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Cage: Part 9

When he finally woke up, he felt oddly refreshed, as if he'd slept a night and day right through. He opened his eyes slowly, taking in what he could see from where he lay. The room was dimly lit, as tidy as when he'd been carried into it; the only difference was the stool drawn up next to the bed, with Aishuu sitting worriedly on it, playing with the hair that hung in front of his face.

"Shikkai! You're awake!" Aishuu saw his opened eyes almost at once, and he gave the boy a smile. Aishuu tossed his hair back, and Shikkai saw his red eyes, and the streaks of tears already wept down his cheeks.

"How long have I been out?" He sat up slowly, grunting at the pain that jarred his stomach. But it was nothing compared to the agony it had been earlier. He looked down to find his shirt still gone, and a tight bandage wrapped around him, stained with tinges of red.

"A couple of hours." Aishuu hesitated, and then slid off the stool onto the bed, sitting next to Shikkai. "I was.. I thought you were gonna die on me." The boy's thin arms wrapped around him, careful of the bandage, and a damp cheek pressed against his chest.

"It takes a lot more than a blind corp with a toy knife to get rid of me." He returned the embrace, placing a gentle hand on the boy's head. "'Sides, I couldn't leave you here to have all the fun without me, could I?"

"I guess not." Aishuu gave a small laugh, and then hiccuped. "Gyro said you'd be alright, but nothing ever seems to go my way.."

"Everyone gets lucky sooner or later." Shikkai pulled back, looking down at Aishuu's face. The boy had washed at some stage, for the blood was gone; it was only tears that stained his cheeks now. And the smile was back in place, if a little wavery. "Did Gyro say how long we can stay here?"

"He said a day or two at most. It's not his place, or Maeda's, either. I don't know whose it is." Aishuu shrugged helplessly. "What are we going to do now? We can't go back."

"No. But I'm sure we can find somewhere else to go." Shikkai started to get up, but Aishuu pushed him back against the bed, being firm for once.

"You're not supposed to get up yet. You lost too much blood."

"Tell that to the corps on our tail. We don't have much choice." Shikkai fended off the boy's hands, climbing to his feet, and then stumbled as he almost dropped straight back down again.

"See?" Aishuu stood up as well. "Get back to bed."

"Where's the nearest thread? I'll sit down while I use it, okay?" Shikkai couldn't help but grin at Aishuu's sudden authorativeness. He stood straight while the boy thought, trying his best not to waver or stumble even though his head still felt woozy.

"Okay; it's in there." Aishuu pointed behind him, to the door they'd originally come through. "But be quick." He picked up the stool, and Shikkai grinned again.

"I'm a bit old to be suddenly acquiring a mother, don't you think?" He laughed at the boy's suddenly flushed face, and stepped quickly through the doorway before Aishuu could think of a reply.

Aishuu set the stool in front of the datathread, and forced Shikkai to sit down before he allowed him to do anything else. Shikkai kept silent; he didn't want to admit how grateful he was for the chair. Aishuu was right that he should stay in bed, but they had no time for that. He needed to get them somewhere safer. This place, whoever it belonged to, was too close to home.

He tapped in Maeda's thread, Aishuu hovering nervously behind him. He felt relieved when Dreer answered; he didn't want to have to convince flunkies to let him speak to Maeda, not in his present mood.

"Dreer. Is Maeda available? I've got some serious problems happening. I just need to talk to him." He kept his face calm, pleasant, hoping it wasn't still splashed with blood. Dreer's passive face stared at him for a moment, and then the second nodded her head once.

"Give him a moment." Dreer put Shikkai on hold, and he stared impatiently at the black screen. It was only a short moment later that Maeda's face appeared. He looked wary.

"Demon. Where are you threading from?" Suspicion flickered in his eyes.

"A safehouse. You heard what's up?" To Shikkai, it felt as though no time had passed since the attack, but obviously there'd been time enough for word to get around while he'd slept.

"I've been informed. And I'm sorry, Shikkai, but with corps on your tail, I can't do anything for you. You've been a good middleman for me, and more. But I can't help you now."

"I understand." Shikkai hadn't expected to be able to turn to Maeda, though he'd wanted to check, just to be sure. But now he had to turn to someone else. "Can you do me one little favour? It won't put you in danger."

"What is it?" Maeda's expression stayed wary.

"Tell Kami we need to get in touch with him. If you can give him our thread here, or something.." he trailed off, not really expecting even that much, but he could always hope.

"I'll get word passed to him. But it'll be indirect. I hope you're going to be there awhile."

"A day or two, at most."

"I'll do my best. A last favour for you. You'll be missed, Demonboy." The suspicion left Maeda's eyes for a moment, but there was no regret in the slumboss's gaze; just acceptance.

"You'll never see the last of me." Shikkai couldn't help but grin, despite the situation. He'd survived so much already; they'd get through this and come out on top somehow. "Thanks for all the fun, though." He cut the thread there, letting his friendship and business with Maeda end just as it had begun; simple and sudden.

"You think he'll get us in touch with Kami?" Aishuu placed his hands on Shikkai's shoulders, his chin resting gently on Shikkai's head.

"Maybe. Let's hope we can stay here a decent while." Shikkai stood up, and swayed in surprise at the effort it took him to remain on his feet.

"Back to bed." Aishuu was back in mothering mode in an instant, and he harried Shikkai into the other room and into bed, tucking the covers in around him. Shikkai let himself be fussed over, just for a moment; sometimes it was nice not to have to be in control of everything.

"And what do you expect me to do, now that I'm here?" He peered up at Aishuu over the covers, enjoying the boy's concerned expression.

"Sleep." Aishuu hesitated, then leaned closer, his fingers brushing the hair back from Shikkai's face. "Shikkai, I can find Kami, if Maeda can't. If he's spinning, I'll find him in a second."

"You sure?" Shikkai realised somewhat belatedly that that was exactly the sort of thing Kami had been teaching the boy, these last few days. He grinned at Aishuu's firm nod. "Well, let's wait and see. I'd rather he heard it from Maeda. And no spinning for him while I'm asleep; I want to be there when you're talking to him."

"Why?" Aishuu was fidgety in his chair now. Shikkai wondered if the boy had been sitting there the whole time he'd been asleep.

"You're not tough enough to talk him into anything." He grinned at Aishuu's frown. "And you know it, so don't give me that. We really need him, now. He's the only one that can get us inside WeaveLock, but we need to be alive and out of corp reach to do that."

"Yeah, yeah." Aishuu shrugged, and sighed. "It's never going to end, is it Shikkai? No matter how hard we try, they just try a little harder and leave us even more desperate." Almost unconciously, the boy flicked hair in front of his face, twining a lock of it around one finger.

"I told you, you can't think like that." Shikkai shifted in the tiny bed, trying to move to one side without making his stomach hurt. "Come here." He raised the covers, reaching out to the boy, and after a moment of hesitation, Aishuu climbed into the bed and into his arms. He cuddled the boy close, wrapping the covers around both of them.

"I spent way too long feeling like my life was never going to get easier, was never going to stop hurting." Shikkai spoke softly, and Aishuu shifted his head, looking up at him. "But someone taught me, eventually, that if I kept looking at it like that I'd go nuts. He told me I just had to enjoy the now, whatever it gave me, and try not to expect what might happen next. That's how he lived, and he loved every minute of his life." Shikkai closed his eyes. It had been a long time since he'd thought of those early days; the boy who'd picked him up when he was first on the streets, given him someone to look up to, someone to aspire to be as good as. All the things they'd said, promises they'd made, times they'd spent together.. up until the abrupt end of it all, the silver cage that had seperated them, and the pain that he'd never be able to shake.

"What happened?" Aishuu's voice was softer than his own, and he could feel the boy's warm breath across his face. He opened his eyes. Aishuu's eyes were dark purple in the dim light, soft and understanding. He supposed that Aishuu understood. The boy had lost his sister, a girl as sweet and life-loving as anyone could be.

"They got to him. Those fucking corps. When you're a kid, there's no such thing as dying, y'know?" The room seemed darker now, and Aishuu's eyes were the only thing he could focus on. But even those were wavering in his vision. He realised there were tears in his eyes. Just one or two, but they hurt just as much as a flood of tears would have. He didn't cry anymore. It was all behind him.

"Shikkai.." Aishuu kissed away the tear that had escaped down his cheek, and Shikkai closed his eyes, letting a few more slip away. The boy caught each with his gentle lips before they could escape. "You hurt so much too, don't you? The only one who matters is always the one you lose."

"Yeah. That's why I don't let anyone matter anymore." He shook his head, burying it deeper in the pillow. "But you had to come along and fuck that up." He let humour tinge his voice, but it cracked as he spoke. He silently cursed himself for letting those memories out again; they made him vulnerable, reduced him to being stupidly emotional like this.

"We both needed someone. I won't let you get lost, too. I can't." Aishuu's voice was barely even a whisper, and then the boy was moving closer to him, lips pressing urgently against his face, his eyelids, down his cheeks, and then further still to his neck. Shikkai gasped, softly; unexpectedly, the touch roused his desire as much as it reassured him.

Aishuu pulled back slightly, his gaze concerned, and Shikkai felt a smile touch his own lips, found himself able to push the sorrow back again, lock it away in the darker corners of his mind. The past was past, and Aishuu was reason enough to smile for now. And besides, he was supposed to be reassuring the boy, not the other way around.

Before either of them could say anything, there was a knock at the door. Aishuu all but leapt out of the bed onto the stool, almost knocking it and himself over. Shikkai couldn't help it; he burst out laughing.

"Come in!" he called, as Aishuu glared at him over a blush.

Gyro peered around the door, then swung himself further around it and into the room, leaning against the wall.

"Hey, Demon, good to see you awake. How's your stomach?"

"It's seen better days, but I'm sure it'll live." Shikkai sat up, pressing a hand against the wound, and winced at the sudden pain; he hadn't expected it to be sore to touch. It'd been a long time since he'd been stupid enough to get wounded this badly. And once again, it was because he'd been too busy caring about someone else at the wrong moment.

"Hey, I fixed you up myself. Of course you'll live." Gyro pulled an offended face. "You'll have another nice scar to add to the collection, too." The dealer grinned, now. The two of them had been sharing scar stories for years.

"Puts me one up on you, then, with a corp inflicted scar." Shikkai offered a quick grin. "Listen, Gyro, how long can we stay here? Who's place is this?"

"Trade secret." Gyro winked at him. "You should be able to crash here today and all of tomorrow, too; but after that, I don't know. This is meant to be a short term safehouse."

"Gotcha." Shikkai sighed; frustrating as it was, he felt like going back to sleep again. And he couldn't afford to be sleeping when he had to be taking care of everything. "Ai, can you give Gyro access to my stocks? You know where they are." The boy didn't know them all, but he knew enough for Gyro to ride easy for quite some time. And the stocks the boy didn't know of could be kept for emergencies.

"Say what?" Gyro's eyes widened. "Don't start shit like that on me, Demon. This favour's a friend's one; no returns necessary."

"Thanks for the thought, but you can have them all the same. I think it's gonna be a long time before I'm gonna need them again, and you've done me more favours over the years than anyone I can think of." And been a better friend than most, too, though Shikkai wouldn't say so out loud. Gyro would understand, he was sure.

"Damn, Shikkai, you're sounding like this is a funeral." Gyro shifted uncomfortably against the wall, his eyes flicking from Shikkai to Aishuu and back again.

"No, but I think it's gonna be a long term vacation. Just take it and say thanks, Gyro. I've owed you too many already." Shikkai leaned back against the pillow, trying to keep his suddenly heavy eyes open. There was silence in the room for a moment, and then Aishuu climbed to his feet.

"Come on, Gyro, we'll figure it out." He crossed the room, and the dealer nodded after a moment.

"Okay, okay, but when you're cursing yourself later, Demon, remember that I tried to talk sense into you." He grinned at Shikkai, and then ducked out the doorway again.

"Aishuu." Shikkai stopped Aishuu before he could follow, and the boy turned again.


"Let's spin early tomorrow and find Kami if he doesn't thread before then. I'm going to sleep this damned weakness off today."

"Okay." Aishuu gave him a smile, but his violet eyes were still full of concern.

"I'll be fine. Now, you be careful." He waved the boy away, and Aishuu's smile was wider this time.

"I'm not the one who got stabbed." He laughed and darted out the door before Shikkai could do more than blink, and his footsteps up the stairwell echoed back into the room. Shikkai burst out laughing again.

"I'll get you later!" he yelled after the boy, and then snuggled deeper into the bed with a sigh, giving in to the lethargy that was pulling him down into sleep.

The next time Shikkai fully remembered awakening, his body told him it was early morning again. The room was lit with the same gentle glow, showing him no change of time; but Aishuu was curled up in another cover next to the bed, his head resting on his satchel. A discarded plate lay beside him, and Shikkai vaguely remembered being awoken to eat at some stage. He shifted, testing his stomach. Already it felt better.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed, avoiding Aishuu's thin form, and stood slowly. His vision swam briefly, but steadied again, and he sighed with relief. He'd take it easy, but he refused to stay in bed any longer than he had to. He headed for the bathroom.

When he came out after a long, warm shower, he found Aishuu awake and waiting with breakfast, and it was real food again.

"Whose credit is that on?" he asked with a laugh, rubbing a towel through his hair. Aishuu stuck his tongue out.

"Mine. Gyro gave me some 'cause I helped him yesterday. Even if it was your stock I helped him to." The boy grinned, mischief bold in his eyes, and Shikkai threw the wet towel at him.

"You're letting your flunky status getcha cocky. Better watch where you lay that blue head of yours." Shikkai chuckled as he sat down carefully on the bed, still mindful of his stomach. Aishuu reappeared from behind the towel.

"I do, don't worry." The boy's smile wasn't in jest, and Shikkai paused, food half raised to his mouth. But after a moment he continued to eat, saving any words for another time. Say anything now and they'd get into feelings, and he didn't want to discuss those.

They ate in silence, a companionable silence, and when the meal was done, Shikkai got to his feet again.

"Time to find Kami. Unless he threaded while I slept?" He glanced at Aishuu, but the boy shook his head as he stacked the trays.

"Not a thing. There's a kit in the main room, next to the datathread."

"Then let's do it."

They made themselves comfortable on the floor, and then Aishuu jacked in, Shikkai following on the tandem link. The world span in all directions for a fraction of a second, and then they were in the midst of the black, glowing everythingness of the looms. Shikkai looked around him; they were in a no-perma zone, a section where everything seemed intangible, and no code stayed for long.

"Okay, lemme see." Aishuu's voice was close, and Shikkai turned to look. The boy's avatar still reflected his previous appearance; black hair, purple eyes, and no moulding, and all of it was surrounded by a faint shimmer of stealthfield. He hastily checked to put his own stealthfield on, and then watched as Aishuu's eyes closed, as the glow that surrounded him grew just a little brighter.

"He's here." Aishuu's eyes flicked open again, and then his hands were moving, tweaking at the looms around them. "I'll weave him first, let him come to us."

"Why?" Shikkai was impatient, now that his strength was returning. Aishuu gave him a reproachful look.

"It's polite. Even hackers have a code of etiquette." They stared at each other for a moment, and then they both started to laugh at the same time.

"Alright, alright!" Aishuu shook his head. "So I sound dumb. It's still polite."

"Then hurry up."

"You sure are impatient." The new voice made them both jump in surprise, and Kami's laughter was quick to follow. "You weren't here for lessons yesterday, Aishuu."

"You haven't spoken to Maeda yet," Shikkai countered, recovering from the shock of Kami's hasty arrival.

"No, I don't make a habit of threading him everytime I need to talk to my own clients." Kami's wolf form sat back on its haunches, its tongue hanging out between sharp teeth, almost laughing.

"He was going to be threading you." Shikkai scowled, but before Kami could counter, he hurried on, annoyed at the bantering. "Things are fucked up down here. Corps caught up with us and almost ate both of us for breakfast."

"And Maeda's still talking to you? I am impressed. Loyalty's not his strong point."

"He's not. We need a place to go. With corps involved my options have narrowed."

"Ahh, and it's Kami to the rescue. I'm honoured you think so highly of me." The wolf's head cocked to one side, but it was Shikkai who was nearly snarling.

"Can you stop being so fucking amused and be serious for once? This may be funny to you, but I've lost my business, lost all my contacts, and my life's on the line. And so is Aishuu's. At least that's gotta mean something to you, your own little source of fakers and WeaveLock income."

"You do match your nickname, don't you? Shall I --" Kami stood up again, but Aishuu stepped firmly between the two of them.

"Kami, stop it! I know you like your fun, but we don't have time. Either help us or tell us to get fucked."

"Decisions!" The wolf's eyes rolled, but then the jaw shut with a firm snap, the lolling tongue gone. "Right. Tell me exactly what happened, where you are now, and how long you can stay there."

Shikkai saw Aishuu's tense shoulders drooping with relief, and he unclenched his fists. He listened to the boy's tale of the previous morning, and added his own account, filling in the gaps that being in the darkness had left out of Aishuu's.

"We've only got this safehouse till the day ends. After that, I've no idea."

"Shit." Kami fell silent, and they waited, both nervous and jumpy, while he thought. "Alright. With corps that bold, I want you out of there five minutes ago. I'm going to have to find you a place, but in the meantime.. soon as you jack out, I want you to go here." His eyes flickered, and then a subscreen appeared in front of Aishuu. "Viewscreen that. I hope you have transport."

"Yeah, Shikkai's got a streambike."

"A machine to be proud of." Kami was grinning again, his serious mood gone already. "When you get there, a friend of mine'll take care of you until I've found somewhere a little more permanent for you both."

"Thanks." Aishuu reached for the subscreen, pulling it into his avatar.

"And how much is this favour costing us?" Shikkai couldn't help but add. Kami laughed.

"Think of it as free service for the moment. Things may get more interesting from here on and I like getting involved in fun things. Oh, and Aishuu, you might want to do something to Shikkai's sig, if you can figure out what your sister did to yours. Corps know who he is now."

"I forgot about that." Aishuu frowned, turning to face Shikkai. "I wonder.." he stared at Shikkai for a long moment, his forehead creased in a frown. "I guess I could.. hmm. It'd be like making a faker. Make a whole new identity, different readings and everything on the outside, and then just make it recognise him instead."

"Just, huh." Kami chuckled. "You make it sound so easy. But you're right. A faker that registers him is pretty much what yours does. Don't forget to transfer his credits over, and hide the trail. Oh, and the other thing which your sister did -- make sure it only registers for him and his chargechip. So that when anyone else looks him up they'll be getting the Shikkai who'll no longer do a single thing on any of their systems."

"Of course." Aishuu grinned up at Shikkai. "Finally, I can do you a favour in return."

"No comment," Kami said, and then vanished before either of them could glare at him.

"I don't know how you stand his company every day." Shikkai sighed. "But at least we've got somewhere to go."

"He's not like that to me. He just likes to tease you." Aishuu stepped forward, pressing his hands against Shikkai's avatar, and Shikkai felt a faint echo of the touch against his chest. "Now stand still."

Shikkai obliged, looking down at Aishuu's hands, encased in the pale blue of his stealthfield, darker where it met up with Shikkai's field. As he watched, the boy's hands began to glow, building up slowly, and then with a sudden snap that he felt in every joint of his body, the light flared up to surround him completely and then vanished again, leaving an afterimage on his eyes. He shook himself, and looked up to meet Aishuu's gaze.

"That's it?"

"That's it." Aishuu grinned. "You're safe, you've got all your money, and they'll never catch you. Now I guess we'd better go to this place to meet Kami, huh?" Aishuu moved back a step.

"Sounds good to me." Shikkai jacked out, and Aishuu followed him a moment later. He let the boy help him to his feet -- cursing at his wound the whole time -- and then they headed back into the room to pick up the few things they'd brought with them.

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