It wasn't until several days later that Makubex allowed himself to sleep, and then he shut himself in the disused broom closet where Sakura had insisted on leaving a matress and a pile of blankets, and did not emerge for most of a day. There had been much to do, and he done it. Somehow or other his power was still secure; he had lost no allies for this, and perhaps some people even were more loyal. Sakura was surprised he had made it this far without breaking.
Three days later he was starting to fray. She watched him silently and made sure he had something to eat from time to time, and reassured herself that even if she was required to retreat for a little while, soon it would be done with and she could care for him as he needed. The breakdown took about a week, in the end. He had just sent Emishi off to some necessary task, still smiling. He sat down in front of his ring of computers, folded his hands in his lap, and said quietly, "Sakura? Could you please go away for a while?"
"How long?" She eyed the way his hands were twisting together and decided that things had probably reached their limit.
Makubex closed his eyes. "A few hours, I think," he said, the words barely a breath, and then he covered his face with his hands. He was breathing hard. "Please. Quickly -"
"Alright," she said, because she could say nothing else, and then, because things between them were not what they had been a week ago, she leaned over and wrapped her arms around his shoulders for a moment. This was enough. He shivered and then turned and clung to her, with the strangled sobs of someone trying not to weep, gripping her arms so tightly she distantly wondered how long the bruises would last. She kept holding him, stroking his hair. It felt strange not to touch the scarf he had worn for so long, but that was lost now, one of the smaller losses he had suffered; still it was reperable and she silently berated herself for not thinking of that before.
After a while he stopped shaking and let go of her arms. "I'm sorry you had to see that." There were shadows around his eyes, and he looked very old to her.
"I think you need some rest," she told him, and shifted until she could scoop him up in her arms. He gasped, but disquietingly enough made no protest. Until they were inside the little storage room Sakura had dragged a mattress and some blankets into just so he had somewhere that wasn't the computer room, he didn't move at all. Once she had kicked the door shut he stirred a little and whimpered softly. "Shhh," she whispered. "It's alright. You've had a terrible time. I won't respect you any less for not being superhuman."
He made no protest as she laid him down on the the matress, nor as she pulled the blankets around them both. Only when he had been still for so long she wondered if he'd fallen asleep did he offer, "You're so kind. Thank you."
"There's no need to thank me; it's my proper place." She kissed his forehead, and thought she saw a hint of a flush in his cheeks. "You never had a mother to look after you, did you?"
"I don't think of you as a mother," he told her, sounding quite shy. "Is that how you see me? Your son?"
She had to think to come up with the right words. "No more than Kazuki and Juubei," she finally told him, and let her hand slip under his shirt, feeling the cool of his skin. His skin was always a little cooler than human skin should be. "If you need a mother, I'll be a mother. But I love you as my leige and my dearest friend."
He shivered, and she wondered if she had taken too much liberty. But then he abruptly replied, "I don't need a mother. Not like that. I just need you. I want all of you," he added, almost too soft to be heard.
That was reassuring; it meant she hadn't taken too much liberty at all. The next kiss was on the lips. He gasped, but returned it, and it lasted far longer than it had any right to. He clutched at her dress like he was trying to keep from drowning, and her heart broke at the way he looked at her, then closed his eyes and said, "You don't have to -"
"I want to. Do you think I'd do this if I didn't truly want it?"
At that, he smiled. "No. No, I trust you more than that." He let go, and let her pull his shirt up and over his head. It was difficult, lying down and with the blankets tight around them, but they managed. When it was gone he pulled just far enough away to start undoing the buttons on her dress. He stoped halfway down, but she made an encouraging noise and he let his hand slip inside, caressing her with absentminded wonder. He tried to toe his shoes off, and suceeded only in kicking her shins. His slightly horrified look reassured her, and she laughed as she helped him undo the laces with her toes.
They were lying together, skin to skin all over their bodies, before either of them spoke again. It was Makubex who spoke. "Is this really what you want, Sakura? I know this - means something to you. And it wouldn't be right to ask for -"
"What I offer freely?" What I have thought would happen since the day we met, Sakura thought. What you need, desperately, if only so you know there's one person who thinks you're real in every way that matters. "What I desire? But I won't demand it as my payment. If you . . . "
"Of course not. I wouldn't insult you by offering."
She traced the side of his face with one hand, feeling the bones close to the surface. "Let me give you this much, then." He nodded, eyes never leaving her face, and she kissed him again, her hands steady on his hips.
After that it blurred a little. She remembered kneeling over him, her hair hanging about their faces and quivering with each unsteady breath, and the sudden sharp pain and the look of half-wonderment, half-fear on his face as he entered her. At some point they rolled over and almost off the matress. He was smiling against her neck, and their breathing was nearly synchronized, slow and comfortable. For a first time this was going remarkably well, she thought distantly, but then she'd picked up some ideas from reading and she suspected the same was true for him. Or perhaps they just understood each other.
She wondered if he had fallen asleep, but then he stirred and lifted his head. "Sakura . . ."
"I love you," she said, because it was true, and she thought he needed to hear it. She thought Makubex would reply, but he just smiled and sank back against her, pressing a kiss to her neck. She ran her hands over his back, and realized happily that the tension in his shoulders was gone. He shifted against her and clutched at the sheets, gasping, and she kept holding on.
When he did fall asleep Sakura didn't let herself follow at first. It felt too good to know that for a little while, at least, he was safe in her arms. They had left the computer room empty; Makubex didn't like to do that, but right now, it was safe. Most of their city was asleep, and even those who still roamed the streets had no ill intentions. As far as Sakura knew the last of the gangs that had sprung up in opposition to Makubex's rule had disbanded and the remnants pledged fealty two days before. As for the petty conflicts that sprung up, or the rarer fires or collapsing buildings or strange rearrangements of the streets, there was no need for concern. People had taken care of such things themselves for years; they could do it again for one night.
Somehow she did not think that there would be incursions from the Beltline tonight. There had been none for weeks.
Once Makubex had tried to explain to her that they came in cycles; approximate cycles but cycles all the same, he said. The most in autumn, the fewest in spring. Beyond that it was a question of days. He had come up with a function that mapped it precisely. She had not had the education, then, to understand the equation; thinking back now it seemed easy and she marvelled at her own ignorance. Of course, the education of a proper daughter of the Kakei was quite different from that required to understand the intricacies of Mugenjou. Makubex had explained the system with soft, urgent words, until she knew, if not as much as he did, at least enough to look after things without help for a day, or finish things he had started. He had taught her in pieces, working not from most fundamental to most complex, but from most vital to least. In those days Makubex had not assumed he would still be alive in a few weeks, and so he had plenty of reason to see that at least the important things would survive him.
In those days the assumption that he might be dead in a few weeks had seemed perfectly reasonable. He was not as vulnerable as he appeared, but even so he was no fighter. She had appointed herself his guardian and stayed by as side as often as he would allow, and let the fear it would not be enough grow heavy and knotted in her stoumach.
But he was still living now, years later, and despite all that they had suffered he was still here, whole and safe and real. That would have to be enough, she told herself. If someday he were happy, that would be good, but right now this was enough.
When Makubex woke up Sakura was sleeping soundly, her arms and the blanket still wrapped tight around him. He was surprised how comforting it felt to be unable to move without effort. There was still a bit of pleasant lethargy in his limbs, and his thoughts were a little slower, a little quieter, than usual.
He had not dreamed.
He never dreamed when he was with Sakura, whether he fell asleep working with his head in her lap or when, as now, they lay side by side on a comfortable matress. He never dreamed when there was anyone with him. When he was young, before he left home, he had spent every night with Ren, even if she did not remember it now. He had not dreamed. His first dreams had been after he joined the Volts, and they had terrified him more for their unfamiliarity.
If having her here when he slept was all it took to free him from that, it might be just as well to ask her to stay, every night. That wouldn't be fair to her, but she would have no complaints. She never did. But he didn't sleep every night, so perhaps it was not necessary. Most of the time would be enough; if they were lovers now - and he supposed they had to be, for if not her dress would not be a crumpled heap beside the bed; Sakura did not take these things lightly - it was only right that they spend their nights together.
For a little while, at least, they could set down the duties he knew bowed both their shoulders. It would be good for them. It might keep him sane, or at least no more mad than he was already.
He smiled, and for once, he let himself drift back into sleep.