Chapter 23: Feelings deepening
One of the first things Arturia did when back in Japan, was to go visit the Einzbern Castle outside Fuyuki, the place where she and Gilgamesh had lived when they had received human bodies after the end of the war.
No one had been there for a while, but since it belonged to Illya, it was best to decide what to do with it.
The King of Knights talked about her ideas with the girl – because it was again her heritage they were discussing about –, who agreed. They took from the castle everything that still had value or could be used again, before having it demolished. The land was rented to a family who wished to build a farm on it, and both Arturia and Illya found it a more than acceptable solution.
Another thing the woman did was recover Avalon when the girl was asleep. Illya was safe from the Einzberns’ manipulations, and there was no need for an extra protection any longer. The time of the destruction of the Grail was coming closer… Avalon’s powers were going to be needed.
When she thought about Avalon, Arturia couldn’t help thinking about other Noble Phantasms as well… and she had noticed that Gilgamesh had been using his Gate of Babylon differently in the last year or so.
One evening, he came to the apartment she shared with Illya because both her ward and Rin were over at the Emiya residence and he was way too bored by Kirei to tolerate his company.
He was sitting on the couch and observing her as she worked in the kitchen, calmly cooking dinner and at the same time having a casual conversation with him.
She did not allow him to be lazy for long, though.
“Gilgamesh, will you please set these on the table?” And she indicated two plates, two sets of cutlery, two glasses, napkins and a water pitcher.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
Who did she think he was, a servant? He would not be the one to set the table.
But then a thought struck him. If he did not put those items on the table… then Arturia would have to do it.
And she was certainly no servant, either.
The King of Heroes found himself analysing the situation. He would just be lending the King of Knights a hand… and then they would be able to have dinner. It could be acceptable.
So he stood up and, to Arturia’s slight surprise, did what she asked. She made sure to hide her expression though.
She had been certain that she would have to argue with him and even threaten to leave him without dinner, but his compliance had made things easier. She would not push her luck by showing him how astonished she was.
When she finished cooking, she brought everything to the table. Even though they were in Japan, she and Illya often ate in the Western way and without chopsticks. She filled the two plates before sitting down in front of Gilgamesh, and did not realize that a few strands of hair had escaped her usual chignon.
However, he did. And he leaned forward slightly to casually put the locks behind her ear.
His touch was soft and uncharacteristically gentle. She froze for a second – remembering that he had done the same at Kiritsugu’s funeral –, but then simply continued eating as if nothing had happened. A little tilting upwards of her lips, however, gave her away, and he did not bother to hide a smirk of his own.
After dinner, they quickly cleared the table and then went to their favourite spots in the living room, sitting on the couches in front of each other. Arturia had prepared tea, but Gilgamesh of course preferred his red wine from Gate of Babylon. Seeing him use his powers made Arturia remember that she had actually meant to ask him something about that Noble Phantasm of his.
Even if she knew that he would not refuse her an answer, she was still cautious when she asked him about how he used Gate of Babylon.
He did not seem to mind her questions, instead, he answered her normally, explaining that the Gate contained the original copy of every Noble Phantasm in the world. Guessing her following question, he confirmed to her that during the past year he had begun to go through the various elements in his treasure, because he could throw the weapons as usual… or he could decide to use their actual power.
As he described some of the things he possessed, Arturia reflected, and then asked if he also had the original form of the Noble Phantasms of the other Servants from the Fourth War. She knew he didn’t have the original form of Excalibur, because Excalibur had been created during her lifetime and it had been specially made as her personal sword.
Talking about the Servants of the war, however, seemed to darken Gilgamesh’s mood.
“Possessing the original form of every Noble Phantasm only provoked my disgust when I saw what unworthy people had the derivative ones.”
Arturia could guess where his thoughts were headed, and mentally prepared herself.
“Are you talking about Lancer?”
His glare was confirmation enough.
“That unworthy man wielded Gae Dearg and Gae Buidhe… but those two spears were originally a single one, which is part of my treasure.” He scoffed. “That mongrel… he wasn’t even a king.”
Arturia narrowed her eyes. Her retort was sharp.
“He may not have been a king, but he was worthy of using those two spears.”
She could feel his scepticism at her words, but she ignored it.
“As I already said in the past… I would have been honoured to have him at my side, as my fellow knight.”
That truly caught Gilgamesh’s interest. He stared at her with narrowed eyes. It was obvious that he was trying to convince himself that she had not just said such words.
“I see. So you would accept just anyone as your knight? That is not wise.”
Very calmly, Arturia replied, “I am the King of Knights, Gilgamesh, and therefore choosing who is worthy of being a knight is for me to decide.”
He seemed to be actually taken aback, and she wondered if she had been a little too arrogant.
But she had started… and she might as well finish.
Her gaze became lost in the distance and the tone of her voice softened.
“Lancer… did not deserve the life he got, both in history and as a Servant. He had honour and loyalty, but he was cruelly stripped of both. I… wish he had had another chance.”
Her eyes became sadder.
“I don’t think fate has been fair. I have been given this unwanted possibility to do something else with my life… Lancer’s tragedy has remained a tragedy.”
Gilgamesh was completely still on the couch. He was trying very, very hard to restrain himself.
He had not felt such a blind rage in what seemed like eons. Not even when that mongrel boy had dared gaze upon Arturia had he been so angry. In the present occasion, it was she who was speaking about another man… and she was doing it with her eyes looking far away and with a sorrowful expression.
More importantly, the man she was talking about was not present, so there was no one there on whom he could unleash his fury.
Arturia was snapped out of her thoughts when she felt the dangerous concentration of mana in his person. She maintained her expression as calm as possible, inwardly feeling apprehensive.
She knew that perhaps she had been a little too warm in her description of Lancer, but that was as far as her interest in his tragedy went.
However, her words could have made Gilgamesh misunderstand her thoughts… perhaps Illya had not been far from the truth when she had once suggested that he might be jealous.
Slowly, the King of Knights stood up from the couch and sat down next to the King of Heroes.
Very carefully, she began to speak again.
“I believe that, had we lived in the same era, Lancer would have made a fine knight, and I would have been honoured to go into battle with him on my side. However, reality was different. We were enemies in the Holy Grail War… and other than respecting each other’s abilities as adversaries, there wasn’t anything else I thought about that man. Even though I deeply disliked Kiritsugu’s dishonourable way of ending Lancer’s life, I can’t feel anything more for him… while dying, he disregarded the principles that had guided his life, indiscriminately cursing his Master, my Master and me.”
Her words seemed to have a calming effect on Gilgamesh, and his expression distended a bit. But his eyes were still narrowed and he was clenching his fists tightly, clearly confining his temper.
The very fact that he was doing just that was a pleasant surprise for Arturia. He seemed to be genuinely trying not to let his anger have the best of him.
He suddenly stood up, making it clear that he intended to leave.
She felt a pang in her chest. She did not want him to leave yet. She had not meant to drive him away… and she didn’t like the fact that she had.
Her actions were not planned and completely instinctive, she would have been ready to swear it.
She grabbed his wrist as he was leaving and made him turn towards her. Immediately feeling conscious about it, she released him… only to stare into his eyes deeply.
The hint of vulnerability in his gaze was almost impossible to catch, but she saw it nonetheless.
And slowly, almost unconsciously, her hand went up again to rest on his chest. She could feel his mana, which had still been unstable, instantly calm down to normal levels again.
And he took a step towards her.
One of his hands went around her waist to pull her even closer to him, and the other gently cupped her cheek. Arturia felt a sense of déjà vu. He had done the same thing before leaving Germany for Japan, almost two years before. She wasn’t sure why she still remembered it so clearly.
But at the time, one of her own hands had not been on his chest… and the other had definitely not gone up to touch his, the one that was on her cheek.
Her fingers, over his, lightly traced them, and then ended up resting on his hand completely, while her face gently leaned into his touch.
He came closer, his hold around her waist becoming slightly tighter.
He leaned forward, his face coming closer to hers, searching her eyes the whole time.
And she… asking herself why and finding herself afraid of giving an answer to that question… keeping her eyes firmly on his the whole time… leaned forwards as well.
Their faces became closer and closer…
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
The two kings, somehow unwillingly, let go of each other, and Arturia went to the entrance.
To her slight surprise, it was a homunculus from Germany, one of the two women to whom she had given instructions about the supervision of the place that had once been Jubstacheit’s castle.
The white-haired woman apologized for the late hour, explaining that she had come directly from Germany to inform her that the work for the new hotel had been completed, and they were ready to open it.
Arturia, immediately back to her composed self, thanked her and arranged for her, with a few phone calls, to have a place to sleep at the Einzbern residence in the middle of Fuyuki, not too far from her apartment. Before letting her go for the night, she told her that very soon there would be guests coming to Germany, so it was best to make sure everything was ready for their arrival.
When the woman was gone, Arturia turned towards Gilgamesh, knowing he was looking at her questioningly.
She began to explain.
“The time for the ritual to start is coming closer. I do not wish for Illya to become involved in any way, and since the Grail’s powers are unpredictable, I will have her go to Germany, where she will be safe. I will also invite Taiga, Shirou and Rin to go with her, so they will be kept out of danger as well. And perhaps… I would like for Sakura to go as well, but unfortunately, for such a thing, we would need to know more about her situation with the Matou family.”
Gilgamesh was silent for a few moments.
He had to admit that he was somewhat impressed by her preparations for the protection of those people. He understood better why she had wanted to settle the issue with Jubstacheit von Einzbern before the seven years were over. Illya was going to have a safe place where to stay when the time of the ritual would come.
And it was very considerate of her to include also Rin, the brown-haired woman and the mongrel boy in her planning.
However, the King of Heroes was aware of the fact that Kirei, Rin’s legal guardian, would most likely not be thrilled about having the girl go to the Einzberns’, especially because he was still unaware of Arturia and Illya’s presence in Japan… and in the Tohsaka’s life.
But perhaps the time had come to make use of that mongrel properly.
“I don’t think that Kirei will be in favour of having the girl go to Germany… however, I know how to make him agree to that, and at the same time find out more about the head of the Matou family… Zouken.”
He explained to Arturia why he could make the priest agree, and then how to manipulate him into giving the information she desired.
The King of Knights was a little uncertain.
“Gilgamesh, you know I do not like manipulating people.”
He seemed quite unconcerned.
“But you did it splendidly with the old man in Germany, even though I admit it wasn’t actual manipulation on your part. However, do not concern yourself, because I will influence the priest in your place. It will be the price he has to pay for the endlessly boring time he made me endure.”
Then his expression became a little more thoughtful.
Looking at her again, he added, “When talking with Kirei, I will also mention the ritual for the summoning of the Grail… and your intention to perform it.”
Before Arturia could suspect him as a traitor – after all they had been through, he would have been offended if she actually did –, he continued, “The ritual has to be executed at the Church… Kirei’s collaboration will be needed.”
Arturia was silent. She knew that Gilgamesh was right, but the idea of having to work with that monster repulsed her.
Before she could say anything, however, he spoke again, with a slight smirk on his face.
“I am aware of how much this revolts you. There is no need for you to worry… let me handle the priest. But do not protest against this, Arturia… for I will not allow you to be put in danger by that mongrel.”
She was taken aback by the seriousness in his tone.
He meant was he was saying.
And that realization made her feel a strange warmth in her chest.
Throat closed, Arturia nodded at him, wordlessly giving him her approval to proceed. He returned her nod, without his usual arrogant expression.
With one last, long glance, he left.
As soon as he was gone from the house, Arturia’s thoughts became chaotic as they immediately went back to what had happened when she had been in his arms. Or rather, what had almost happened.
He had been about… to kiss her.
No. No no no no no! Arturia shook her head fiercely, glad that no one could see her.
She could not – should not – would not allow her mind to linger on such thoughts.
There was a Grail to destroy, the time for the ritual was quickly approaching, and she could not afford to be distracted by anything else. She could not.
Illya’s future… Rin’s future… even Sakura’s future all depended on that corrupted cup’s fate. Destroying it was essential. And she and Gilgamesh were the only ones with enough power and knowledge to do that. She could not afford to become confused by… by… she didn’t even know what it was.
She was not immature enough to deny that there was indeed something, something very deep, which was growing at alarming speed between them.
And she knew that she did not dislike it. She had proof of it.
When he had enveloped her in his arms – something he had been doing quite frequently, to be fair – and then slightly leaned forward, why had she not pulled away? Why?
Because… she had not felt threatened by his actions.
Nothing in his behaviour had indicated he wanted to harm or injure her. What he had been doing to her had made her feel something very powerful awaken inside herself but, even if she was not able to define it, she had known it was not a threat.
It was something that had made her feel completely safe and at ease.
In fact, it was something that had made her feel… wonderful.
She had seen that same thing in his eyes… and she had leaned forward as well, to welcome it.
She had been centimetres away from the King of Heroes’s lips. And both of them had wanted for those mere centimetres to disappear.
That was definitely scary enough of a thought for one evening.
When Gilgamesh materialized back to the Church, he went to lie down on one of the couches. He didn’t have a specific one he preferred, because they were all equally uncomfortable.
His thoughts immediately went back to what had happened earlier.
He had been about to taste the lips of the King of Knights.
He felt frustration rise in his chest.
That maddening woman…
He had known her for almost seven years by then. She had caught his eye during the war, and he had developed quite the fascination with her. But that had not been the end of it.
In the years that followed, his interest in her had deepened. He had seen her in a vast amount of different situations – even naked, a small part of his mind added –, which was an unusual thing, because he had mostly seen her on the battlefield during the war.
Back then, he had not assisted to many fights of hers… but he had seen more than enough to know that her expertise and skill were extraordinary. She was a very versatile kind of warrior, easily adapting to the various circumstances she found herself in. He knew she was strong, and he had witnessed her brilliance.
The following years, even if she was not on the battlefield, her demeanour had been no different, and she made her choices with the same dedication and tenacity he had come to admire and, perhaps – it cost him some audacity to admit it –… even love.
That she was worthy of his love was by then clear to him, but that she already had it… was unexpected.
She had proven to be unique, different from anyone else, and his initial ‘fascination’ with her had escalated and gone beyond a point of no return.
He had never thought that after the loss of his best friend anyone else would have been able to truly interest him, let alone manage to see him clearly enough to understand him.
But she had managed to do just that… and without even trying.
What power did she have to make such changes happen to him? Changes that he did not mind?
She had made him care about her.
She had even made him care a little about her ward, Illya.
And she had changed his mind on Tokiomi’s daughter…
How she had accomplished all that, he did not know.
But what he did know was that he was becoming edgy. He wanted more from her than just her simple presence around him. His yearning – yes, yearning – for her seemed to increase every day.
He knew that there had been great progress in his relationship with her in that period of time, but he wondered if the progress had been enough for her to be at least equally interested in him.
He almost had to scoff.
In the past, he would not have concerned himself with such a question. But then again… she had made him change.
She was more than just a companion, someone he knew he could trust with his life if it was necessary.
But would she trust him with her life?