Chapter 1096: Awkward

After proving the existence of Alaya by forcing her to appear before Gray, the latter entered a long period of silence as her brain processed all of the new information Vahn had provided. Knowing the world facing a crisis in just ten year’s time, it suddenly felt like she was wedged between a rock and a hard place. If Vahn had revealed this information to her by itself, she would have been compelled to report to Lord El-Melloi II so that the Mage’s Association could begin its own preparations. Knowing he had Alaya at his side, however, Gray worried that he would become a target for elimination by almost every existing organization. Alaya might be a necessary existence to the world, but ‘she’ was still a force that caused both fear and intrigue within the Magus Community. If it could be proven that Vahn was directly tied to Alaya, there would always be people that would want to secure him for their own experiments. Equally as problematic would be the people who sought to ‘destroy’ or ‘study’ Alaya through trying to manipulate or entrap Vahn within their schemes…

Turning her head to look at Alaya, Gray could understand why both Vahn and Artoria had been taken aback as, though she looked distinctly alien, her appearance was almost identical to her own. This caused several questions to pop up in her mind but, as there were inarguably more important things at hand, Gray turned to Vahn as she asked, “Why did you tell me all of this…?” Though she already knew this was Vahn’s way of showing that he trusted her, Gray suddenly felt burdened by the truth. She had just confessed her feelings to Vahn, but she couldn’t simply set aside her loyalty towards Lord El-Melloi II. He may not have been the best Mentor at all times, but he protected her from getting a Sealing Designation and has taught her many things over the last few years…

In response to Gray’s words, Vahn gave her an unnerving smile, even though it was just his normal gentle smile. This smile felt like it was quickly becoming her weakness, causing Gray’s heart to beat faster as he plainly stated, “I do not believe you are the type of girl who would betray the trust people place in you. You have enough wherewithal to understand that the matter of Angra Mainyu will come to light without you needing to draw attention to yourself and others by revealing it…” If Gray truly did inform Lord El-Melloi II about Angra Mainyu and Alaya, it was guaranteed that he, Gray, Rin, and pretty much everyone in their faction would be placed under heavy scrutiny. He didn’t believe for a moment that Gray would endanger all of her friends, regardless of her ‘loyalty’ towards Lord El-Melloi II…

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Even without Vahn pointing it out, the main reason for Gray’s conflict is that she was more aware of the situation than he was. She knew that Lord El-Melloi II would undoubtedly come forth with the information as, regardless of his own feelings on the matter, he would prioritize the safety of the world. There is no way he would be able to ‘gamble’ billions of lives by entrusting the fate of the world to Vahn, regardless of whether or not Vahn had the ‘literal’ World supporting him. Until Vahn had been able to cement himself as a world power, there were no grounds for negotiation as the risks currently outweighed the potential gains, at least from a ‘rational’ standpoint…

Gray understood that Vahn was anything but normal, even before he had Alaya lingering around him like a ghost haunting its victim. However, she had imagined a scenario where he eventually joined the Clock Tower and aligned himself with the Archisorte and Edelfelt families. Then, because he was the type that seemed to fight on the frontlines, she imagined they would take on jobs together before steadily growing closer. It had never crossed her mind that she would suddenly find herself at a crossroads where she needed to choose between her own happiness and her duty. Now, though she knew they weren’t trying to mislead her, it felt like all of her discussions with Artoria and Vahn about their pasts were weighing heavily on her heart…

As if to nail the point home, Artoria could see the struggle in Gray’s eyes so she tried to show her support by saying, “One of my greatest regrets in life was never pursuing my own happiness. I lived my entire life trying to fulfill my duty, only to feel an extreme amount of regret at the very end. Now, here in the present, I want to live truer to my own wants and desires…this time around, I will do my best to help as many people as possible, not as a King, but as a Knight…” Towards the last half of her statement, Artoria looked towards Vahn with the smallest hint of a blush on her face. This brought a genuine and appreciative smile to his face because, whether she realized it or not, Vahn knew that her words had essentially made up Gray’s mind…

Hearing the words of the woman she had started to develop a strong aspiration towards, Gray felt her own resolve building. With each loud throb of her heart, she felt her determination growing to the point that it felt like she could do anything. At the same time, her face became a deep shade of red as she looked towards Vahn, making his own heart begin racing as she asked, “Is it really okay to seek my own happiness…?” Since it was very clear what she believed her happiness to be, Vahn felt strangely nervous as he nodded his head, a confident and supportive smile on his face. Though it felt like he was making a lot of the same mistakes as he had in Danmachi, Vahn knew he needed all the help he could get if he wanted to contend against whatever the ‘Administrators’ would throw at him. There was also the simple fact that he thought Gray was a good girl and, though he hadn’t abused her, Vahn felt that Lord El-Melloi II’s treatment of her was almost cruel…

In response to Vahn’s words, Gray’s face was almost glowing due to how red it was, something that had a powerful impact with the ahoge on her head twitching from side to side in an unbelievably adorable manner. He was highly tempted to reach out and grab the peculiar tuft of hair but, fearing it might be like pulling the pin from a grenade, Vahn elected not to. Instead, he waited patiently for Gray to collect herself, watching as she seemed to steadily work up her courage while Artoria, seated at her side, actually began to fidget uncomfortably. The way Gray was behaving made her feel like she was intruding on a special moment between the two. The troublesome part was, if she were to actually try and leave, Artoria felt like this would only make the situation even more awkward since she could tell that Gray seemed to genuinely idolize her…

Surprisingly, more than a minute had passed as illusory steam began to rise up from Gray’s head. It didn’t seem like she could actually bring herself to say what was on her mind, causing the tension in the air to steadily become more awkward as time passed. This caused Vahn to choose and take pity on her, lightly tapping the table to draw her attention before saying in a gentle tone, “You shouldn’t force yourself too much, Gray. There is plenty of time to sort out your feelings. You don’t need to…” As Vahn was speaking, Gray began to shake her head before sheepishly answering, “There isn’t a lot of time. If I can’t make a decision now, I feel that I will lose the chance completely…” Though she had ignored it earlier, Gray’s mind was now able to realize that the behavior of the other girls during breakfast as ‘abnormal’. She felt that, if she were to return to London for a few years, Vahn would have already moved on to several other women by then…even if he said he still liked her, she wasn’t sure she had a big enough heart to believe him…

Deciding to bite the bullet once again, Gray followed up her words by asking, “Do you sleep with all your Servants…?” Though he didn’t seem like an inherently licentious man, as Vahn had never looked at her with ‘greedy’ eyes before, Gray felt she needed to hear the truth. To her relief, Vahn shook his head to refute her question before immediately bringing her tensions back up as he explained, “I do not simply sleep with anyone, Gray. Though it may seem like I do at times, it is important to me that both sides are consenting. I would never force anyone into doing something they didn’t want to do, just as I would never subject myself to the whims and desires of another arbitrarily. To answer your question better, I have never slept with Circe or Scáthach, nor do I have any intention to make a move on Illya…”

Using Vahn’s words as a basis, Gray quickly deduced that he had slept with Fenrir, Rin, Nobunaga, Lakshmibai, and Artoria. She was most surprised by the fact Lakshmibai, a woman some considered a Saint, and Artoria, a proud King of Knights, both seemed okay with this. Even the fact Rin, someone she believed to be a strong woman with even stronger sensibilities, seemed perfectly fine with the fact that Vahn was sleeping with other girls. Since the thought of him being with another girl actually caused her heart to ache a bit, Gray didn’t understand how they could be okay with it. Since she was unable to rationalize it herself, she turned to Artoria, a hopeful look in her eyes as she asked, “Are you really okay with this…?’

As she was quickly beginning to realize that Gray was relying on her to make decisions, Artoria released a subdued sigh before seriously answering, “I am not the best person to give advice on the relations between men and women. However, even during my time, I was under constant pressure to take multiple wives in order to produce an heir. Even members of my own Round Table had multiple mistresses and lovers while, after particularly fierce battles, some would even patron brothels and harlots. I have never considered it my place to speak out against such actions as even my marriage was a matter of obligation…what I can say for sure is that, after experiencing it for myself…I don’t believe Vahn is a bad person…” Though she had started off with good momentum, Artoria’s face became progressively redder as she remembered her first time with Vahn…

Seeing Artoria suddenly turn into a bashful maiden, Gray felt simultaneously lost and intrigued by her words. Since she couldn’t really understand how women with such strong personalities could allow Vahn to act with impunity, it meant he must be capable of something ‘amazing’ when they were together. This caused her face to rapidly heat up as, though she wasn’t a virgin, Gray hadn’t really enjoyed her previous experiences all that much. Those had all been the result of misguided curiosity and the simple desire to connect in a more meaningful way with another human. This was the first time she had ever experienced these types of emotions and, remembering what Vahn had done to her at the end of his operation, Gray was actually a little afraid to take that final step…

Realizing the conversation had taken a somewhat awkward turn towards his sexual prowess, Vahn scratched his cheek as he considered whether or not to say something. Both Artoria and Gray had red faces and, depending on his choice of words, there was a fair chance he might be able to guide the conversation in an ‘interesting’ direction. Though he had tempered himself a bit to converse with them, Vahn was still in a high-tension state ever since his training with Scáthach had completed. This conversation had already been going on for more than two hours so he was beginning to feel his tensions increase with things taking such an unexpected turn.

As if it was her purpose in life to cause him stress, Alaya decided to use this moment to say, “If you desire to copulate, I have been given the task of tending to your needs. This body is capable of-.” Before Alaya could continue any further, Vahn slammed his hand on the table with enough force to cause fractures to spread across its surface. Then, looking directly into her purple eyes, Vahn took a deep breath before firmly stating, “Alaya, I am ordering you to leave us alone for the time being. You have no understanding of the social interactions between humans…haaaa…” Vahn wanted to say a lot more but Alaya nodded her head in the middle of his sentence before instantly ‘imploding’ into motes of blue light. This caused his words to trail off before he turned to Artoria and Gray, bowing his head low as he said, “I’m sorry for my outburst…Alaya’s presence isn’t exactly easy to cope with.”

With an understanding look in her eyes, Artoria nodded her head before trying to console Vahn by adding, “I can understand that. Had I known the consequences of my actions back then, I would have never made a contract with Alaya. That is another thing I owe you a debt of gratitude for…” As each successive Holy Grail War had made it crystal clear that her actions were naive and childish, Artoria was growing steadily more grateful towards Vahn now that she had been liberated from that endless cycle. She had been prepared to accept her ‘punishment’, even if it meant serving as the tool of other people for the rest of time. Instead of allowing her to wallow in her own personal hell, Vahn unceremoniously pulled her out of it before giving her life new purpose…

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Realizing this, Artoria felt her own beginning to beat with a quickened pace as she realized there was actually something she could do to repay him. Since it was obvious that Gray was interested in it, but couldn’t muster up enough courage to broach the subject, Artoria was considering whether or not to give her distant descendant a small push. However, the moment she internalized that Gray was her actual descendant, Artoria felt a complex series of emotions and a few budding apprehensions. She knew that even things like ‘incest’ weren’t exactly all that rare in her time, as her family tree had a few looping branches itself, but the thought of sharing the same man as her distant relative seemed rather awkward…

Before Artoria could make up her mind, Vahn released a tired sigh before producing an apologetic smile as he said, “Maybe it would be best if we all took a break. How about the two you return to the outside and explain to Rin and others that we’ll be holding a small banquet this evening? I’ll spread the word to Lakshmibai and Nobunaga before heading over myself in a few hours…” Feeling that things had quickly become a little ‘too awkward’, Vahn was giving the two girls an easy way out of the conversation. At the same time, however, it was easy for them both to intuit why it would take him several hours before returning to the outside. Though some might misconstrue Vahn’s words to mean he was giving them time to make preparations, Alaya’s words were still fresh on their minds. It was obvious that she wasn’t talking to them when she mentioned the desire to copulate, making it transparently clear that Vahn was in the mood…

Seeing Artoria and Gray behaving even more awkwardly than before, Vahn lightly shook his head before rising to his feet and saying, “I’ll see the two of you later…” Since they didn’t seem able to extricate themselves from the tension that had built up, he felt compelled to make the decision for them. He had a lot of frustrations to get out of his system right now so it was almost unbearable to be in the presence of two beautiful girls that were both ‘thinking’ about having sex but unwilling to move forward out of consideration for each other. Though he could try to convince them both to alight with him, Vahn felt that Gray hadn’t properly prepared herself for something like a three-person play with her own Ancestor. It probably wouldn’t have been that difficult to whisk her away if she were alone, but the presence of Artoria made that borderline impossible…

With Vahn suddenly leaving, Gray felt a sudden panic in her heart as she quickly exclaimed, “Wait…!” As the word left her lips, she felt like a swarm of butterflies was about to tear its way out from her abdomen, especially when Vahn looked back at her with a tired yet indulgent smile. Her eyes almost immediately darted to Artoria, as if the silent Knight would be able to provide her some kind of support. In a way, she actually regretting calling out to Vahn because, if she let him walk away now, Gray was certain she wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully in the future. When Artoria suddenly gave her a resolute look, followed by an affirmative nod, Gray almost wanted to ask, ‘Am I supposed to understand what that nod means?’.

As if they had reached a mutual agreement, Artoria took it upon herself to raise her head slightly, looking into Vahn’s eyes as she said, “If you are not against it…we will be your partners…” These words seemed to deal critical damage to Gray as, the moment Artoria finished stating them, her ahoge stuck up like a needle as she buried her face into her hands. Now that it had been thrown out there, she felt like it was too late to take a step back and correct things. She wasn’t even sure if what Artoria had stated even counted as a misunderstanding as, when she called out to Vahn, even Gray didn’t know what she wanted. Though part of her had considered the possibility, having the reality presented before her seemed overwhelming…

Though he could feel Artoria’s resolve, Vahn noticed that Gray wasn’t really on the same wavelength as her distant Ancestor. He knew he had the option of guiding things in a different direction but, knowing things would probably be even more complicated in the future, Vahn buried his own rising anxiety as he softly stated, “I never force anyone to do something they are unwilling to do…” These words were both intended to give Gray a small push while also leaving her a way out if she decided to take a step back. If she felt like she was being forced along with the momentum, there was a good chance Gray would be overwhelmed by the situation and do something she could come to regret later on. By pointing out that it was ultimately her decision, this meant whatever would happen in the future was because she had accepted it herself. Though this wouldn’t absolve her from having any regrets, it would at least alter her perspective of the events slightly so she could more easily cope with them…

Hearing Vahn’s words, the fluttering feeling in Gray’s stomach felt like it had spread upward, reaching her heart and causing a ticklish feeling to spread through her body with each sporadic pulse. Though he may have intended his words to give her a way out, Gray felt like they actually forced her back onto a crossroads. If she decided to give in to her feelings, it may be too late to back peddle and change her mind later on. Inversely, if she decided to back away now, Gray felt like she would have missed out on the greatest source of happiness that had ever presented itself to her. Not only did she like Vahn, as he was fun to be around, but he had even expressed his support for her own dreams and aspirations. At the same time, Vahn had saved her from having to spend the rest of her life as a cripple…or worse. She had a lot of tender feelings toward him so, if she backed out now, Gray felt like she would never have the heart to face him again in the future…

As if she couldn’t help herself, Vahn watched in silence as Artoria naturally brought her hand to Gray’s shoulder in a supportive manner. At the same time, their two fates seemed to intermingle for a short moment, something that caused Vahn’s eyes to flash with subtle blue light. Though Gray’s was significantly smaller than both Rin’s and Artoria’s, there was a small aura of fate that lingered around her body at all times. Now that it came into contact with Artoria’s, Vahn could see the volume of Gray’s increase discernably as she looked towards her Ancestor for strength. Then, as if their fates were now irreversibly intertwined, Gray looked towards him and said, “I want…to do it…” with a scarlet red face…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘This whole chapter is a ‘Bruh’ moment’)

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