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Cage: Part 3

When the weekend was over, the stream of customers reduced to a trickle again, and Shikkai could focus on finding out more about Kou. He judged Aishuu able enough to do at least one morning run by himself, and sent the white-faced boy out, complete with another jacket similar to Shikkai's; one that required a code, but no fingerprints. He cheerfully promised Aishuu a jacket of his own once he'd proved himself, and was amused to see Aishuu's expression, a combination of yearning and disgust. He wondered what it was about drugs that had made Aishuu so adamantly against them.

Once the boy was gone, Shikkai rode his streambike out to Kou's area, looking first for her old apartment. She'd lived on the second floor of some grimy renthouse; Aishuu had given him the exact address. The small room was dark and empty now, unused, and that surprised him. He wondered briefly where Aishuu was living now. And he wondered why the owners hadn't rented the room again the second she was confirmed dead. Credit was their prime concern, after all.

Curious, Shikkai buzzed on the surrounding doors until he found someone both home and awake.

"Yeh?" The muffled voice yawned out through the speaker, and Shikkai put on his most innocent smile, aware that there was no doubt a camera somewhere showing who he was.

"Sorry to disturb you. I'm looking for a friend of mine. Her name's Kou; she lived --" but that was as far as he got. There was a sharp click as the entry-request shut down, and then silence.

"Hello?" He buzzed again, several times, but there was no answer. "Damnit." Someone had silenced her neighbours? This was getting weirder and weirder.

Shikkai paced up and down several levels of the building, in search of the owners, or any other staff at all. The place echoed every one of his own movements, but nothing else stirred.

Finally, in one of the tiny rooms that made up the basement, he found an overmuscled cleaner, sorting through musty smelling cupboards. The man turned around at his approach, and his eyes met a distrustful black stare.

"Hello." Shikkai turned on his smile again. "I'm looking for the owners of this building."

The man continued to stare at him, then shrugged, turning back to the cupboard.

"Do you have any idea where they are?" he asked the broad back now facing him.

"Nuh." It was half word, half grunt. Shikkai thought for a moment.

"Do you know when they'd be back?" The man was already shaking his head, so Shikkai continued. "Do they own any other buildings you know of? Is there somewhere I can leave a message for them?" But the cleaner just kept on shaking his head.

"Maybe you could help, then. I'm looking for a friend. She lived in 2b23. Her name was Kou." That was enough to make the man turn and stare again. Shikkai met his gaze, looking for some sort of expression, something that would give him a clue. But the cleaner's face remained blankly wary.

"Maybe you know where she went?"

"Nuh." That grunting again. Shikkai wondered briefly if the man could say anything else.

"Do you know what happened to her room? It's still empty." Shikkai tried his smile once more. The cleaner's big shoulders shrugged, briefly.

"Clampdown." His mouth stumbled over the word, enough that Shikkai couldn't be quite sure. Especially when it was something he'd never expected to hear.

"Clampdown, did you say?" At the man's nod, Shikkai smiled again. "Thanks." He hurried back to street level.

Clampdown. That suggested viruses, sickness, or some sort of bioweapon. Just what the hell was in the Haze that Kou had taken?

Shikkai hit the streets, walking slowly, letting his feet take him where they would while his mind tried to make some sense of this mess. He watched a small group of users on the far side of the road, hurrying past. The familiar face of one of his dealer friends peered out of an alley, but vanished before Shikkai could greet him. A streetsleeper, sagging under the weight of a makeshift home strapped to his back, gave him a mistrustful glare before scurrying into another alleyway.

Shikkai paused, watching the corner whores ahead of him shushing each other as they realised he was coming near. He could see the fear, almost palpable in the air; everything was so quiet, so empty. Something big had happened when Kou had died. Why hadn't he heard anything before this?

Tsukasa's Implants wasn't too far away, and Shikkai headed towards it. He'd never had his implants done there, but Tsukasa worked under Maeda, and that meant he might be more open with Shikkai than anyone else had been so far. Sure, Shikkai hadn't been able to get anything from Maeda himself, but Tsukasa lived in the middle of Kou's area. Surely he'd seen something, heard something, and could whisper it in Shikkai's ear. If Shikkai could just find the right questions, he'd knew he'd get some answers.

The dingy front room was empty when he arrived, but a young flunky came out quickly to greet him.

"Is Tsukasa in?"

"Ahh.. he's doing an op." The boy looked nervous, his eyes wide. Shikkai wondered if his own name was known even around here.

"Well, you tell him Shikkai's here to see him. I'll wait, but not for long."

"Uh.." The boy swallowed, and then nodded his head, vanishing as quickly as he'd arrived.

Shikkai was pleased when Tsukasa was out to talk to him within ten minutes. It meant his favour with Maeda was still holding just fine.

"What is it, Demon? I'm in the middle of a goddamn eye op, and it's not something I want to be interrupting." Tsukasa was still pushing his lenses up from his eyes when he entered the room. His scarred face was twisted into a frown.

"I just want some information, Tsukasa. I won't keep you long."

"Well get on with it, then."

"The slums are awfully quiet around here lately." Shikkai watched Tsukasa's expression carefully. The man's eyes narrowed, and he looked Shikkai up and down.

"Yeah, and the why and wherefores ain't your business, either."

"Even if I'm looking for a dealer? Say, I wanted to get my hands on some Haze."

"Haze?" Tsukasa choked out a laugh. "The day you want Haze --"

"Just say I did."

"Then you'd go somewhere else. No Haze dealers around here. Not now."

"And why not now, in particular?" He was frustrated by this dancing around the subject. Tsukasa was starting to look nervous, and it bugged him. He'd never seen the streets this nervous.

"Because no-one wants to be here. Look, Demon, you got a reason for these hypothetical questions? You're eating my business time here."

"I want to know why no-one wants to be here. Why no-one wants to deal Haze. And why no-one wants to talk about a pretty little streetdealer named Kou." Shikkai folded his arms, his relaxed manner gone. He waited for a reaction, but Tsukasa didn't move, didn't change his expression.

"Ain't no-one called Kou around here anymore, and you'd be better if you thought about it like that. If you wanna keep that head of yours on its shoulders." Tsukasa turned to leave, but Shikkai grabbed his arm.

"I don't want to forget. I want to know. You gonna risk Maeda's bad favour for not helping me out?"

Tsukasa laughed, shaking his head. "Why don'tcha go ask Maeda about it. Even he ain't talking. This is serious shit, Demon. Keep digging, and someone's going to notice you. Someone you don't want on your tail."

"I'll take that risk. Damnit, Tsukasa, give me something to go on!" Shikkai was starting to get angry, unable to believe that so many people could be cowed like this. Who the hell had that much power over the slums? Not even Maeda. Not even his rivals. No-one could shut this many people up.

"And if I do? What're you gonna do, chase it up, spill my name when you get caught, and then I'm outta a life as well."

"So arm me. Mess my memory so I think I heard it from someone else." Shikkai let go of Tsukasa's arm as the man turned to stare at him.

"You're serious." Tsukasa shook his head. "Shit, Demon, how badly you want this? It's not pretty stuff."

"I don't care. I want it." He met Tsukasa's challenging gaze, and waited until the man looked away, finally.

"Alright, alright. But not today. I got too much to do. Come back tomorrow, I've got a bit of free time around about eleven." Tsukasa rubbed his eyes briefly. "Damn, Shikkai, you've gone nuts. That pretty little girl mess you up that bad?"

"No." Shikkai turned towards the door. "See you tomorrow." He left before Tsukasa could ask again. He couldn't explain why he wanted it so badly. But he needed to know. For himself, to satisfy his curiousity, to understand how the slums could be quieted so much. To understand how Kou could make such fierce enemies. And for Aishuu. For those scared violet eyes and that furious desire for revenge. To protect the boy? No. To help him get past it. Get on with his life before he burned himself up in his anger. So Shikkai could say that he took that innocence and kept it alive.

Aishuu was waiting and curious when Shikkai returned home, but he brushed off the boy's questions, telling him that he'd have a little something to go on tomorrow. It wouldn't help to explain what Tsukasa was going to do; what would be the point in having his memory altered, if Aishuu knew the truth and broke the alterations somehow?

"Need to make up another package tomorrow, special one," Shikkai told him instead, shifting the flow of the conversation. "I'll get you to take it to Maeda in the afternoon. It's his influence that's helping me find out about Kou, so you'd better be nice when you go."

"Maeda." Aishuu's expression was wondering. "I've heard of him."

"Yeah, everyone and his fucking dealer has heard of him. He's god in this part of the slums. You'll be surprised when you meet him. He's short and pudgy and he likes to play silly games."

"Games?" Aishuu frowned. "Like what?"

"You'll find out soon enough, if he's bored." Shikkai caught the rebellion in Aishuu's eyes and grabbed the boy's wrist. "I don't give a fuck what you think of him, if he wants to play a game, you'll damn well smile and say yes sir, okay sir, what should I do first sir. Without his help, your revenge is as good as dead. Remember that when you see his face, got it?"

"Yeah, yeah." Aishuu pulled his wrist away, his expression sullen, but he nodded. "It's for Kou; I'll take it. He'd better not be some sick pervert, though."

"You think I'd send you there if he was?" Shikkai raised an eyebrow, and then shook his head at Aishuu's lack of response. "You do. Well, don't think so low of me in future. Being a middleman doesn't make me a goddamn pimp."

"Makes me feel like a whore when I go out pushing your drugs on people," Aishuu replied, his expression still sullen, unhappy at the reprimands.

"They want it, they ask for it. You're not giving it to anyone who didn't beg me for it a hundred times before." Shikkai shook his head. "Don't start the martyr thing on me again, Aishuu; I'm surprised you still believe that shit at your age. I'm in this business because of necessity. That's about the only thing that motivates anyone. Necessity and greed."

"You're too cynical for your own good." Aishuu looked thoughtful now, the sullenness thankfully gone.

"And you're too naive for yours." Shikkai grinned. "Guess if we meet in the middle we might find the actuality."

"Don't think I want to see it. I like the way I look at things." But Aishuu grinned back at him. Shikkai shrugged, leaving it at that. He liked the way Aishuu looked at things too, but he'd never admit that to the kid. He still wanted to keep the distance between them noticable; he'd learned a long time ago that it was safest to not let anyone really know you. Because if they knew you, they could hurt you.

Shikkai was on time to meet Tsukasa; after the effort it had taken him to convince the man, he wasn't about to piss him off by being late. Tsukasa met him with a 'hrmph' and led him out to a dingy op room, and between them and a console they span a plausible alternate memory for him. He was to have gotten a name from the cleaner, and followed that to a whorebar further out in the slums. There he was to have been told to come back this very morning, and this morning the contact, one of Maeda's men, gave him the information. He was on his way home when he felt his eye implants playing up, and since he was so near to Tsukasa's place, he'd simply dropped in to get them checked.

"Believable?" Tsukasa frowned at him across the op table, but Shikkai just grinned back.

"Sure. Maeda's got lotsa faceless contacts in whorebars. And I'd not hesitate to waste your precious time with my implants." He chuckled as Tsukasa's frown deepened. "Now, before you aim those pretty lights at my head, give me the information I'm doing this for."

"Yeah." Tsukasa looked around the room, as if making sure they weren't being monitored. Not that he'd be able to tell, anyway. "Okay. This is how it goes. Kou's been on Haze since she hit this city. She dealt with you as her middleman, but for her own hits she dealt with Slade."

"Slade? That threadbared --" Shikkai halted his insults as Tsukasa shook his head.

"Slade's good enough as a pusher, and you know that, Demon. 'Sides, the Haze she ODed on wasn't his idea. Some fakers came sniffing around, looking for info on Kou, and she's so well known around here.. some kid probably told everything for a cheap meal. They pushed Slade, gave him a nice credit balance and a cube of Haze for Kou. He sold her the cube, she took it, and next thing anyone knew, she was spasming and dead on a streetcorner. Didn't even make it home."

"Goddamn fucking -- Shit. I hate cheap pushers who'll fuck over any of their clients for ten credits and a smile." Shikkai balled his fists, anger rushing through him. Sometimes he really hated the slums. To lose someone like Kou for nothing more than giving Slade an extra meal or two.. life shouldn't be so cheap.

"It was a hell of a lot more than that. Slade's living easy for a long time." Tsukasa glanced around the room again, rubbing his jaw sourly.

"But that doesn't explain how damned nervous everyone is around here."

"No, it doesn't." Tsukasa shrugged his shoulders. "Her body wasn't even cold before some hitech van hits the streets and carts her off somewhere. And a couple of smarmy corp boys had a nice long chat with anyone who saw it happen, or saw the van. I saw it happen. I got one of those chats. And they assured me with those fake smiles of theirs that if I so much as breathed a word of their intervention, they'd teach me a few hundred different torture methods they'd learnt over the years. And you wanna see how much they meant it." Tsukasa pulled down the collar of his worksuit. Shikkai squinted in the dim light, and made out a still healing scar across Tsukasa's chest, an ugly, deep wound with torn, ragged edges.

"Shit. They do that just 'cause you saw it?"

"Yeah. Reminder not to talk. I'm remembering. And if this memory alteration gets ripped, I'm gonna make sure you learn every single one of those torture methods, Shikkai."

Shikkai stared at the wound, his mind processing everything Tsukasa had told him. Finally, he spoke again.

"It'll be fine. Ain't no-one who knows the truth of it besides you and me. So, did those corp boys have a name for where they came from?"

"Yeah. They didn't say, but I know the way they design their equipment. WeaveLock. You know 'em; biggest corp bastards in the city. That's why I'm telling you -- this is deep shit, Demon, and if you try fucking with these boys they're gonna haul your arse to hell, and probably in their goddamn leisure time. No matter how big some of us might think we are down here, we're nothing to them. Loose threads in a some grand fucking weave. You don't wanna get cut short now, do ya?"

"Oh, I don't know. It might be fun to play spinning games with 'em." Shikkai couldn't help but grin at Tsukasa's expression. "Don't worry, I won't ask you to play along. It's my call now." He sighed, sat back in his chair. "Thanks, Tsukasa. I owe you, big time. Need anything, let me know. Now, wanna aim those things at my memory?"

"No point you owing me if I'm going to wipe the memory of you owing me." Tsukasa chuckled, and then stood up. "Head in the straps, you know how it goes. See you with a different memory." The man waited while Shikkai relaxed into the framework of the chair, and then he was pressing a needlegun against Shikkai's neck. Shikkai sighed as the anaesthetic seeped into his system, and he closed his eyes, drifting off into dreamland.

Shikkai awoke with a start, straining for a moment against the straps of the chair before he remembered where he was. Tsukasa's. His implants. Tsukasa was standing over him, lenses still hiding his eyes, his face impassive.

"So, how's the eyes, doc?" Shikkai grinned up at him.

"Fine, fine. Little tweaking, and you're as good as new."

"Thanks. I hate when they do that." Shikkai released himself from the chair and stood up, shaking off the last effects of the anaesthetic. "Appreciate you sparing a few minutes for me. See you around some time."

"Sure, Demon. Anytime." Tsukasa waved him away, and he was quick to make himself scarce. As he rode his streambike home, he mulled over the information his contact had given him. So, the corps had taken Kou's body, had they? But why? And was it they who'd had her killed in the first place? It didn't make sense. Kou was bright and vibrant, sure, but she was a nobody. Just like everyone else.

He wondered if there was anything Aishuu wasn't telling him. Either something the boy might not think important enough to be related to Kou's death.. or something that was so important he didn't want Shikkai to know about it.

Shikkai thought they should sit down and have a nice long chat about it when he got home. Well, after he'd sent a little package to Maeda as thanks, that was. Business came first.

"Shikkai!" Aishuu's furious yell and the door slamming open was enough to make Shikkai's current customer jump in surprise. Shikkai shook his head, turning towards the door to reprimand the boy. But Aishuu's angry expression was quickly changing to one of mortification, and then he was dashing past them both and into the bathroom. Shikkai barely caught a glimpse of his clothing, but it certainly wasn't what he'd left in. He hid a smile; Maeda must'ved been bored.

"Don't mind my flunky," he reassured the nervous young man sitting across from him, and then he went about wrapping up the deal. He wanted to see just what Maeda had done. All innocent fun, it was; Maeda liked to treat people like toys sometimes. But he doubted Aishuu had thought of it as fun.

When his customer was gone, the door shut safely behind him, Shikkai turned towards the bathroom. "You can come out now, Aishuu."

"I don't think I want to," came the muffled, sullen reply.

"I don't think you have much choice." Shikkai waited, and eventually the door opened and Aishuu stalked out. He folded his arms and glared.

"Why didn't you tell me he was a freak?"

"I told you he liked to play games." Shikkai kept his expression deadpan. He wanted to laugh at Aishuu's expression, for the boy looked so put out. But while Maeda's game of dressups was annoying to be a part of, the man always had good taste, and he'd made Aishuu's thin body look beautiful.

"I hardly call this playing! More like torture." Aishuu glared down at his own body, and Shikkai followed his gaze. Maeda had given him a tight, off-the-shoulder shirt, baring his jagged shoulderblades, in a dark purple that caught the smouldering colours in his eyes. Loose black shorts flared from his hips, but were cut teasingly short; the rest of his legs were hugged by chrome-lined netting, tinted the same purple as his shirt. The tight webbing of it tucked into tall black metal boots.

"Why? You look good." Shikkai raised his eyes, noting that Maeda had also brushed Aishuu's hair. Aishuu stared up at him in surprise.

"What?" There was glitter dusting his eyelids and his lips, Shikkai saw. Maeda had obviously enjoyed himself, and Shikkai was surprised by just how attractive Aishuu could be when he wasn't hiding behind baggy clothes, unbrushed hair and sullen expressions. Attractive enough that Shikkai's body was reminding him just how long it'd been since he'd been involved with anyone.

"I said you look good. It suits you."

"But I don't --" Aishuu stopped, and blinked, looking confused.

"You don't what? You don't want to look good?" Shikkai wondered how much naivety Aishuu was covering up with his angry facade. The boy looked suddenly almost childlike, his expression one of wonder.

"Well, sure, I guess.. but.." Aishuu shook his head. "I never thought about it. I mean.. I don't care what I look like, mostly. I just want to get things done."

"Not even interested in impressing the girls?" How had this kid managed to stay so innocent living this deep in the slums, anyway?

"Me? You kidding? Not me. They're not interested in me. Besides, they're boring to talk to."

Shikkai laughed. "Tell me something; how old are you, Aishuu?"

"Nineteen." Aishuu bridled, his sullenness returning. "Plenty old."

"Plenty old," Shikkai agreed. He looked at that pretty body again, feeling his lust stirring, and then he turned away. "If you don't want to look good, feel free to take that stuff off. But Maeda has taste. He dressed you well." His lust be damned. This kid was too much of a... kid. Shikkai liked Aishuu's innocence. He wanted it to stay that way.

When he turned back, though, Aishuu was hesitating.

"You really think it looks okay? I feel like.. a fake." Aishuu ran his hands over the smooth material of his shirt, almost caressing it, and Shikkai was struck by the sensuality of it. He laughed wryly; the kid was a tease, and he had absolutely no idea.

"You look like the real thing." Shikkai waved his hand, dismissing the conversation before it went somewhere he didn't want it to. "Did you deliver the package okay? And is my bike still in one piece?"

"Oh. Yeah." Aishuu ran a self-conscious hand through his hair, and then dug in his pocket. "Here's your lock for it." He tossed the lockcard back at Shikkai.

"Her. She. My bike is not an it." Shikkai caught the card and pocketed it.

"Whatever." But Aishuu grinned, briefly. "Now, you gonna tell me what you found out this morning?"

"Yeah." Shikkai sat down on his bed, and gestured to the closest chair. Aishuu sat as well, his expression turning serious. Shikkai tried to gather his thoughts, but Aishuu was squirming, and it distracted him.

"Will you bloody well sit still!"

"Sorry. I feel weird." Aishuu tugged at the collar of his new shirt.

"Then put something else on."

"I don't have anything else." He looked embarassed to admit it.

"Nothing at all?"

"Nope. Maeda ran off with my clothes. They were all I had." Aishuu looked down at his hands. "I spent the last of Kou's credits getting your prints. I didn't expect to be hanging around much longer after that."

Shikkai opened his mouth to answer, then paused, re-evaluting Aishuu's words.The boy had planned to kill Shikkai, and then kill himself? Did he think his own life that worthless?

"Aishuu, where are you living?" he asked, instead of the rebuff he'd intended.

"Now? Well.." Aishuu flicked his hair in front of his face, concentrating on it rather than Shikkai. "Nowhere, I guess. I sleep wherever I end up."

"What about where you and Kou lived? Why didn't you stay there?"

"I couldn't. They said it was dangerous." Aishuu looked up at him now, his eyes wide and nervous.


"Kou's friends. They came up and told me. They said something was wrong, something was going to happen to Kou, and I had to get out of there. They grabbed me and pulled me outside. They made me hide for ages. And then they came and told me.." Aishuu sighed softly, looking away, remembering. "They said Kou was dead, she'd ODed on Haze, and someone had taken her body away, and I'd better stay hidden in the gutters 'cause it was dangerous and someone might want me. I was so angry, I didn't believe them. I yelled at them. But when I went outside, on the street, everyone was looking at me, so sad, so pitying.." his hands clenched in his lap. "That's how I knew it was true."

Shikkai watched the boy in silence, not wanting to break the mood that he'd cast with his soft words. But finally Aishuu sighed again, and looked back at Shikkai.

"So, yeah. I don't live anywhere. And I don't have any clothes. But I can probably steal something easy enough, right?"

"Probably." Shikkai considered Aishuu's story. From the sounds of it, the boy had no idea about the corps, or why they'd taken his sister's body away. What had Kou inadvertantly involved him in? "Listen, I found out what happened to your sister. Well, some of it."

"You did?" Aishuu leaned forward eagerly, his somber mood gone. "Tell me!"

"It's only the beginning, but it's strange." Shikkai ran a hand through his hair, sorting his thoughts. "Kou apparently got her Haze from a dealer named Slade. He --"

"Slade!" Aishuu was on his feet, his blades flashing from his fingers. "He was supposed to be her friend! That cheap bastard. I'll cut out his tongue and --"

"Aishuu!" Shikkai stood up as well, grabbing Aishuu's wrists and glaring down at the boy. "Sit down. You haven't heard the half of it. Learn some patience." He waited until the blades vanished again before letting go of Aishuu's wrists, and he waited until the boy was sitting meekly in his seat before he sat down again himself.

"Now. Slade's easy when it comes to credits. Some fakers came looking for Kou, found out he was her dealer, and paid him to sell her that Haze."

"So who were they?" Aishuu burst out, and then cringed again as Shikkai glared.

"You know who WeaveLock are?"

Aishuu's face twisted into a mix of amazement, disbelief, and fright. "I.. sure. They damn near own the whole city. All the good bits, anyway. They just.. killed her and left her? She didn't even get home.."

"I know. I was told she died quickly, right there on the streetcorner. And then some corp scum came and took her body and made everyone shut up about it." A flash of memory hit Shikkai; the ragged scar across his contact's chest. He scowled, his hatred for the corps rolling over him again.

"Her body? But.. why'd they want her? And why'd they want her dead?"

"I was hoping you'd be able to tell me that." Shikkai leaned back against the wall behind his bed. "I thought she was just like anyone else. A nobody going nowhere. That's what most of us are. But corps don't show that kind of interest in a nobody. She ever do anything weird, or try and hide anything from you?"

"Not Kou." Aishuu shrugged, then shivered. "She just took care of me. She dealt drugs, and she took care of me. She tried to teach me stuff. Everything. She said if I was clever I could find a good skill and sell my way out of the slums."

"Out of the slums? No-one ever gets outta here."

"Sure they do. I heard about this guy who spins these scapes, and he was so good the corps bought him. And now he's so rich he can do anything."

"Uh-huh. And did he leave the slums?"

"Well.. I dunno. I think he still lives down here."

"Like I said. No-one leaves the slums." Shikkai chuckled. "So what'd Kou teach you that was so useful?"

"Just stuff." Aishuu shrugged. "Reading, and fighting, and stealing.. and spinning. Hacking and programming and stuff."

"So you can spin." Shikkai paused to think. "She ever have you hack into any corp data?"

"Nah. She said I should keep quiet and just mess with the little things. Corps are nasty business."

"Yeah." Another dead end. "Damnit. Why are they involved? I just don't get it."

"Me either." Aishuu sighed, sinking further into his chair. "Is this it, Shikkai? Now we know who did it. But we can't fight the corps. Is this the end of our deal?"

"You want to end it here?" Shikkai was surprised that Aishuu had brought it up. He himself wasn't even remotely interested in letting this go.

"No. But if we can't do anything.."

"I never said we couldn't do anything. You said it." Shikkai chewed on his finger, thinking. "I don't know what we'll do next, but I'll think of something. And in the meantime, will you damn well go out and get some new clothes so you'll stop fidgeting!" His sudden roar brought Aishuu almost leaping out of the chair in surprise. Then, unexpectedly, the boy began to laugh.

Shikkai grinned at him, bemused by this sudden reaction. Aishuu laughed hard, but eventually he calmed down, hiccuping once or twice.

"Sorry," he apologised, still grinning. "Here I thought you were gonna tell me to fuck off..." He stood up and turned towards the door. "I'll go find something to wear while you're thinking."

"Yeah." Shikkai watched Aishuu's thin body moving away, and shook his head at himself. He was probably going to regret this, but.. "And if you've got any things, pick 'em up while you're out. You can stay here for awhile. Safer than sleeping in a gutter."

Aishuu whirled around, one hand on the door, his expression pure shock. "Here?" he squeaked.

"Here. What, think I turn into a real demon in the middle of the night or something?" He grinned at Aishuu's stunned look.

"No, I just.. I don't want to get in your way. And where would I sleep?"

"If you were in my way I'd tell you. And you can sleep on the floor. I'm sure it's more comfortable than what you sleep on at the moment."

"Well, yeah, but.." Aishuu blinked at him at a few times, and then suddenly a dazzling smile lit up his face. "Okay. Thanks, Shikkai. You -- you've done a lot for me. I'll figure out how to repay you sooner or later, I swear."

"You can repay me right now by getting your much-too-cheery face out of my sight for a few hours." Shikkai waved him away, and the boy all but danced out of the room. Once the door had sealed shut behind him, Shikkai stretched out on his bed, staring at the ceiling while he puzzled out his thoughts. He hadn't planned on letting Aishuu sleep there, but he didn't like the idea of the boy sleeping on the streets, either. He was too vulnerable.

Now, what about Kou? Shikkai was unsure what to do next. His only lead was WeaveLock, and he didn't even know why they were involved. There was no easy way to find out. He didn't relish the idea of hacking into their data; they had a firm hand in the looms, and whatever the best security on the market, chances were that they'd invented it. And used it to protect their own systems.

He could track down Slade, see if the pusher knew anything about the fakers who'd bought him out. Doubtful, but worth a try. If Slade even remembered a face.. a face could be traced to a name, and a name could be traced to confirm that it was WeaveLock who killed Kou. Though he had little doubt about that. But a name could also be traced to a place of residence, and perhaps they could do a little bone breaking for info --

He laughed at himself. So high and mighty sounding. As if breaking corp bones was a regular occurence. He'd no doubt that even their lowest of employees had security triggers everywhere they lived. Even if he got in and out without setting anything off, they'd probably pick up a fingerprint, a strand of hair, something that he'd missed, and track him until he was dead and nothing more than dust on the ground.

Why was he even considering something like this?

Because he wanted some satisfaction. And he wanted Aishuu's revenge. Somehow, somewhere along the line, it had become his revenge too.

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