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Cage: Part 8

And somehow, they managed to leave it at that awkward almost-something and nothing more for several days longer. Shikkai did the morning runs while Aishuu slept in, and in the afternoons Aishuu would spend hours on the looms working with Kami while Shikkai dealt with customers. Each night they ate dinner together, and Aishuu would tell Shikkai everything he'd accomplished that day. The excitement was bright in his eyes as he talked of tracing untraceables, of covering his and Kami's tracks so that nothing showed afterwards, or of the day when he finally created a faker out of nothing; span the blank space of the loom into a complete fake identity.

His enthusiasm was back; the helpless futility that had overflowed that one night had been crushed by Shikkai's sure words and firm hold. The only sign of it ever happening was the crescent wounds on Shikkai's face.

When Shikkai had looked in the mirror the next morning, expecting the wounds to be almost gone, he'd found instead that they had scarred. Ten thin white lines marked his face, faded like deep scars months old.

Aishuu had been amazed to see them when Shikkai returned from his morning run that day.

"I don't get it. That salve should've made them go away like they never were." Aishuu ran his fingers over the scars, back and forth, as if he could make them vanish just by touch.

"I told you; you marked me." Shikkai gave him an easy grin, even though the scars had bothered him when he'd first seen them. It seemed as if Aishuu had indeed possessed him, just like he'd said at the time. And having his words made real like that was unnerving.

"But.." Aishuu trailed off, thoughtful, his fingers still caressing the scars. "Saying something doesn't just make it so."

"I dunno.. I've seen some weird shit in my lifetime. Sometimes things happen and there's no reason why." Shikkai's attempt to reassure the boy had reassured him, too, when he'd finally decided it after staring at the scars for long minutes that morning. They just were. Another odd happening like any other, and never mind the teasing he'd gotten from Gyro.

"Do they bother you?" Violet concern focused on Shikkai, and he twined his fingers in the boy's ragged hair.

"Not at all."

"Alright, then." That seemed to be enough for Aishuu; so long as Shikkai didn't mind, he didn't either. And so things were as they were, and their awkward life went on as it had.

But it was the day after Aishuu made his first faker that things changed. Shikkai left for his morning run as usual, kissing Aishuu's forehead before he left; they were still sharing the bed, and Shikkai gave the boy that same gentle kiss every morning, telling himself it was a token of luck.

He walked slowly, enjoying the early feel of the streets, nodding greetings to familiar faces as he passed them by. The morning felt good, the air crisp, and it didn't take him long to reach Gyro's haunt.

"Gyro. What's up?" He leaned against the wall, and Gyro's head raised from his chest slowly, as the dealer yawned. It seemed he really had been asleep, or almost asleep, for a change.

"Oh, Demon. Morn'. Hey --" Gyro's eyes widened, and he flipped his hair back out of the way. "Listen, bad news. You want to get your arse home and move Ai somewhere a little less known."

"What's the story?" Shikkai tensed; things had been calm for the last few days, and he'd hoped they'd stay that way until Kami and Aishuu could find something, anything, that might help them.

"Corp fakers in your area. Not right here, or at least not yet, but they're on the fringes of it. Places Ai's been to. Places they know him, both before and after you changed him. Got word this morning said they're asking about his new desc now." Gyro looked warily both ways down the street, eyeing the huddles of people moving this way and that.

"Damnit. I was hoping they wouldn't get here till we had what we need. Still, I've got a little time, huh? No middleman'll break word about me to the corps; not unless he wants Maeda on his tail." Shikkai tried to think of the best place he could put Aishuu for now. He knew of a few safehouses, most of them Maeda's, but he wasn't sure he wanted Aishuu in a place belonging to the slumboss.

"Yeah, and I'm sure if someone's flunky 'accidentally' broke word, their middleman'd be all contrite and absolved of blame, too." Gyro's lip raised in a sneer, and Shikkai sighed; it was true, and he knew it. He was well liked, sure, but that was all the more reason for some middlemen to take advantage of any situation that could bump him off Maeda's favourites list, and put them on it.

"You're right. I'll move him before I worry about anything else today. Thanks, Gyro. I'll repay you when he's safe." Shikkai was already turning back towards his apartment, but he caught Gyro's quick smile.

"No problem. Catch ya."

Shikkai kept his pace even, trying not to look as though he were hurrying. It was possible the fakers were already this close, and they'd pay attention to anything that seemed odd. He dug his hands into his pockets, watching his faint shadow leap forwards and backwards as he passed under the safelights that lit the streets. Normally, he liked the darkness that the sparse placement of the lights had allowed, but now it left too many places that corps might be trying to hide in, not expecting him to be able to see them. He wanted to run, wanted to get back home before anything could go wrong.

This nervousness, this fear for Aishuu's safety, was exactly what he'd been trying to avoid. He cared too much for the boy; and now he was weak, worried and liable to do something stupid because he wasn't thinking with his head.

He slowed his footsteps, slowed his breathing, stopped staring at his shadow, and started looking at the streets around him again. Soon he was only a block from his building, and then he spotted the faker.

The man was standing under a safelight just near the building's entrance. He slouched against the thin metal post like a whore, his clothing thin and tempting, his gaze wandering the crowds around him in what he probably hoped was a lustful and money hungry stare. But he was easy enough to pick if you really looked; his gaze was too sharp, too searching, his clothes were a little too perfectly correct for the part, and his stance showed that he was ready to jump to attention in a moment.

Shikkai slowed to a stop between two safelights, watching the man for a long moment. The man had a clear view of everyone going into or out of the building, and he ran his gaze across the crowd in a uniform sweep; left to right, right to left.

Shikkai ducked into the nearest alleyway, taking a detour until he came out in the alleyway right next to his building. He watched until the faker's gaze was moving away from him, back towards the other side of the building. And then he moved.

He came up quick and close, against the building as best he could. He was almost within reach when the faker started to spin around, hearing his hurried footsteps. Shikkai ran the last few steps, catching the collar of the man's shirt, and even as those sharp eyes widened with recognition, the blade was sliding forward from his arm, straight into the faker's throat.

The man managed a faint gurgling sound, and then he was collapsing against Shikkai, his eyes glazing over. Shikkai pulled his blade back, catching the man's body and easing it onto the ground, trying his best to avoid the blood splashing from the wound. He glanced around, quickly; there were only a few people around to have seen what had happened, and they were making themselves as scarce as possible. No-one down here would mourn the death of a faker, but they knew it meant trouble.

He hurriedly wiped his blade clean on the faker's clothes, and then he was through the door to his building, and dashing down the stairs two at a time, his thoughts barely able to catch up with him. They knew where he lived. If they were watching the door, then they were inside already, and had Aishuu. The only question was, was the boy alive or dead? Would they keep him alive as bait for Shikkai, or would they kill him and cart him away as they'd done with Kou, and worry about Shikkai later?

Shikkai reached his floor, and started towards his apartment, before a thought stopped him. He turned back, ducking under the stairs. The power grid for the corridors was there, and he prised the cover off as quickly and quietly as he could. He stared at its incomprehensible innards for a moment, and then his anger boiled over, and he raised his foot, kicking furiously at every chip and wire, every part of it that might give power. The lights above him went out, and within seconds the inside of the box was trashed.

He stepped back out into the now totally dark corridor, listening carefully. He heard the sound of someone cursing softly to his right, and he headed that way, keeping his footsteps as silent as he could manage. Within seconds a man came into view; not a faker this time, but a corp security guard. He was walking towards Shikkai, one arm running along the wall for support in the dark, the other holding a nasty-looking radier gun.

Shikkai stepped to one side, waiting for the man to come into range, and then he raised his arm, letting his blade slide forth as he aimed it at the man's neck. The man made a choking noise as the blade hit, radier falling to the floor. Both his hands came up to grab his throat, helplessly trying to close the wound that had almost severed his head. A moment later he dropped to the floor.

Shikkai glanced at the fallen radier gun for a moment, then discarded the thought; radiers were corp weapons, and useless in such a confined space. He trusted his blade, and it hadn't failed him yet.

He started walking slowly towards his apartment, but the closer he got, the more nervous he became. By the time he rounded the final bend he was running. But he halted outside his own door, frozen for a moment with the fear of what might be inside.

He closed his eyes briefly, working up courage he'd thought was second nature until now. It had been a long time since he'd been faced with the idea of losing someone so close to him, and the courage that had seen him through everything else had all but fled in the face of it happening again.

In the darkness behind his eyes, he laid out an image of his apartment, where everything was, and where whoever was inside might be standing or sitting. Then he unlocked the door.

He pushed it forwards, just slightly, and heard a soft murmur from inside. A voice that wasn't Aishuu's. He reached his hand just through the crack in the doorway, hopefully out of sight of anyone inside, and then he triggered his blade. It slid out from his arm and tapped the light switch, leaving his apartment in sudden and total darkness. Then he swung the door open wide.

"Shit." The curse reached his ears as the scene reached his eyes. Aishuu sat rigid in the straightbacked chair Shikkai had never gotten around to getting rid of, his hands folded in his lap, his eyes wide. On either side of him stood two corp boys, all suits and slicked back hair, each holding a radier. One was trained on the door, the other on Aishuu.

"Get the goddamn lights on!" one voice bellowed, and both radiers aimed at the doorway.

Shikkai leapt to one side, dodging the radier beams before they even left the guns. Then he was darting forwards, his blade aimed for the corp nearest him. The man moved, trying to follow the sound of his footsteps, and his blade hit shoulder instead of throat.

"Kill him!" the corp yelled even as Shikkai pulled his blade back, dodging the radier trying helplessly to train on him. He spared a glance at the other corp, and saw him moving, saw his radier turning towards Aishuu, still sitting rigid in the chair.

"Aishuu! On your left!" he yelled, the words almost freezing in his throat. He felt a sudden pain in his stomach, and looked down; the corp still trying to shoot him had succeeded in stabbing him with a blade attached to the radier. The man smiled vacantly in his direction, and Shikkai growled, his fury burning up inside him.

"Fuck you!" he swore, raising his blade again. This time, he did not miss, and the corp fell at his feet, making wet, bubbling noises in his now-open throat.

A radier beam glanced past Shikkai, and he ducked to one side, turning to see what was happening. Aishuu was struggling with the other corp, their hands entangled like some sort of horrid deathmatch arm wrestle. The radier was slipping from the corp's fingers, wet with blood, yet he was still trying to fire it at Aishuu. Aishuu seemed unable to seperate his hands, but his blades were out at full length and he was trying his best to carve up as much of the corp as he could reach.

"Shit." Shikkai echoed the corp's earlier sentiment as he dodged around the chair and drove his blade into the corp's face, his rage allowing him to enjoy the agony that enveloped the man's expression. He knocked the gun from the corp's fingers, letting it fall to the floor, as he drew back his blade and dug it into the man's chest this time. There was one last moan of pain before this corp, too, was dead on the floor at his feet.

He stared down at the man's blood covered hands, his ruined face, and he found himself breathing hard, heard the rush of adrenaline thudding hard inside his head. The pain in his stomach intensified and he grunted, pressing his hand against it, feeling the blood dribbling between his fingers.

"Shikkai.. are you alive.. please.." Aishuu's whimpered words met his ears, and the adrenaline began to fade away, slowly.

"I'm here, Aishuu. It's okay." He stumbled to his knees next to the chair, wrapping his arms around the boy. Aishuu pressed against him, as best he could, and Shikkai realised the boy was tied to the chair.

"Are they all.. dead?" Aishuu whispered against his chest, and he stroked the boy's hair soothingly.

"They're dead. And we have to get out of here." There was no question of whether or not they should find a safehouse now. Shikkai sat back, regarding Aishuu. The boy's hands were tied together, his feet tied to the legs of the chair, and grip taped looped around his body and the chair itself.

"Grip tape bonds, huh? Looks familiar." He chuckled at his morbid humour as he began cutting Aishuu loose from the chair.

"Yeah, but they weren't gonna be nice afterwards." Aishuu voice quivered on the edge of hysteria, and Shikkai realised that the boy had probably never been this close to the corps before. He hadn't seen their cruelty; nor had he seen or heard anyone die like these men just had. But now was no time for him to break down.

"But I was, and that's what counts." He cut the final bonds and stood up, pulling the boy to his feet. "We have to get out of here, Aishuu. Is there anything you need to take with you?"

"Kou's things. I can't see...!" Aishuu stood still, shivering, his head swivelling around as he tried desperately to see in the darkness.

"It's okay, I'll grab them." Shikkai scooped up Aishuu's satchel from the corner of the room, swinging it over his shoulder and then he took the boy's hand in his own, ignoring the pain in his stomach for now. "Do you trust me, Aishuu?"

"Yes." There was no hesitation there, and Shikkai inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.

"Good. Then hold my hand and I'll lead us both out of here. I won't let you fall, or get hurt."

"Okay." Aishuu clung to his hand like a lifeline; which was exactly what it was, Shikkai thought. He led the boy out of the room, closing and locking the door behind him. He didn't look back; he'd lived there for years, but there was nothing in there that really mattered to him, nothing he would miss. The only thing that mattered right now was that Aishuu was still alive.

The dark corridors seemed to take forever to navigate, but finally they reached the stairs, hurrying up and out of the building, both grateful for the dim light. Shikkai halted, looking up and down the street. He could see no sign of other corps yet, but he didn't think they'd take long to arrive.

"Shikkai, you're hurt!" Aishuu was staring in horror at the blood on his shirt. He looked down, surprised by just how much blood there was, and pulled his coat shut around him, hiding it from view.

"It doesn't matter. We have to get out of here." He headed for his streambike, sitting patient at the curb, and Aishuu resisted only a moment before following. Shikkai swung himself up onto the bike, unlocking her quickly, and he gestured for Aishuu to get up behind him. The boy did so, his eyes still full of worry.

"Don't bleed to death on me," he begged in Shikkai's ear as he wrapped his arms around his waist.

"I won't." Shikkai kicked the bike to life, and turned fast, heading back the way he'd gone earlier that morning; only minutes ago, it seemed. And it only took minutes to reach Gyro's haunt.

Shikkai, dodging a lull in the crowds, pulled the bike up over the gutter and onto the path, only stopping when he was right next to Gyro's languid form. The dealer started, pulling himself up straight, his eyes wide.

"Shit, Demon. They got to you already?" Gyro's eyes ran quickly over Shikkai, and then Aishuu, surveying the situation.

"Yeah, and it's nasty as hell. Listen, Gyro, I need a safehouse. I don't have one near here that's not Maeda's, and I don't think he's gonna want to be involved. I can return the favour tenfold once things cool down."

"Gotcha." Gyro glanced around the street again, his eyes thoughtful, and then he nodded once, firmly. "Desperate times; yeah, follow me." He turned and ducked down an alleyway only a short distance from where he stood, and Shikkai turned his bike that way, riding her slowly and carefully across the sidewalk.

Gyro led them through several twisting alleys, until they reached a deadender. The high walls surrounded a huge, sweltering trashfilter, melting a constant supply of rubbish down to nothing. Gyro walked up to one end of it, obscuring its side as he did something to the rusted metal; a moment later, a small part of the filter swung open.

"In here. You should be able to fit your bike through, too." Gyro beckoned with a grin and stood to one side.

Shikkai glanced back at Aishuu; the boy's face was grim, streaked with blood and oddly lit from a distant safelight and the reddish cast that Shikkai's implants gave to anything hidden in darkness. Aishuu attempted a smile, and Shikkai smiled back.

He drove the streambike carefully through the narrow entryway, concious of the filter's innards kept away only by a thin layer of metal, making the short stretch through the machine hot and stifling. Then they were out the other side, down a steep set of stairs that made his bike wobble in his already shaky grip.

"Keep going down, I'll just shut the door." Gyro's voice echoed through the filter, followed by a series of hollow thudding noises. Shikkai took a firmer hold of the bike's steering, taking them slowly down the long stairwell until finally they reached a small room at the bottom, with doors on every side.

"Go through the door on the right." Gyro soon appeared at the bottom of the stairs, gesturing. "You'd best leave your bike here for the moment, though."

"Sure." Shikkai powered the bike down slowly, not wanting to tell either of them that he wasn't sure he could walk without her. The danger was past, and the adrenaline with it, and now he was starting to feel light headed. He sat still for a moment, trying to gather the energy to get off the bike.

Aishuu slid down from behind him, and then the boy reached out a hand to him. He took it, sliding off the bike, and found himself unable to stop; his knees dropped from under him, and he sank heavily to the ground, a groan escaping him as he jolted the wound in his stomach.

"Shikkai!" Aishuu grabbed for his shoulders, trying to stop him from falling on his face.

"Shit, you injured that much and you didn't even tell me?" Gyro shook his head, a supporting hand pressing against Shikkai's back. Shikkai tried to stand, but he couldn't seem to manage it by himself.

"I can't get up." It was a curse more than anything else; he hated being this weak, this helpless.

"Take that arm, Ai, and I'll take this one. There's a bed in there, and medical stuff, too." Gyro's voice was firm, but Shikkai barely felt the arms that pulled him to his feet. He stumbled gratefully forwards, focusing on the idea of a bed, and let them pull him into the next room.

The room was small and cramped, a thin hospital bed tucked in one corner and a cabinet with many drawers and doors on the other side. Another door in the far wall seemed to lead to a bathroom, but Shikkai was only interested in the bed for now, and he staggered towards it, tumbling with relief onto its soft surface.

Time seemed to pass in fragmented moments after that: Aishuu's scared eyes as the boy tried to reassure him; Gyro's calming voice as he helped Shikkai out of his shirt; a burst of stinging pain that made him cry out; the soothing cold touch of a numbing salve that made all the pain retreat; the strange whisk, whisk noise of something brushing against his skin that he couldn't feel; the annoyance of being made to sit up as a bandage was wound around him.

Then at last, Gyro gave him something to drink that sent him gratefully into sleep.

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