Chapter 20: Confrontation
After the afternoon at the park – and the brief contact his finger made with her lips –, Gilgamesh and Arturia had gone back to communicating through phone calls once again.
It was still the safest method, because the King of Heroes had to live with Kirei to ‘discreetly keep his activities monitored’, as Arturia formally explained, or ‘become more bored than what was decorously possible’, as Gilgamesh bluntly remarked.
One late afternoon, Arturia was alone at the apartment, doing some household chores by herself. Illya was at the Tohsaka mansion with Shirou and Rin, the three of them doing homework and later playing together. Even if the white-haired girl did not attend the same school or the same year as the other two, the classes she followed had a similar program, even if slightly more advanced. And it was enjoyable to spend a few hours together, even if just to do schoolwork.
As soon as she was finished with the cleaning and had showered, she received a phone call from Gilgamesh. Their exchanges had become more frequent and more relaxed, to the point that Arturia even looked forward to them most of the time.
That day, he seemed to be bolder than usual.
His voice was almost teasing when he said, “What news are there today, my treasure?”
Arturia narrowed her eyes at both his tone and his words.
“Gilgamesh, I am nobody’s treasure. I am not a possession in the first place.”
He, however, seemed to enjoy teasing her, and did not stop with that kind of comments. Not willing to put up with that, Arturia felt her irritation rising.
“Gilgamesh.” Her tone became more threatening. “If you continue to call me with names of your choice, know that I will begin to do the same.”
There was silence on the other side of the line.
Then he said, his voice slightly strained, “You will not.”
Arturia allowed herself a small smirk. She had him.
“Oh, I will. You enjoy teasing me, knowing that I can’t do anything to you over the phone… but it is a double-edged sword, because you can’t do anything to me either.”
Again there was silence on the other side of the phone call. Both kings knew that she had just been able to outsmart him at his own game. That was a very, very rare occurrence to happen… but it just had happened. Arturia was too noble to relish in the victory over him, and simply waited for his next words.
His reply, however, was to abruptly end the call.
She frowned, confused.
That was quite unlike him… what had he just…?
And the next second, she realized she had forgotten a detail about the King of Heroes.
A very important detail.
He was able to dematerialize. And he appeared behind her, in the kitchen, making her lose her balance because of the sudden proximity.
She should have guessed an unpredictable move coming from the King of Heroes…
Her first thought was that she hoped Kirei had not been present to notice his abrupt leaving – the second thought was, in what a compromising position the two of them found themselves.
With her dipped down and with him holding her up around the waist, both kings proved their great equilibrium.
Arturia suddenly realized how close they were. She could see every shade of his blood red eyes, and every single feature in his face. She was in the arms of the King of Heroes, tightly held against his body.
What on earth was she doing? What on earth was she thinking?
Her eyes became troubled, and she avoided his gaze – with some difficulty, due to the closeness.
“Please let go of me.”
Her tone was not cold or rude, just hollow, lacking any emotions.
Without a word, he respected her wish and put her back on her feet securely. Arturia did not look at him as she swiftly regained her balance and turned away.
“I think… You should probably leave.”
She heard him move and felt relieved. For once, he was going to do what she asked without complai–
Suddenly she was enveloped in a warm and possessive embrace from behind. An arm was around her waist and another was around her shoulders. Had she not been the former King of Britain, a surprised yelp would have escaped her lips.
She felt Gilgamesh’s mouth next to her cheek, and in instinct, Arturia’s hands flew up to hold the arm around her shoulders. Before she could do anything, however, his lips were on her ear, caressing it softly.
Against her wishes, Arturia shivered slightly… and she felt his arms tightening around her in response to that reaction.
She could feel his whole body pressed even closer than before, and she was… at a loss.
What should she do? Push him away was, without a doubt, the best course of action.
But before she could act, he spoke. His voice was low and made her shiver again because of the proximity.
“Stop closing yourself to the rest of the world, Arturia. Stop denying yourself, and stop suppressing your personal wishes.”
His voice became more forceful.
“Stop trying to carry every burden.”
His hold on her tightened even more.
“You have proven, time and time again, how strong you are and how firmly you can stand tall under the weight of all your burdens, how magnificently you can stand alone and proud in your might… but continuing to push people away from you is not what will help you. You can and must allow people to see you.”
The hand of the arm around her shoulders went up to her cheek, caressing it slowly.
“You know that I can understand you and see you more clearly than anyone else… No matter how hard you tried to cover up your soul, I still managed to see it, in all its beauty… You know that there is no one else in this world who can understand you better than I do.”
His breath quivered against her ear.
“Stop shutting yourself away from me, Arturia.”
He came even closer, if possible.
“Let me in.”
Arturia closed her eyes, in hope of thinking more clearly… but it was no use. Without the sense of sight, she only became more conscious of his touch – and therefore his closeness.
She opened her eyes again and turned her head slightly, forcing his lips to leave her ear and his eyes to meet her green gaze. She was acutely aware of how close their faces were, because mere centimetres separated their eyes… and their lips.
She saw that he was examining her face, too, and it seemed to her that he lingered on her mouth a few moments longer than was necessary, before his eyes were back on hers, looking at her intently.
She did her best to appear calm when she spoke.
“If you understand me as well as you claim to… then you will know what my answer to such a request is going to be.”
His nose on her cheek, he made her turn her head so that his lips were back on her ear, to trace it slowly. He knew her answer, indeed.
Hot breath tickled her skin.
“And why, Arturia? Why not let me in? Why do you keep guarding yourself as if we were still at war? As if I was your enemy?”
His next words were harsh.
“What are you afraid of?”
That was too much. Arturia’s hands, which were still on his arm, abruptly left it and went stiffly back to her sides.
Her voice was void of any emotion, and he knew he had gone too far.
He released her, missing the contact the second he let go of her body.
But she did not turn to look at him, and he knew she wouldn’t.
So, without adding another word, he dematerialized back to the Church.
After that confrontation – he refused to call it an argument –, she had not called him in the evening. It had been the first time since they had come to Japan that such a thing had happened.
Even if it had taken him all his self-control, he had decided not to call her, either. That was because, in spite of the fact that he had been calling her too during the past weeks, she had always been the one to call in the evenings.
Furthermore, there was the tiny but definite possibility that she would refuse to answer him… and he would not be able to tolerate it.
So an evening went by with complete silence between the two kings.
But the next evening she didn’t call… again.
That was too much. He had to do something about that situation. But he was not going to use the device for that.
The following day, after making sure that that mongrel of a priest was busy – it would not do if he was interrupted on that day, when his mood was already bad –, he dematerialized from the Church and appeared in front of the apartment where Arturia lived. He knew she was inside. Firmly ignoring the fact that he was feeling a tiny bit of apprehension, he rang the bell and waited.
The door opened. Red eyes met green ones, both with wary and guarded expressions.
Her tone betrayed how on edge she was, and he felt a strange displeasure at that.
His reply was equally short.
They continued to stare at each other, without saying anything else.
All of a sudden, a boy’s voice called from inside, “I finished it! Is this result correct?”
The King of Knights broke their gaze and turned away from him.
“I will be right there, Shirou.”
She left the door open, an unspoken invitation for him to come in.
Gilgamesh, however, barely noticed that. A blind rage came over him as soon as he heard the boy speak.
That mongrel was in the house? In Arturia’s house?
The King of Heroes still had enough sense to close the door behind himself, and then immediately followed the woman to the living room. The scene he was met with was enough to make him growl darkly.
Illya and Shirou, sitting at the table, looked up. And while the girl smiled happily and enthusiastically waved a hand at him, the boy went pale. The deadly aura was impossible to miss, and even Arturia seemed alarmed.
Illya, however, proving how much she truly had learned from Arturia as her ward, could make a very accurate guess about the reason for Gilgamesh’s homicidal mood, and stood up.
She looked at her legal guardian, while closing the books she was going through and taking them up in her arms.
“Arturia, Shirou and I will go finish homework in the park. We’ll be back later. Bye, Gilgamesh.”
Her foster brother seemed to be incredibly relieved at her words and rapidly followed her out of the house, trying – in vain – to avoid the man’s furious gaze.
As soon as the door closed behind the two children, Arturia brought her hand up to lightly touch Gilgamesh’s arm. Even if the boy was gone, his eyes were still narrowed. She raised an eyebrow but managed to suppress a sigh.
“Gilgamesh,” she said, in a calming voice, “Shirou and Illya were studying together, and I was helping them. He doesn’t even look me in the eye anymore after the scare you gave him when we first met… there is no reason for you to be angry.”
The King of Heroes still looked livid.
“I don’t like the idea of that boy being here with you.”
Seeing that his anger was not subsiding, she took a step towards him and put her hand on his chest. She hoped the gesture would be enough to make him regain his senses.
His eyes seemed to lose some of the fury in them, and he looked at her with more calmness.
He was still irritated, though, and it showed in his words.
“If that boy is going to be here again, and alone with you, I guarantee I will hurt him.”
Exasperated, Arturia rolled her eyes… but she immediately sobered up.
She could feel his eyes on her, looking at her face, and she noticed how he lingered on her lips much longer than he had done in the past… and he was staring at them quite unabashedly.
She could feel her skin burning when his eyes were on it… and she could not deny the slight nervousness that surrounded her.
But she shook it off. And she tilted her head. She was not going to be afraid anymore.
“Well, then, King of Heroes. How about this. The next time Illya and Shirou are going to come to study here, I will arrange to meet you at an outdoor place instead.”
His eyes widened slightly at those words, but he recovered quickly from his surprise and gave her a nod.
“Perfect idea, King of Knights.”
He would never tell her… but he was pleased, very pleased, because she had been the one to suggest such a thing.
Shortly after that, he left to go back to the Church. It was indeed best to keep an eye on Kirei and make sure he did not become suspicious… Gilgamesh did not want to have his – future – time with Arturia shortened by anyone, least of all that mongrel.
That evening, Gilgamesh had a satisfied expression on his face when his phone rang and he saw Arturia’s number. Everything was back to normal… even slightly better than before.
With a rare and not-arrogant smile, he pressed the button to answer.
As they had agreed, when Shirou and Illya decided to study at the apartment a few days later, Arturia called Gilgamesh, suggesting meeting at a teashop she had noticed a few streets away. He seemed a bit annoyed at the mundanity of the place, but he did not protest and simply agreed.
They also decided it was best to limit the phone calls a little, because Kirei had unfortunately seen the King of Heroes with the mobile in hand more than once, and he was bound to get suspicious if it became too frequent of an occurrence.
At the appointed time, Arturia was standing in front of the teashop where they were supposed to meet, waiting.
An arm sneaked around her waist to pull her against someone’s – muscular – body and a hot breath tickled her ear. She immediately recognized Gilgamesh’s form – and internally groaned at the thought.
When had she become comfortable enough around him to allow so much contact between them… and to the point that she even recognized him without the need to sense him!
And why was she allowing him such personal closeness again? It was true that the King of Knights was much less wary of body contact than before, mainly because Illya was very affectionate, and, well, there had already been other occasions of proximity, too… but still, in public, and with such a casual and intimate embrace…
Her eyes narrowed.
“Release me if you care about your limbs, King of Heroes.”
His arm tightened slightly before he relented. But he could not miss the opportunity of a little teasing.
“You didn’t protest other times, Arturia… Don’t be shy now.”
Knowing that he aimed to get an indignant reaction out of her, Arturia willed herself to keep calm, and simply walked inside the teashop. He followed her, and they sat down in front of each other. She could not avoid noticing that he had his hair down – the way she preferred it.
She ordered rose tea, while he seemed to ponder over the idea of expressing his despise for the owners because of the lack of wine on the menu. But he eventually decided against it and ordered a variety of black tea – which turned out to be surprisingly decent enough for his tastes.
Quite a few of the customers looked curiously in their direction, because of the regal posture of the two kings, and the power that seemed to radiate from them. However, Arturia’s reserved expression and Gilgamesh’s one haughty look around the room scared people enough to make sure they stayed away.
The conversation between the former Heroic Spirits managed to be as relaxed as it was over the phone, and they talked about Illya, Kirei and then, very briefly, about the gems of mana, which Arturia was still filling almost every day. Then they ended up talking about the Tohsaka heir.
Gilgamesh had a few things to complain about when it came to her. The few times he had been in her company, at the Tohsaka mansion, after she had unexpectedly thanked him for his harsh words, she had been eager to talk to him without seeming to be in awe, only a bit intimidated.
Arturia was amused by that, and decided to explain a little.
“Gilgamesh, when you reprimanded her, you were not deliberately cruel or malicious… you simply pointed out truths that she didn’t see. And Rin is smart enough to recognize that you were right.”
She paused to see the effect her words were having.
“Furthermore, being clever, she has also realized that she can learn from someone with your kind of wisdom.”
He looked at her with a frown. Arturia shook her head slightly, with a hint of a smile appearing on her lips.
“I hope she doesn’t learn your kind of haughtiness and arrogance as well, King of Heroes…”
He narrowed his eyes at her impertinence, but noticed the mirth in her green gaze.
She was… teasing him?
“I will not occupy my time by becoming the girl’s caretaker, King of Knights.”
Arturia kept her thoughts to herself.
It was obvious that Gilgamesh had made a deep impression on young Rin, by shedding light on many important lies that had surrounded her whole life. She, as a Tohsaka, had not been used to anyone pointing out her limits, aside maybe from her father.
Having someone – someone who had just met her – clearly show her the wrongness of her beliefs with such accuracy… well, Arturia mused, there was no wonder that Gilgamesh had practically become Rin’s hero. He definitely deserved it.
She almost wished to hit herself for the direction her thoughts had taken. She would not let it scare her… but she would not allow her mind to go there either. Not too often, at least.
While the King of Knights’s attention was occupied in such a way, the King of Heroes was deep in thought as well.
While he had been a little annoyed at the girl’s persistence at being around him, he knew that Arturia had been correct in her evaluation of her behaviour.
And he was very aware of the fact that he was not keeping Tokiomi’s daughter at a distance, as he recognized he would be able to do… and he knew the reason behind that.
Gilgamesh had addressed both Kirei and Rin with his blunt words, and both had changed after listening to the simple and – in his opinion – obvious truths he was pointing out.
But there was a huge difference between the two.
Kirei had turned out worse, duller and quite boring; Rin had turned out… better.
With her mind no longer clouded, she appeared to be making use of her intelligence and had the possibility of not growing into a stupid person.
His red eyes observed the blonde woman in front of him. It was because of her that he had met and addressed the girl in the first place… otherwise he would never have considered even passing close to Tokiomi’s daughter.
More than just a few events in his life were being influenced by Arturia’s choices and decisions.
In fact, even the surname he had chosen, ‘Utnapishtim’… It had an important meaning for him, since in his previous life Utnapishtim, the immortal man, had been the one to make him realize the inevitability of death.
But that was not the only reason he had chosen it. Its literal meaning was ‘the one who found life’, and Gilgamesh knew he had indeed found life… both physically in the real human body he had, and emotionally in the woman whose side he had rarely left during the former six years.
It was maddening, and perhaps almost mortifying, to realize how much his actions, even the most mundane ones, were based on her.