disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: to my miraculous ability to write a whole fucking paper in three hours. not even kidding. I am QUEEN OF PAPERS.
notes: when Rick Santorum stops making asinine comments about women's rights, I'll stop telling people to Google his last name.
notes2: oops, my politics are showing again. oh well.

chapter title: mona lisa overdrive
summary: A ragtag group of cable-dancers on the run, holding out for one last grift. — cyberpunk AU; Rin/Shiemi.

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Up in the white spires, a girl without shoes began to cry.

She breathed in, red-nosed and red-eyed, shaking through the night and so cold her teeth chattered. She clenched her hands, ragged nails biting into ragged flesh, and the pain brought her out of it.

She went to the iron gate and slipped through the bars, too skinny to be held back. The knobs of her shoulder blades stuck out against the perfect clean silk of her kimono. She stood at the edge and looked down for a very long time.

She wiped the tears away and with a deep breath, began to climb down.

/ / /

Sweat down her spine, pounding underneath her feet. The light moved around her, liquid as it poured down her vertebrae, soaking into the Glo inked up and down her back. It was still new, still had yet to seep under the top layer of her skin and illuminate her from within.

It itched with the Base in her veins, the painkillers and the hallucinogens at odds.

Bad girl, mixing drugs like that.

But for now, it writhed across her back in time to the pulse-beat as she danced, a fox done in gold and black and red. It stood out stark against her skin, but was only a pin-prick in the warehouse. Spiked jewelry, dark shirt, white lycra so tight it might have been polyglued to her legs; in this crowd, Izumo was just another fake girl with fake issues as plastic as the skin she was in.

The strobe throbbed, coloured light against the walls, smearing up across the power cables. Heat and fingers curling around her hips as she swung back and forth, eyes black with pupils dilated so wide they might have swallowed her whole face, and she didn't even know what was going on.

She hated people, but she did love dancing.

Take a break, you fucking addict.

Izumo lost herself in it.

Hands on her cheeks, and "Izumo-chan. Izumo-chan!" breathed out into her ear. Smiling, giggling under her breath, she spilled into her best friend's arms; flushed and strung-out and barely herself, she could have been anyone. Everything was snow-white lines criss-crossing behind her eyelids, and her best friend's familiar face in her gaze.

"Izumo-chan!" Paku Noriko touched her eyelids, fingers soft and fast, heady like smoking base, anatomical charts spiking up and down as the pair of girls tried to breathe with their foreheads pressed together.

"Are you hurting very much?"

It was such a strange question to ask.

"No," Izumo murmured. "Not hurting at all."

And the ravers and the chromium-bingers and the phreaks and the crackers, all lit up on rapture and brimstone and Base; designer drugs for designer loves waiting to be found in the dark (darling, darling, don't you love me anymore?). Izumo watched the colours play across her best friend's face, psychobabble like who's war is it anyway and she clung to Paku's wrists sharp like ice like run on sentences like starkle starkle little twink what da tell am I ta' hink until everything was spinning round and round faster than spin-discs on the jockey's right side, so loud that she could feel it not hear it.

It was the people around her that she didn't know.

Izumo scrabbled at her best friend's unmodded skin. "Let's dance!"

"Izumo-chan, there's someone here to see you!" Paku shouted loud as her lungs would let her, still human after all.

Izumo went very still, eyelids clicking mechanically, lashes down against too-smooth cheeks. She was lovely in the impossible way of a china doll, violet-eyed undiluted paint. Unrealistic, filament garbage; an impossibility. But lovely, too.

(The girls down at Nife loved her. They would have scalpeled her face away if she'd have let them. And she wasn't the only one, after all; Apple Jax was big everywhere, and it was getting harder and harder to get the girls to do anything else.)

"Who?" Izumo murmured, voice gone low. Even over the pounding, Paku could hear the perk-up interest.

It had been a long time since they'd had a proper job.

"Outside," Paku whispered in her ear.

Izumo nodded once, the sleek line of her throat luminescent, tossed her bangs out of her eyes and traipsed to the door, back straight and inked to high hell. She glanced at the bouncers only once, mostly to assure the pair of them that she wouldn't be gone long at all. They blinked at her in tandem for a reply.

And with that, Izumo walked out into the bright night.

It was a boy about her age, hands shoved into his pockets, hair cut in a rough dark shag over mirrored lenses. He grinned at her with his teeth, sharp white, fangs too long—Izumo didn't know anyone who specialized in re-routing teeth, but they probably weren't too hard to find. She tipped her head at him, took in the dataports at his wrists and the thick black boots, and wondered. He looked to be a technical boy.

Not really her type, but still no reason to judge.

"And you are?" she asked. Over the residue thumping of the music behind her, she thought he probably couldn't even hear her. No one jacked up their system for sound, not when noise levels in True Cross were so high all the time.

He whistled, pulled the mirrored lenses away from his face. His eyes were blue. "Shit, Angel wasn't lying about the ink."

Izumo smirked at him, hand on her hip. She raised the fabric away from her skin long enough to give him a glimpse of yellow-gold against pale flesh. "And you are?"

"Rin," he said easily.

"Just Rin?"

"Okumura. Okumura Rin."

"Don't be cliché," she told him. "I'm already bored. What do you want?" A pause, and then she lit up like a bulb. "Or do you want to buy? Ten thou a gram weight. It's clean, too."

"I would'a come inside if I wanted to buy, Eyebrows."

"Excuse me?!" Izumo seethed.

"I still dunno your name. What else am I supposed to call you?" he asked, and Izumo had the distinct feeling that he was laughing at her. She turned her eyes to the graffiti on the concrete walls to calm herself, and her heartbeat slowed at the years of rage and frustration written there.

"Kamiki," she said. "What do you want?"

Izumo was deeply suspicious of anyone who avoided questions the way this man did. It stunk of the Watchfuls, but Izumo knew what Amaimon and Takara looked like—she'd seen them with her own eyes. He wasn't like them, but at the same time, he was. She eyed him warily.

"I got a job to do, Eyebrows."

Izumo stared at him.

No one said job like that unless they were—unless they were—

Like her.

She brushed her bangs out of her eyes, and scoffed at him. The quickest way to smoke out a fake was to make them think that she was actually up for it—usually they backed off when she sounded like she knew what she was doing. And she did—she'd been playing on the telecom links for longer than some people had been alive. "I bet you don't even know what you're talking about."

"I need a backup console," he shrugged.

Dead silence, save for the synthetic pounding behind her. Izumo looked at him with implanted irises, and felt the corners of her lips twitch. She forced the grin away before it could get the better of her, and spoke. "I'm not good with console trapping."

He chuckled, and the sound rumbled across the street. "But I heard your pretty goddamn good with telecom links."

"And who told you that?"

"A dead man," and he grinned, and it was the most reassuring thing she'd ever seen.

"If he's dead, I guess I can forgive you," she flipped her pigtail over her shoulder. "Don't let it happen again."

"Of course not, m'lady," Rin mocked. "So. You in?"

"You haven't even told me what you want me to do."

"Later. You in, or not?"

"What are you offering?" Izumo asked.

(Because she'd learned along the way with graffiti and gargoyles living in the shadows in this city that payment was first discussed. It was not for later—payment was the here and now, the information technology that kept the economic machine greased to a slick shine.)

"An equal cut of whatever we get," Rin replied evenly. "You help, you get paid, we never see each other again. Clear?"

There was no lie in his face.

Izumo inclined her head, the bright artificial light of the tube station sliding along her hair. "Crystal."

Rin grinned. "Good. Catch."

A tiny flash of plastic arced through the air, and Izumo caught it midair without thinking. Her fingers closed around it, but she didn't take her eyes off him.

"That should have everything you need to know on it," he pitched.

"Fine," Izumo replied.

He nodded once, and then he melted into the shadows.

It wasn't until after she'd scanned the area and his source code was completely gone that she opened her hand, and examined the chip. It was small—dataport chip. It might have carried all sorts of viruses that would send Izumo's carefully balanced system into overdrive. It might be dangerous. It might be bad.

She slid it into the port on her left wrist, anyway.

/ / /

Down the eaves and the elevator shafts, she was all scraped knees and wide eyes. This world of metal and lights was unfamiliar to her; she was a thing belonging to the earth and the plants—she was a Flower Child from a different era.

The elevator shafts clattered just beside her, and she listened. The fans of the air conditioners hummed, the jackhammers of the maintenance crews were explosions of sound that echoed up towards her. They were the lifeblood of the city, those little things that made up everyday life that she had never had the chance to properly experience.

She listened to it all with a quiet sort of wonder and her fingers curled around the cold rusted rungs of a ladder.

Below her, the city glowed.

/ / /

The seedier levels of True Cross Academy were down below the streets. Jury-rigged and swaying, sweating under its own coat of acrylic resin; the less savoury inhabitants of the Academy had built down much as the more elite classes had built up—up and in, because up and out belonged to the less savoury, as well.

Far below the white spires of the Academy's core, Rin walked the cables with a catlike grace that had no place in one so young. Artificial rain rattled the tin above his head, dripping down from the streets above.

The deluge was acidic enough to eat through the pipes.

They'd have to fix those soon. Rin grinned, delighted. He wouldn't be around to see it. He wouldn't have been down here if he was.

Old incandescent bulbs flickered overhead.

Rin descended further, down to where the Yakuza reigned supreme; where the junkies and the pool-hall rats swirled in Base-induced hazes, waiting for a saviour. It was a shit gig, but hell, it was a shit life, so what did it really matter?

Past the glowing neon chrysanthemums and green doors that sang of opium dens, he came to a halt in front of a cinder-block building. It was non-descript but for the aged-yellow sign, scribbled over in black—KEEP OUT—which Rin ignored entirely.

He shoved through the door.

"Anyone home?"

"Can't you fuckin' read? It says keep out! We're closed before the radiation cloud goes down!" The voice was muffled through the dirty shag carpet hung over an empty doorframe in place of an actual door, and Rin waited impatiently for the pale hand to jerk it away.

He knew these people, and they knew him, and KEEP OUT had nothing on people who worked and stolen and nearly died together.

Konekomaru stuck his head out and blinked owlishly at him.

Rin grinned at him jovially. "Long time, no see."

Recognition dawned behind the flickering eyeshields, the input data stopping for just one split-second as Konekomaru vacillated between confusion and elation.

Elation won out, and he ushered Rin inside.

"Jesus, we haven't seen you since—hell, when was it?" Konekomaru asked.

It had been a very long time.

"It's almost been two megaturns," Rin replied, smooth like warm oil.

Konekomaru laughed. "Oh, yeah! We were fifteen. Been a while, huh?"

"Yeah."

The pair of men were silent as they headed up the hall then up three sets of ladders, lit by an illegal lithium glow. The shuffle of their feet was obscured completely by the constant tap of water against tin, and Rin knew that they were close to the surface, now; closer to the surface than he'd been since coming down.

"New real estate, then?"

Konekomaru's grin was a little bit sharp around the edges, hazed with something that wasn't good nor clean. Rin knew that grin—it was the grin of someone who had pulled strings in a lot of places, hacked their way through layers and layers of impossible-to-breach security, and then padded accounts with a slow trickle of cash from the multinationals scattered across the globe that the True Cross only had access to through the Net.

Rin knew that grin very, very well.

It was the dead end countdown, after all.

"You like it? Bon didn't even have to say anything. He just stood behind Shima and glared, and the guy caved. It was great."

"It's great. Can you see the spires?"

"Why the hell'd we want that? We don't owe those fuckers a thing," Konekomaru sneered, and Rin was amused. He'd expected no less, but it wasn't often that the youngest of them got so riled he'd loose his tongue.

"Just wondering," Rin whistled.

They turned a bend into the cool-cement hall, and Konekomaru kicked through the door at the end.

"Hey guys, we got a guest," he called softly.

The place was littered with empty pizza boxes and the greasy remains of shitty take-out Chinese; it was a food graveyard of mould and dust, and Rin's nose wrinkled up. The answering groan came from a pile of blankets on a ratty couch gone an indiscernible with age or dirt or maybe both. Dust rose, and Shima Renzou hit the floor with an uncomfortable thump.

"The fuck—?"

"Shut up, Shima," instructed the bear of a man sitting in the corner; three screens held his attention, but Bon was still alert to everything that happened around him. Sometimes, Rin thought that he might have been alert to things that happened even outside of his sphere, and Rin wouldn't have been surprised at all to know that Bon was part of the darkest movements above the line between Sugarjuncture and the above-ground.

"Okumura's come home."

Home was a very vague term, in this sense.

Home was in the play of cyber-green flares, and the reflective surface across the back of submergence-goggles. Home was nowhere and everywhere, the cool press of a Guy Fawkes mask against the skin of his face, and gas masks as they sunk down even past Funland, dancing into the sketchiest depths of True Cross. And then even beyond that, home was hooking into the Net; streaking past the lines of the waiting nouveau-riche for their daily dose, riding the slow information waves that took weeks and weeks to gather, and then clinging to netbooks and briefcases and scrabbling at locks to find the hidden secret things that no one ever wanted to get out.

That was home.

But for now, the dingy little bunker would suffice. "'Lo to you to, Bon."

"Where've you been?"

"Upper Fold. Yuki's got a place," Rin said.

"Shit," Konekomaru muttered, caught half between awe and disgust. "Is it really… like what people say?"

What people say was vaguer than home.

Rin let a dark grin cross his features. "'Course it is."

"Shit," Koneko repeated. "Shit."

"Is there beer?" came from Shima's prone form.

"There's always beer," said Bon. Finally he swivelled around to look Rin in the eye, mouth set in a shrewd line. "So you're back."

"I am."

"Why?"

The side of Rin's mouth picked up. "I got a job."

In the ensuing silence, the rain seemed suddenly louder. The three of them stared at him, personalities perfectly characterized in their reactions; Konekomaru stared with wide eyes; Shima slowly began to grin; and Bon, of course, looked like he didn't believe a word of the bullshit coming out of Rin's mouth.

"Go on," Bon said.

"A big one. Really big."

"Bigger than before?"

"It'll be before times a hundred," Rin replied.

The silence grew deeper, pulling out a fisheye effect and stretching their faces to strange proportions that shouldn't quite exist (though surely the girls at Nife would be delighted to try their forever-changing hands at it). Even the modums at Bon's computer had frozen, their interfaces stuttering for a heart-rending second.

They would be rich.

They could get out.

(Everyone wanted to get out of True Cross.)

"So." Rin said. "You in?"

Bon ran his fingers through gold-streaked hair, and stared up at the ceiling, face puckered as he thought it over. Rin didn't need to be told that Konekomaru and Shima wouldn't move without Bon's input—if he nixed it, Rin would be out three back-up consoles, and the genetic engineers would get their slimy little fingers in his brain cavities and he'd be dead.

Rin decided it was better not to rush him and twiddled his thumb, examined the floor, the walls; they bore deep circular acid scars, and he wondered what sort of clients Bon was conning out of their cash, these days.

"All right," Bon said at last. "We'll do it."

The grin that lit Rin's face was bright as a twelve-gigawatt bulb. He threw back his head and crowed with it, exultation in the nebulas.

"Is there anyone else helping? Say… anyone… female?"

The three of them turned to stare at Shima; he grinned horribly. He hadn't changed at all, Rin reflected, and threw an empty beer can at his head. It was a hollow sound, and after a second of stunned silence, they broke into a roar of laughter.

It was an echo of when they'd been fifteen years young, and scampering up and down the cables in the elevator shafts in the white spires of True Cross's core. Information-thieves they'd been then; information-thieves they were now. Nothing had changed, except maybe how far they could reach.

And with the Net, that reach had only gotten farther.

Either way, Rin carefully avoided Shima's question.

Submerged in the hard evidence of the human dystopia they lived in, Rin flopped down on the ancient couch. The day was long overdue, trickling away with the final sounds of the rain. It had been a very long time, but Rin slipped back into their camaraderie like a second skin.

For a while, they made jokes and told lies; played dice. They all cheated.

No one apologized.

Artificial night-light replaced the last of the rain, and Rin glanced at the clock with a sigh. Konekomaru caught the tail of it and started violently when the red numbers glared.

"Shit, we might as well open early. Those fuckers at the lexicon've been whining for two weeks, and we should probably get on that," Konekomaru pushed his glasses up his nose with a finger. He stared pointedly at Rin. "You're gonna have to go."

No room for the one who left, but Rin stood anyway.

Shima and Koneko ushered him to the door, conmen to the end. Bon turned back to the flat schematic images flashing across the screens of his computer, sinking back to the depths of the hacker network without saying goodbye.

Rin thought it was better that way.

"I'll let you know when we start," he told them.

The sharp, identical grins were his only answer, and they politely closed the door in his face.

Ring stuffed his hands in his pockets, and looked up. Above him, the city glowed.

Time to go home.

/ / /

The climbing took more time than he would have expected. He scrambled up through Sugerjuncture's darker districts, because it was easier to hide in the shadows than it was to cruise through the lighted areas. Fading with the horizon, he clambered up and up.

He broke the surface just as the clock on the Academy's entrance gates indicated sunrise.

The city looked as it always did, lit from within. The city was a fiasco, a threat to the rest. The city ran on cigarette burns, fast cars, fast women and cheap drinks; asphyxiated, self-medicated, take the white pill, you'll feel alright. It ran on stolen power, tattoos, change-your-face the way you might change clothes. It ran on thumping music and drug-pushers, interfaces, dogfights, sex toys and information.

It was an information economy, after all.

Rin knew that better than most.

And he was going to leave it behind.

The thought gave him a dark surge of pleasure that he didn't feel the need to quash. It was only the truth. He kept his eyes on the people around him—the pair of twins who looked as though they'd paid a pretty penny to mask their faces exactly the same, the girl with the orange dreadlocks and the shakes like a junkie, the old man with a crooked grin and missing teeth.

He was so busy keeping his eyes open for possible danger, he didn't look right above him.

And when a heavy body dropped down on top of him, he grunted and only barely kept his balance. "Jesus shit, what the—?"

A girl was clinging to him.

She was blonde and small, bleeding from the knees, blue eyes wide and innocent with dried tear tracks down her cheeks. She looked at him keenly, and didn't say a word. She just stared at him silently, twisting her fingers into the seam of her—what the fuck was the thing she was wearing?

Rin set her down. "And who are you?"

"I—I'm—" she stuttered.

It was her obvious reluctance to speak that spurred him on. She was pale and shaken, in clothes that looked like they belonged to the True Cross of five centuries ago—who wore silk, anymore. But there was something organic about the way she tilted her head and bit her lip like she was trying to come up with an excuse, and it tugged at his sense of justice.

"Call me Rin," he said.

"Sorry," she whispered softly, pointing up. "I didn't—um, I didn't—"

Rin shrugged it away. "Don't worry about it."

"But I—" and the reluctance in her face turned to nerves. She looked down, eyelashes hitting her cheeks when she blinked.

"You look lost. C'mon. I'm hungry, anyway. We can talk when we've had some food," he said. He hadn't meant to scare her.

(He'd always been of a narcissist, and a saviour complex was an easy to thing to hide in front of a pretty girl.)

And with that, Rin took the girl's hand, and dragged her away.

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tbc.

notes3: okay seriously, I honestly don't even know where my whole music library's come from. I haven't downloaded half the shit I have—where does it come from?!
notes4: I will have my Rin/Shiemi, okay. also, on KONY2012: I would educate yourselves. just sayin'.
notes5
: come and talk to me, ladies and gents. I don't bite! :)