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Cage: Part 10

The address Kami had given them was in slums level one -- four levels above them and only one level below midcity. Shikkai thought sourly that it was no wonder Kami lived there, what with the prices he charged for his services. But it was a long way from where they were, and certainly not where the corps would expect them to be.

Gyro loaned them a couple of coats to conceal them somewhat, and then directed them down several tunnels that led from the safehouse back into the slums.

"That last one comes out over in Oaken's territory, and right near ramp a-3, so you can get straight up into level four. It's not too hard to get around the slums from there, there's signs everywhere." Gyro shook hands with Shikkai firmly, and then Aishuu as well. "Take care of Shikkai for me, Ai. Can't have him going and getting himself killed after all the effort I made to keep him alive." The dealer winked at Aishuu, who grinned back at him.

"I will. Thanks." Aishuu climbed up on the streambike behind Shikkai, and Gyro stepped back out of the way. Shikkai gave the dealer one last smile, and then powered up his bike, heading her down the first tunnel and away from his area of the slums; leaving behind the only place he'd ever known.

When they finally pulled up in front of the building that housed the apartment Kami had sent them to, they both stared at it for several long moments before either of them said anything.

"It's huge!" Aishuu managed, finally, his words full of awe.

"And I bet all the apartments inside are huge, too." Shikkai powered down his bike, suddenly feeling very much the bottom level slumdweller he was. He knew this was still the slums, he knew the midcities and the top layers were ten times this good, but still.. this place was a long way from everything he was used to, everything he'd grown up with. "C'mon, let's get inside. I still don't feel safe." He waited impatiently for Aishuu to climb off the bike, and then he followed.

"Should we just leave her here like this?" Aishuu wondered, and Shikkai shook his head, slipping off the coat Gyro had given him.

"We'll cover her up for the time being." He tossed the heavy clothing over the bike, trying to cover her as best he could, and Aishuu did the same. Then they headed into the building.

Inside, the floors were all numbered, the elevator, though old and creaky, actually worked, and the apartment doors had their numbers etched into them. The apartment they'd been sent to was easy to find, but there was no entry-request.

"I guess.. we knock?" Aishuu tapped on the door, lightly. A moment later, they heard a faint voice inside.

"Coming! Hang on!" There was a thud. "Shit." Silence. Then the door swung wide open, and a cheerful face appeared, a welcoming grin meeting their eyes. "Hi! You must be Aishuu and Shikkai, right?"

"Ah.. yeah." After Kami's snide attitude, this boy's enthusiasm was the last thing Shikkai had expected.

"Come in!" He beckoned them both inside, stepping out of the way, and they moved into the apartment. Shikkai took in the size of the main room, the quality of the furniture, the expensive music equipment and speakers, in one long glance. He bit his lip, wondering at the sudden jealousy that flared up in him.

"Wow.. your place is so big!" Aishuu was staring around him as well, amazed by everything. "And you have so much stuff, too." He wandered over to a guitar standing on a rack nearby, and brushed his fingers against the strings; but as they twanged he stilled them quickly and turned to face the boy who'd let them in, his face suddenly nervous. "You don't mind me looking, do you?"

"'Course not." The boy turned away from the closing the door, and grinned reassuringly at them both. "Make yourself at home. You might be here awhile, unless Kami can pull some decent favours." He moved over to a set of speakers lying on their sides, and began turning them upright again.

"Do you have a name?" Shikkai wondered, amused now. He took in the boy's appearance properly; proportionally he wasn't that much different from Aishuu, what with the thin limbs and the scrawny torso. And he had blue hair, too, hanging long and tangled to his waist, but this blue was fading, bright in some places but a frosty shade that was almost white in others. He moved differently to Aishuu, though, much more at ease in his body, and his personality was at ease, too. This one hadn't had so much of a difficult life. Or if he had, he'd learnt to deal with it better.

"Yeah, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you." The boy uprighted the last speaker and turned back to face them with a grin. "Just call me Kitsune."

"Sure." Shikkai flopped down on the nearest sofa. "So this is where the great Kami lives? And we're actually going to meet him? This should be interesting."

"Well, it's an emergency situation. Normally he never lets anyone come here. I guess it's the whole thing with Aishuu's abilities and stuff, too." Kitsune turned to look at Aishuu, who'd left the guitar behind and was now studying a complex stereo unit. He looked up at the sound of him name, and then blushed slightly.

"It's no big deal. I mean, you all keep getting so worked up about it.." Aishuu shrugged his shoulders, and then crossed the room to perch on the sofa next to Shikkai.

"It may not be a big deal for you, but for the rest of us.." Kitsune shrugged as well, then grinned again. "Who knows, you could revolutionise the whole city. Listen, you guys want anything to drink?" He headed across the room, disappearing through a doorway.

"Yeah. Whatever you've got," Shikkai called after him.

"Me too!" Aishuu added. Then, lowering his voice, "revolutionise the whole city? Do you really think I could?" He turned wide, disbelieving eyes on Shikkai.

"Maybe." Shikkai shrugged, and found himself frowning as well. Was that what Kami wanted from Aishuu? And just what sort of revolution would it be? As far as he knew, things like that never happened easily.. or without danger. "I think you'd need to learn a lot more about what you can do first, though."

"A very astute observation," said a familiar voice, and Shikkai's gaze snapped to the doorway. A figure stood there, slouching against the doorframe, grinning in exactly the snide way that Shikkai had imagine he would grin. The rest of Kami wasn't what he'd expected at all, though; the hacker was only a few inches taller than Aishuu, and was thin in a willowy, almost feminine way. He was hiding it under a thick jacket, his hands stuffed in the pockets, and a loose cap shadowed his androgynous face and hid most of his hair, only a few silky black strands escaping to curl against his collar.

"Don't look so surprised. What were you expecting?" Kami stepped into the apartment, kicking the door shut behind him, and tugged off his jacket, discarding it next to the doorway. Underneath, his clothes were simple, black, and bodyhugging. Shikkai eyed his figure with appreciation for a moment, then frowned, remembering who this was.

"I don't know. Your voice doesn't go with your face." He sat up, not wanting to get too relaxed while in Kami's presence.

"I'll take that as a compliment, though I'm sure it wasn't meant as one. Kitsune getting you a drink?" Kami sat down in the sofa across from them, and when Shikkai nodded, he raised his voice and yelled "hey fox, get me one too!"

Kitsune soon reappeared from the kitchen clutching four bottles.

"That was quick. Strike it lucky, did you?" He passed the drinks out and sprawled on the sofa next to Kami.

"Yeah." Kami tilted his head back, gulping down half his drink in one go. "Got a guy who owes me a few favours, wants a few more, and has a spare apartment he normally uses for one night stands. He agreed to stop using it for awhile." Kami grinned at Kitsune, then turned the grin on Shikkai and Aishuu. "That means long term safehouse for you two. Months, if need be."

"Months.." Aishuu glanced up at Shikkai. "Kami, what're we gonna do? I mean, we've got WeaveLock chasing us. We can't hide forever. Eventually we have to do something."

"Like revolutionise the city, maybe?" Shikkai added, and watched Kami's expression turn sour. The hacker shot Kitsune an annoyed glance, and received an apologetic one in return.

"Maybe." Kami finished off his drink and settled back against the sofa, his gaze flicking from Shikkai to Aishuu and back again. Shikkai scowled, wondering what he was waiting for.

"So is that why you're doing us favours, and actually letting us know what you look like, and where you live? Aishuu's just some toy you can use to pull off whatever your next scheme is? Something too dangerous for you to want to do yourself, so you're going to send him off to do it instead. And what happens to us when you're done with us, huh?"

"Shikkai --" Aishuu began, his voice pleading, but Kami interrupted.

"You seem to forget; your only place here is that you're emotional baggage that comes with Aishuu. But beside all that," and he raised his voice, speaking over Shikkai's angry objections, "you don't have any idea about what's going on here. Yes, Aishuu is useful to me. Yes, there are things he can do that I can't, and so I'll have to send him to do them for me. And yes, I want to revolutionise the city. But just stop and think for a minute. You've got the biggest corporation in the city breathing down your neck, trying to kill you and almost succeeding. Aishuu's got something that they really want to get rid of." Kami leaned forward, his eyes gleaming.

"With his ability.. do you know what we could do, if we did fuck this city up? We could destroy them the same way they keep on destroying us. They don't have any more right to run this city than we do! We could take control. If we did that, there's no more reason for either of you to run, or to hide. You could do whatever you wanted. And you could find that revenge you were both looking for. You still want it, don't you?" Kami sat back again, his eyes still bright, his face lit up.

Shikkai stared at him, vaguely aware that his own mouth was hanging open. Destroy the city? Destroy the corporations? Did this insane hacker really think that he had the power to do that? That Aishuu had the power to do that?

"You really think.." Aishuu's voice trailed off, wondering. "I'm not that strong, am I?"

"Trust me, kid, you've got ten times the strength you're aware of. A hundred times, maybe. You could blast them to pieces. You've got to be aware of how integral the looms are to the way this city works. Everything that matters is in there. Everyone who matters works in there. And you could do anything you wanted to them. All we've got to do is train you hard. What you know so far is nothing. But give me some time, and I can teach you so much.." Kami was sitting forward again, his eyes intensely focused on Aishuu.

"But.. I just wanted.. for Kou.. it was only WeaveLock, wasn't it?"

"Maybe, but I don't know. I know some of the corps are trading secrets, working together.. and it's not that much different when you get down to it. There's more than one corp, but together they run the city. They're the ones deciding to make our lives shit. WeaveLock tells them to hunt for you and they all jump and run to send out a hundred fakers. You think just hitting WeaveLock is enough? Wanna risk it?"

"You're fucking insane, you really are." Shikkai ran his fingers through his hair, trying to make sense of it all, trying to figure out what he should be doing. What were their choices? Kami was all they had right now. There was nowhere else to go. But could they believe this madness? He wanted nothing more than to save Aishuu from WeaveLock, and get the revenge he'd promised the boy, so long ago. But this? How could Kami be right? The idea was too wild, too dangerous. They were nobodies; how could they ever manage it?

"Why? Because I want to do it? Because I believe I can? At least I'm trying. At least I'm not dug out in the bottom of the slums complaining about everything and doing nothing to fix it."

"If you're even daring to imply that I --" Shikkai felt his temper blazing again, but he was cut off by Aishuu.

"Will you both shut up!" The boy was on his feet, his blades snapping in and out of his fingers. Both Kami and Kitsune stared at them in surprise, but Shikkai was staring at the sudden determination on Aishuu's face. Did he believe Kami's words, then? Did he think they could do it? That they should?

"Can't you two have a conversation without fighting about everything? Maybe we can do it. Maybe we can't. At any rate, we might as well try. Can you think of anything else we can do now, Shikkai? There's nowhere left, and if Kami's right, we can change that. Don't you want to be free again? Don't you want to get back at them for what they've done to you? To me? And to Kou?" Aishuu was facing Shikkai now, his expression pleading. Shikkai stared back, trying to think of a reply. He didn't even know what he wanted to say, let alone how to say it.

Then Kami snorted in amusement, and Aishuu whirled to face him. "And you could at least stop baiting him every time you open your mouth! He may just be an added annoyance to you but he means more to me than you ever will. So if he ever decides to leave, I'll be going with him and not you." They stared at each other, silently, neither backing down, and Shikkai opened his mouth to speak, hoping that whatever he said would be the right thing.

"Alright. Let's call it a truce. Maybe we can do some serious damage after all, who knows." He met Kami's gaze boldly for a moment, and then Aishuu was leaping on top of him, blades thankfully sheathed.

"Thank you, Shikkai." The boy's arms wrapped around him, head pressing against his shoulder. He smiled automatically as he returned the embrace, ignoring the jolt of pain in his stomach. Then he glanced up and caught Kami and Kitsune's matching expressions of amusement. He glared at them.

"Think whatever you like," he said shortly, and Kitsune grinned at him, a friendly grin that had none of Kami's sarcasm in it.

"It's the first cute thing I've seen you do, that's all," Kitsune told him, and for some reason he found that even more off-putting than anything else they might've been thinking about him.

Aishuu and Shikkai stood in the doorway of their 'new' apartment, both of them staring in awe, and Kami shouldered impatiently past them.

"You look like a pair of streetsleepers," he snickered, crossing the room to peer through a doorway off to one side. "Ah, here's the kitchen."

"Kitchen? There's a kitchen, too?" Aishuu ran across the room to have a look. Shikkai heard laughter behind him, and turned to see Kitsune watching the boy.

"He's like a little kid." Kitsune stepped into the apartment, then leaned against the wall, glancing up at Shikkai. "But you look like you almost want to do the same thing."

"Not if I'll look like a streetsleeper," Shikkai scowled. He looked around the room again slowly. It housed several comfortable sofas, a small stereo and vis-unit setup, a datathread, and off to one side, a kit and a console. Besides the kitchen door, there was another door directly opposite them. "So the bathroom's through there."

"And the bedrooms, too, I would hope." Kitsune's grin widened as Shikkai's eyes flickered to the door again. "You were expecting to sleep in here, were you?"

"Maybe." Shikkai crossed to the door, feeling out of place, and opened it to find a hallway with another three doors leading off from it. He tried the first one, and found himself in a bedroom that was bigger than his apartment. He stared at the bed -- probably the bed alone was bigger than his apartment. Did anyone need a bed this big?

"Shikkai, you should see the kitchen -- is this our bed?!" Aishuu bounced into the room, and leapt straight past him onto the bed, rolling over on it's soft surface and coming up sprawled on his back, a beaming grin on his face. "It's huge! We could both sleep starfish in it and never find each other!"

"Doesn't sound like much fun." Shikkai couldn't help but smile at Aishuu's delight. The boy could find so much enjoyment in so many little things, things he himself had never thought to get excited about.

"Well, how about we both sleep starfish in it and then find each other?" Aishuu sat up, his hair tangling about his face.

"Save the kinky stuff till after we've gone, okay?" Kami was standing in the doorway, and Shikkai had to smooth the frown off his face; the more time he spent with the hacker, the less he liked him, and every comment begged something in return. But Aishuu was right about one thing; Kami just did it to annoy him. If he ignored it, maybe the hacker would get over it.

"Ha. In your dreams, maybe." Aishuu bounced up off the bed, swinging one arm around Shikkai's waist.

"You two do kinky stuff in Kami's dreams? Damn, I'm glad I sleep in a different room." Kitsune winked at them over Kami's shoulder.

"You only sleep in a different room because I won't let you in mine, no matter how much you beg." Kami turned a smirk on Kitsune, then elbowed him out of the way. "Time for us to leave. Get settled, you two. Tomorrow, revolution begins." His bright eyes snapped up to meet Shikkai's, laughing at him, and then they were both gone, and Aishuu and Shikkai were alone in the huge, unfamiliar apartment.

"This is great! There's so much room!" Aishuu grabbed Shikkai's arm, pulling him towards the bed, and Shikkai laughed, letting himself be dragged, letting the boy soften his mood. Kami had soured what he might've enjoyed so far, but the hacker was gone. Now he could relax.

"Yeah, it'll stop you kicking me out of bed every time you roll over," he teased, and Aishuu stuck out his tongue.

"I could never kick you out of bed, you're too heavy for me to move!" The boy pulled him down onto the bed, and he fell against its soft surface -- but it wasn't quite soft enough, and he groaned, half in surprise, as his stomach reminded him just how much pain it was in. He pressed a sympathetic hand against it, and Aishuu, who'd been still trying to tease him, sat up, instantly contrite.

"Damn, I'm sorry, Shikkai. I forgot all about that."

"It's okay, I'll live," he gave the boy an easy grin, but Aishuu was frowning at him, tugging nervously at his hair.

"Yeah, but.. I was being selfish again. Just thinking about me and not you. It's all me, me, me." The boy stood up, pacing a few steps away from him. "All you do for me --"

"Don't start on that bullshit again, Aishuu." Shikkai sighed, annoyance threading through him. There was only so much gratitude and attempted selflessness you could take from a person.

"But it's true!" Aishuu turned around, pacing back towards him. "You took me in, you did all this to help me get my revenge, and I lost you your home, your business, your friends.. almost your life. And you're still just sitting there doing everything for me and saying it's okay." He turned to move away again, but Shikkai reached out, catching at his wrist, spinning him back around.

"I'm saying it because it is okay. Don't you know me well enough by now to know that I wouldn't do a damn thing I didn't want to? I took you in for my own selfish reasons. I've done things for you because I wanted to. I could've stepped out anytime, and you know that. I'm here of my own free will, so stop being an idiot about it and just accept it, alright?" He stood up, towering over the boy, suddenly reminded of how much of a child Aishuu still was. He hadn't seen enough of the world. There was so much he didn't understand yet.

"I.." Aishuu was blinking up at him, violet eyes clouded with unsurety, confusion. "Why did you take me in? It wasn't just favours for Kou, was it?"

"No." Shikkai reached up to brush hair out of his eyes, trying to think. "I wanted something from you." He paused, watching Aishuu digest that information, watching the flicker of hurt that crossed his face.

"What? I don't have anything to give."

"Your innocence." Shikkai hesitated, then offered the boy a smile. This was hard for him to say; he hated this sharing of feelings, this digging through his walls, undermining them. But he wanted Aishuu to understand. He'd started explaining, he couldn't just stop now and expect Aishuu to be satisfied. "You and your sister, you have this air about you. Innocence, naivety, hope.. I don't know. It's beautiful. I wanted to be near it." He raised his hand, letting it touch the boy's cheek, gently.

"I'm not... I... am I?" Aishuu closed his eyes, pressing his cheek against Shikkai's fingers, letting Shikkai stroke his smooth skin. "You really wanted to be near me?"

"Yeah. And I still do. Maybe for more reasons now, and maybe I've lost more now because of it, but that hasn't changed anything. I want to be here. And I don't need you complaining about my supposed selflessness. You've got more of that than I ever had." He made his voice sound firm, daring the boy to contradict him, to let their talk fall back on teasings and other, safer things.

"I'm not like that," Aishuu retorted, his eyes flicking open defiantly. Shikkai laughed, partly with relief. He could steer this back to safer waters yet.

"Now there's the Aishuu I know. Enough of this foolishness. Let's explore the other rooms, okay?"

"Sure.. maybe we can find a smaller bed. I don't want to lose you under the covers of this one." Aishuu giggled, and Shikkai grinned back, ignoring the still-thoughtful gaze the boy was giving him. Let him think all he wanted, so long as he didn't expect too many long and meaningful discussions.

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