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absolution

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“No, I’m afraid he isn’t home,” Mrs. Mackenzie says, her voice slow and slurred, as if she’s half-asleep. “He left earlier, and said that he was going to be late coming home today…”

Kiritsugu represses the urge to sigh. “Go back inside and lay down, take a nap. If anyone asks, you never answered the door today, you were napping the whole time. You never saw me or anyone like me, and you won’t even remember the sound of my voice by the time you wake up.”

Martha Mackenzie nods sluggishly, her eyes already drooping as she heads back inside, fumbling for the door as she shuts it behind her. With that taken care of, Kiritsugu steps off the Mackenzie’s stoop, heading back across the street. The afternoon sun was high, reflecting off the hood of his car and gleaming into his eyes. He didn’t bother squinting; the burn of UV rays bouncing into his eyes is not the worst thing that’s happened to him. In fact, the biting, burning sting is comforting in a horrible, twisted way.

He already had a feeling that Waver Velvet wouldn’t be home. Even if he was, there’s no doubt that Saber’s earlier poking (if she did any poking) around would’ve at least alerted Rider, even in his more-than-likely weakened state.

What now? Kiritsugu got into the driver’s seat, slamming the door shut. I can’t sit here and spin my wheels waiting for the kid to come here—the old woman said that he would be late, does that mean he’s not even in Miyama Town?

With Kiritsugu’s luck, he’s probably in Shinto. Or, hell, maybe he decided to uproot his base of operations and move somewhere else completely, and Kiritsugu’s been wasting his time since this morning, and—

Breathe in for ten seconds, Kiritsugu leans his head back against the headrest. Breathe out for ten seconds.

Panicking would get him nowhere faster than if he just stayed put. Keep it together, keep it together. Start from the beginning—why would he be leaving for the entire day in the first place? If he can figure that out, the rest should come naturally.

From the top: Rider is all but incapacitated, probably, after that fight on Mion River. There’s no way he’d be back on his feet that quickly, not with how much of an amateur his Master is. With how much mana it must have taken to use that monstrous Noble Phantasm of his, Kiritsugu thinks as he scratches at his jaw, breathing slowly while he works through his thoughts, I’d be surprised if Rider can even maintain his physical form right now.

If that’s the case… the kid would probably need to seek out a leyline—whether it was the one closest to his base or one that was most compatible with his Servant, it didn’t matter. If Kiritsugu’s instinct is correct, the two may very well coincide.

Kid like that, he probably thinks it’s convenient and too obvious for anyone to figure out that he’s actually right by the damn thing, Kiritsugu opens his eyes, tipping his head forward. Something like ‘hiding in plain sight, what a stroke of genius.’

Kiritsugu almost snorts at the absurdity. Mages are all the same, young and old. Pompous, convinced that they know it all, right up until Kiritsugu puts a bullet between their eyes.

Reaching for his HT, Kiritsugu turns it on. “Maiya,” he says, “Did Saber make it over to your position?”

It’s a stupid question. But Kiritsugu feels the need to ask anyway—there’s always the possibility that things have gone horribly wrong in his absence, after all, and if Kiritsugu doesn’t feed into that, he might be lulled into a false sense of security, and then something worse might happen.

“Yes,” Maiya answers, “She arrived right after I got off the transceiver with you. I’ve explained the situation to her.”

Not necessary, but okay, Kiritsugu almost says. If Maiya thought it was best to explain things to her, then that’s fine. He swallows, his throat suddenly too dry as he says, “Good. How’s Iri?”

Another stupid question, Kiritsugu admonishes himself. How fine can she be? Idiot.

“She’s lucid. I’m by her side as we speak.” Maiya doesn’t demean him for asking, sounding as stern as usual. “Saber is outside the storehouse, standing guard. Nothing unusual to report yet.”

It’s one less weight off his shoulders. And yet, Kiritsugu finds that he’s no less tense than usual. He sighs shortly, steeling himself. “Good. Now, I need your help with something. There should be a map of Fuyuki’s leylines in the storehouse with you. What I need is for you to tell me where the closest one to my current location might be.”

“Right away, Kiritsugu.” Maiya says.

 


 

Kirei marvels at his own tremendous self-control. Kariya is one spoonful into his mapo tofu, and his face has already broken out into a sweat. He’d had his doubts; with half of his taste buds likely dead, Kirei was worried that Kariya wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy (read: suffer through) the invigorating spices dancing on his tongue.

“Haah,” Kariya sticks his tongue out, panting rapidly, trying to cool his scorching mouth. “Haaht, haht, sh’too haaht!”

“It is called extremely spicy for a reason, Kariya,” Kirei swallows another fiery spoonful, huffing through his nose. He can feel his own face flushing, and he wonders what sort of sight he must be to Kariya. “As I told you before.”

Rather than answering him right away, Kariya sets his spoon down to scramble for his glass of water, hurriedly bringing it to his lips. He downs the entire glass in three heavy gulps, all but slamming the glass back down on the table with a long, sharp exhale.

“I—holy shit,” Kariya huffs, letting go of his glass to wipe at his forehead. “I thought I liked spicy stuff, but this isn’t spicy, this is… this is—what kind of bean paste do they use in this?”

Kirei contemplates throwing their pitcher of water across the room, just so he can enjoy the look on Kariya’s face. He doesn’t, after a few scant seconds of thinking it over. “Most mapo tofu recipes use several different spices, not just bean paste.”

Kariya’s jaw drops. “There’s more than just spicy bean paste in this?”

“There is. For example, the bean paste you are tasting is doubanjiang from the Pixan county of Sichuan, paired with douchi—ah, rather, hamanatto. Alongside that, there are heaven-facing pepper flakes, there is chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, green onions, rice wine… and garlic.

“Though mapo tofu tends to be different depending on the person making it.” Kirei clears his throat, the unforgiving sting of the peppercorn shredding at his esophagus. “Do you need more water?”

Kariya blinks, as if he’d been entranced by Kirei’s rambling. His face contorts with the sudden comprehension of what he’s been eating, like he’d forgotten for a moment. The pinch in Kariya’s brow and the twist of his lips is mesmerizing. “Oh yeah, please.”

However tempting it may be to watch Kariya choke on the heat, Kirei knows that if he forces all of this strife on him at once, he may never want to come back here with him again. He would agonize over the fact that he wants to bring Kariya back here, that wanting, but he can put that aside for the moment. Kirei will tolerate no distractions during this meal.

The very fact that he finds this idle conversation worth that consideration is another thing, but, well. He can save the introspection for after they burn Kariya’s house down.

Kariya gulps down the contents of his glass with the same fervor of a man dying of thirst, the flush on his cheeks fading into a less intense shade of pink. “Glad I blew you before we ate, holy shit.”

“I would have thought you would be complaining about that,” Kirei remarks, suppressing a shudder as he spoons more mapo tofu into his mouth. “I can’t imagine the spice mixes well with the taste of semen.”

Hardly even flinching at the frankness in Kirei’s tone, Kariya carefully sets his glass down, a small quirk in his brow. “Trust me, I’ve heard horror stories about eating—hell, even touching spicy food and then having sex. I don’t really know if any of those stories are real or if they’re just total crock, but still. If we had this before I dragged you off for that, you’d probably be in tears.”

Kirei can feel his brows furrowing at the thought. “I have a hard time believing that such a scenario would be enough to bring me to tears, Kariya. Immense pain, I can see—but otherwise, it is unlikely.”

It would take far more than that to bring me to tears, Kirei thinks, concealing his face behind a glass as he takes his first sip of water. He doesn’t cry when he’s hurt, not in the way most people do. One tear might escape if he’s in truly dire straits, but his tolerance for physical turmoil is far higher than the average person.

He’s too fundamentally broken to cry naturally—the normal circumstances that one feels sorrow, or joy, or anger, none of them apply to Kirei. When anger grips him, he is still fully in control of his own body—blood would flow more freely than tears might, in that situation. When joy permeates his body, it is often at the expense of another. As for sorrow…

The face of that woman, lying in her bed with a smile, her own blood soaking through her clothes and the sheets. The face of his father, flat on his back on the church floor, the whites of his eyes shining in the moonlight with blood matting his robes and hair alike.

Kirei wonders if it was sorrow he felt upon losing them in such ways. And if it was sorrow, had it been sorrow at the loss of a wife and a father, or was it sorrow brought on by the fact that they did not die by his hands?

There is no need to question it, Kirei knows. It is the latter.

“I can imagine, yeah.” Kariya sets his spoon down, evidently unable to finish the last fourth of his meal. Unsurprising, but impressive nonetheless, Kirei notes as Kariya fiddles with the edge of his sleeve. “I think the only time I’ve seen you with tears in your eyes was when I first saw you.”

That’s right, Kirei thinks, setting his glass down. He runs his index finger lightly across the rim. Yes… it happened on the same night that I found Kariya.

“You…” Kariya continues, his eyes soft. “You said that your father was killed around that time, right?”

There are several different ways that he could respond to that, but Kirei merely nods and says, “Yes, that’s right.”

Kariya fidgets in his seat, lips pursed, as if he has something to say but can’t bring himself to say it. Kirei braces himself for it—the obligatory condolences that are sure to follow. Even with how… attached he is to Kariya, Kirei doesn’t try fooling himself into thinking that he understands how Kirei feels about the loss of his father.

Instead of condolences, though, Kariya merely asks, “What was he like? I never met him face-to-face.”

A bump in the routine, Kirei acknowledges it for what it is. Kariya will offer his condolences after Kirei answers his question, and the crushing reality that Kariya, too, misunderstands him shall bear down upon Kirei’s shoulders in due time.

What his father was ‘like,’ though… Kirei isn’t sure how to go about answering that question. Rather than having consideration for the dead and speaking lightly, Kirei embraces brutal honesty.

“He was prudent man,” Kirei says, spooning the last of his mapo tofu into his mouth. He allows himself to indulge in the searing sensation that rips through his senses for a moment or two, shuddering to himself, thinking of how his father would have hated seeing him eat with such blatant irreverence. “Always looking to the future, always planning things carefully. He felt most secure when he was well-prepared, no matter what the situation might’ve been.”

Risei had been that way with Kirei’s upbringing, too. Training him strictly, teaching him scripture and martial arts in equal measure. Rigidly shaping his son’s faith along with his body, without considering whether or not Kirei had wanted either.

“He thought,” Kirei sets his spoon down, staring at his empty plate. He smears what remains of the chili oil with the edge of the spoon, the resulting reddish smudge looking quite a lot like the bloodstain his father left on the church floor. “That he always knew best.”

But he didn’t, Kirei doesn’t say. And he died because of it. Like a dog.

“He was a proud man.” Kirei sighs shortly through his nose. He can’t keep the mild reproach out of his voice, though it hardly sounds any different from his usual tone—to his own ears, at least. “Proud of his discipline, proud of his piety… and proud of me.”

Now, what will you say to that, Matou Kariya? Kirei’s thoughts edge on reproachful, his mood dampened considerably by this talk of his father. Will you express grief for him? For me, his only son? You, who may have wished for the kind of father that Risei was?

“I see…” Kariya says. “Looks like we have one more thing in common, then.”

Of all the potential responses, that hadn’t been one that Kirei had been expecting. It takes Kirei a few seconds to digest that. He lifts his head, brows raised by a millimeter, and meets Kariya’s gaze. Does the confusion show on his face? If it doesn’t, what is his face showing? Does he want to know?

Kirei’s voice comes out soft, “What?”

“Shitty dads.” Kariya shrugs his shoulder. “Different kinds, sure, but shitty nonetheless.”

There must be something he’s misunderstood—either that, or Kariya just assumes all fathers are awful. Whatever misconception he has, I need to weed it out. Kirei taps his index finger against the table and asks, “Why do you say that?”

Kariya rests his face in his hand. His forehead wrinkles with the pull in his brow. “You just don’t sound all that fond of the guy.”

“I’ve said nothing but good things about him.” Kirei insists.

“Yeah, you have. And based on all that, it sounds like he really loved you. But,” Kariya leans forward on the table. “Not the real you, right?”

Kirei doesn’t dare say anything. He can hardly even stomach the idea of moving under Kariya’s watch now; he should tell him to stop, should get up and leave, should say we don’t have time for this, but Kirei remains frozen. Waiting for what may come next. Waiting for Kariya to get it wrong, to say something that proves that he doesn’t understand Kirei at all.

For his part, Kariya maintains eye contact, his mouth pulled tight in a frown. “That’s the problem with parents. They get an idea about what you’re gonna turn out like—they decide it when you’re only just learning how to breathe. And if you don’t turn out the way they wanted, they’ll try and force you back into that mold. They don’t listen if you try telling them hey, I don’t want this, like they don’t even hear it—because damn it, they’re supposed to be raising you, right? And if you’re doing things wrong, it’s on you, not them.

“Eventually, you just… try to change, right?” Kariya sighs. Kirei can feel his warm breath, even with the short distance between them. “Because you want to make them happy. You don’t know why, but you just—you want them to say that you did something right, just once. Sometimes, it might be enough for them… and other times, it’s never enough. They’ll either delude themselves into thinking they finally did it, they raised their kid the right way, or they’ll treat you even worse.”

There’s an indescribable swelling in Kirei’s chest as Kariya trails off. He curls his fingers into his palm, his voice barely above a whisper, “And it was never enough for Zouken…”

Kariya shakes his head. “While Risei thought he molded you into the man he’s always wanted his son to be.”

This isn’t happening, Kirei’s thoughts whorl, his eyes burning. He feels unsteady, as if his seat is teetering right off the edge of the abyss, swaying dangerously at even the slightest twitch. You’re not supposed to know any of this. You aren’t supposed to see me.

“Your wish,” Kirei’s mouth moves on its own. “Have you decided on it yet?”

“Well…” Kariya traces his finger along the edge of his plate. “Not really. The one thing I wanted out of this war was for Sakura to be saved. From Zouken, from the Matous… the only thing I ever wanted out of any of this was for her to go home to her mother and sister.”

A simple wish—so simple and kind, it makes Kirei’s stomach churn with contempt. It is the knowledge of the connotations of that wish, should it be granted, that lend Kirei any sort of warmth; sending the younger Tohsaka girl home after ridding the world of the Matous may very well be good, yes, but Kariya seems to be ignoring the damage that has likely already been done to the girl. Her psyche, her emotional state, her physical health—at any given moment, should she be ripped away from the circumstances that torment her, her body could give out.

Destroying the basement will eradicate the worms, yes. The worms outside of her body—and Kariya’s, as well. The girl, in particular, has surely lost all hope of leading a normal life.

And that’s not even factoring in what Kariya himself has done, Kirei’s thoughts begin to sing, goosebumps rising over his skin as these horrid realities begin dawning on him. The blood of Tohsaka Tokiomi is still fresh on his hands.

Kariya will never be able to live the happy life he so desperately wanted. In fact, the likelihood that Kariya will be able to see any of the Tohsakas ever again after this war is very slim.

It will be, Kirei thinks. If I have any say in the matter.

Yes, that’s it—if Kariya can see him, then there’s no turning back. Kariya has caught a glimpse of Kirei, of the true Kirei, and now he can never return to the life he once had. He is bound to Kirei now, whether he knows it or not; Kirei can’t let him free, won’t let him, because they have become so intertwined with one another that they can no longer be separated.

He will not make the same mistakes he made with Claudia. He no longer feels compelled to try and be someone he is not—it’s a shame, really, that he couldn’t have had this revelation earlier. She saw him, Kirei knows that she did. But now… now, he has no qualms about allowing that self to surface. He no longer needs to be concerned about trying to ‘fix’ himself.

He is broken. And like any broken object, he is dangerous, harmful to the touch. It’s only now that Kirei finds that he enjoys that notion.

“It is still a good wish,” Kirei says, smiling. “One that you should hold onto.”

Kariya raises an eyebrow at him. “But aren’t we—”

“Yes, we are. However, it is not a bad thing to wish for her continued safety…” Kirei tips his head forward. With intent, he reaches across the table for Kariya’s hand, delighting at how he flinches once Kirei touches his knuckles. With deliberate slowness, Kirei entwines his fingers with Kariya’s, the size of his own hand nearly dwarfing Kariya’s own. “Don’t you think?”

Wish for her continued safety so that you may be crushed by it, Kirei wants to say. So that I may look into your eyes as you realize that you can never see them again. So that I may hold you as you fall apart, knowing full well that I could have prevented it. So that I may hurt you as I comfort you.

If Kariya has any idea what Kirei is thinking, he doesn’t show it. All the better. That lovely half-flush rises to Kariya’s cheeks at the intimacy, his thumb brushing over Kirei’s.

“Hearing that from you, I don’t know…” Kariya murmurs. “But… it’s not like I had anything else to wish for, anyway. You’re right.”

Perhaps once this is over, Kirei squeezes Kariya’s hand. I shall make it official. Truly spit in the face of the God that made me this way and make you mine, forever.

 


 

Kariya leans heavily into Kirei as they walk out of the banquet hall. There’s an odd fluttering in his chest, and he’s not sure if it’s anxiety, or… something else entirely. The likelihood of it being the latter makes him all the more anxious, but oddly, it isn’t the bad kind of anxiety.

Who even knew there was a good kind of anxiety, Kariya snorts to himself. But damn if that wasn’t the weirdest time I’ve ever gotten my hand held.

The skin of his knuckles is still tingling, and Kariya can’t put a name to the feeling coursing through him. No—he can, but even thinking about naming it is beyond terrifying. If he names it, then he has to admit to himself that there’s room in his heart for more than Aoi.

That now, there’s a little space reserved for this shady priest that he’s known for… what? A couple of days, at most?

It had been fast with Aoi, too. But Kariya figured that it was just easy for everybody to fall in love with someone like Aoi. Kind, warm, gentle… with a smile that could melt anyone’s heart. No shit he’d fall in love with someone like that.

But with Kirei, it’s weirder. Cold, intimidating, impossible to read, and when he does smile, it looks like he’s imagining what you might look like if you got caught in a car crash. Kirei is probably someone’s type, but not exactly the type that everyone falls in love with.

(Frankly, Kariya would be surprised if anyone fell in love with him, and no, pompous golden kings do not count in his book.)

And yet.

Kariya steals a glance at Kirei as they walk back to the car, his face just as dark and reserved as ever. There’s a very faint hint of dark intent in those empty eyes of his, and the slightest pull at the corner of his mouth.

Aoi may have stolen his heart, but… she would never do something like this with him. She would insist that there’s nothing they can do about his family, that the rules of the world of mages are too strict to allow anything but passive acceptance. Aoi would never smile and agree to burning the Matou mansion down, even if it was for Sakura’s sake.

Maybe it’s better this way, Kariya miserably notes. Aoi isn’t the violent type. I can’t disparage her for not wanting to sink this low. It’s just how she is… and I don’t want her to change. The fact that I’m fine with this… what would she even think, if I told her?

Though Kirei is the one that suggested it, Kariya knows full well that he only plucked the idea from Kariya’s dreams. Kirei saw the desire in his eyes, plain as day. Kariya might like to believe he’s a nice enough guy, but no nice guy in his right mind would want to do something like this, no matter how justified it is.

But Kariya feels no regret for it. Compared to what he did before, this is better. He’s not running away anymore—and he already has blood on his hands, there’s no coming back from the things he’s done. If Aoi ever knew… he doesn’t know what she would think. He doesn’t want to think about that.

“Kariya,” Kirei brings him out of his own thoughts, opening the passenger’s side door. “Are you ready?”

No. I’m not. Are you kidding? I want out, I want everything to go back to the way it was, I don’t want any part in this anymore.

“Yeah,” Kariya ignores the few faint remnants of who he used to be, stepping into the car. “Let’s go.”