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The Pressure Cooker

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A time comes when any king must step down from her throne, so Saber eventually decides to leave the height of the table. She crouches first, then agilely slides from the edge of the table with the bracing of her hands. She hardly makes a sound her feet touch the floor, and there is only a soft and melancholy murmur from several of the cafe's patrons to signal her descent. The top and side of the table are cool to the touch – to her fingertips, to the backs of her thighs just beyond and beneath the edge of her short, blackened skirt and meager petticoat.

She moves through the still-clamoring, grasping, pleading crowd that she has utterly fulfilled her duty toward. It is the end of her shift. There is only so much a king can do for her people, however hard she tries, and it will never be good enough for them. She knows this to be the truth so well that it does not bother her at all to ignore their pleas as she heads to the back of the cafe with some faint sense of direction.

Before she finds or reaches him, she calls out instead.

King of Heroes!”

His presence required, the King of Heroes is at her side in an instant. His red, unnaturally slitted eyes seem wider than usual, the white around them bright and clear of the blood that it seems ought to line them. His hands are in the pockets of his white, fur-collared jacket, and his mouth is a thin and waiting line for once. She notices him blink.

We are leaving this place,” she tells him. She is surprised at the feeling in her own voice, a little more weary than she will allow herself to believe. The faint and thrumming pulse she feels throughout her body had been building all day, racing behind her ears, causing pain in her neck that pressed upward into her head. Now that same pulse is calm and as steady as the purposeful footsteps that turn her and carry her to the door, through it, and out into the night air.

She knows that he follows without looking behind. The second sounding of the door behind her ins expected. It is the familiar swath of red and black that catches her eye. She turns to it.

She knows that Rin was the first of the patrons to trickle out through the door. And yet, it seems, she remains here.

If she had been leaning against the wall before, Rin has turned toward Saber as well, her arms still tightly folded. She also shoots a scathing glare above their eye level, just as Saber feels her fellow king move to stand beside her.

Rin,” Saber addresses evenly.

Don't you think it's time we go home, Saber?” Rin suggests again, this time much less sweetly. She does not spare Saber a glance as she asks, instead keeping her anger fixed on Gilgamesh. Saber knows this will never do and takes a small step closer to Rin.

No,” she says, her tone only adjusting for the closed distance between them with the faintest trace of softness which seems to die away in her throat. She clears it afterward.

Rin's eyes move to meet hers, and there they linger for a long moment. Her jaw is a little slack before finally she glances between the two of them. There is a hotter burst of anger when she next addresses Saber – nothing like the cold loathing that seems to imagine rending heart from body she levels at Gilgamesh.

You're leaving with him?”

Saber offers no reply, only the steadiness of her eyes. She will not yield in any measure.

Alright then,” she says, her voice perfect and polite. She lifts her chin a little, her eyes lidding with confident, controlled resignation. She puts up her hands in a sign of quiet submission, but she does not lower them or open her eyes as she moves past them. Between them, taking advantage of a gap that runs just between Saber and Gilgamesh.

Saber notices that before Rin has given them three paces, Gilgamesh's neck is tense and starting to turn to look behind.

Is that how you address your—” he asks.

Before he can finish a thought, Saber has wrapped her hand around the thinnest part of his wrist and yanked him in the opposite direction.

I do not understand why you allow your little—” he offers to argue.

Rather than allowing the thought to complete, Saber keeps hold of his wrist and turns to meet his eyes, standing in front of him. Something in this stops him, and she feels no small relief that it finally has.

Those who choose to follow me will follow my commands!” she informs him.

For only an instant, his face takes on some of the slacked softness it had back in the cafe. From there, eyelids slacken just a little, hooding a bit of the strangeness of them. Following from that, his lips begin to curve. The whole of this process seems to flow, one change to the other, until she barely feels it as he starts to move his arm. She only is certain of what the sensation means when she feels the direct heat of his palm against hers, larger fingers searching out the spaces between hers as if they are but toys.

Yes,” he agrees smoothly. “All of us choose eventually, don't we?” He smiles down at her, benign to the point that it makes her stomach knot and ache even more deeply for what she has determined happens next.

She jerks her hand back hastily and seizes his wrist again, gripping tight until she feels outline of sinew and bone and movement and the beating underneath it. Her jaw is set and her teeth show a little when she speaks.

You have chosen to come with me, King of Heroes,” she calls upon him, to honor his part of their earlier agreement. He had seemed more than amiable to it at the time.

After all, I did go out of my way to seek out your company – Saber – after my appetite for food was satisfied,” he replies, smug and with a note of suppressed laughter. His wrist remains where it is, slacked beneath her grip, but she feels some play in it, as if he has moved his fingers – wriggling them one after the other, perhaps proving a point, perhaps so she can feel it.

She will not let him go but looks up at him with a look of some disgust. It had left her – the very thought of disgust, the point of it – but for a moment she does not know why she will not let go. She tugs at his wrist in an effort to remind him that he can stumble, but all she feels is something in his elbow, perhaps running up to his shoulder. He lifts his brow in response to the movement.

And what of your appetite for drink?” she asks pointedly.

She notices him blink once more, and there is a rush of blood back to her heart and to her face that makes her remember why she is standing here at this particular place along the street. The warmth of it makes her feel some sense of anticipation, excitement, and even preliminary satisfaction. For the first real time to his sight, she smiles.

She tilts her head to momentarily direct his attention away from it – away from her – to look over his shoulder and across the street at the multicolored glow of the establishment across the road.

He glances exactly where she intends but looks back around very quickly, as if he fears some trick. She thinks that for a moment, that's fear in his eyes. Before she can know for certain, he is looking back at her with something more settled and akin to slow-settling understanding.

Did not my esteemed customer ask me for wine first?”

Yes,” he allows. “There is hardly any need—” There is more movement in his wrist as he speaks. She pulls him toward the street before it can lead to freedom or the completion of what he wishes to say. As they move across, she takes a path and leaves them no choice but to step into a puddle reflecting the light from the establishment's sign.

Inside, the multicolored glow is like reflection on water, seeming to smoothly move and ripple, never staying in one place for very long. The lighting over the bar is the most still, the most warm, and the most colored like low and fading sunlight. Saber only lets go of Gilgamesh when she takes an empty seat at the bar, looking to him to do the same.

He stands for a moment, not looking away from her.

She takes the opportunity to turn her eyes away from him, glancing up and down along the bar. After a brief search, she picks up a card, covered with something shiny and protective. She holds it between thumb and first finger of each hand, reading over it carefully and in a posture that – for a moment – might have fooled anyone into thinking she had ever been a lady in her court.

There is a sound beside her and a passing brush of heat as his forearm comes close to hers, warmed further still by the jacket he still wears. He is seated and the sense ebbs away again. She continues reading.

His elbows find the surface of the bar rather quickly. He adjusts his posture several times in the space of a few moments. Finally, he stops searching for her gaze and settles instead upon the card she holds in her hands. He leans against one of his perched elbows to get closer look.

Almost without pause, he speaks up with verve.

Only the finest wine for you,” he suggests. As if from nothing at all, several golden coins and a glinting jewel the color of a sea appear against the dark wooden surface of the bar. “If you are to be mine at last, Saber,” he continues lowly, “there is nothing you cannot have. No pleasure this world has to offer that you cannot taste...”

The way he lets the speech end trails into a soft sounding of his tongue, as if there is more right at the tip of it.

Saber closes her eyes tight and pushes the card back to its place. With a small gesture of her hand, she is summoning the barkeep before she opens her eyes.

No,” she says, still momentarily held in darkness. She opens them, looking directly into his gaze rather than at the glinting offering before her. “We will taste the cheapest – the poorest – wine they have to offer.”

Gilgamesh does not seem to have a response for her at first. The barkeep arrives before he can manage it.

And for you?” he asks.

This wine, please,” Saber says politely, retrieving the card long enough to point it out with her fingertip, purposefully making the order both as polite and simple as she can – mundane.

She hears him sigh when she does not return her rapt attention.

If you would learn the joy of serving me,” he says, just as the barkeep is away, “you must first learn pain.”

The bottle of wine arrives with two wine flutes that are far its superior. They reflect light through the cut of the glass along the stem, glinting like jewels. Saber reaches out for one of them, pulling it a little closer. She turns it as she places it in front of herself, allowing herself to admire it in exactly the same way she won't admire the sea-colored gem lying beside the glasses. She pushes the other flute closer to him and takes up the bottle, filling his first.

Then comes her own, filled nearly to the brim.

The liquid is a deep, almost red purple. It smells pungently of grape and sweetness and something else soured, bitter, and askew from the other two things. None of them seem as though they were born together or belong here in the same glass, but they are together now, in this glass as they have been together in bottle. Without much true contemplation of it, Saber takes the glass and turns it up against her lips.

The first taste of it is sweet and bitter across her tongue. She starts to lower the glass back down, but before she ever draws it away from her lips she thinks better of it. Turning it up once more, she swallows and swallows until the glass has run dry. She sets it back down against the table, feeling almost nothing – a sudden rush of warmth that might have been much more powerful for a human her size.

She hears his breath exhale through his nose, the little huff giving way to a low chuckle. She has not forgotten he is there, but she keeps forgetting that it is in any way unusual or in any way important. She glances down with a somewhat rolling motion of her eyes, right to his glass. She looks into it – the deep purple that remains – and then to his red eyes. She is sitting up straight and notices it in her back, her hands folding softly on top of her lap. She is waiting.

Gilgamesh does not move for the space of a few more breaths, then sighs as if indulging her. He reaches out, taking up his wine. He holds it close to his nose and lips before he drinks. He inhales deeply, investigating what he is about to taste. A crinkle forms in his nose and he seems to almost recoil.

I cannot imagine why you would not take full advantage of all that I have,” he says to her, but then he tips up the glass as well.

For a moment, Saber believes he will mirror her actions in every way, but one deep swallow is all it takes for him to pull the glass from his lips. He looks at the remaining liquid with a narrowed, hard expression not so much of disgust but of offense. It softens only a little, lightening with a bemused expression, when he looks at her.

There is nothing redeeming about this wine at all,” he informs her. He glances back at it and tilts his head, as if a different vantage point might reveal something in its color. “Unless it would serve as fuel to kindle a fire,” he says, gaze moving past it and down toward the wooden surface before them.

Saber is not at all alarmed but reaches out and takes the bottle into her hand. She turns it a little, examining its poor yellow label with deep red printing. Her thumb seeks out a fault in the way the paper is glued to the surface of the glass bottle.

There is water in it,” she says. She waits only a little longer, then fills her glass nearly to the top yet again.

And not enough,” Gilgamesh replies on the tip a small, tasted swallow that seems to be taken only to illustrate his meaning.

Do not waste drink,” Saber says firmly, choosing her words to remind him of something before. She turns a little in her seat and nudges him with the side of her leg and knee.

Looking to see if her challenge has had any effect, she notices the incremental straightening of his posture until he looks almost unnaturally so. He swirls the glass, making the liquid slosh around and around – further from his nose this time.

Only if I am to choose the next wine,” he bargains. He begins to smile into whatever he sees in the glass, finally directing the expression at her with some unabashed joy at the thought of what he has suggested.

Saber turns her gaze forward and down toward her own glass. Both hands lift from their resting place atop the black skirt and white section of apron to find another resting place along the edge of the bar.

Very well,” she says, shoulders lifting and falling in a mild shrug that forms part of her answer.

After another particularly deep and slow breath, she refills his glass.

When they have finished the first bottle to its last drop, she glances over at Gilgamesh.

You still wish to choose?”

Choosing that which is best for my people is my solemn duty from birth, Saber,” he says. She cannot tell if he is making fun, but without another word she reaches for the card she set aside. She pulls it across before herself then tries to give it to him, its surface touching against his hand so he could take it. He clears his throat and seems to have other ideas with a sudden and abrupt beckoning motion with the very same hand. “Winemaker!” he calls.

The barkeep answers this address, though Saber knows it is a false title. She glances down at the card, wondering if he had already decided upon this when he had looked at the card the first time.

Bring me the finest wine you have!” he orders. He sets more golden coins along the table a moment later, as if to offer trade.

Saber reaches out and covers them with her hand, reaching beneath his forearm to do it.

The barkeep does not seem to notice, instead happy to fill an order at such a price.

Saber has no way of knowing whether the King of Heroes' offer is adequate, unacceptable, or more than enough.

He is not the winemaker,” she corrects him – something about which she is certain.

She watches while his gaze follows the barkeep attend to his business, selecting the correct bottle to give to bring to them. She is surprised when his eyes do not find their way back to hers. Instead, his arms begin to fold across his chest.

Of course he isn't. The people of this era are without purpose, without craft or artistry,” he says, his voice low and a bit like a growl.

Abruptly, Saber gathers all the golden coins together into one small pile on the bar's surface just between them, only momentarily obscured from the view of the barkeep.

Sir,” she says, “we will take our wine along with us for our journey.”

In the same breath, she forces her hand into the crook of Gilgamesh's elbow and starts to tug it free. Rather than going any faster, her words seem to slow the barkeep down. He still comes to them without stopping, and the moment he is in reach Saber takes the bottle from him and pulls Gilgamesh along – bringing with them what is his with the gold left behind.

The gold coins seem to have not been accepted as adequate payment when the door opens quickly behind them and the barkeep's voice cries out.

Saber looks down at the neck of the bottle in her hand, but before she can decide what to do, her arm is demanded of her as she had demanded his. Gilgamesh pulls her along, and she has no choice but to run, her grip instinctively tightening around the bottle. She is relieved to find that Gilgamesh seems to have had no desire to stay behind and harm the man. When they slow down around a corner on an emptier, quieter stretch of road, she cannot help but ask.

You ran away from him?”

There was no shame in running away from that. It was not a challenge, and certainly wouldn't have been a fight.”

As he speaks, Gilgamesh is approaching her, leading her with a light pressure into her arm and getting closer. She starts to tense before he instead keeps hold of her arm and slides just past her, stepping to the edge of the sidewalk. She hears a familiar metallic sound give way, and as he turns her around she sees he has opened a vehicle's door. The back door that leads to one long, soft bench-like seat.

He pulls her inside after him, his leg crooked and foot against some part of the seat as he is faced toward her. She comes in after him with little persuasion, partly to avoid bumping her somewhat light head.

What are you doing?” she asks him, after she is inside the car. The bottle of wine is still in her left hand. The door falls softly shut behind her.

Hiding away from our pursuer,” Gilgamesh replies. She is certain he means to joke about it. “Might I have my wine?” he requests, hand already outstretched to take it.

She does not resist giving it to him, and instead takes the opportunity to curl up across from him, her back pressed as tightly as it can be against the door. Her legs pull toward her chest while she watches him work at opening the bottle. She is curious.

When the wine is opened, the smell of it is much more pleasant than the first but still very strong. It fills the small space of the car very quickly, only faintly sweet and altogether like something rightly wedded and sharp like a blade. The smell reminds her of the thrumming warmth that is ebbing away from her body already, makes her shiver for lack of it. Beneath her tongue, saliva pricks free to flood her mouth with reminder of thirst – water asking more water. Before she thinks better of it, she has curled forward a little – shoulders drawing away from the door.

Ah,” Gilgamesh says, some reaction to the same sense of smell and apparently to her movement. The smile he gives her looks very clear and very smug – a smile that looks like it knows something she cannot quite reach. She narrows her eyes at it but does not back away into her original position, one foot bracing against the floorboard with her toes.

He keeps his gaze on hers until the lifting of his chin wrests it away. He has brought the opened bottle to his lips and turned it up, swallowing once – adjusting the bottle without lowering his chin so that it pours into his mouth from the very furthest edge of his lips for a second time. Then he decisively rights the bottle a bit quicker than the tilt of his head. When he has leveled both, he quickly extends the bottle across the space of the backseat to her.

She is prepared to take it with keenly focused and still-narrowed eyes, so she does not understand how she loses grip on it. She rescues the bottle quickly, but not before she feels a rush of liquid spill over her hand. It stings as it finds the tiniest imperfection in a cuticle – a tiny break that she has been accustomed to for so long she cannot remember if it happened in her present form or if it has been there much longer, a trace of pain lingering from her former life where her mortal wound does not.

The smell becomes even stronger and is somehow as appealing as ever. This wine is only a golden color rather than any deep shade of blood, so the drops that fall past her fingers disappear into the carpeted floor. Still, there is enough of it that falls that she is dimly aware that the smell and the stain is not likely to come clean for a very long while. She grips the neck of the bottle tightly, protectively, and tries not to do anything more humiliating like start to shake.

Instead, she takes her time settling back into her previous posture. It had seemed a little safer, at least. Her shoulders back against the car door, her legs folding to try and take only half the space. He too seems to have almost managed it, elbow resting upon one nimbly bent knee. He is watching her, smile lingering on his lips.

He does not say a word as she finally lets out an exhale of breath. With another in, she touches the bottle to her lips. She turns it up more slowly than he. She swallows more slowly too, wanting to truly taste this wine, the smell of it enticing the attention of her tongue. She gently draws the bottle away from her lips after three slow swallows down her smaller throat. Finding some ease of movement, she extends the bottle back to him with a long, outstretched reach.

He takes it and steadies it atop his lower thigh for a moment. Then he bounces it there once just to rouse some mild alarm from her. Only now, the bottle is emptied enough not to spill while held upright.

And what do you think?” he asks at last, his voice soft enough to take full advantage of the shared, insulted silence in the car.

Of the wine?” she retorts immediately. Of course he means the wine. She looks away from his eyes, finding the bottle instead. “It is better than the wine I chose, but I have no need of it.”

No need of it?” Gilgamesh echoes back to her. This time she knows he is making fun. “Saber,” he coos fondly, “no one has any need of wine.”

I have,” Saber says. “Needed something like wine... something less bitter than the water there was to drink.”

This earns her his silent consideration. She thinks she sees something like understanding, but it might simply be the low light that makes it easy to focus and not-focus on his eyes.

He pulls the bottle aloft from where he has placed it and drops it down, glancing aside just for a moment to steady it so it is tucked against the back of the drivers seat so as not to fall free and spill the rest of its contents onto the floorboard. His eyes return to her, but the only catch them for an instant before following some path down.

Her legs are bent at the knees, both feet returned to the seat. She starts to lower one of them down, to smooth her clothing, before she realizes what he meant to guide her to see. Touching her skirt, she realizes how high along her thighs it has fallen back, how her effort to lower a foot from the space between them has done little to hide that fact. She can only straighten her back so her hips align a little differently, the skirt falling down as best it can with the thin petticoat in the way. She moves against the focus of his eyes, but she never grows frantic or angry.

Something in her refuses to be ashamed.

That isn't the way you need this wine,” he tells her soothingly, like the lingering heat from a dying fire she could almost reach out and touch.

The thought is interrupted, overlapped, by touch. His arms both extend toward her, his leg straightening so she tries to squirm to avoid its apparent intent to take up the length of the seat. Her brow creases into a frown, but then she feels his hands take hold of her bare legs. Her leg that is lowered toward the floor, he lifts with touch to her calf, just beneath her knee. His opposite hand moves even higher, up along her thigh until her thigh nearly becomes her hip. When both her legs are lifted high enough that they do not touch the seat of the car before they are covered by cloth, he tugs her closer.

Her arms go straight down behind her to brace herself. Her fingers try to find purchase around the edge of the seat, but not for long. When it becomes very apparent that he is strong enough to move her, her next inclination is to curl toward her lifted legs, putting a tight knot of tension in her belly that runs from surface to core. Her hands still want something to grasp, but she could only reach out for him, so she settles for grasping at the seat when she has stilled.

He lets her legs down when she is seated near the middle of the car. He is moving too, his leg sliding so his knee bumps her thigh as her toes once again try to find the floor.

A hand moves from beneath the fabric of her skirt and finds her waist instead, gripping tight.

You need wine the way you need to taste it from another's mouth,” he says.

Saber draws a breath, trying to think of the right way to move her own legs instead of letting him move them like a doll's. She thinks his light laughter will be enough distraction to ease her own, but as her eyes search downward, her gaze and thoughts are cut off as he tries to do that which he had spoken of. She feels as though she cannot move her legs at all as his mouth overtakes hers, the treacherous hand moving now from waist to her neck.

His thumb brushes back and forth in a gentle rhythm. She knows he touches breath and veins, but the pad of his thumb never presses, never hurts.

At first she is rigid, but his greater height slowly draws her chin upward. There is an encouraging little touch of his thumb to her jaw when it does. She starts to press back against his lips, feeling the warmth of her own more closely when they slide just a little.

She tries to see if he was telling the truth – about tasting wine from another's mouth. Her hands lift halfway from bracing herself against the car's upholstery and lower back to it once before making it all the way to his shoulders. They start near the center of each of them, working their way inward toward the sides of his neck until her fingers reach the fur around his collar. Rubbing back down along the tendons, she steadies herself and lifts against them until one knee touches down against the car's seat. The other is not long to follow and soon she stands to her full height on her knees, head narrowly missing and then gently bumping the roof above them.

She tilts her head to accommodate her new height and gently slides forward on her knees until she is kissing downward into his mouth. One thing she notices is that he tastes of almost nothing. There is something faint and sharp in his saliva and barely the taste of something sweet on his lips. Those impressions do not take long to fade, though, and what she is left with his the warmth of his breath. His bunching hand in the slipping fabric of her uniform. The other hand's renewed interest in bracing the back of her thigh and working its way up – up until it reaches her slender hip, and...

She lifts her lips away with another soft bump of her head to the padded roof above them.

She nearly starts as he chuckles again, reminding her of the sound of his voice. He lets the cool fabric of her uniform fall and reaches up to cup his hand around the crown of her head.

No need not to be careful, Saber...” he chides her.

Saber's eyes fall down toward the floor of the car and she lowers herself from the full height of her knees, feeling them slide a little further apart beneath the weight. She leans forward, past him, seizing the bottle of wine by its neck. Finding her head low enough to turn the bottle up, she draws it to her mouth and does just that. She pours it over her tongue and swallows until she feels both bottle and head become just a little lighter. She hardly thinks to breathe, so when she gently sets the bottle back down on the floorboard, her chest heaves for the habit of air.

She moves and leans forward to make sure the bottle does not fall.

Gilgamesh moves his outstretched leg, first beside her, then beneath her. He squirms to have his thigh slide beneath her knee, separating one from the other while giving her something to rest her weight against. She feels the warmth just beneath her thighs and her fingers falter a little with angling the bottleneck. Then he deliberately bends his knee, lifting his thigh until her body is rested against the warmth of his with no immediate escape. Another little shift of his knee and her fingers flinch as she tries to sit upright.

The bottle falls to its side. She sees it happen, feels it happen, but as the last of its contents spill onto the unstained side of the carpet, he catches her wrist to stop her trying to set it upright again.

Saber,” he coaxes softly, his hand and then his fingertips brushing along the soft underside of her forearm. A deep breath in, a slow breath out, and Saber rests her weight down against his thigh. For the first moment or two, she keeps her eyes closed. He is waiting to meet hers when she opens them. Here, now, the pure red and thin pupil seem familiar and she leans in – leans in to let him taste the wine in her mouth, the very last of it.

The way it lingers in her mouth seems sweeter than in ought to be, richer and overwhelming. Perhaps obligingly, his mouth draws a little breath from hers. First, he only takes her lower lip with his, drawing away and letting it go with a soft, wet sound. She leans after him, wanting him to take more. Her lips are still parted when he touches them again, this time with small and fleeting brush of his tongue just inside them.

What he gives her is not enough to draw the lingering, cloying taste of too much, too rich wine.

She grasps his collar again, pulling at it to keep him close as she offers to taste his breath in turn. With the hum in his throat, she tastes more deeply, wanting this more than talking. This time, she notices that he also tastes of the same wine, the same heaviness of wood and time – the scent that fills the car with alcohol and splinters. Her heart beats a little faster when she finds no escape from it. He cannot lessen the taste in her mouth because it is too much like his own.

He moves beneath her, reminding her that his thigh is all that keeps her steady. She exhales sharply through her nose but holds on tightly to his jacket to keep her contact with his mouth. She will not make a sound. He leans back, steady and slow enough to not bump his head against the hard, plastic angles of the car door as his back finds the seat. Above him, Saber feels her weight leveling out, her chest and breath finding rhythm with his.

She cannot keep their lips together as he lets his head lean back with somewhere soft to land.

She blinks quickly, noticing that her hands have flattened against his body. Her fingertips are pressed down into fur, and she slides them down a little. Pressing beneath the jacket, she feels the jut of his collarbone and looks left and right. Then her hips move when he coaxes them with his. He is warm beneath her, his body strong but softened with deliberate, impossible peace.

Looking up to consider his eyes, she does not understand and wants to reprimand him. Instead, she chooses not to let him speak of it.

She takes his lip between hers, mirroring his actions until the point when she allows a little drag of her teeth. She gently pulls his lower lip and lets it go, touching something that had been taken from her with the change of position.

His hands find her body and they run up along her back. She tenses, making the dip of her spine as deep as it can be. He finds it as if he means to soothe her, and with the closing of her eyes and the stilling of her lips, she allows it. Along the back of her neck, fingers slide up to find her hair. She breathes a little more softly, her eyelids feeling a little heavier with they move to touch her scalp, running beneath the careful tie that holds every strand in place.

The ribbon falls away, somewhere down into the drying pool of wine. Her hair spills around them, too. She knows it brushes his cheek and as it does he brushes the side of his nose to hers in turn. She starts to shake her head, but they bump a little and she stills instead.

Surrounded by the yellow, faint glint of her hair, she cannot tell if they have been bathed in light or shrouded in further darkness. Her gaze is narrow, focused only on the man beneath her before falling shut again. The next contact of their lips is brief, soft and uneven. Their lips slide together, then apart, and it happens again with only the slightest change of the angle. Over and over their lips touch, his fingers move against her back and trace the rise and fall of her breath between her ribs, and she loses count.

They only stop for him to take her hand, lifting it from his chest and drawing it to his mouth.

Saber,” he says, and she tries to remember when he had said anything else. He curves her fingers over his and lets his lower lip touch softly before her first knuckles before he speaks. “You have no need of restraint with me,” he tells her, even as his lips seem to speak of restraint of his own. He selects a single fingertip to draw up with only lips lips, and he suckles so gently that he seems almost weakened by it.

The fingertip he chooses burns slightly in a single place – a tiny tear in the cuticle – when his tongue attends it softly.

Saber's breath draws in so deeply that she slides the other hand up above his shoulder so she can brace on the car rather than bone to push herself up a little, her back arching higher. The little sting reminds her to try and remember why there is any place on her body that hurts, any sting or cut not inflicted by a magical weapon. She considers that it might have always been there, only burning when she gives it reason, but she cannot help but wonder if had come from some careless touch earlier in the day.

She knows it ought to be impossible, but her hands had busied themselves in the cafe all day – negotiating around water, knives, and unpleasant customers. She hesitantly pulls her hand away from him, turning her hand around and examining her fingernails, most particularly the single, reddened spot at the edge of one. She can see that it is dampened, shining a little more in the dim light.

Something troubles you?” he asks with a soft sigh.

Saber glances ahead at the space between the two front seats, across a plastic console with a compartment for storing things. She had neglected to even collect her payment from her temporary employers as she had left that place. The beating in her chest picks up and she feels purposeful tension return to her shoulders, something verging on panic.

She reaches out, her senses much more clear and awake, hauling herself toward the gap. She clambers into the seat before the steering wheel so quickly and desperately that their knees knock together with some discomfort that she does not take the time to indulge. She is seated before the steering wheel, looking around and frantically beginning to search each available compartment and hiding space with careful, attentive motions before he manages to sit up or question her.

She cannot find the keys intended to start the car, so she follows her next instinct and searches for any tool she might use. Finding something in the glove compartment, she breaks something with a loud sound of hard plastic giving way. She is already touching wires, following an impossible sense of them and breaking one with a quick motion before she notices that he is leaning around the seat.

What do you mean to do with those?” he asks her.

As he speaks, she succeeds in her effort. The motor complains to life and the car begins to hum softly as it idles.

There is somewhere I must go,” she says, glancing up to meet his eyes in the rear view mirror. There is no apology in her own. Shifting focus, she notices her hair – long and loose and catching a reflection of blue and green from somewhere outside. “Ribbon,” she says to him, extending her hand with her palm facing upward.

You want—” he questions.

My ribbon,” she insists.

He disappears – all but his shoulders – for a moment before depositing the black strip of cloth into her waiting palm.

She ties her hair back in place, tidying it up in the larger mirror that is affixed to the back of the visor above her head. She replaces the visor when she has finished, immediately turning her attention to putting the car in gear.

Must we go in this manner?” Gilgamesh asks, making no secret that he is less than pleased. He is still holding to the back of her seat, leaning around it to speak as if he might coax her to look at him again.

Saber keeps her eyes on the short, quiet road.

I have a Riding skill,” she explains, indifferent to his reception as she presses the accelerator with her foot. Then he has no choice but to sit back.

When they arrive at their destination, Saber parks the car far from the doors of the still-lit but almost empty building. She walks with firm, sure steps to the door which slides away for her without her touch.

You must go shopping for something?” Gilgamesh asks her. She gives him a momentary glance, seeing his hands pressed down into his pockets as he shuffles along beside her. She had not invited him, but he seems to have taken it upon himself not to leave her presence. She would insist, but he can still make up for something.

Yes,” she says, rather than allowing herself to be insulted.

I could give you anything you need,” he tells her, pausing briefly to touch something on a display. She does not take note of what.

It is not for me,” she says, not sure why she carries on the conversation except that she does not intend to lose time by losing him to something she must force him away from. “It is for my Master.”

Gilgamesh's slow footsteps pick back up again, then stop completely for a moment before he catches up.

That boy?” he asks. He is so offended that it almost makes Saber smile. She does not smile yet, though, instead making a decisive turn into the area of the department store she needs. She stops in the middle of the aisle, looking up and down carefully and with as much concentration as she can, trying to make sense of the displays and boxes.

Yes,” she says, distracted by her mission.

Gilgamesh sighs and folds his arms across himself. He still stands at her side and eventually reaches up to rub at his chin.

What does your Master need that he cannot create a false form of sufficient for himself?”

He rubs at his eyes as if he can barely stand to look along the same boxes she is carefully reading.

Saber finds the box she wants, picking it up and carefully opening it, pulling aside the packaging just long enough to check its contents.

This one,” she says, mostly to herself.

That is a pot,” Gilgamesh says.

Yes,” Saber agrees.

What sort of Master needs a pot from his Servant?”

It is for cooking.”

Yes,” Gilgamesh complains. “A cooking pot.”

A pressure cooker,” Saber corrects him further. She glances at him, searching for challenge.

Your Master needs this of you?” Gilgamesh asks. He seems to believe that her intention is urgent, immediate and not previously planned. She cannot blame him for this impression.

It is my Master's birthday,” she explains, averting her gaze as she carefully closes up the box.

Gilgamesh is silent for so long that she thinks he might leave, might threaten, and she finally returns a glare to him as she holds the box to her chest.

It is a gift,” he says, nodding to the box.


Gilgamesh sighs, shakes his head, and rubs at the bridge of his nose.

It is not a gift,” he says.

It is.”

My Master—”

“—has an occasion you have chosen to celebrate,” Gilgamesh says wearily and with some disgust. “A cooking pot is not a gift.”

I do not understand,” Saber admits with a small tilt of her head.

A gift is something given with great ceremony. Something intended to honor the person who receives it. It is a far greater gift than I would give him, but I do not believe that is what you intend,” Gilgamesh says, voice taking on a new tone of patience.

Saber does not need his patience.

You would not understand,” she says, not sadly but with some melancholy lowering of her tone. She reads the top of the box once more, making sure it is the right one. Satisfied, she shifts the weight of it to one arm and reaches out with the other, gripping the now altogether too-familiar material of Gilgamesh's jacket. “Come,” she orders. “I have need of your assistance.”

All the tension and resistance in his body gives way at her last words of insistence. He allows himself to be led to one of the very few cash registers with an attendant. When they are standing before the attendant, she hands off the box to the woman and hears the soft beep as she passes it across the scanner. The price appears in small green numerals and the attendant repeats it aloud. Saber looks up at Gilgamesh expectantly, then turns her attention to the woman's eyes.

We are foreigners,” she explains apologetically. Then she tugs Gilgamesh's sleeve much harder.

In a moment, Gilgamesh sets a considerable handful of gold coins down upon the counter.

This time, the woman reaches out and touches the gold coins before making any objection.

Not choosing to tempt fate, Saber lets go of Gilgamesh and takes up the box with both her arms, carrying it out of the store as she considers how she will present it to Shirou.

Footsteps follow behind her and only when they are outside does she turn to him.

Thank you,” she says, because he had helped her in the absence of the money owed to her.

Where will—” he tries to ask, but he should already know the answer.

I have no more need of your company tonight,” Saber says firmly, starting to turn away with little hesitation. The gift in her arms, she starts walking in the direction of home. “Farewell, King of Heroes.”