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The bitter cold of the night bites into Matou Kariya’s skin through his tracksuit. His right eye opens, roused from his pain-riddled slumber—if you could call it that, the worms would never allow him a true peaceful night’s sleep—not only by that, but by something else; a prickling sensation along his nerves. If it had happened a year prior, he wouldn’t have paid it any mind.

Magecraft had nothing to do with him at that point—he’d left that world, it didn’t matter if he felt a spike of magical energy here or there. But now, now that he was in this war, in the heart of Fuyuki, he couldn’t ignore it; it was no longer a minor spark, but now a powerful surge, his senses to it augmented by his boosted magic circuits.

Mion river, he thinks to himself sluggishly, picking out each energy signature as they appear. Caster’s there… ah, and Saber and Rider. Lancer, too. And…

Kariya seizes up, clawing his way to a sitting position. He could feel it—he’d have to be more than half-dead not to, with that overwhelming magical energy.

Archer’s there, he thinks, mind already in a haze as he struggles to his feet. Which means…

“Berserker,” Kariya says, already limping his way out of the alleyway. Just calling to him was a strain, but he doesn’t care; Tokiomi is out in the open, finally, finally, and Kariya isn’t about to let this opportunity slip away. “Mion river.”

Kariya can feel Berserker stirring, roiling and making his way to the river ahead of him in spirit form. That’s just as well. As long as Kariya keeps a good enough hold on him, he doesn’t have to worry—Berserker can tear Archer limb from limb this time, and Kariya can finally get a goddamned answer out of Tokiomi.

The mental image of Kariya bringing that pompous bastard to his knees is a satisfying one, even if it causes the worms inside him to bring his blood to an intense, uncomfortable boil.

 

 

“Consider this an act of mercy, Kariya.”

The insects are thinning out. Blood seeps from the veins in his face, dripping down his chin and hitting the ground, mingling with the pools of blood already there. Matou Kariya tried mustering up more power, but between this and maintaining Berserker, he was torn. He could call off Berserker, but—no, no, he would lose, he wouldn’t, not against Tohsaka, of all creatures—!

Intensive Einascherung.

The next few moments are a special kind of hell, and the pain wrought from it is just edging beyond the consistent, endless pain from the worms. Kariya screams, clawing at his face, his stomach turning and clenching at the sound of his own flesh boiling. He screams his throat raw at Tokiomi, that he would kill him, kill Zouken, kill, kill, kill. He stumbles, hitting something. The railing. His weight is too much, he’s leaning over it too heavily, he can’t—

Kariya feels an extra pair of eyes on him, just for a moment, as the ground goes out from under him. He blacks out before he even hits the pavement below.

He can’t recall when, or how, or who, but Kariya slides briefly, partially into consciousness after the fire goes out. Someone pulling on his hair, lifting his face up. He whimpers, giving a full-body twitch—it feels good, please, more, more, the worms writhe inside him even now, bringing his blood back to that discomforting heat even in his state of semi-awareness.

His head is set down, not slammed. It can’t be Tokiomi. No, he’s too full of himself to think a job unfinished, too absorbed in his own bravado that Kariya’s fate is likely already an afterthought to him. As is, he’s not conscious enough to get angry at that—at most, he’s confused. Scared that some poor soul from the city has found him like this. He feels the compulsory need to hide, to apologize, but all he can manage is another whimper.

Kariya can feel himself being turned onto his back. He doesn’t have enough strength to open his eye, to see who it is. He wonders if it’s another wayward like him, crawling the streets, living day to day, never expecting to see tomorrow. If they’re trying to pick his pockets, they’re out of luck; Kariya has nothing on him, not a wallet, not even pocket change. He wonders if he’ll be killed for that.

There’s pressure against his stomach now, sudden. Whoever is there, they’re pressing their palm against him now. Kariya can feel a prickling, searing sensation ebbing from that hand, spreading through him. It’s almost soothing. Healing magecraft… a mage? It couldn’t be one of the other Masters, could it?

Those questions are quickly forgotten. That soothing feeling turns to agony, whipping the worms into a frenzy. Fresh meat for them to devour, mending flesh for them to chew on, it’s nearly worse than being burned alive. Flesh being mended, only to be gnawed away as fast as it regenerates, reopening wounds before they even finish closing. Kariya screams, tossing his head, hands grappling for purchase, only to find none.

“P—Plea—” he wails, not even knowing the words that bubble past his lips like blood, unbidden. “Nngh—Mm—aahhh!

He swears he can feel those fingers curling in against his sweater before they smooth out again. Kariya wonders what it means. Wonders if this is an act of God. Maybe it’s less God, and more fate—he can’t die here, he knows that well. If he dies now, Sakura will…

It’s her eyes, those sad, dead eyes that he sees before he slips back into unconsciousness.

 


 

Kotomine Kirei keeps his hand on Kariya’s stomach for a few moments more after he stops thrashing, his voice finally giving out. Those crest worms of his seemed to enjoy that impromptu forced healing as much as he did, tearing open the mended flesh on his burns all over again, even as Kirei healed them over. Again and again. He isn’t sure how long he spent just watching it happen, himself.

He’s breathing, at least, Kirei thinks to himself. For all that’s worth. He would’ve been better off if I’d left him to die.

But he couldn’t, not after watching him come that close to killing himself in that fight against his master. Kirei glances upward, towards the railing that Kariya had tumbled over. Is Tokiomi still up there? Would he come to check, to see if Kariya was just a splatter of blood and grime on the pavement? Would he see that his student was healing him, the very man he’d promised to kill? What would he think, then?

Kirei can feel his heart skip a beat. He shakes his head, looking back down at Kariya. What to do, now? Bring him back to the Matou house, surely? Or bring him back to the church? The former seemed the more logical of the two options. He had nothing more to do with Matou Kariya after this. Any prolonged contact with him while he was still working under Tohsaka was dangerous.

Strange, then, he thinks. Kirei loops his arms around Kariya’s waist, lifting him easily and slinging his prone body over his shoulder. That the latter is so tempting.

Under his arm, Kirei can feel Kariya tense, wheezing out a pained gasp. A shudder wracks Kirei’s frame at the sound.

A soul naturally seeks pleasure, whether consciously or not,” Archer’s words once again taunted him, teased him, urged him to look at the bigger picture. Though he wasn’t there, he could feel him, as if the King of Heroes was pressed against Kirei’s back, lips pressed to the shell of his ear. “He was the only one you had Assassin investigate thoroughly enough so that you could understand those circumstances… all due to your unconscious interest in him.”

Just how long has he been allowing himself to be tempted by him, Kirei wonders. How long has it been since that last mattered to him.

Kirei shakes his head again, falling into step. He could take Kariya back to the Matou house, and leave it at that. Let the Matou family deal with him. But…

Part of him didn’t want to leave things at that. He wanted to know more about this miserable man, hear things that he could only learn from the man himself. Kariya may not cooperate—but that, in itself, is exciting in its own way.

Excitement… a foreign concept to him, up until now. Perhaps for unjust reasons. But his curiosity outweighs his need to force himself into an acceptable, pure mold, one that his father would want him to be in—

Father, Kirei realizes. I can’t let him see Kariya. The panicked thoughts of a child bringing home a stray animal, perhaps. No—such things were beyond Kirei. If Risei saw that he was harboring one of the other Masters, he would ask questions, questions that Kirei is presently unable to answer.

He doesn’t know why he’d rather bring this man back to the church with him, rather than take him to his home. Selfishness? Curiosity? Is it the sickening fascination that one has with watching something lesser die, just to affirm their own mortality?

“… no,” Kirei says aloud, though he knows Kariya can’t hear him. “He needs further healing.”

Yes. That makes more sense, doesn’t it? He doesn’t know if his family will heal him upon his return—Kariya had a strained relationship with the Matou family, if he was dropped at their doorstep, then… as tantalizing as it would be to let them torture this poor man further…

You would rather see it yourself, Archer’s voice, the voice that he’s unknowingly branded into his mind’s ear crooned, You want a front-row seat to his day-to-day suffering. It’s too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Indeed. If Matou Kariya were to die now… that would be so boring. A tragic end to be sure, but not nearly as tragic as it could be. Why such a thing excites Kirei… it would have eluded him once. But he thinks, gradually, the answer he seeks is cresting the horizon, just barely coming within his line of sight. If he were to let this man go, the answer would be out of his reach for god knows how long.

Kirei purses his lips, wetting them with his tongue. Which side will win out, in the end? He wants to see it for himself—the answer that lies beyond him. Beyond whatever comes of bringing this man to the church, hiding him away, keeping him alive long enough to learn the why, the how, and the who. He only hopes his interest is not truly unfounded.

Instead of heading in the direction of the Matou house, then, Kirei turns on his heel and heads towards Fuyuki church.

With all the chaos still surrounding Caster’s monster, he slips away with relative ease. Any rabble he passes on the way easily overlooks him, in favor of the madness happening by the river. There’s a moment he feels conflicted; as a member of the church, allied with the Mage’s Association, he should be helping to cover this incident up.

But he doesn’t care. Not right now. Perhaps not ever, now that he thinks on it—if he had, it was for the sake of his father. His holy, pious, pure bastard of a father. Kirei scowls, tightening his hold around Kariya. Not this time—no, he would not allow his father’s worries cloud over his own desires.

His desires. He knows, for sure now, that these desires are his own. Not false ones, forced upon him by an outside party. Gilgamesh had only pointed it out—and thinking on it, Kirei knew it to be true. He had watched Kariya, observed him through Assassin’s eyes and ears. Watched him save Tohsaka’s daughter, listened to him reassure Tohsaka’s wife, far beyond what a mere friend would do.

Infatuated with a married woman, Kirei’s eyes flicked over to Kariya’s face. Loving her, knowing that she won’t love him back. Kirei wasn’t certain what love felt like, even now. He knew of grief—of course he did, after Claudia. But love… such a thing still escaped him.

Just recalling her name while his wounds were still so fresh made Kirei feel uneasy. He put her face out of his mind, though he knew it to be a fruitless endeavor.

As he walks up the road leading to the church, he feels Kariya twitch against him. He isn’t awake yet, but he is still alive. He’s still in poor shape, he knows that to be true—he will need another bout of healing once they’re in his study.

“You’re a strange man,” Kirei finds himself saying out loud. There’s no one else on the road, no one besides the two of them, and Kariya likely can’t even hear him. That’s fine. “Sacrificing so much for a family that doesn’t love you as much as you love them.”

Kariya groans softly. It’s an involuntary sound. Kirei continues.

“You’re firm in your resolve. But.”

Kirei draws near the church. He knows he shouldn’t go in through the front entrance with Kariya slung over his shoulder like this. He breaks from the path, heading for the back.

“It means nothing. The people you are fighting for do not appreciate you.”

He twists the knob of the back door, poking his head in before entering fully. Risei must be in his own study, struggling to keep up with the Mage’s Association and their near-constant demands. Kirei holds his breath, shutting the door behind him softly and quietly making his way down the hall.

But you don’t seem to care, Kirei thinks, brows furrowed. You don’t…

Kirei opens the door to his study as softly as he can, shutting it behind him just as softly. After a moment of consideration, he locks it as well.

The room is empty. Archer is still out by the river, it seems. He lets out a sigh, keeping his footsteps light as he brings Kariya over to the couch. Taking a knee, Kirei bumps Kariya off of his shoulder and lays him along the cushions on his back. Kirei can feel his own features going slack, lips parting as he stares down at him.

Kariya’s face is marred with those burns, still. He wonders if they would only worsen if he attempted to heal him again. I shouldn’t attempt it now, Kirei thinks. Not while father is still here.

Kirei lets out a sigh and sinks into his usual armchair next to the couch, tipping his head back and closing his eyes. His heart is still racing, even as he rests. He isn’t sure how much time passes as he sits there, listening to his own heartbeat, listening to Kariya’s shaky breathing. There’s a quiet murmur below, but Kirei can’t bring himself to care.

Father must be talking with someone, Kirei’s thoughts drift, aimless, a blessed silence he rarely finds himself afforded. He drifts, half-awake and half-asleep, letting his mind wander. Typically, his thoughts would stay quiet, blank; but thanks to Archer and his insistent urging to let go, to let himself just feel and think without hampering himself with the ideals forced upon him.

Let go. Feel. Kirei breathes in deeply.

He imagines Kariya waking from his troubled sleep, looking upon Kirei’s sleeping form. Kariya stands before him, clutching that useless arm of his, staring down at him.

What would his expression be? Confusion, relief, fear? Or something else, some formless emotion that Kirei can’t feel, can’t comprehend? Kirei imagines himself waking, meeting Kariya’s one working eye. He reaches out, touching the back of Kariya’s right hand. Slowly, he slides his palm into his, grasping Kariya’s hand firmly and pulling him closer.

Kariya flinches, lips parting, but he doesn’t move to flee, nor to push Kirei away. There it is, that confusion, that slight hint of trepidation, but more than that. The curiosity, the need to understand—

A gunshot rang out. Kirei sat up straight in his armchair, eyes snapping open, nostrils flaring with the sudden, terse breath that came to him. His head whips toward Kariya, feeling a hint of relief that he was still out like a light. He wants to stop and reflect on just what in the hell his mind was just conjuring up, but now doesn’t seem to be the time, if someone’s firing off weapons in the church.

Was that real, he wonders, blinking the film from his eyes, trying to regain his senses. Or was I imagining that, as well? This is a neutral zone, the other Masters are not permitted to…

He recalls the last time one of the other Masters attempted to have a familiar monitor the church. Not just anyone—Emiya Kiritsugu. Would he have dared to do something that bold, storming the neutral zone just to get at him?

The idea sends a pulse of heat through his veins. It’s unlikely, but just imagining it, adding that to everything else he’s been doing this evening… tonight may very well end up being the most indulgent that Kirei’s allowed himself to be, period.

Kirei heads for the door, but then he pauses, glancing back at Kariya. It’s a shame that Assassin is gone—he would feel more at ease, if he had someone to stay and look after him while he’s out. For the moment, he just has to be quick about checking for intruders and hope that Kariya won’t wake up while he’s gone.

 


 

A pulsating pain in his stomach rouses Kariya. That pain spreads from his stomach upward, to his abdomen, his chest, his neck, and his face—ah, that makes sense. Now that he’s awake, the worms are, too. But he can tell, gradually, that he’s not chained up in the worm room, or face-down in an alleyway. No, he’s lying on something soft for a change.

Letting out a low groan, Kariya opens his eye. His surroundings are blurry, but he can at least tell that he’s indoors—somewhere, he’s not sure on the location. He blinks, clearing his vision and clenching his teeth through the pain. Huffing through his nose, he turns his head, trying to get a better look at the rest of the room. There’s a table to his right, and two armchairs at each end of it.

Across the room is a desk. Kariya can’t tell what’s on it, his vision still foggy. It doesn’t help that the room is so dimly lit.

Where the hell am I, he shifts slightly on the couch, and immediately regrets it, a spike of pain shooting up his spine and whipping the worms into another frenzy. He shouldn’t move—can’t, really, in his condition. This isn’t the Matou manor. No one there would set me up on a couch, let alone one this nice.

All right, don’t think about the where, figure that out later, Kariya shuts his eye again, trying to focus. Focus on the how. What happened?

He remembers Tokiomi casting a spell that set him on fire. Not exactly the most pleasant of memories, but a start. What happened after that… he fell from the roof, and… blacked out.

“God damn it,” Kariya bites out, wishing he could use his left arm to slap his hand over his face. “Kariya, you useless idiot, think harder, the worms haven’t eaten your whole brain yet.”

Just most of it. Those brain cells he lost after passing out probably could’ve helped him, too. Damn it.

Didn’t someone find me? He probes, trying to pick out what he can from what little he recalls. Someone pulled my hair, turned me over, and… did something. It hurt… but… I felt…

His flesh was being healed, wasn’t it? Someone, probably a mage, found him and healed his burns. Or, at least tried to. The worms would’ve noticed and started eating away at the new flesh, impeding any sort of progress.

Whoever tried healing me must have been confused and brought me back to… wherever the hell this is, Kariya struggled to lift his right hand from where it dangled off the couch, feeling the worms wriggle under his skin at the slight movement. That’s probably what happened.

There’s a flash of magical energy nearby, so strong that Kariya can feel it rattle his bones and excite the worms in him. He can hear footsteps through the walls—though made of stone, noise seems to carry fairly well in this place. Footsteps, the sound of something being dragged… and then silence for a while. Kariya swallows the excess saliva in his mouth, straining to hear any other signs of life.

Shit. What if I got picked up by some lunatic? Kariya thinks. I’ll have to call Berserker or fight them off myself. With the state I’m in now… it’ll kill me for sure. And then… and then Sakura will—

The doorknob turns. Kariya lets out a breath, his only working eye staring wide at the door.

A tall, dark haired man walks in, his eyes devoid of life. His cheeks are wet, redness rimmed along the tan skin of his cheeks. His right hand is twitching, as if discomforted. A rosary dangles around his neck—someone from the church.

The Overseer, then? I thought he’d look older… Kariya feels the weight ease a little from his chest. Not completely, but partially. It was common knowledge that the Church and the Tohsaka family have a long history with one another, so he can’t help but feel suspicious. But… why did he… and why does he look like he’s been…

The man turns his eyes toward Kariya. His lips part on a sudden, quiet breath, as if he wasn’t expecting him to be awake so soon. He’s quick to shut the door behind him, but he doesn’t move otherwise, just standing there staring at him. Like his being awake has thrown off everything he had been planning on saying.

“I…” he says, his voice deep and rich, like the ringing of the very bells of the church. “Thought you would still be unconscious for some time, Matou Kariya.” He says it slowly, as if he’s still affirming this fact to himself.

“How do you—” Kariya almost asks, just on impulse. He stops himself, however, realizing how ridiculous that question would be. He continues, not without struggling for breath. “No, you’re… the Overseer of the Grail War… right?”

The man pauses before speaking again. “Kotomine Kirei.”

It isn’t an answer to his question, but Kariya finds himself too exhausted and strung-out to press, at least not right now. The man calling himself Kirei seems a bit out of it, himself—at least they’re on the same page in that regard. “Where are we? This place, it’s…”

“Fuyuki church,” Kirei says simply, still frozen in place by the door. “I brought you here after finding you collapsed in a back alley.”

Kariya blinked his one eye, feeling his brows pinch. “But why? Masters are… they’re supposed to get hurt and killed, it’s a war, after all… why would you…”

“I…” Kirei says, looking out of sorts, his hands clenching and releasing rhythmically. He takes another long pause, eyes sliding away from him. Kariya watches his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows.

“You were in need of healing,” Kirei finally says, still not meeting Kariya’s eye. It seems breaking eye contact with him brings back his ability to walk, because he’s quick to move over to his desk now that he’s not looking at him. “And I healed you. That’s all.”

He states it so simply, it brooks no argument. But Kariya can’t help but feel odd. After the long year of constant backlash and torture from Zouken, a genuine act of kindness seemed beyond him, seemed like something that wouldn’t be afforded to him as long as this war was going on.

Now that it’s happened, that someone’s actually paid him enough mind to actually help him… Kariya doesn’t know what to think. Especially considering this man more than likely has some connection to the Tohsaka family, if the rumors about the Tohsaka and the Holy Church are true. Turning his head away from Kirei, Kariya lets out a pained sigh.

“Well, I…” Kariya struggles with his words. He has half a mind to tell this man that it’s pointless, that it’s only a matter of time before the worms finally take their toll on him. But this is the first kind thing that anyone’s done for him in over a year; though he’s riddled with vermin and pain, Kariya still at least remembers his manners.

Softly, he says, “… thank you.”

 


 

Kirei freezes for a split second. Slowly, his gaze moves from the papers he’d been (somewhat mindlessly) sorting through, letting it wander back over to the disheveled former Matou heir. To his relief, Kariya was no longer looking at him, his head turned to look up towards the ceiling.

“It’s been a while since anyone’s done something like this for me,” Kariya continues, his tone firm. “And I didn’t want to just… overlook that. So really and truly, thank you. But I’m not brain-dead yet. You don’t have any reason to save any of the Masters unless they ask for sanctuary—which I haven’t. Whatever you want me for, you can just f—”

Standing abruptly, Kirei sends his chair clattering against the wall. Kariya stops, his head whipping around to look at him again—followed by a pained groan, the lesions on his face bulging and squirming.

But then something odd happens. Kirei had expected him to writhe in agony, yes, from what little he’d gathered about him. However, that isn’t the extent of what happens to Matou Kariya.

His eye glazes over, splashes of color lighting up his sickly complexion. The way Kariya is looking at him now—it isn’t suspicion or relief, or even fear. In that eye of his, Kirei sees… hunger. Though Kirei knows himself to be a fundamentally passionless man, even he can recognize that kind of hunger.

“D—Damn… it,” Kariya’s voice has dropped an octave and taken on a strange edge. He sounds out of breath, as if he’s just finished running down to Miyama town and then back up to the church several times over. Sweat lines his brow and his hairline, and his right arm has started shaking. He grabs a fistful of his track pants, as if he’s trying to keep himself still.

“Don’t—don’t look at me, priest,” Kariya whines, trying to force his body onto its side, away from Kirei. “I—I can’t—shit, I’m sorry, don’t take… anything I say… seriously—hnngh, god.

Kirei says nothing, just watches. He opens his mouth once, about to ask him what on earth has gotten into him, but he quickly shuts it once he spots Kariya’s right hand inching lower down his own thigh.

“F… Fuck,” Kariya grunts, his hand sliding between his legs—Oh, Kirei realizes, eyes darting down to the inconspicuous tent in Kariya’s track pants, he’s aroused—and rubbing frantically, his entire body jolting at the touch. He starts panting heavily, his voice rising to a fever pitch. “You healed me, back there—I thought—I thought I was gonna die, but then I felt your hand on me, fuck, I want you to touch me again, I want you to pull on my hair again, pull my hair and bend me over and fuck me raw until I can’t breathe, fuck me till I cry, fuck me till I can’t think straight, shit—

Kariya continues on like that, jerking himself off through his clothes while rambling near-incoherently. Without realizing it, Kirei starts moving around his desk towards Kariya, as if entranced.

Kirei grabs at Kariya’s right wrist, wrenching his hand away from himself. Kariya lets out a loud, whimpering moan, drool spilling down his chin as he looks up at Kirei. He babbles more, fuck me, fuck me please, I can’t take it anymore, the worms, please, spread me open and wreck me, but Kirei pays none of it any mind.

Instead, he cocks his other arm back, fingers spread, and jams it against Kariya’s stomach. A soft green glow ebbs from his palm, the magic spreading through Kariya’s body.

“Thrashing around like this will only reopen your wounds,” Kirei says, his tone oddly soft to his own ears. “Calm down and sleep after this.”

Kariya lets out a scream, throwing his head back against the couch. His hips twitch up, desperately seeking out the friction that he’s being denied. “More, more, holy fuck, yes, yes—just like that—ah, aah, aaahhhh!

He cums like that, with Kirei’s hand against his stomach and his arm held above his head. His right eye shuts, lips pursing around an ever louder stream of curses and pleas as he stains the dark fabric of his pants. Soon enough, he calms down, sinking heavily down into the cushions. His breaths hiss out of him, shaking, his entire body trembling under Kirei’s hands.

The healing doesn’t take long after that. The worms have all but stopped moving under Kariya’s skin, seemingly sated by his release. That’s just as well; it makes the healing more potent, now that the worms aren’t impeding his efforts.

Kirei sets Kariya’s arm down, lying it against his chest. His breathing has evened out, now that he’s passed out. He gives a cursory glance down towards Kariya’s ruined pants, nose wrinkling. Even his hospitality will only go so far—if he’s sleeping fine now, he doesn’t need to strip him.

Lifting his hand, Kirei stares down into his own palm. His brain kicks back into gear, having whited out somewhere along the line. He was operating on instinct alone that entire time, not stopping to think about his actions, just acting.

“What,” he says, feeling a bead of sweat roll down the back of his neck. “Was that?

Clearly, the Matou crest worms did far more than just eat away at their host. Though he’s having trouble coming up with a justifiable reason for them to incite that kind of reaction in their host. Sexual activity stirs up mana, he thinks. Though it’s strange that he reacted in that way just because I stood up suddenly.

His gait slow and heavy, Kirei walks back over to his desk, sitting down and burying his face in his hands. He needed to call Tokiomi to tell him about Risei, still, but he’s oddly winded.

He’ll wait until after his blood cools to call him. He hopes Kariya stays unconscious for that.