a bit, was left alone with the strange visitors.
Arturia, seeing that Gilgamesh had no intention of releasing her anytime soon and judging it best she did not address the boy, so to not instigate another fiery reaction from him, met Illya’s gaze and gave her a nod.
The girl nervously took a few steps towards Shirou, and then extended her hand to him.
“Hi, I’m Illyasviel von Einzbern. Nice to meet you.”
The boy, who had still been scared until that moment, suddenly changed expression.
Looking animated, he took her hand to shake and said, “I am Emiya Shirou… and you must be my sister!”
Before any of the three guests had the time to say anything, Taiga was back with the biscuits and cheerfully invited everyone to have a seat. Gilgamesh finally released Arturia’s form, but held her wrist firmly, so that she had no choice but to sit right next to him on the couch, their legs and shoulders touching. The King of Knights gave him a flat look, indicating that his antics were beginning to get over the level of normalcy.
Illya sat on Arturia’s other side, while Taiga and Shirou sat on the couch in front of them. The blonde woman decided to explain, mostly for Taiga’s benefit, because the boy seemed to already know the girl’s identity.
“We have come to see you today because of Illya’s wish to meet Shirou. She is Kiritsugu’s biological daughter… and has expressed the desire to get to know her adoptive brother.”
Taiga seemed quite surprised at the news, while the boy nodded enthusiastically.
“Otou-san told me that I had a sister, and he said he wished for me to see her one day!”
He looked at Arturia when saying this, but immediately averted his eyes, shrinking away in fear, when he felt Gilgamesh’s awakened glare on him. The man made his arm go around Arturia’s waist again, pulling her to him, and his aura seemed to turn darker by the second.
It was obvious to both Taiga and Shirou that he was not a man to be angered.
Arturia, however, was finding his behaviour exaggerated. She had, strangely, felt very little irritation at his earlier protective reaction, but seeing his temper rise only because the boy had looked at her was really too much.
Her hands were both neatly folded in her lap, but she moved one of them, allowing it to rest on his chest in a calming gesture. And again, as if she had cast a spell, his anger seemed to vanish as his gaze met hers once more.
Her clear green eyes, perfectly matched with the lovely summer dress she was wearing, silently gave him a message.
She was both reassuring and warning him. She would allow him to keep his arm around her, as long as he stopped being so menacing towards their hosts. Wordlessly understanding her bargain, he gave her an almost imperceptible nod and tightened his hold on her.
Arturia refused to let her mind linger on the fact that she had reached such a point of understanding with the King of Heroes that they could now communicate without speaking, and continued talking.
“If we are not being too invasive, I would suggest we come visit more frequently in the foreseeable future… I know that Illya greatly wishes to be close with someone she considers part of her family.”
Shirou and Illya both seemed excited at the prospect, and Taiga did not seem adverse to it. She was not going to acquiesce immediately, though.
Inclining her head to the side slightly, the brown-haired woman said, “I hope you will understand that I would first like to see some proof of your relationship with Kiritsugu. I am aware of the fact that he had a family abroad that he had to leave behind for some reason, but I need to see evidence of it. If, however, this detail is clarified quickly, I have no objection whatsoever at having Shirou spending time with his sister.”
Arturia looked at the woman with a keen expression. Even though she was young, it appeared that she was indeed mature enough to look after a boy. And she was smart enough to not just accept their word. Therefore, she nodded at her.
“I have all the documents that prove that Illyasviel von Einzbern is the daughter of Emiya Kiritsugu, and that I am her legal guardian. To make the exchange fair, miss Taiga, I would like to see proof of the fact that you are Emiya Shirou’s guardian as well.”
The brown-haired woman seemed slightly taken aback but pleased with the answer. She nodded.
“As soon as we make sure that our identities are what we claim them to be, you can drop the formalities with my name. Please call me just Taiga. I have one question though.”
She took the teapot and carefully filled a cup, which she then offered to Arturia. She seemed to hesitate before continuing.
“If you are the girl’s legal guardian, what role has… um… Gilgamesh, was it?”
Arturia was completely aware of the fact that if she did not answer soon, Gilgamesh would say something offensive. The tightening of the arm around her waist was all the warning she needed to immediately speak up.
“It’s… difficult to explain.”
That was the truth, but elaboration was in order.
“Even though he is not related to the Einzberns, he… has been with Illya and me during the past five years, when Kiritsugu was not there. So he can be considered our companion.”
Arturia avoided looking at Gilgamesh as she said that, because she had no idea how he would react. And whatever the reaction was going to be, she knew that it would distract her, and she wanted to stay focused.
Even though her mind wickedly pointed out that the feeling of his arm around her waist was already a distraction…
Thankfully, for the King of Knights’s internal peace, Illya chose that moment to lean towards her and tug at her dress.
Meeting her gaze, she murmured, “Can Shirou and I go outside while you adults settle the legal documents?”
Arturia shook her head slightly.
“Not before we have verified our identities. It won’t take long, and after that, you can go.”
The girl nodded in understanding and helped the woman take the copies of the documents out of the handbag, because Gilgamesh’s closeness made it a bit difficult to manage them.
Arturia then leaned forward to show them to Taiga… and that was when she felt his breath on her neck. Suppressing a shiver, she immediately leaned back against the couch.
To her chagrin, she saw that he had noticed her reaction. The ghost of a smirk appeared on his lips, and his free hand went to her cheek, caressing it with its back, so swiftly that no one noticed and she did not have the time to react.
That slight touch was enough to make her hyperaware of the contact between them, and she mentally berated herself for her weakness.
She felt again thankful for Illya’s presence. Concentrating on the girl helped her ignore the foreign sensations that his touch… no, just his presence… was provoking in her.
Taiga examined the copies carefully. Arturia of course had not given her the originals, and she looked at the woman keenly. It was obvious that she was an easy-going and open-minded person, at the same time seeming to possess enough inner steel to be reliable and have the responsibility over a young boy.
However, from what she had seen, Arturia thought that Taiga was not as mature as an adult should be…
…or maybe was it just because she had been so used to being around adults who had been forced to grow up because of tragedies that she didn’t consider the brown-haired woman on the same level?
Perhaps that was the case. As Taiga left the room briefly to take her own documents, Arturia mentally weighed her.
From the way she behaved, it was clear she was a person who had not experienced true calamities in her life… the complete opposite from Kiritsugu.
And that was probably why her former Master had given to someone like her the custody of the boy he had adopted. He wished for his son to have a life as normal as possible… and Taiga fit into that category perfectly.
Arturia considered. If that was truly the case… then it would be beneficial for Illya to be around someone like her, too. The girl’s wish to spend time with her sibling… might be for the best.
Taiga came back with some papers that Arturia examined. They were signed by Kiritsugu, and gave the guardianship of Emiya Shirou to Fujimura Taiga, and the documents that identified the woman described her appearance correctly.
There was no doubt that all the people in the room were exactly who they claimed to be – and the two children took that as their clue to finally go outside and get to know each other better by playing together. Both Taiga and Arturia followed them with their eyes, softly smiling at their eagerness.
Taking a sip from her so far untouched tea, the King of Knights lightly entered into small talk with the brown-haired woman, who quickly revealed herself as a very chatty person. The blonde woman encouraged her talk by asking questions about her, Shirou and Kiritsugu, learning quite a bit about the life her former Master had led in Fuyuki after the end of the Fourth Grail War.
Gilgamesh, during the whole conversation between them, did not utter a word and simply kept his arm securely around the petite woman by his side. Arturia could feel his boredom level increasing, but she decided to ignore it. She did not mind Taiga’s incessant talking, because not only did it give her a lot of information about the boy who was currently playing with her ward, but also because it made sure that she didn’t have to say much about herself or Illya.
And while the two children were busy playing, the three adults had to pass the time in some way or another, after all.
A few hours later, when it was already evening, Arturia decided it was time to take their leave. She politely said goodbye to a very friendly Taiga, and she called an unwilling Illya to the car. She made sure that the two children, who had had quite some fun together, decided on the next day in which to meet without making their respective schedules conflict, since they attended different schools.
Before they went, she noticed that the boy was looking at her again, but immediately took a step back in alarm when he saw the King of Heroes’s glower towards him.
The car drive to the apartment was filled by Illya’s very excited tale of what she and her brother had played together that day. Arturia listened with a soft, small smile, happy that the girl had had a good time. However, she noticed from the corner of her eye that Gilgamesh seemed to be deep in thought. She frowned imperceptibly, resolving to ask him about that later.
When they arrived at the apartment, Illya said goodbye to the King of Heroes and went inside, promising to go to sleep soon, while Arturia remained by the car with him for a while longer.
Her gaze questioning, she looked at him.
He returned her stare with a scowl on his face. He seemed to be deeply irritated.
“That bratty mongrel is not worthy of gazing upon you.”
She was slightly taken aback and eyed him warily. His anger was not to be underestimated, and it seemed to have been triggered. Without even realizing what she was doing, Arturia touched his arm in a calming gesture.
“Gilgamesh. He is just a boy. A young boy. The only thing he did was make a comment. Perhaps it was not the best thing he could say, especially having just met us, I will give you that. But you have terrified him already. I think that is more than enough.”
She frowned, and decided to speak her mind.
“This kind of reaction is… unusual for you.”
He seemed to calm down instantly as soon as she touched him, and with startling gentleness brought his own hand up to cup her cheek. He gave an expression that was half-smirk and – unexpectedly – half-smile.
“My reactions are always singular… when you are involved.”
Arturia’s breath was stolen away by those words and the look on his face.
There he was, an adult handsome man, clever, observant and insightful, who continually unsettled her with everything he said to – and about – her.
However, not in the same way he did in the past. No, the feelings that his actions ignited were different. New and unknown, and almost frightening.
Nevertheless, she was the King of Britain, and she would not allow those unfamiliar sensations to control her.
But she would not let herself be scared by them, either.
By then, she had realized that there was something that connected her to the King of Heroes – something that wasn’t their condition as former Heroic Spirits. She could not identify it… but she knew that there had been a gradual yet huge shift in their relationship.
She looked into Gilgamesh’s eyes deeply, showing in her own the curiosity he managed to elicit in her. Her lips tilted upwards a little and, savouring the feeling of his fingers on her cheek, she allowed herself to slightly, very slightly, lean into the touch.
His eyes seemed to widen a bit when he noticed – because of course, he would notice – and his other hand came up to boldly rest on her other cheek.
But as much as Arturia welcomed the strange and foreign sensations she was feeling in that moment, it was late… and Illya was already inside the house, waiting for her.
The thought of her ward immediately brought Arturia’s mind back to earth and she reluctantly moved away from him.
She didn’t miss the briefest flicker of disappointment in his eyes, before he took a step back and turned around.
Looking at her over his shoulder, he said, “Remember our agreement, King of Knights. A call every evening.”
And he vanished into thin air.
As soon as he disappeared and she entered the apartment, Arturia was struck with a thought. He could have dematerialized already from the Emiya residence to go back to the Church; there had been no need for him to go with them in the car.
As much as it was presumptuous to think in such a way… she knew why he had done it. He had wanted to be in her company for a while longer.
Locking the door, Arturia felt a strange warmth in her chest at the thought.
And she could not help smiling softly.