and she closed herself up like a fan

MakubeX was painfully familiar with the concept that a theorem cannot be proven as true or false from inside the system that was used to create it. All the mathematics in the world could not prove him real or not; he needed outside intervention to do it, a force that would break the limits of his reality, or that he could break in turn.

"Does this hurt?" he asks, pressing a finger against the back of her hand, then taking it away and watching the diminishing bloom of whiteness on her skin.

"Of course not," she answers.

Every time that he felt the lines drawn between those who were real and those who were . . . perhaps not real, he knew which side of the lines he was on.

Not that he felt the need to blame, or hate, or be bitter about it. Such things were beneath him.

"I'm sorry," he says, touching the nail marks on her back. He didn't mean to leave them, he would never, never hurt her, but he hadn't known what he was doing at that moment. It had all been whiteness, the perfect blank chaos of a crashed computer terminal. "It doesn't . . . hurt?"

"Of course not," she answers.

He ate. He slept. He breathed. He bled. He considered the theory that the whole simulation had been created ten seconds ago, and that everything outside Mugenjou was just as unreal in everything inside Mugenjou, and that Sakura was as virtual as himself, and all their memories were false.

He crawled to her embrace and then slept with his head in her lap, while she watched his sleep and guarded him against the monsters that would come by night.

"I didn't mean to," he says, watching as she adjusts her shawl to cover the red marks on her neck and shoulder. "Sakura, really I didn't. I'm sorry. Please tell me it didn't hurt."

He's lying. He did mean to. If he can mark her, then he's as real as she is.

"Of course not," she answers.

"Sakura," he said, not looking at her, but conscious of her presence behind him, the glimmers of her reflection in the computer screens, "I trust you to tell me if anything's wrong. I have to be able to rely on you, Sakura. I've made mistakes before. But you're always there for me, Sakura. You won't let me harm the people here. You won't let me hurt anyone."

"Of course not," she answered, and hid herself away in folds of silk.