[quis custodiet ipos custodes?]
"You're Kakei Sakura," the boy says to her, and it isn't a question. "What are you doing here?"
It is not an easy question. She is here because there is nowhere she has to be; her brother and Kazuki-san are elsewhere and do not require her assistance (fighting, she knows they are fighting, but she does not know who or where, only that it was this boy who told them to go) and so she came here because she knows he is watching them. "Can I watch too?"
Makubex smiles, a small but bright smile. "Of course. But the're almost done already." Although they have met before, they have never actually spoken to each other before, never been alone together, and it feels odd at first to kneel next to him, as he turns the laptop so its screen is visible to her.
There are several windows on its screen, but foremost is one that seems to be a view from above of a scene - she can see Kazuki's threads spread out like a spiderweb, although Kazuki himself cannot be seen, and there is a man to the left of the scene who is tring to cut his way out with a shiv, but his ankles are entangled and in a moment he will fall over - and he does, aided on his way by Juubei's needles in his shoulder. She has no reason to be worried. She glances over at Makubex, who has a strange expression on his face. His eyes are almost glowing. "They work so well together," he says, sounding pleased and gratified.
"Of course," she whispers. On the screen the last man has gone down. Kazuki and Juubei fight well together, she thinks, and she and Makubex were left behind to watch. And he watches, always, his eyes are on them all, he understands things, makes it his purpose to understand.
"They'll be back soon," he says, and smiles at her. It's a beautiful smile and it reminds her of the way her brother used to smile, when he spoke of Kazuki-san - a kind of innocent, possesive pride. He's right to be proud, she decides. There would have been no battle to win, if he had not seen the need. This is why he watches everything. His fingers fly over the keyboard, and the image of the victory vanishes, leaving behind nothing but scrolling code, incomprehensible to her. Curious, she leans closer, and impulsively reaches out to touch his shoulder. Beneath the thin fabric of his shirt, his skin is cool to the touch. He looks up at her, surpised.
Sakura tightens her hand on his shoulder. "Thank you," she tells him.
The brilliant smile returns. "Do you want to learn how the surveilance system works?"
"Certainly," she says, and wonders why he offered, what is it he sees in her.
"That's good." His hands reach out, not to type this time, but to close to laptop and set it aside. "There really should be someone else to watch, in case anything happens to me." He leans toward her, his legs dangling over the edge of the balcony and swinging back and forth, like a child who cannot sit still. It had not occured to her that anything could happen to him, or that he would consider and plan for the possibility.
In this moment, Kakei Sakura decides she will watch over Makubex. Her brother is younger than her, but he is no longer young, and he does not need her guidance as he once did. This boy, perhaps, does. Besides, he is one of the Four Kings; it is only right that he should have a lieutenant. Kazuki has Juubei, and Shido has Emishi, so she will give herself to Makubex. It feels good to be needed again.
[ipsa scientia potestas est]
Sakura wasn't sure where or when he had gotten the wire. There was a large coil hidden behind a loose panel and only the two of them knew where, but he was fairly open about the piece he had cut off, and he carried it curled up in his pocket, twiddled it between his fingers when he was not using them to type. He had taken bits of cord and plastic and made a device that he could plug in to the back of his computer and to one end of the wire. This leaves the other end of the wire in midair. For a while he appeared to have it connected to a voltmeter. This afternoon, however, the voltmeter has vanished. The wire is wrapped around his wrist and the connector has dissappeared; he is typing with almost inhuman speed. The wind whips overhead, but he is sheltered by a piece of machinery and the buildings opposite. Overhead a slice of cloudless blue sky shines, its luminance turning the scene pastel.
"What is it for?" Sakura asks him.
He gives her that same proud smile. "Making people do what I want," he said. "Taking control of their muscles away from them, feeding impulses to their nerves."
"Oh," she whispers. He'd spoken of it before, but only hypothetically, asking her a number of searching questions about the functions of the human nervous system and the chi that her brother could control with his needles. "But - you'd have to touch the wire to their nerve for it to work, wouldn't you?"
He nods seriously. "Not a lot of good, for dealing with enemies. Yet. But - Sakura, have you ever heard of the phenomenon of hysterical strength?"
"Of course. People undergoing intense emotions can momentarily perform feats they never could oridinarily, right? Like the urban legends of people lifting cars off accident victims."
Makubex smiles. "Right. It's not magic; people have that sort of strength, really, they just don't know how to tap into in voluntarily. But if someone else was tapping it - " He holds up the end of the wire and taps it. "Or speed, or simple reaction time. Anyone could be a fighter. Anyone."
Sakura considers this. The idea intruiges her; it's a horrible thought, the notion of taking over someone's body, but if they agreed to it, if it would make them faster, stronger, to fight for what they believed in ... "But most people simply aren't that strong."
"I know. They'd never be as strong as someone like Ginji-san, but still, they'd fight a lot better." Makubex sticks the end of the wire in his mouth and reaches for his laptop again. "I was hoping you'd help me test it," he mumbles around the wire. "Obviously I couldn't control a person entirely yet, but a few muscles, I think I could. Thank you," he adds softly, "for what you taught me. I couldn't have done it otherwise. Can you help?"
"Of course," she says, and tries not to shudder at the notion of that wire sliding under her skin, of the control she holds onto so tightly sliding away. "What do I need to do?"
Makubex, to her suprise, hands her the laptop. "Might as well go ahead," he says, "hardly any point in programming more control until I know it works." There's a window open, with nothing in it but a command prompt. "The up and down arrow keys," he says, and takes the wire from between his teeth, hunting in his pockets for the connection. He plugs in one end of the wire to the connector, attaches it to the computer, then bites his lip. "I think I did it right," he says, and does not move.
"Makubex - "
"I must have, right?" he says, smiling again, and closes his eyes as he carefully slips the other end of the wire beneath the skin of his left elbow. A drop of blood wells up, and Sakura finds herself wincing. His left hand lays limply against his knee, although his right is clenched into a fist. "Up and down arrow keys," he tells her again. "It's just an experiment, so far."
Sakura can do nothing but obey. She presses the key, and watches his hand rise from his knee. "Are you alright?" The question is from mere force of habit. If he weren't he woulnd't tell her until they were done the experiment.
Makubex, of course, nods. "It feels ... strange," he whispers, and there is an undercurrent of unfamiliar strain beneath his voice. "Keep going?"
She presses the up-arrow key again, and she can see the tension in his forearm. He's fighting it, she realizes. He's trying not to obey. "It works," she says urgently. "We can stop now."
"No," he tells her. "Keep going."
There is nothing to do but what he says, and so she presses the key again. His hand curls into a fist, and his breath is fast and shallow. She pauses, uncertain what to do, but certain this isn't safe. "What now?"
"Try the other way."
This time she presses the down-arrow. His arm relaxes at once, and he opens his eyes and stares down at his left hand as if he had never seen it before. "Theory translates into practice well enough," he whispers, and the tension in his voice is less evident now, but the viciousness with which he pulls out the wire betrays his emotion. "Most enlightening. Thank you for your help."
Sakura will not ask why he did not do that himself, why he needed her to press a few simple keys. There is an obvious explanation: he was afraid of experimental bias, of subconciously wanting it to work and subconciously backing it up. If he closed his eyes he could not see what she was doing, and he could fight it more easily, and if it worked even while he was fighting it, he would know that it was working correctly. This is the obvious reason, and she will remind herself of it.
But she still reaches out, pulls him closer to her, resting his hands on his shoulders. Absently he reaches for the end of the wire, and wipes it clean on the hem of his shirt. Sakura waits for him to let it go, then presses him against her, crossing her arms across his chest. "It's a brilliant idea and you've proven its practicality," she whispers into his ear. "Now take a deep breath, you're wound up." She can feel the tension in the muscles of his back, as if he is trying to reassert his control over his body.
But he does take a deep breath, and leans back against her, letting himself relax by degrees. His eyes are almost glowing. "Anyone could fight," he whispers. "Anyone could be strong." The drop of blood stands out against his ivory skin.
[fallaces sunt rerum species]
Makubex rarely dreams, because he rarely sleeps. He sits up at night until long after Sakura has curled up beside him, covering herself with her shawl. They spend their nights in an abandoned apartment; the water still runs clean in the bathroom, although in the kitchen it does so intermittently, and comes out dirty. Since they do not use the kitchen, they do not mind. When Makubex does sleep, it is in short intervals, resting his head on Sakura's lap or leaning against a wall. There is a bed in the apartment, but they have not used it.
Makubex trembles in his sleep, and Sakura strokes his hair. His dreams are never good; all the darkness lurking behind his smile (and who but her has seen it, truly?) emerges when he sleeps, doing its best to devour him. He does not scream or cry. Sometimes she wishes he would, before he breaks. But for now, she offers what comfort she can, and waits for him to wake up.
Mercifully, he wakes quickly, before the dream can cut too deep. It is only apparent in the slight slowing of his breathing and the sudden opening of his eyes, but Sakura is good at noticing details. "Makubex?" Her voice feels too loud in the quiet room; the laptop still hums gently where she set it aside to make room for him, but there is no other noise, not even the noise of the rain.
"Sakura," he whispers, and clutches at her skirt. "What time is it?"
"Dawn," she tells him. It was past four when he lay down, and she has only dozed a little since, resting her head against the wall, reuctant to leave him alone with his dreams. He shifts uncomfortably, lifting a hand to rub at his eyes. "It's been quiet."
"Something's going to happen," he tells her, his voice quiet and flat.
She runs her fingers through his hair again. It has tangled about his face and fallen into his eyes, but he makes no attempt to brush it aside. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know. But - something will happen." He reaches up and catches her hand, holding it still against his shoulder. "Not today, but soon." He squeezes her hand. "Something's going to happen to Ginji-san."
Sakura finds her hand shaking. To Raitei? "How do you know?" Makubex loves Ginji, she knows, with a kind of quiet and absolute desperation. Most of his soul hangs on that one assumption. There are pieces left over- for Sakura herself, for a man he calls Grandfather and a girl named Ren who he speaks of with ill-concealed sadness when he will speak of them at all, for Emishi Haruki (whose jokes are always just bad enough), for Kazuki and Shido, little crumbs for every resident of Lower Town - but his devotion to Raitei is the center of his being, and it is that shining love that he uses to beat back the shadows of his dreams.
"I don't know," he whispers, and it seems that this distresses him more than the knowledge itself. "Sometimes I know things and I don't know how. But they're always true. I would think they were - nothing, dreams - but they're always true."
He hasn't mentioned this to her before. She finds her hand tightening on his shoulder, as if afriad that he'll slip out of her grasp. The light drifting in the window highlights the cracks in the opposite wall. "Premonitions?"
"Something like that." His hand over hers shifts, to twine their fingers together. "Sometimes I can tell the future by extrapolating the present, but these - memories - they aren't of events I could have determined that way if I had tried. Guessed, sometimes, but not known." His ananlytical tone calms Sakura somewhat. Makubex treats everything not as a problem to be solved, but an equation to be balanced. "I try not to base my actions on premonitions. Until I know more about it that's all I can do." He shrugs slightly.
Sakura considers this. "Until you know what will happen, there's nothing you can do." And maybe there will be nothing even then, she adds silently. She would say it aloud, but the idea of helplessness is a terrifying one for Makubex and she does not want him to think about the possibility, any more than she wants to think about it herself, that there is nothing he can do to save Raitei.
It is the next day, in a noon turned to twilight by the rain, that a stranger in purple glasses wanders into Mugenjou. Makubex watches him arrive on his laptop and his expression is flat, empty, but his fingers are trembling too hard to type.
[amoto quaeramus seria ludo]
"Shido's gone," Makubex says. "He left last night. He's not coming back, Emishi-san."
Emishi's hands clutch the handle of his whip. His knuckles are white and his expression is grim. "What will happen now? You're the only one left," he says, quietly. Emishi is so given to bringing noise into quiet places that somehow his quiet now is terrifying. Sakura touches Juubei's hand reassuringly.
"What do you mean, I'm the only one left? The Volts are gone, Emishi-san. There are no more Kings."
"But you were."
"Yes. I was." Makubex reaches out a hand to touch Emishi's shoulder, and Emishi does not flinch away. "There's no way that the peace we had can continue," he says, his tone gentle, like a man trying to coax an injured animal into his arms. Perhaps he is. Emishi was as much Shido's as any of his four-footed followers, and to be abandoned by his master has left a gaping wound in his heart. But he endures only for a moment before he shrugs off the touch, and Makubex lets it drop. "It was dissolving the instant Ginji-san left. Now it's gone completely."
"What will happen now?" Emishi repeats, sounding desperate. Sakura glances at Juubei, but his face is expressionless. He has already resigned himself to his own loss. It's only a matter of time before Emishi bows, or before he breaks.
Makubex shoves his hands into his pockets and turns away, looking out at the dark buildings of Mugenjou, and in the distance the lights of Tokyo. The night breeze whips at the ends of his scarf. "Whatever we make happen, Emishi-san. We're all that's left. What do you want the new Mugenjou to be?"
Emishi lowers his whip, his hands shaking. "Things are going to change. We can't save everyone. No matter how much we want to. Not without Raitei."
"Raitei is gone. The curtain to the dark ages will open again - to the times when the weak must live in fear." Makubex shrugs. Emishi stares at his hands and does not reply. "However, I think I'll accept that if it comes. Even if it means betraying the beliefs of the Volts."
"Nothing we can do," Emishi says, very quietly. "We have to accept it. We can't save them."
Makubex turns around, and offers his hand to Emishi. "Lend me your power. To build a foundation for the new era."
Very slowly, Emishi reaches out and takes his hand. "I will. I'll follow you." He closes his eyes. "We'll do what we can, right?"
"We'll do what we must," Makubex tells him.
Juubei steps forward, suprising Sakura into a gasp. For the first time that night he speaks. "Emishi-san, you won't regret this." He rests a hand on Emishi's shoulder, and the other man's flinch is barely visible. "All this, everything that has happened since Raitei abandoned us - he knows why. He knows who's responsible." For Juubei this is a long speech. It took three days after Kazuki's departure before he would speak at all. "He'll lead us to a better future, even if the path seems terrifying."
Emishi slowly nods. "You know everything, don't you, Makubex?" His smile is forced. "You know what's best for us."
"I do," Makubex says gently, and lays his hand on top of Juubei's. "But I need your help to make it happen. Mugenjou is a different place now, and a lot of the dreams we had, we'll have to abandon. We have to accept that. But the most important ones - those we can keep." He sounds perfectly sincere, and Sakura realizes that he is, that he has forgotten entirely the dreams that dissolved into nightmares with Ginji gone. But they need his certainty, now, and dead dreams, like lost childhoods, are best forgotten.
"Believe in Makubex," she says to Emishi, and adds her hand to his shoulder. "There's only one path for us, now."
[nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit]
Somehow Sakura wasn't suprised to learn about the Archive. She had never suspected its presence as Makubex had, but she had felt it, as they all had, and mistaken her feelings for the fatalism of the dispossesed. But Makubex had showed her the files - those he had been able to decrypt - and suddenly, a hundred nagging doubts solidified into a horrible realization, and to cheat fate seemed the most important goal in the world.
She had thought Makubex was asleep right until the moment he appeared from the storeroom door. (She can't bring herself to call it a bedroom, even though Makubex had taken to sleeping there - it had crates in it, and spare computer equipment, and a rolled-up blanket, but no actual bed.) He stumbles across the room and kneels next to her, soundlessly. There is a hollow look around his eyes. His gaze makes its way across each one of the arc of monitors before settling on her. "Sakura," he whispers, sounding very tired. She wonders if he was dreaming again - it would be pointless to wonder if the dreams were nightmares, for all his dreams are nightmares, but sometimes he has managed to sleep and have nothing at all follow him there.
"Are you alright?"
He nods, his eyes barely focusing on the screens. "Do you ever wonder if we're doing the right thing?"
"No." Sakura tries to make her voice firm, something for him to lean on, because if he were to break they would all break with him. "We've made the only choices we could."
His smile is unexpected. For a moment Sakura thinks it is the same as the smile he used to wear, when he spoke so easily of peace and happiness and freedom. But although there is a superficial similarity, the glint of his eyes and the tremble in his hands betray the difference. Sakura knows Makubex has been going mad for some time. She desperately hopes that he stays mad. Sanity would kill him.
"I have a plan, you know," he says, his voice even softer. "I've figured out a way to set us free. One way or another."
The undertone chills her, but she has made her decision long ago, and there is nothing she can do but agree. "Tell me."
He leans against her and lets her wrap her arms around his shoulders. "Babylon City controls us," he begins. "The only way we can be free of them is to gain a measure of control over them. And the only way to do that is with superiour strength." His voice is soft and even and decisive; he's obviously been thinking about this for some time. "If we have a credible threat to use against them, then they will have no choice but to aceded to our demands. If we could destroy them - they will do anything rather than let themsleves be destroyed." And he would not, and she would not, and Emishi and Juubei would not, and all that is unspoken but there anyway, in the set of his expression. "There are ways to detroy them, and they know it."
Sakura does not dare take a deep breath. "How could we destroy them?"
"With the bomb that I will build." His voice is startlingly even. "It would destroy Lower Town as well, but they won't care about that. They will care only for themselves. Which is why the threat will work, and they will fall over themselves to surrender."
There is a compelling logic to the plan, that Sakura must acknowledge even as she is sickened by it. This is what she knows, because Makubex has found it out: that Mugenjou is an experiment, the playground of those live in Babylon City above, that they are even now living according to the paths the Archive lays out for them. That Makubex has broken into the virtual worlds that Babylon City made, and that he can control them and make new ones.
That Mugenjou itself is in areas, and in a sense, only as real as these virtual worlds, and as programmable. If Makubex can hack the Archive.
That Babylon City does not want him to, but their power is not absolute, and it is possible for even the Archive to paint itself into a corner - this Sakura only hopes. She would pray, but she does not think the gods that inhabit Mugenjou are benevolent ones, or that they would listen to her.
"Of course, the bomb will be largely virtual," Makubex continues, "but I can prevent them from trying to simply delete it." The reflection of the monitors turns his eyes green, which disturbs her. "I can control pieces of their computers from here, and not even Babylon City can prevent it. I'm using their own security programs against them." He reaches up and touches her hand, infinitely gentle. "They'll do whatever I tell them, if they want to live."
"What will you tell them?" She takes hold of his hand, wanting to give him something to hold on to, and wanting something herself. "To set us free?"
He nods. His hand tightens on hers. "And something else." Makubex's eyes are open, but he is not looking at anything, except perhaps his own soul, or his shadow. "For the Volts. That's why I have to do this. Because Ginji-san was winning, you know." His voice is almost happy for a second, and she gasps in suprise.
"Raitei - "
"Wasn't supposed to be winning." There is an edge of desperation in his voice. "The Archive - there are places in it, only a few, but still there - things didn't go according to plan. Ginji-san was supposed to die, not to leave us."
"You said the Archive was infallible."
"I thought so, at first. But it can only control the virtual areas completely. There's enough of a gap there to give us our freedom. If the Volts still existed - we'd be winning still. I intend to bring them back. Everything that the Archive was wrong about, connects to Ginji-san." He smiles. "He's an essential ingredient in our freedom."
There is a question that had been at the edges of her mind for some time, and she cannot help but bring it up, even though she knows the thought is disloyal, even if she knows has no right to it. Makubex trusts her, and he will allow the liberty. "Then we should tell people to leave Mugenjou altogether. Go somewhere the Archive can't touch them, where Babylon City won't follow. They can't take over all of Tokyo."
With something not unlike laughter, Makubex closes his eyes and sits up, letting go of her hand. "I would, if I could. But not everyone can leave Mugenjou, you know."
"Babylon City can't stop them all, not without walling them in, and even then you could delete the walls." She tries to sound more certain than she is. If it could be done, Makubex would do it.
"Babylon City wouldn't have to stop them." He sounds very tired again, and sad. "Sakura - you know that parts of Mugenjou are virtual, even parts you can walk to, even parts that look utterly real. They're solid buildings and people can live in them, but if certain files were deleted - they'd dissolve. And if you broke off a piece of steel from them and tried to carry it outside, it would flicker out as soon as you left. Like turning off a light."
Her hands clench in the fabric of her skirt. "People aren't buildings." But she thinks she sees it - an idea to horrible to contemplate, and like the Archive, little things are coming together in her mind, and she remembers that Makubex has never been outside Mugenjou, and she has met more than a few others who have lived here all their lives - mostly children - and of those there are many who have seemed strange, more so than normal even for Mugenjou, indeifinably other. There is nothing to do but wait for his next words.
"Some of us are made the same way, though." His hands shoved in his pockets, Makubex stands up, and only Sakura would see the pain spread across his expression. "And Mugenjou's virtual reality doesn't, and can't, exist beyond Babylon City's influence. I think I'm going for a walk on the roof." The change of subject is so abrupt Sakura has no response but silence. "You know what to do, if there's any trouble." And with that, he slips away, heading for the elevator before Sakura realizes he is leaving.
It's not her place to follow. She is here to watch the computers, as she always must when he does not, although there are few hours when that is true. Makubex doesn't sleep much, and he doesn't do much else but sleep and work.
No wonder he went mad so easily. What he knows would drive anyone mad. Sakura reminds herself that his madness is all that keeps him alive, that he is still all that keeps them strong, that she swore (even if never aloud, even if with no witnesses but her own shadow, and no more tangible pledge than her hand on his shoulder) to follow him, without the caveat of unreason or futility or even self-destruction. She loves him, and she has in the way of a mother loved him more since he has broken.
Some of us. Us.
Her own dreams were left behind long ago, in the burning wreckage of the Fuuchoin estate, but when she had followed her brother to Mugenjou she had begun to cultivate new ones - fragile seedlings, nurtured with stolen moments of imagination. She had bound herself to a child in whose eyes she saw the future, and watered her own small dreams with the leftover hope from his. They had both wanted a peaceful future for Mugenjou, and it had seemed a small thing beside that to wish for a happy home for their children, their children, once he was no longer a child and did not need her to be his mother. Now those new dreams were dying, but she would be strong and let them go, without tears. There were more important things to think about, and even if the dreams they now must share were closer to nightmares, still she had made her choice, irreconcievably.
At least it was not common knowledge that there were amoung Mugenjou's citizens those who were only figments of someone else's imagination, who not only would not but could not leave, who could not even depend on the knowledge of their own existence. That would drive many people mad. Makubex, she thinks, only weathered it so well because he was mad already, and because he is used to heavy weights.
[curae leves loquuntur ingentes stupent]
Kagami disturbs Sakura. There is something behind his brilliant smile that it is designed perfectly to hide, and he makes no secret of the fact that he has secrets. Kagami is perfectly transperent. Sakura does not trust people who cast so little shadow. Kagami is bright and ephemeral; he bends so easily to Makubex's requests Sakura wonders if he is doing it out of indulgence, humoring him rather than obeying him.
Kagami is standing behind her, and she will not turn to look at him, because she does not know if he will be visible. She could feel the air shift when he entered, and the smell of his lilac perfume is barely preceptible. The monitors tell her that nothing requires her attention, and so she can spare it all for the man behind her. She does not turn her head.
There is another thought which has occured to her: that Kagami is not real.
It's a possibilty that must be considered, here and now. 'Not real' is not the most accurate of terms, she knows. He's real, obviously; he has touched her with solid hands, the air shifts when he enters the room, he is as real as anyone else is, here. The question is whether he would still be, outside. Sakura does not think so.
Makubex is working. He does not look up, although he must have realized Kagami had come in - not just as she had, but over the monitors, because they will have registered the added presence. Makubex does not have the acuteness of feeling that she does; he has not learned how to sense his surroundings in the same way. Not even the perfume would have alerted him. He has no sense of smell.
"Juubei is on his way back," Kagami remarks. Sakura does allow herself to look up toward him then. If he was invisible, he's dropped the pretense.
"I know," Makubex tells him, without looking up. "I saw him."
"You see everything, don't you?" Kagami sounds amused. "I don't have to tell you anything."
"No." Makubex's fingers are flying across the keyboards, almost too fast to be seen. "I'm not the one you're reporting to, am I? You only have to do what I say."
Kagami's laughter is like broken glass. "And you don't worry that I will tell Babylon City what you're doing?"
Sakura does worry. But she keeps silent, and lets Makubex answer. "No. Because it doesn't matter. I want them to know, eventually." His hands stop momentarily. "Let them listen to my words. Let me show them something new, that their plans do not encompass." The prideful scorn in his voice is no longer a suprise.
Sakura stands up, because there is a glitter in Kagami's eye that makes her suspect Makubex has touched a nerve. Her hands tighten on her shawl, ready to fight, ready to defend her master. Kagami only smiles, though. "I shall be sure to inform them of that," he says, his voice as always impossible to read. And with that he sparkles into invisbility again. Perhaps he was only joking. Sakura hopes he was only joking. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. She does not dare let go of her shawl, until she hears a crack and sees the door open and close without a touch.
Makubex still has not looked up from his monitors. Sakura closes her eyes and does not speak.
She is the only person who will meet his eyes. Makubex will look at people when he is speaking earnestly to them, but they will glance away, bow their heads, refuse to try to look. Sakura wonders what it is they see in his eyes that she does not - whether it is something he will not allow his expression to show in front of her, or whether it is something she no longer finds frightening.
"Three days," he tells her. "In three days, they will arrive."
There is something he is not telling her, she knows, and she can see it in his eyes. She will not ask, though.
He lays out maps, points out the locations where his plans will take effect. They are still fluid, he informs her quietly, and he will have to gather data as the agents make their way through the Castle - but the plans are there, as neat as a stack of dominos, and arranged in much the same way to fall down one by one. Here is where they will be separated, here is where two of them will encounter their first fight. "I do not expect either Megumi to live. They are both dangerous fanatics, and need to be disposed of; this is the most useful way." This is where Ginji-san will find his double. "Doctor Jackal will be able to destroy the androids, but sacrifices must be made."
"Of course." She does not dare touch him now, has not been able to for days. She is afraid, terribly afraid. There is an aura about him that she saw once before but recognized only in retrospect, in Lady Fuuchoin. Knowing this, she wants to touch him, wants to reach out and hold him close and memorize every inch - but she cannot, would not; it would be akin to sacrilige, to touch him without permission. His voice is cold and inexorible and there is nothing she can do. He outlines the battles that will occur, the paths their enemies will take. Ginji-san, she notices, is always Raitei in his words now.
"When you have seen Midou Ban use his Jagan for the last time," he says softly, "leave. Leave Mugenjou. Get as far away as possible." His hands are shaking. She knows now, what he was not telling her.
But again, there is nothing she can do. "I will," she tells him.
When he reaches out to touch her shoulder his hands are not shaking anymore. "You don't need to be there for the ending," he tells her. "Come back, if you like, in a while. It would be good if Mugenjou had you to lead it into the new world. Even without the influence of Babylon City, it will take a long time before Mugenjou is peaceful and happy. People here have forgotten how not to fight." He looks down. "But if you would rather not come back ... you've furfilled your obligations honorably. I can see to it, right now, that you won't lack for anything in the outside world."
I would, Sakura thinks. You wouldn't be there. "No," she tells him. "I'll come back, once I know it's safe. What will happen after I go?" She cannot leave him to die without at least knowing how and why.
"I'll have the plutonium then," he tells her with a small, grim smile. "I only have to delay them long enough to finish the compile." He picks up his keyboard again, and code begins to scroll across the screen too fast for Sakura to follow. "After the fight, I'll change the configuration of the control room, to make Akabane and Raitei believe they are in a different area. When they leave, it will return to normal. The damage Raitei did to the virtual control room will not exist in the real one, once you and they leave." Makubex types as he speaks, his eyes not focusing on her or on the computer screens. He explains how he will delay the retreival agents with virtual clones, how only four of them will reach the control room at all. Sakura waits for the ending.
Finally, Makubex falls silent, and his hands stop moving on the keyboard. "I'll lose," he whispers. "Ginji-san's power controls this place." Sakura gasps in suprise, to hear him speak of Ginji by name again. "But by then it won't matter, because the bomb will be finished." He looks at her with that same strange look in his eyes. "I'll ask Babylon City to make a deal. And they will. With Ginji-san there, they cannot act against me." Sakura looks down, a grim certainty growing in her mind. "They'll transfer control of Lower Town to my mother computer. Of course," he continues quietly, "they'll destroy the threat in the process."
She does not ask whether he means the bomb, or himself. She knows what he means. He can protect the bomb, nestled safe on the mother-computer's discs, in ways he cannot protect himself.
Still, Sakura willfully misunderstands him. "When they do, we won't need it anymore," she says, and smiles.
"Exactly." Makubex looks almost proud, and a little sad. He brushes a hand against her cheek. Sakura looks at him, knowing she will not be able to much longer. He looks beautiful and young, but he is young, will never be anything but young, despite the ages in his eyes. She will remember him like this for as long as her memory lasts, and mourn him as she would a son. He knows, she tells herself. He goes willingly to his fate. It's a small price to pay. It's what he wants.
Does it make her disloyal that she will leave him to his fate, or loyal that she will obey him, even when it breaks her heart?
Three days later, Sakura collapses against a wall, Makubex's voice ringing in her ears. She is glad that his calculations were correct, and only sorry she could not obey his last order. She wakes up still thinking she is dreaming, but when she sees Juubei beside her, she knows that she has failed, and is not sorry. She'll make this decision for herself. She knows her place. It is at Makubex's side, whatever happens, until the end.
[leve fit, quod bene fertur, onus]
Juubei did not truly expect to be healed, Sakura thinks. He went with Kazuki, not out of a desire for healing, but simply because he wished to be close to Kazuki. When he returns he seems happier. Kazuki comes with him, to her suprise, and announces quietly that he's coming back to Mugenjou. He has things to do, and loose ends to bind up, and then he needs to pack his things. He leaves, silent and purposeful as ever, leaving Makubex staring after him in something like astonishment.
Juubei smiles. "He'll be back soon," he tells Makubex. "Kazuki believes in you too, you know."
"Yes," Makubex says. "I realized that." These days he seems more fragile, more uncertain. His pain is closer to the surface. Peace is returning slowly, and Makubex watches as he once did and does not speak of what happened so recently, of what he did not do.
Sakura finds herself touching his hand. She has done so often since his return, reassuring herself that he is still there, still whole. "Who are the Four Kings now?" she asks softly. Fudou vanished after his defeat at the hands of Midou Ban; Makubex told her he had left Mugenjou, had in fact left Tokyo altogether, and good riddance. "Is Kazuki one of them?"
There's a tremble in Makubex's laugh. "Would he consent to serve under me, instead of Raitei?"
"He would," Juubei says firmly. Sakura cannot help but smile, although she finds the prospect somewhat intimidating. She has gained, she knows, something of an exalted position. Makubex has called her a queen in private, only half in jest. Yet she has thought of Kazuki all her life as her superior.
"It doesn't matter," Makubex says. "We aren't the Volts anymore. We don't need the Four Kings." He stares at the floor. "And Kazuki's loyalty is more than I deserve after what I've done," he adds, quietly, but Juubei hears him and presses a comforting hand on his shoulder.
For some reason the gesture makes Sakura nervous, but she is careful not to betray it.
Juubei continues, calm, logical. "To whom else would he give it?"
"Raitei." The word is a curse in his mouth.
"Raitei no longer exists. There is only Ginji." The phrases slot into place easily, the components of an unbreakable syllogism. "And Ginji isn't here anymore. Kazuki will serve you because you are the ruler of Mugenjou, and because you have earned his loyalty."
Makubex does not look up, but he nods.
Once, long ago, Juubei had been terrified by the idea of Kazuki following orders from anyone, but perhaps they have discussed matters, or perhaps he has merely grown older. Sakura remembers how exuberant her brother was as a child, how he flung himself into everything. She remembers the uncontrollable smile on his face one particular evening, that even then she recognized as the smile of someone who just fell in love. She remembers how he stopped smiling when Kazuki left.
Back then he and Makubex had found each other compatriots, joined by their loss. Juubei, now, has regained what he lost. He has lost other things in the process, but nothing that he values more.
And Sakura is struck by a realization: that Makubex has not regained what he lost, has instead realized that he never will. There's a certain freedom in hopelessness, but Makubex has never believed in it. That is why Juubei is so calm and centered, why Makubex is still so hollow. Silently, Sakura promises herself to make it up to him. First loves are the hardest to let go of, but second loves can blunt the pain, and some actions are as inevitable as a conjunction of planets.
[forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit]
"How long has it been since you went outside?" Sakura asks.
Makubex looks away. "Not for some time." It's a true answer, but an evasive one. Still, Sakura knows the answer measured in days: he has not gone up to the roof since he jumped off it, and as for walking the streets, he has not done that since well before. She asked to remind him of it. "What of it?"
"Nothing," Sakura says. "Only that you used to do it all the time. You enjoyed it."
"I've been busy." Makubex closes his eyes, looking tired. "So many things to fix." He winces slightly, and Sakura, no longer afraid, reaches out and runs a hand down his back.
"Not that busy."
"I can't let myself, don't you see that?" Makubex continues, very quietly.
Once, she would not have spoken a word against him. But Sakura thinks they have both grown older now, far more than the passing of time would sugest. She sees the shape of his thoughts, and there is no longer anything she would keep from him. And she realizes, with a suddenness that suprises her, why he hasn't gone outside. "Isn't Mugenjou prison enough?" He tenses, but does not respond. "What evil have you done, that you should never see the sun again? Everything you did, you did in the name of justice. There are worse causes." She takes a breath, realizing that Makubex is trembling, on the verge of tears. "And everything that you saw was wrong afterwards, you tried to make amends for."
Makubex's voice is flat, but the words are an accusation. "What if something happened and I didn't realize? Because I was gone? Doing something I enjoyed?"
"I know you're not staying here because you're afraid something will happen while you're gone. If that was all, you'd take the laptop with you and there would be no problem." His silence is answer enough. "You're staying here because you think you don't deserve freedom. But you do. You deserve more freedom than you'll ever have, and I wish I could give you as much happiness as you've earned. I can't, though. Not if you won't take it."
Makubex slowly turns to look at her, his expression blank and his eyes reflecting the light of the monitors oddly. Sakura meets his gaze, waiting for him to answer. Perhaps he'll be angry, she thinks distantly, that I have challenged him. I never did before. They match gazes, and the tension stretches between them, and then Makubex breaks. It's the second time in all his life that she has seen him cry, and the second time in a day. Last night, he awoke from a nightmare and couldn't stop crying. He told her, eventually, that he didn't know what the matter was, that he'd never cried before, and she had elected not to mention that she has heard him cry in his sleep, although never before had she tried to comfort him.
Tears don't suit him. He has the rare knack of looking dignified despite them, and his eyes don't go red, but nontheless there's something horribly wrong about watching tears on the face of someone so composed and rational. Sakura pulls him into her lap so she doesn't have to look, and idly strokes his hair. She waits for a while, and them Makubex smiles up at her and kisses her cheek.
"Let's go upstairs," she suggests. "Right now. We'll bring the laptop in case anything happens, and a blanket to lie on, and watch the sunset, and stay until the stars come out."
"There won't be many," Makubex says. "It's nearly New Year's. Everyone in Tokyo is adding to the light pollution."
Sakura smiles at him. "Better than nothing. Tell me their names, when we see them."
"I will." There's a note of determination in Makubex's voice at this. "I know the names of every star. Every one that can be seen from Mugenjou."
[saepe creat molles aspera spina rosas]
Spring came easily to Mugenjou, although no trees bloomed there. There were weeds enough, and some people kept potted plants, but green and growing things were few and far between.
"There should be trees," Makubex says. "Someday, when there's peace enough to plant them." He points over the blacony ledge to a corner, inhabiated only by disintegrating graffiti. "Right there, maybe."
Sakura leans against him, and finds herself smiling. "Definately," she says.
"And anywhere else we can find room. And on rooftops." Makubex waves a hand at the building opposite. "Why aren't there rooftop gardens? You'd think there would be gardens everywhere."
Sakura realizes she does not know. "Yes," she answers, confused. She would say, People don't have time, or It wouldn't be safe. But they do, and it would be if they were careful, and with a sudden pang Sakura realizes how long it had been since she has seen fresh flowers. Or eaten fresh vegtables, but food is only food, and somehow there's always been food enough to go around. "Maybe they just don't know how."
"Or they don't have the seeds." Makubex looks down, his sudden enthusiasm quenched.
Sakura strokes his hair reassuringly. "You could tell them how," she suggests. "Give them what they need. It can't be that hard to plant a garden, and there's plenty of dirt, if you know where to look."
His answering smile is amused. "How would look? The all-powerful dictator, telling people to plant gardens?"
"Then I could." The idea has hatched and taken wing, and Sakura cannot let go of it now. She wonders if Makubex, in all his fifteen years of life, has ever seen a tree in person. The thought reminds her suddenly of the house where she used to live, and trees so large she could not fit both arms around them. It's been long enough now that the thought is no longer painful. "If I knew how, I could teach them."
"Then you shall have to find out how," Makubex says, and the levity is obviously forced. She wraps her arms around his shoulders and looks out at the bleak, gray expanse. "I'll find the seeds," he says quietly. "Somehow. Buy them, if I have to, get them delivered to the Honky Tonk."
Sakura is suprised to find herself upset at the prospect of going outside Mugenjou. She's done it many times, of course, but it still seems disloyal somehow to go where he cannot, a betrayal. So she lets the comfortable silence grow, and holds her lover close.
Lover. That's still a word she's getting used to, months later.
They've never spoken of it to each other. Sakura has only spoken of it once, and that was to Kazuki. He'd asked, and when she'd answered - hesitantly, still ashamed to admit to what she had not been ashamed to give - he'd only smiled. That's good, he said, both of you will be the happier for it. She had spoken then of other things that she feared, and he'd had no answers. She hadn't expected him to; all she'd wanted was the comfort, and the understanding, and those he had given her.
Kazuki was, as usual, perceptive and accurate. It has been good for them - mostly for Makubex, but Sakura feels better too these days, more confident, calmer. It can't just be love (she's been in love for several years now) and it can't be hormones (she's too old for that). She suspects it's reflected hapiness, the glow that attends anyone who's the object of devotion. As for Makubex, he sleeps less when she's there, but in his case that's probably a good thing. Once he told her, calmly and seriously, that he didn't know what he would have done when Ginji went away the second time, if she hadn't been there. I wasn't very well made, he'd said. I need people with me, but I don't relate to people, except in absolutes. He'd broken off and looked at her thougtfully, and she wondered what absolute he saw in her.
But she doesn't want to think about that. Instead she considers a few chance remarks of Kazuki's, that the mention of growing things has put back into her mind.
"When I was a little girl," she says quietly, trying to put her thoughts in order, "I never thought I'd end up like this. I thought I knew exactly what my life was going to be like. And now that it's nothing like that - I couldn't be happier."
"That's only normal," Makubex offers, almost drowsily. "It happened to me, too. What did you think your life would be like?"
It was a long time ago and she has to think it over for a minute. "I thought I'd be married by now," she admits. "With children. Several children, if I could, and I had names all picked out, although I don't remember what they were. And I expected Juubei to live with me and be an doting if irresponsible uncle. Somehow I never pictured him married."
Makubex chuckles. "He might as well be, though." His expression softens. "He loves Kazuki very much. And I think they're happy, more or less."
"Devotion," she tells him, "runs in the family." At that Makubex stiffens, as if he's just thought of something disasteful. She waits, but he doesn't speak, and so she strokes his hair again and smiles at him. "What did you think your life would be like, when you were younger?"
"How young? When I was very young, I expected to be a physician. Like Ren." Makubex closes his eyes and leans against her, almost clutching at her, as if he's afraid the breeze will blow him away. "And when I got older and I went outside more, I thought I would trade information, because I was very good at finding things out with my computers. I knew them, see, they never hid things. Not from me." He half-smiles and adds causally, "And of course when I joined the Volts I didn't expect to have a future."
Sakura bows her head. "You've done well with it," she says. She doesn't say more; Makubex thinks too much of death already to dwell on the death he might have had, had he been less lucky, perhaps, or Ginji less perceptive. He's still here, and she intends to keep him.
[vivamus, atque amemus]
Makubex stares up at the stars, his head in Sakura's lap. This roof is high enough that the air is thin and clear, but the night is so warm they do not need a blanket. He reaches up to spread his fingers against her belly, and she presses her hand over his.
Sakura is barely two months pregnant, but she can feel the life inside herself as surely as she can feel her own heartbeat. So far it's been easy. Makubex has watched over her with a father's devotion. He was always gentle with her, but now he is reverential. She had thought this would be hard for him, but the thought of jealousy never occured to him.
"Look," he whispers, pointing up at the stars. "Do you see? That's Polaris."
"Yes," she says, following his gaze. It's low in the sky, but bright - bright enough to be seen, at least, over the myriad lights of the Tokyo skyline.
"I don't know any stories about it," he confesses. "You'd think there'd be all sorts of myths about it, but there aren't. Or if there are, I never heard of them." He sits up, pulling himself closer to her and tucking his head beneath her chin. She runs a hand down his hair.
Sometimes he still reminds her of the child he once was, when they are alone; it's not a bad thing, she thinks. Sometimes she's reminded that he's almost seventeen. "I don't know any stories about the stars," she says. "Except for what you've told me. I never thought about the stars at all."
Makubex shrugs. "Neither did I, for a long time. But they're worth looking at. A lot of things are." His hand tightens on her shoulder. "Are you still feeling well?"
It's an abrupt change of subject, but Sakura has become used to that. "I'm fine," she says firmly. "I havn't even had morning sickness. Don't start worrying yet, Makubex. Give it four more months and then you can start worrying." She laughs, and so does he, a little shakily.
"I can't help worrying, though," he says gently. "I worry about everyone. Besides, if I didn't worry Emishi would bug me about it until I hit him for being a bother, which would almost certainly cause more problems than it solved. He's more worried than I am," he adds absently, "only he's determined not to admit it. Now if he were the father, he'd have an excuse. And I'm not, so I suppose I don't, but I like to think I at least count as a rather close form of uncle."
"Oh, you do," Sakura says. She looks down at the man, scarcely more than a boy himself, who's so determined to do things right, and feels a sudden pang of sympathy. "Kazuki and Juubei have the most right to be worried, and they're not worried at all. Except that they can't decide on a name, so they're leaving it to me."
Makubex smiles and lets himself slip down again until his head is nestled between her breasts and his arms encircle her waist. "Have you worked it out yet?" he asks, his voice muffled.
"No. I was thinking of leaving it to you."
Makubex sits bolt upright and just looks at her for a very long moment, but Sakura looks back, calm and confident. "It's only fair," she tells him, and she knows that she's right. She would have trouble articulating why, although it has something to do with his steadiness, and how kind he's been to everyone, and how badly he wants people to be happy, and the name he never had for himself. It has to do with hope, and missing chances. He'll ask her why and she won't be able to say. But for once, he doesn't ask. He just smiles.
"Then I'll have to think of a good one."