The boy is barely three years old, at a guess, and a guess is the best he'll ever have. His grandfather is beginning to worry about him - he is far too serious for such a young boy, and the things he found on the computer, quite casually, without even trying, are things that should have stayed hidden.
He asks disturbing questions, too, and that should be reassuring. After all, it is characteristic of children. But the look in his eyes when he asks is nothing that belongs on a child. It's not my place to deny him, his grandfather thinks. This is my penance. And he looks down at his grandchildren, and wonders what will become of them.
"Why don't I have a name?" the boy asks. His sister is sleeping, and he is looking at her, not the man he is questioning. "She does."
"Because," his grandfather says, "you aren't mine. It wasn't my place to give you a name."
"But I call you Grandfather," the boy points out, and the man feels a pang of guilt. "Whose place is it, then?"
This isn't how it's supposed to go, thinks the man. And then: It never is. What else can I do?
"You're probably right," he tells the boy. "Do you want a name?"
"Yes," the boy tells him thoughtfully, his eyes still on the rise and fall of his baby sister's breath. "Yes, I think I do."
"I have to think about it, then," the man says. "Names are important." And better that you be someone, he doesn't add, even if it's not my place to choose. Better I than no one at all.
Makubex is ten years old and already he is trying to leave. Ren is screaming and begging him not to go.
"Please," she whispers. "Please." Her voice has begun to go hoarse; Makubex has simply stood there and taken it. Still, he hasn't left yet. He hasn't left yet, she repeats to herself.
"Ren." His voice, she realizes, is anguished. "I have to go. I can't stay here. I should go before Grandfather finds out - "
"They don't need you," she says, and takes a deep breath for her final argument. It hurts her to admit it. It would hurt her worse if she didn't. "I need you."
He looks sad. "You always protected me," he says. "You're strong. What could you need me for?"
"To be my brother."
Makubex looks away. "I'm not your brother. I never was. I'm nobody's - "
"You're mine", Ren tells him. She grabs him by the shoulders, and he does not resist. "I took care of you. I listened to you tell stories. I slept with you on cold nights. That time you wanted to steal a box of computer parts, I was the diversion. When Grandfather asked who stole it, I took the blame. I gave you my ice-cream. We only had one scoop, and it was only one time, and I gave you half of mine because you liked it so much. You're my brother, Makubex, and I'm not going to let you go get killed."
He melts under her hands. "The Volts need me," he says, but softly, in the tones of a man already defeated.
"We need you more." Her voice excludes the possibility of defiance; it's a trick she learned from Makubex. He doesn't try to defy her. He comes back inside, and they do not speak of the matter again.
Makubex is fourteen. He looks much younger, when he sleeps. He sleeps now, his head resting on Sakura's shoulder, and she looks down at his face. He looks so young, but she is not one to change her mind easily, or be swayed by superficial sentiment. Better that it be here and now, and better that it be her.
She can't do it like this, though, and so she gently touches his shoulder, waking him up.
His eyes are brilliant blue. "What is it?" he asks her, gentle, concerned, and she knows he does not have to fake it with her. "I didn't hear anything."
"There wasn't anything." She tries to smile reassuringly. She wants him to be happy. "I just thought of something I should do." And rather than explain she pulls him into a kiss.
It goes on for a very long while, and it's perfectly obvious it's his first kiss. He doesn't smile, but his eyes are soft and warm and his hands on her sides reassuringly real.
Afterwards she pulls his head into her lap. "Sleep," she tells him. "It's alright. You don't have to worry. I'll take care of you." And Makubex does smile, or half-smile, as he closes his eyes. It's not his old smile, but it's something.
It doesn't take him very long at all to fall asleep.
Sakura allows herself a moment to regret the smile. Then she wraps her shawl over his face and waits. He stops breathing easily, without struggle.
As the body cools, she sits there for a very long time. He would have wanted it that way, she thinks, if he were still sane. I couldn't let him destroy Mugenjou. Not for anything. It's not a comforting thought, but there will be very little comfort in Kakei Sakura's life from now on.
She lays the body out as best she can. Then she takes the dolphin necklace, and hangs it around her own neck, and goes forth into her new kingdom.
Makubex is fourteen, but his eyes look older, and he meets Ban's gaze without hesitation or fear.
Ban is used to taking control of the situation, taking the fears and desires people keep in the locked cabinets of their mind and letting them into the world. He does not have a dream already planned as he lets go his talent, feels it catch, in the real world sees Makubex shiver and drop his hand and in the dream he sees -
desert. A lone figure, standing in the midst of endless rubble, an empty world. He sees the dream Makubex has already had, over and over. And he knows.
All through the dream Makubex does not seem suprised, and he does not change his expression, and Ban realizes even as he pulls the trigger from unresisting fingers that Makubex has not changed his mind.
The boy looks up at the gathering at the opposite end of the room. He smiles, slowly, a terrible expression. "That was clever," he says. "Saving one Evil Eye for the finale. But it didn't work, you know."
And now it's Ban's turn to be taken aback, and he feels himself falling into the abyss. He holds up the trigger. "We won," he says, and can't come up with a second line.
"No," Makubex says, and now he looks very sad. "I won. My caluclations were correct all along." He raises a hand into the air, and Ban wonders how he could not have realized this, how he could not have seen it, but the point is moot and it's all moot and nothing again will ever count for anything. The expression on Makubex's face is one of silent agony.
"I'm sorry, Ginji-san," he says, and moves his hand in a swift half-circle. There's a tremor in the ground, and then an indefinable noise, and for half an instant Makubex is sillouetted against a backdrop of terrible while light.
It's the last thing Ban ever sees.
Makubex is fifteen, half Masaki's age, but they were equals once and so Masaki is not suprised when he looks at the light and says Masaki's name. He sounds sad and confused.
"I'm sorry," Masaki says. "If there were any other way, I wouldn't do this."
Makubex's eyes are invisible behind his visor, but Masaki still has the eerie impression that the man is meeting his gaze. "What are you doing, Masaki-san? There's always another way."
"Yes," he tells Makubex. "But it was worse. I don't want to have to kill you, Makubex, so I've come to take you away."
" ... To the Archive." As always, Makubex has understood in a flash. "Brain Trust sent you here for me."
Masaki stops closer, steadying himself for a blow. "Yes. They say you've become too much of a threat to be let loose." It's nothing that Makubex could not have guessed, and Masaki somehow feels he owes it.
"Why do you do what they tell you?" It's a familiar question. Masaki realizes with a suddensting why: Teshimine asked him the same, a little while before he left. "You could walk away."
"What difference would it make to you?" He didn't expect a conversation, but he's in no hurry. "They'd just send someone else after you."
"Then take me away from here." Makubex lifts his hand to his visor, takes it off and looks at Masaki where his eyes must be, behind the light. "You must have planned ahead. Change your plans. We'll go together." His voice is shaky, but resolute, and Masaki ralizes his hands are clenched into fists. The calm certaintly sounds familiar.
It is sveral seconds before Masaki realizes he is being reminded of Teshimine.
He doesn't want to do this. He doesn't. If there were any other way -
There is, isn't there?
They leave Mugenjou together, one walking, one carried in a deceptively small memory card. It would be only hours before Brain Trust knew they were gone, but Masaki was sure he could find profit in a few hours.