Build a City and Call it Babylon

In the middle of the night, there are times when he can still hear the murmurs of people who don't exist anymore. Cold fingers touch warm skin all over his body while he lies very still. They have no right to touch him, but they do. The proclamations and judgments of gods long since fallen from their thrones seem as likely a culprit as anything else. Could there be any alternative? You are dreaming, darling. You are only drunk, my dear. But there is nothing and there is no one to call dear in this place. After all, this is the end of the world.


He is accustomed to being alone in his bedchamber. When he takes others to bed, it is always in some room of their own. Dotted across the city like the stars dot across the sky, there are those he has bedded and those he has thought of bedding. Until tonight, his restless mind and his restless body have driven him across the city as he drives the people from their own beds in one way and then another.

Love more, fight more, laugh more, take more, cry more, and give more into his hand. All these things he has driven them to do, and with each offering they make he sees another flicker of something he seeks. And until tonight, he had believed he would never stop, never quiet, never be still. In his bedchamber, it is very quiet.

There are no stars visible from his bedchamber in the palace. Some of the dwellings in the city have windows and rooftops open to the sky, but here they are enfolded in high walls and a warm, heavy darkness at night. The smell of burning oil fills that darkness with its only source of light. Gilgamesh's eyes grow heavy, but he sees no sign of such weariness in the frame of the one who accompanies him in his room.

The curve of a precious shell fills the palm of his hand. The man, the creature, before him holds the fire. Close, but not too close, he seems unafraid of the flame licking so close to clothing and skin. There is nothing unremarkable about a man or a woman taking hold of fire, using and enclosing it, but this is a gift granted to them by the gods through the means of their civilization. Something in the way this man holds the small lamp seems unfamiliar. Gripping too soundly, too trusting, the image is like a child who has ceased being afraid and who has never been burned.

There are many things he owns, many treasures Gilgamesh has collected, held in a distant storeroom which he can access anytime he likes. This day had proven that more than any other. Even so, there are a few things that remain with him in his bedchamber. A few treasures give him specific delight to look upon them. Specifically, there is almost always an array of adornments spread out on a low table made of shining cedar. It is before this table where the other man, Enkidu, now kneels.

The man lifts his free hand with his fingers splayed out. They seem ready to grasp, but they hang in the air above the fine things made of precious metals and shining stones. They hover a little longer over the smaller things. Gilgamesh considers the fact that, were Enkidu a thief, the smaller items – rings meant for ears and fingers and a few for the nose – would be less easily missed. His hand never touches down, but his eyes and poised fingers give them such attention that Gilgamesh thinks he might be wiser simply to tell him, 'Take one.'

The thought that he would not resist such a thing crosses his mind. He would take neither his hand nor his life if he picked up one of the rings, folded it into his hand, and removed it from his collection forever. No matter how intent he had been on killing him earlier that day. He is ready to speak to him if it will bring him to rest. 'Choose one,' he might say.

Then, Enkidu's attention flits to something else laid out on the table. It was worn around Gilgamesh's neck until he had entered the room, and it is likely the only thing there tarnished with sweat and perhaps droplets of blood. It will need to be polished, but it is too fine not to gleam. It is made of many flat, golden plates that hold together in a single form, moving independently but never sliding apart. Like armor, they move gracefully, never leaving a gap. At least, that is what they do when he wears the necklace draped across his skin.

“Aren't you tired?” Gilgamesh asks abruptly, just as Enkidu brushes his fingertip across one of the plates, causing it to catch the light of the flame he rather carelessly attends in his opposite hand. Enkidu's fingertip moves along the edge of the golden plate as if he is dangerously testing the sharpness of a blade. Gilgamesh catches his teeth together, molars grinding.

Enkidu draws his hand back, fingers curling into his hand. He looks more frightened than guilty or repentant. His head turns to look at Gilgamesh, the length of his strange and lush hair falling over his shoulders. The startled look in his eyes looks like something unfamiliar to human criminals, those who disobey the law and look to Gilgamesh with fear and excuses. Instead, he resembles a prey animal, alerted to the presence of a hunter – man or animal – at the edge of the watering hole where he has only just stopped to drink. This look hanging on such a human face alarms Gilgamesh. He has a pang in his stomach like he is hungry.

Something must have been betrayed by his face, because Enkidu's expression softens. His eyes are bright and he tentatively puts on a small smile.

“It isn't very dangerous, is it?” Enkidu asks.

“No, it's—” Gilgamesh answers, his tone terse and strained and quite abruptly cut off as Enkidu moves to stand. He settles into a crouch, his feet nearly flat, but he remains bent forward with apparent purpose. His hair hangs down in front of his face, and the white garments he is clothed in bunch forward, too. Before he can ask, Gilgamesh sees that Enkidu has placed his lamp on the floor, far from touching anything else. The corona of light reaches his face as he steps back, and it seems only the grace of a clever god has prevented the fabric about his legs from going up in flames. Aruru, perhaps, keeping her creation out of trouble.

The light does little to fill the room, but even from its position on the floor it keeps them from being in total darkness. Enkidu steps back, away from the little contained fire, and looks to Gilgamesh and his bed.

“No, you... don't leave it there. You bring it with you... to the side of the bed,” Gilgamesh says, realizing what he means to do.

Enkidu's brow creases only slightly as he crouches long enough to take up the lamp again.

“With the shepherds... They keep their fires burning through the night,” Enkidu explains as he approaches Gilgamesh's bed.

“It won't burn through the night,” Gilgamesh tells him, a little gesture of his wrist indicating the lamp. He looks down toward his knees where he sits upon his bed. Beneath him, there are blankets made of tanned skins, each of them with a rich brown or gray coat of hair. His fingers rest upon one of them, gently gripping with nothing else to do.

Enkidu holds the lamp more reverently as he takes a seat just across from Gilgamesh, close enough for their knees to touch. He looks around, the lamp shifting more from one hand to the other.

Gilgamesh reaches out, taking the lamp. It feels hotter than it ought to, but it isn't painful to set it aside where he usually puts it when the night draws to a close, just beyond his bed.

“In the wild, you build a fire to keep the animals away,” Gilgamesh says, knowledgeably, when at last the bed isn't as likely as Enkidu's clothes to go up in flame. His gaze falls to the perfect, clean linen that crosses Enkidu's body. It draws across his chest, covering tightly enough that he cannot see the tight muscles in his abdomen. Muscles he knows all too well from trying to find some way to tear them apart or worse before. Whatever anger had led him to want to end this life before him now seems insane.

He had longed for such a friend. He had known it to be true. He had dreamed.

Enkidu's breath draws in, his chest pressing outward against his linen clothes. The space between the muscles of his chest is less pronounced than a woman's. The muscles are angled, nearly flat but with a little definition that is unfamiliar – at least, it is unfamiliar in someone he is looking at from across a bed.

A meteor, blazing from the sky – bright and beautiful, deadly and with the power to end the world. An axe, less intrinsically dangerous – made for creation and destruction. A dream – the dream of a man he would draw to himself, a dream of a man he would embrace like a wife. He had told his mother, and she had told him it was true.

Now this man is sitting before him, as strange as he could have imagined. His arms are wide-set bones and slender wrists. In the streets of Uruk, their contest had played out, and Gilgamesh had seen the great and strange things Enkidu could do. He is a creation unlike any other, as Gilgamesh is a creation unlike any man. His hair is long, full, and thick like a woman's, but his feet and hands and even the feature of his nose are a little larger and more pronounced. The little bump in his throat that his voice comes from each and every time he speaks and the hollow beneath it catch his attention, too. Realizing that his lips have gone dry, Gilgamesh rubs them together quickly. He does not want to think of his mother.

“In the wilderness, they keep me to keep the wild animals away,” Enkidu says with a tilt of his lips. Now that his hands are free, he briefly touches the length of his hair, working a tangle from it, but then his hands are poised on his lap, fingers curled into the length of linen. He watches Gilgamesh with the same bright interest that he affords to anything he sees that is new.

Gilgamesh breathes out and shakes his head.

“Does it bother you?” he asks. He speaks quite generally, casting a glance off to the side before returning Enkidu's gaze.

“To drive off the wolves from the sheep?” Enkidu asks. His eyebrows lift, the movement even and slight. He too glances off to the side, reaching out to touch a blanket that is indeed a wolf pelt.

Gilgamesh feels himself swallow before he can reply.

“Or being brought to my room,” he suggests.

“It is the finest place I have ever been,” Enkidu says without any shadow of insincerity. Both his hands press into the cushioned bed, and he pulls himself across on his knees – coming closer to Gilgamesh as he is folded upon himself.

“There was no other place I'd have you be,” Gilgamesh admits, feeling all at once as if those first moments – just after nearly tasting death – have returned. His chest feels as though at any moment he might run out of air, his heart might beat its last, he might laugh, or he might cry out in some unexpected agony. His eyes are wide, but he knows there is no sense in hiding them. No matter how different they seem, Enkidu is different, too. Different from all others.

“This palace is very large. As large as the first shepherd's camp I came to, I believe,” Enkidu says. He looks up as if he is considering it, then he looks up to the full height of the ceiling.

“Yes?” Gilgamesh asks, innocently lifting one shoulder and letting it fall back into place. He feigns a deep interest in a reddish strand of hair which he picks from the blanket beneath him.

“Surely if you, mighty King Gilgamesh, wanted me in your house, in your care, somewhere else... in some other room...” Enkidu is saying as his voice stays low but grows louder to Gilgamesh's ears.

Gilgamesh realizes before he looks up. Enkidu is leaning closer to him. His voice babbles, soothing like flowing water, but there is a smile on his lips and he knows before he sees. He can almost taste it.

“I would have had you nowhere else,” Gilgamesh insists. He lifts his eyes, narrowing them just a little. He is not angry, but rather he momentarily squints as if he is facing the sun. It does not last for long, for soon they are falling shut, the lines of tension at the edges of them smoothing away into nothing.

Enkidu's lips are against his, parted gently as if he were content simply to use words. There is no space between them, but for a moment there is only breath. Then, Enkidu's lower lip comes up to meet his upper. The gentle close of his mouth makes Gilgamesh's throat issue a faint sound, a mockery of pain. The side of Enkidu's nose bumps gently against his, and the way he moves his head seems as much like silencing, heavy, warm contact as his lips stopping both of them from talking. His forehead bumps and his nose makes a gentle circle, skin against skin, and Gilgamesh feels a flush across his face he has never felt the freedom to feel before. From anyone else, it would have angered him.

“I knew it would be true,” Enkidu says, startling him enough to draw him out of his virginal blushing.

“What would be true?” Gilgamesh says, feeling the space – just enough space – between their lips.

“I knew you needed me... not to kill you, but to show you,” Enkidu says.

'Not to kill you,' Gilgamesh hears not just with his ears but in his chest. He breathes it in, and it sends a tingle unlike fear through him, warm and perplexing. He could kill him. It had only been a matter of fortune, a moment's advantage from one breath to the next. He could have killed him. And now, here they sit, together on this bed. Together in this bed Gilgamesh has always chosen to take alone.

“Show me?” Gilgamesh asks. He tries to sound brave, like he has not already imagined the blood from his abdomen spilling across Enkidu's fingers, across any spear or blade he might turn against him, even to very sharp teeth in the mouth he has touched but not tasted, the mouth that feels like a man's.

“To show you what it's like... not to be alone,” Enkidu says. Then his lips press a little more firmly, and Gilgamesh can feel that they are warm, and he feels the wet skin beyond the soft mouth that carries such soft, impossible words. He recalls when a trapper came from outside the city walls, desperate to speak with him on the advice of his father. 'There was a beast,' he said. 'There was a man,' he said. 'A wild man who keeps me from all the game. A wild man who terrifies me. A man with no equal...' He recalls the advice he had given, the assistance he had provided, and now the remembrance sets his skin afire.

“... A-As she taught you?” Gilgamesh mumbles out, even though the thought of it is hard to speak. This is no longer a show of his wisdom, the might of Uruk, and the allure of their women.

Enkidu's eyelids seem heavy when he looks at him next. That look is accompanied by the touch of his hand to the front of Gilgamesh's clothing. Gilgamesh feels it sliding away, and there is nothing he tries to do. His eyes flutter shut once more, and just when he expects to shiver as the fabric across his shoulders gives way, he feels the stillness of Enkidu's hand. He is feeling his heartbeat. Gilgamesh has never known anyone to do that before.

“I knew it would be true. I knew we would be the same. The first woman who cared for me, who showed me what it was to care for another woman... another man... she told me about you. I knew from my creation that I was to find you, and she brought me to you... Gilgamesh,” Enkidu says. Then his flattened hand takes on some form again, fingers and palm gliding in a soft circle.

Gilgamesh feels his breath hitch and his eyelids feel too heavy to open. His lips are parted and he feels them taken as easily as his breath. That is the real taste he gets – of Enkidu, of his wildness, the gentle hand along with an anxious bite into his lip. Enkidu's body goes rigid and he pulls back, and Gilgamesh can feel his apology in the way he moves.

“Enkidu,” he says, using his name so adamantly that he hopes to show that there is so much of a thrill, so much eager thirst for joy that even if there had been any break in his skin from Enkidu's teeth that he could feel no pain. “Share my bed with me,” he says, with every intention of it being an ongoing request. He does not know how it became possible, but he hopes that it is. He has never been very interested in hope before, as far as emotions are concerned. He cracks open his eyes to meet Enkidu's, to watch for an answer as he listens. “Let me show you before my mother, before my people, and before anyone who might seek to boast before us...”

Enkidu's pursed lips part to an open, wide expression. He looks as if he has just seen half the world, shame leaving his face as quickly as clouds can clear from a desert sky.

“Even if I bite?” he asks, his fingers just barely touching at the center of Gilgamesh's hand. He has forgotten to pull them back, even in his haste not to harm him.

Emboldened, Gilgamesh reaches for the waist of Enkidu's smaller frame, pulling them both up to the center of the bed rather than sitting on its edge. He feels as if he might drink any poison, spare any limb, if only he could see only that face of hope rather than any of shame ever after. As soon as they are duly positioned, Gilgamesh lies back against his bed, looking up at Enkidu.

“Bite all you like,” he says in the same brave tone he had drawn from himself before, but this time it is accompanied by a low, humming laughter. He starts to lower his chin with it, but Enkidu stops him short with a gentle bump of his nose. He lifts up his jaw, the rush that floods him before a truly fair fight washing over his body. Rather than teeth, he feels laughter, lips, and a playful lick.

“I won't return cruelty for kindness,” Enkidu promises, murmuring by Gilgamesh's ear. He finds a place beside him, lying on his side and a crooked elbow.

“What I felt before was hardly cruel,” Gilgamesh says, a little something like a challenge. In response, several moments later, he feels the gentle touch of a sharp tooth along the edge of his ear.


None but the only man who had seen him back from the other side of the sea will ever know of the tears he cried, gnashing his teeth for vanity's sake on a beach. None will know of the guilt, failure, and treason he feels in his own heart as he returns to Uruk. He is their king and so he will be.

After some time, when he is shaven and shorn, when he once again wears the fine raiment of a king, he grows tired of sitting on the throne one day. He calls to a slave and speaks to him lowly, as if he has some confidence in the secrecy of the request he is about to make. There will be none, and he will not be harsh in his dealing with such a lie when he returns. He requests that he be given supplies for a journey – a journey he must make alone. He will journey across the world once more, and he does not tell them how long he will be gone.

He gives orders to the men who guard the granaries. He bids farewell to the women who mind the temple. He waits for their adulation, their tears, and their pleas. Then he is gone, across a now familiar trek that it would be impossible to make twice. He knows that he may meet death on this journey, but he is no longer fearful of it. It feels as though he has left his fear at the edge of the water, and he intends to find it again. Only enough for himself, only enough to keep in his collection, because he knows it will never leave his mind.

Water from head to toe, lungs burning for need of air, he finds it again. This time no man and no snake wrest it from his hand. No thief, and yet there is no joy, no hope making what he finds here last forever for the people of Uruk. He knows that this is what he has been told all along. It might be possible to delay it for a while, but death awaits them all.

He returns to Uruk, not the shadow of a king but a king worn from a long journey. He hears whispers at the walls, there are murmurs by the granaries, and only one of the women lingers outside the temple upon his return. He has not announced it, and he does not have any intention of having any great reception for himself. He quietly minds the plant in a fold of his clothes, and draws the man who is tasked with guarding the entrance of the palace.

“That woman,” he says, of the single love priestess minding the entrance of grand Eanna on this dreary day. The air is thick with the promise of the storms of restless gods, all in conference, deciding how best to deal with him. “Bring her to me,” he says.

He sees that he is obeyed, and he returns to his chamber without waiting to see that she will follow. He is already seated with several lamps burning before the door opens and he sees the small, beautiful, and faintly familiar form of a woman. Her hair is black, but it is the length and shape of his. He knows it must be.

“You're the one, are you not?” he asks clearly, when she has stopped just beyond his door.

“May I be of service to you, my King?” she asks, but he can hear the hesitance in her voice. Her eyes fall to the floor, and he can see the shadow of grief. Perhaps she had wept. Perhaps she had wept not because he had called them to mourn for him.

“There is no need to hide from it. I will not harm you, whether you remember or whether you do not,” Gilgamesh promises her with no indication of withdrawing such a promise. He could find no pleasure in punishing her for any part of it.

“I am the love priestess called upon by my King, the Great Gilgamesh, to accompany the trapper into the wilderness to retrieve the man-beast called Enkidu,” she recites.

“Do you love another?” Gilgamesh asks. He sees in her eyes only confusion, and it satisfies him. He clears his throat and continues rather than requiring her to answer. “And you serve our Lady of Love and War, the Goddess Ishtar,” he recites, his words an empty recitation at last devoid of any sign of anger.

“Yes, my King,” she says, her head lowered for a moment before she looks back to him as she should, representing the goddess she serves.

“You will do, then,” he says.

“I... will do? I will do whatever you ask, my King. Whatever you need,” she says, and he hears the faint tone of coy acquiescence taking hold of the honesty he had heard before. He wants it to stop, but he knows that she has learned it as her nature, as he can wear the skins of an animal and be thought a killer, as he can wear these fine clothes, tired and dirty or not, and be thought a king.

“You will be the representative of our Lady of Love and War, the Goddess Ishtar... for me, as King of Uruk. For me, in my bed,” he explains, dispassionately. He has chosen to sit somewhere apart from the bed, and he does not even gesture toward it.

“Should not the High Priestess—?”

“You will be the High Priestess if you require, but either way surely I can be afforded this right. I am your King... and my law is—”

“Absolute, my King,” she agrees.

He sighs and shakes his head.

“You will be honored. You will... bear my son, should the gods be pleased,” he says, his teeth gritting in spite of himself. He does try not to show it much, but taken into his confidence even in this manner, he is sure she cannot help but see. “None will ever diminish your name. Your station and your child will not allow it,” he says, even trying to offer her some cool comfort with this proposition. It is a command, but he could not feel less interested in its being obeyed. This is only what he must do now. Seeing her on the steps, just before the skies open their flood to offer lifeblood to the river, he had simply seen a way to make this less distasteful than it might have been.

He wants no woman, no man in his bed. He invites her because he must, because this is the only escape from death there is. He has learned this, and he knows that his lifetime is all there is left to him. He will step forward, back to his throne. He will lie with a woman in his bed, and he will treat her child kindly as every child of Uruk belongs to the King. This is how he will not die, this is how he will live.

“I will do whatever you require, King Gilgamesh, King of Uruk,” the woman says evenly. She does not bow her head, and he stands to acknowledge her with a touch to her shoulder and a nod. He ushers her from the room and turns her to the hand of an attendant before returning to be alone for a little while longer.

He sits down upon the edge of the bed. He touches along animal skins. He wonders if some of them have gotten too old while he as been away. What would make them too old? They are already dead, and he has found no way to bring anything back with him, even at the end of the world.

- - - - -

This fic was my 2016 Fanfiction Contest entry. It tied for second place, and I'm reasonably happy with it. I'm really glad the judges seemed to enjoy it to the extent that they did. I am reposting it in this format because I would like to de-anon and keep some track and control of my work. Furthermore, it was commented on a couple of times during the judging process that it perhaps seemed that its constituent parts might either not be a complete whole or that the first part felt more-complete on its own than with the last portion. I am making this thread partly to facilitate for continuation of this in the event that I write more scenes from the sequences I imagined in my treatment of interweaving things from the canon Gilgamesh epic in with the Fate iterations of the characters and various character relationship headcanon that I have thought about writing. I have several ideas for things I might write and connect to this as a core narrative and a springboard, but what shape that might take in the future I'm still thinking about. Nevertheless, I did want a space to acknowledge that the sections above do exist in a broader thought-space at the very least and that they may continue to be an open-book to various things that I would like to, as a writer, say about Gilgamesh and Enkidu. I did not leave myself with very much time to write this contest entry - about twenty-four hours prior to the deadline - because I had initially planned to do something on another subject matter and ended up coming to this anyway. I was undecided until very close to the deadline hour about how this fic, as it existed as an entry, would end. I had initially believed that it would be a very different scene, and the way it ends at present came to me only as I was writing it and thinking through it at the same time. As I had to let it settle in the days after I turned it in, I became more and more content with the thematic ending, but I still am not totally satisfied that I am finished with character interactions between Gilgamesh and Enkidu and their echoes to him when he is living in the modern world, so after I have had a bit to think on it I may continue it. Even if I don't, I hope that if you read this in this format and aren't already bored of it from the fanfiction contest that you will enjoy it.

The title, as I explained in the contest discussion thread, is a play off of a line from a poem, "Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out" by Richard Siken. The reference is essentially to the notion of "holy cities" as contrasted with the connotation that "Babylon" has in similar literature. I explained it more thoroughly in the contest thread, but I would reiterate that even "Babylon" is the wrong name for the city in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu lived, and that is perhaps that most important "meaning" that I can communicate with other readers about why I entitled this fic (and possible subsequent collection) in this manner when I named it.