Taking Her Measure
by Rana Eros
Written for anenko for livelongnmarry, a community created to benefit marriage equality in the state of California. She requested both Sakura/Makubex and stories revolving around the female characters of GB. This is more the latter than the former. Betaed by Eliza.
"Juubei, wait for me!" He won't, but Sakura feels a reminder of her presence is in order. They're both meeting the Fuchouin heir for the first time, and Juubei needs to pay attention.
Their mother sighs and Sakura gathers herself. She needs to pay attention, too. Fuchuoin Kazuki is three years her junior, but he's also her presumptive groom. At fourteen, she knows her duty well.
She meets Lady Fuchouin first, head of the school, the information network, and thus the line. She's beautiful and stern, and Sakura finds herself raising her chin, pulling herself up to her full height. She's a quiet girl; it's important that Lady Fuchouin understand it's not because she's weak. She's observant.
"You are learning your grandmother's techniques with cloth." Sakura nods in acknowledgement, then looks up at the sound of koto strings drawn taut. She sees the challenge in the Lady's eyes. "Show me."
"Show me what you've learned."
Sakura enters the manual sequencing and runs the program, her fingers moving swiftly even with Watari-sensei watching over her shoulder. Not as swiftly as the program can sequence, of course; automation is more efficient, once the initial parameters are set. It makes the process less accessible to the Fuchouin household, but if they could do it already, they wouldn't need her.
"There's no point unless you make use of the tools available to you," Watari-sensei said when they began. "It's like your cloth, Kakei-kun."
So she writes the program and the computer works at speeds she'll never be able to match, finding information perhaps Fuchouin threads can't entangle.
"Good," Watari-sensei says when the program begins to return results. Her laconic approval makes Sakura think of taut koto strings, knotted silk, her mother's unobtrusive precision. She's not surprised when Watari-sensei says, "Now we'll try something difficult."
"Difficult, as you can see," Grandmother says, the air around them filled with folds and twists of cloth, "even for someone who has practiced as long as myself. Still, I think you're ready to learn it."
She flicks her wrists several times, and the fabric releases a writing table, a calligraphy box, three cushions, an empty teapot, a small dog, a bird in a cage, and Juubei. The dog barks and runs away, the bird squawks, but Juubei remains silent and calm.
"Juubei, fetch back the dog, please." Grandmother winds her weapon over one shoulder. "Obviously, we'll start you without your brother in the mix."
"I can--" Juubei begins loyally, but Grandmother cuts him off with a raised eyebrow. He goes after the dog.
"He's a little heavy now," Grandmother says confidentially, smiling when Sakura laughs. "We'll try it once together today. The rest can wait until your brother's gone."
"Your brother's gone." Her mother's voice is inflectionless, a day after they received the news. Sakura knows better than to think it's calm.
"I'm investigating." Her computer is even now running programs, worming into networks and databases. She's debated speaking of it; the information she wants may not be there, but the Fuchouin's contacts have to keep it somewhere, and none of them have the option of the threads.
I am the only daughter she had, but you don't say that to your own mother when she's just lost her only son. Sakura's mother is silent again in any case, and it's not permission. It's acknowledgement that Sakura doesn't need permission.
She rises, adjusts the cloth draped over her shoulder. "I'm investigating, but it may take some time."
Her mother doesn't ask if she's going to the site. The crowded silence is their shared weapon, and it's elegantly effective.
It's elegantly effective when Sakura tracks down the mercenaries who set fire to the Fuchouin compound, but finding them doesn't mean finding the answers. Their data mentions an entity called Brain Trust, a place called Mugenjou, but no reasons, no names. Even their leader, suffocating in yards of silk, can't tell her more.
"Why would you take the job without that information?" Sakura asks the woman, but she's not really curious, so she doesn't leave room for an answer. "You should have at least determined who might retaliate."
She expects to be sick, after, but she only feels impatient. A year is less time than she expected, still more than she hoped, and all the mercenaries did was attack the target for which they were paid. She needs better. She needs to do better.
"Now you have the drive," Watari-sensei says on her return.
It leads to Shinjuku.
Shinjuku is loud and brash. Mugenjou is the shadow at its heart, without a door at first glance, but Sakura's learned patience. Four years and several hundred miles from the burnt-out husk of her family's future, she's learned to sink into the slow unfurling of numbers and fabric.
She breaks into Mugenjou via numbers. Like the outer wall, the main network's near-impenetrable, but she runs her programs and stalks back alleys in between hunting outer sources of information. Any of them could yield results.
Then she's in through an unexpected back door, but she hardly has time to recover from the shock before a window pops up on her screen with the words:
WHO ARE YOU?
Even a hard reboot doesn't make the window go away, and she can't use any other programs. She switches systems, but the question haunts her.
She starts a new search, finds a name: Makubex.
Makubex is cautious, but so is Sakura. She has rumors, violent and contradictory. She has his words on her screen. She has her need to get inside Mugenjou, to see if her brother and Kazuki are truly there. She hasn't mentioned that to Makubex, only her given name, which isn't uncommon, which doesn't necessarily have to be a name. When he asks her why she broke into Mugenjou's network, she tells him it was curiosity.
If he is who he says he is, and the rumors of who he says are true, then he can learn the rest. She still looks for another way in.
Then he says: I WANT YOU TO COME IN, KAKEI SAKURA. I'M SENDING YOU A MAP. SOMEONE WILL MEET YOU.
She accepts the map, prints it out before she destroys her system and abandons her location. She follows directions, expecting blood.
So is her brother.
Her brother has changed completely. He hasn't changed at all. He's tall, taller than she is, and he wears a visor that hides their father's eyes. When he takes it off, though, his face is his own, echoes of their mother, their grandmother in the set of his mouth. He doesn't look like a ghost, doesn't look like her dreams. He looks exactly like she expected.
He lowers his needles, stares at her as though she's the one who vanished. When he speaks, he sounds like no one else. "Sister."
She doesn't want to even blink. She imagines holding him and can't make herself move. She grips silk tightly, tight enough that lesser fabric would tear. She's going to have to be careful with him.
He takes a step forward, and she remembers he was always sturdy. She meets him halfway, binds him with her touch, her broken silence.
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