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Cage: Part 7

"I don't think I like him much." Aishuu spoke finally, his gaze leaving the datathread and raising to meet Shikkai's. "But he's gonna help, and that's what's important, right?" Aishuu moved over to the bed and flopped down across one end of it. He held up his still-shaking hands, and shook his head slightly, his expression bemused.

"Yeah. You take what you can get, and you never trust anyone." Shikkai watched the boy, concious now of his every movement, and having no idea what to do next. He was in over his head; both with the idea of something between them, and with the idea of hacking someone as big as WeaveLock. He wondered briefly if his life would've been easier if he'd just killed Aishuu when the boy broke in to kill him.

But what was the point of wondering that now? Besides, even he needed changes in his life sooner or later. He wasn't going to be a middleman forever. He just wished he'd seen this coming.

"What do we do now, Shikkai?" Aishuu's calm expression waited patiently for him to decide, and he covered his own eyes with one hand. He didn't know. But he was supposed to; he was supposed to be in charge and in control at all times. Where had his self assurance gone?

"Why are you asking me? It's your life." Shikkai tossed himself down on the other end of the bed, his face pressed against the pillow. From there, he wouldn't have to see if Aishuu's face fell, if those pretty eyes stopped shining up at him.

Aishuu was silent, and Shikkai closed his eyes completely. But a moment later they flew open again, as Aishuu's fingers dug into his ribs.

"Shit!" Shikkai hadn't been tickled in a long time. And he'd forgotten he was ticklish. He squirmed, trying to get away from the boy's thin fingers, and Aishuu began to giggle.

"Oh, laugh will you?" Shikkai managed to twist over onto his back, and he reached for Aishuu's unprotected ribs. The boy's sudden shriek of laughter made him grin; it was impossible to be depressed when you were involved in a tickle war.

And war it was; they struggled, trying to get the best of each other, almost falling off the bed, until finally Shikkai pinned Aishuu beneath him, his knees holding the boy's writhing arms safely against his sides.

He grinned triumphantly down at the boy, and Aishuu stuck out his tongue, but he was still laughing. Shikkai found himself staring again; Aishuu's sharp-edged face, relaxed in innocent laughter, was beautiful.

"How do you do it to me, huh?" he asked, but it was a cursory question. Before Aishuu could do more than look surprised, he lowered his face, pressing his lips against Aishuu's, taking the time to enjoy every second of it, every inch of Aishuu's mouth that he explored. Aishuu lay silent, accepting the kiss, his mouth pliable and welcoming.

Shikkai pulled back, gauging the boy's reaction. Aishuu's eyes were half-closed, his expression dreamy.

"Why'd you stop?" Aishuu opened his eyes fully again, and his expression turned shy as he realised what he'd said. "I mean.."

"I know." Shikkai slid himself off Aishuu's chest and sat with his legs over the side of the bed. He was getting hard again, and he realised that wasn't what he wanted. If he let himself go, anything could happen. He was a rough lover; he didn't want to hurt Aishuu. And that sort of feeling was new to him.

"Shikkai?" Aishuu sat up as well. "What is it? I mean.." He seemed at a loss for words. "This feeling I get.. I don't know.. I'm not sure what it means.. what to do.."

"You really are naive, aren't you?" Shikkai sighed. "And don't go taking that the wrong way, either." He frowned at the sudden defiance on Aishuu's face before the boy could think of a rebuff.

"What, then?" Aishuu raised a hand, fingers absently stroking at the metal that covered his cheek. "I want to.. I don't know. I'm not used to feeling like this."

"Me either." Shikkai scowled at himself. He wasn't used to feeling like this precisely because he went out of his way to avoid it. It felt good, sure, but that was where your downfall lay; as soon as you cared you had a weakness.

"You?" Aishuu sounded so surprised that Shikkai laughed, raising his head to meet the boy's startled gaze.

"Yes, me. Does that surprise you so much? Do you really think I trust anyone enough to let them close?" Before the boy could answer, Shikkai stood up, brushing back his hair. "Enough talking for now. I owe Maeda yet again for fishing you out. Which means I'd better deliver that favour personally."

"I'm sorry." Aishuu's face was half sulking, half thoughtful. Shikkai hoped he was thinking about the looms, rather than about whatever was happening between them. All this serious talk made Shikkai want to run. He'd built up too many walls; he didn't want his feelings out on display.

"Partly my fault. Forget it." Shikkai slipped into his coat, checking his pockets automatically. "Look, it's been a hellish day. Take a rest, ignore the customers if you like, and feel free to order something decent to eat. We eat too much substandard crap."

"Real food? Anything?" Aishuu was easily distracted by the idea, and Shikkai grinned. The boy was just like a child in that respect, too. It was funny how refreshing he found it.

"Real food. Get enough for the both of us. I'll be starving." And with that, he was out the door.

Shikkai delivered most of his supplies of Discord to Maeda, and the slumboss became more congenial at once, asking how 'the puppy' was. Shikkai was as polite as he could be, and as quick as he could be. Maeda wasn't the only one who found two visits in as many days a little too much to handle.

Instead of heading straight back to his apartment, he did a quick round of the streets, talking to his suppliers; now he needed to stock up on Discord again, and it was a little harder to come by. He asked around for prices, and finally passed by Gyro's haunt, planning on confirming what he'd heard. Gyro was busier in the afternoon than Shikkai was used to seeing, and he almost rode straight by, but Gyro caught his eye as he slowed his bike. The dealer waved quickly for him to wait around, before going back to his customers.

Shikkai pulled to a halt, curious, and stayed astride his streambike, watching the flow of people moving up and down the streets. After what seemed like far too long, Gyro came over to speak to him.

"Hey, Demon. Funny seeing you after midday. Got some news for you, though." Gyro kept his voice quiet, and glanced around, using his long hair as a shield to hide his careful gaze from the passersby as he looked them over.

"Yeah?" Shikkai sat forward. Gyro only acted cautious when something was serious; the dealer spent almost all his time laughing at something.

"Heard from a friend over the other side of seventeenth bridge. There's way more fakers out than usual, and they're looking for someone. The description sounds like Ai." Gyro jammed his hands in his pockets, concern flashing briefly across his features.

"Shit." Shikkai pulled a face, trying to remember if he'd sent Aishuu out that way at all. "How long they been there? And is the desc him now, or before we changed him?"

"Only a day or two. And it's the old desc. But I don't know.. they might track him this way. You've sent him on longer errands, haven't you?"

"Yeah. Aoki's the first I sent him to." Shikkai cursed himself. He'd almost not sent Aishuu on that errand, and now he wished he hadn't.

"Aoki won't spill it, but there's others out there who will. Demon, my friend says they act like corp fakers."

"Fuck. That's the last thing we need." So WeaveLock had finally started openly looking for Aishuu. Shikkai could only be glad that they hadn't gotten this close until after he'd gotten wary. Otherwise the boy would be long gone by now.

"Is he really caught up with the corps? You should never have let him on the streets." The concern was back on Gyro's face, and stronger now. "Can't say why, but I like the kid."

"Know whatcha mean. I didn't know about the corps until it was too late." Shikkai frowned.

"Well, you'd better keep him off after this."

"Thanks for the warning, Gyro." It seemed like it was time to keep Aishuu inside for good, or at least until they'd hit WeaveLock and could find some way to stop the hunt. Now all Shikkai had to do was tell Aishuu. He could only imagine what the boy was going to think of being caged up in the apartment for weeks on end.

"Hey, what're friends for?" Gyro grinned at him, the easy manner returning, and then the dealer was loping back to his wall, leaning against it as if he'd been there all his life.

Aishuu was sitting crosslegged on one end of the bed when Shikkai returned; the bed itself was laden with plates and trays, and Aishuu was finishing off a plate of savoury rolls. He looked up somewhat guiltily as Shikkai closed the door.

"I only just started. I wanted to wait for you but I was so hungry.." the boy shrugged his shoulders, putting aside the plate. "I only ate the rolls. But I didn't know what you wanted to drink, either! What should we get?"

"Good question." Shikkai hung up his jacket, amused by the boy's cheery attitude. "Why don't you surprise me." He'd almost said, 'let's get drunk', but then he'd remembered what he was like when he was drunk.

"Don't say that. I hate choosing for other people." Aishuu pulled a face, but he slid off the bed all the same, moving over to the order slot in the wall. "What about.. hey, can we get warmed cherra? One of Kou's friends gave it to me once and it tasted so good."

"Sure." Shikkai had never tried it. "Wait, it's not alcoholic is it?" He glanced across at the boy as he tugged off his boots.

"Nup. Kou'd never let me otherwise." Aishuu tapped on the wallscreen, then frowned. "It's awful expensive though."

"Get it anyway. I've credit to spare." Shikkai relaxed onto the bed with a sigh, crossing his long legs under him. He began lifting the lids of the trays nearest him, peering at the food.

"'Kay." Aishuu tapped in the command. "How come you got so much credit, Shikkai? I always thought everyone was down here 'cause they couldn't afford to get out."

Shikkai turned to look at the boy, and Aishuu lowered his gaze, hair falling in his face.

"Sorry. I mean.. I guess that's kinda personal, huh?"

"It's okay." Shikkai opened one of the trays and helped himself to some wrapped meat sticks, taking a large bite and chewing while he pondered his answer. "Living down here's not just living, y'know? It's surviving, too. You always need extra credit floating around, for when there's a chance to stock up on a drug that's gone cheap, or when you owe favours. Plus I've been saving for awhile."

"What for?" The cherra had arrived, a large brown bottle with two cups, and Aishuu carted them over to the bed, using the empty plate from his rolls as a miniature table.

"More implants." Shikkai scratched at his arm, briefly, where the blade was grafted in. "The more I'm worth, the more dangerous it is. I haven't had problems for awhile -- well, aside from you;" and he grinned to see the boy's cheeks flush, "but someone always gets stupid and bold sooner or later."

"What would you get next? Wait, what do you have so far?" Aishuu poured drinks for them both, and passed a cup to Shikkai. Then he began pulling lids off every tray and plate on the bed. Steam rose up, along with a mixture of delicious smells, and Shikkai breathed in deeply. It wasn't often he ate like this.

"Well, my blade, of course." He let it spring forth for a moment, then pulled it back into his arm. "And my eyes."

"Your eyes are implants? Wow." Aishuu leaned forward, peering at him, and Shikkai sat still for a moment. "I never would've guessed. What do they do?" The boy began eating and drinking, almost at the same time; it was more like inhaling, and Shikkai laughed.

"You have an appetite and a half. And they let me see in the dark. No matter how dark." He raised his cup to his lips, and took a tentative sip. Then he took another. "You're right. This stuff is good." He reached for more food, before Aishuu could swallow absolutely everything.

"Told you." Aishuu looked satisfied. "What else?"

"That's it for now. The eyes cost me a small fortune."

"And what's next?"

"Not sure, yet." In truth, Shikkai hadn't thought too hard about it. He was still a little shy of what he considered enough to spare on top of his float, and until he could afford something he never made a decision. That way he didn't have to get impatient. "Another sort of blade, maybe. Or a missile weapon. Missiles are useless for close-range fighting, but they can come in real handy sometimes."

"Cool." Aishuu considered that for a moment. "Like a radier gun? Or barbs? I had a friend with a barb shooter once. Those things are nasty."

"Radier's nastier. Barbs just dig in. Radier fries you." Shikkai spoke cheerfully around a mouthful of spiced meatwing.

"But for how long?" Aishuu protested, pausing to take a sip of cherra. "Barbs dig in and you can't get them out without making a real mess. Blood everywhere." The boy shuddered, and Shikkai grinned. He doubted Aishuu had seen it more than once; he'd seen it enough times to be used to it.

And that was enough to remind him; the corp fakers were after Aishuu and he needed to let the boy know. They had to keep him off the streets or else he could well be the next one with a barb or a radier aimed at him. The good food had put it out of his mind, but it had to be mentioned sooner or later, and the sooner he got it out of the way, the better.

"Listen, Aishuu. I saw Gyro while I was out." Shikkai swallowed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "He had some news for me."

Aishuu stared at him a moment, then finished off his cherra in one quick gulp. "This doesn't sound good."

"You're right." Shikkai shrugged his shoulders. "There's corp fakers on the streets and they're looking for you. Which means we have to keep you inside for good until we can get them off your back."

Aishuu sat blankly silent, staring at Shikkai, but this time his violet eyes gave nothing away. Then he lowered his head, concentrating on the meal laid out between them, and started stacking empty plates together. Shikkai watched, unsure of how to deal with this reaction.

"I wish you'd waited until after we'd finished eating to tell me," Aishuu said, finally, as he got up, taking the empty plates over to the disposer. Shikkai stared at the few plates in front of him that still had food on them. He wasn't hungry anymore either.

He moved the plates onto the floor for later, and picked up the bottle of cherra, refilling both their cups before he put it on the floor, too. "Come and sit down. Have some more cherra."

"It's only a matter of time now, isn't it?" Aishuu returned to sit on the bed, but he ignored his cup, and kept his head down, concentrating on the hair that fell in his face.

"Until they find you? Maybe. But they're not going to find you in a hurry if you stay inside. And if you and Kami can crack them open, find something to go on, then --"

"Then what?" Aishuu's head jerked up, his eyes blazing now with futile anger. "Then nothing! So what if I find why they killed Kou? So what if I find out why I can mess with the looms? What the fuck is all that going to do for me? For us? We're still here, stuck in the bottom of the fucking slums, with an entire fucking corporation on our tail, and all I can do is break a fucking threadcage!"

Shikkai closed his eyes, then opened them again. He'd never seen Aishuu this angry, not even when the boy had been grip taped to his bed. He'd never heard Aishuu swear like that. But it wasn't going to do them any good.

"No, Aishuu. You can't think about it like that." He kept his voice calm.

"And why the hell not?" Aishuu's hands were clenched tightly together in front of him, and Shikkai could see the tips of his blades threatening to come all the way out.

"Because it won't work." He sat up, and shuffled forwards on his knees until he was directly in front of Aishuu. He caught the boy's chin in one hand, raising his head until their eyes met.

"If you keep on worrying, if you keep scaring yourself with what might happen in the future, you'll fuck something up now. What you have to do is just keep living it. You keep holding on to what'll come tomorrow, and the next day. Just keep taking each little bit and we'll be okay on the other side, eventually. It works like that, but not if you start looking at the bigger picture." He kept his voice calm, kept his eyes on Aishuu's and his grip on the boy's chin, even though Aishuu struggled to move his head away.

Silence fell, but Aishuu's furious gaze didn't waver. Shikkai held on. The boy raised his hands almost viciously, and Shikkai felt fingers on both his cheeks, felt the sudden sharp nip of blades cutting into his skin. He felt the tiny trickles of blood as they rolled down his face, dripping onto the bed. He held on.

And then the fury broke, and Aishuu's eyes were full of pain. The blades vanished, and the boy fell against Shikkai's chest, one harsh sob wrenching from his throat before he was silent again, shaking, his arms a chokehold around Shikkai's neck.

Shikkai held on, and this time his hold was gentle.

Aishuu raised his head, finally, and Shikkai saw that his eyes were dry. The boy's fingers, gentle now, touched his cheek, making the fresh wounds tingle, and then Aishuu was lowering those fingers to his own lips, tasting Shikkai's blood.

"Do you believe all that?" Aishuu's voice cracked, and he pressed his fingers harder against his own lips.

"I do." Shikkai let his instinct ride him through this, and he found himself saying more than he'd thought he would. "It's the only thing that's kept me alive since I hit the streets, and that was almost twenty years ago."

"Twenty years?" Aishuu sighed, his head dropping. "They didn't love you either, did they? Why do they make us when they don't love us?"

"There's no point asking why. Besides.." Shikkai hesitated, his mind trying to take over his actions again. But he'd broken the boundaries now, and there was no going back. He was Aishuu's; the boy had marked him, taken possession with those biting blades and furious words.

"What?" Aishuu trailed his hands across Shikkai's face, his fingers coming back stained red. He stared down at them, as if unaware of what he'd done.

"If they didn't make us, we couldn't be here now, together. Just you and me." He closed his eyes, regretting the words as he spoke them. Regretting what they meant, even as he shivered in some sort of delight to hear them said aloud. He felt weak. This wasn't him. He didn't know what had suddenly happened; the balance of power had tipped and he was no longer in control.

"Us?" Aishuu's voice was a tiny whisper, barely there. Shikkai nodded, not daring to open his eyes. There was silence, drawn out and full of maybes. Then he felt a feathery touch upon his cheek; Aishuu's lips, kissing away the pain.

"I've hurt you." Aishuu murmured the words between kisses, and Shikkai reached out instinctively, his eyes still closed, and slid his arms around the boy.

"No. You've possessed me." He felt the lips move away, hesitant, and then they slid across to his other cheek, kissing those wounds as well.

"Did you want to be possessed?"

"I don't know."

"Should I take it back?" Aishuu leaned away slightly, and Shikkai opened his eyes. The boy's lips parted, his lips and tongue dark red with blood and lust. Shikkai reached out, caressing the pretty face, and Aishuu leaned into the touch.

"No." He bent to kiss the boy, tasting his own blood as he slid his tongue into Aishuu's mouth, exploring its almost-familiar newness. Aishuu sank against him, giving in to the kiss, and he found himself returning; this was safe ground. He could take back control of himself. The only question was, did he really want to?

Shikkai submitted again, if only briefly, to let Aishuu clean up his face. He watched in the mirror, silent as Aishuu wiped the blood away with a warm, damp cloth, and then rubbed a healing salve across the wounds. Four thin crescents ran in an uneven line down each of his cheeks, and a deeper crescent curved beneath each eye where Aishuu's thumb-blades had dug in.

"Why don't we finish eating?" he said softly, when Aishuu seemed reluctant to make the next decision. The boy nodded and followed him out to the main room. They sat across from each other on the bed to finish the meal, but they ate silently; Shikkai couldn't go back to the cheerful conversation they'd started with, and he didn't want to talk seriously anymore. Only that morning, the day had been normal. Now, near its end, everything was upside down.

He poured out the last of the cherra and watched as Aishuu stacked up the remaining plates and carried them over to the disposer.

"I want to go to bed soon," he told the boy. "I'm tired."

"Me too." Aishuu leaned against the wall, rubbing his face, and then swept his hair back out of the way. "Today's been too long."

"You said it." Shikkai gulped back his cherra, and then pushed himself to his feet, crossing the room to put his cup in the disposer. As he stood up again, his face passed close to Aishuu's, and he heard the boy breathe in sharply.


"Nothing." Aishuu pushed himself off the wall, and then hesitated. "Where do you want me to sleep?" He stood staring at the bed, his back to Shikkai.

"Where do you want to sleep?" Shikkai countered, putting one hand on the boy's shoulder. He felt Aishuu stiffen slightly.

"With you." It was a whisper, half-hesitant, half-defiant, and Shikkai smiled, leaning forward to put his mouth near the boy's ear.

"Good." He kissed Aishuu's neck, and the boy relaxed again with a sigh. Then he slipped away from Shikkai's hand and climbed onto the bed, crawling under the covers until only his head was showing.

Shikkai watched him, watched his eyes closing. Aishuu's face was a mix of fear and desire. Not that he needed worry; Shikkai was too tired to contemplate anything this night. Nor did he want to, either, or at least, not yet. Somehow anything more than their clumsy words and kisses would be a final submission. Of taking Aishuu's innocence, and of taking Shikkai's freedom.

Shikkai killed the lights and climbed into bed, slipping into the space Aishuu had left for him. He wriggled, trying to get comfortable without getting in the boy's way.

"Let me hold you." Aishuu's voice breathed in his ear. He glanced over; the boy's gaze was vacant, useless in the almost total darkness, but his expression was hopeful.

"Don't ask," he said shortly, and Aishuu drew back slightly, his brow furrowing. "No, I meant just do it. You don't need permission." Shikkai touched the boy's cheek, and added, "wouldn't you get sick of it if I asked every time I wanted to do that?"

Aishuu laughed softly, and reached out, his arms wrapping firmly around Shikkai. "Alright then." He pulled Shikkai towards him, his fumbling lips kissing Shikkai's forehead, his nose, and finally his lips. "Goodnight, Shikkai."

"Goodnight." Shikkai let his head rest against Aishuu's shoulder, and pulled the covers tighter around them.

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