Sam Flynn's apartment opened its broad doorway with a noise of grinding metal, not unlike the sound of friction on the Grid. He pulled up his bike in a familiar, graceful arc; Marv barked an eager hello from his cushion in the corner. In the light of the early dawn, it could have been just another homecoming from just another late, late night.
With one very notable exception.
"Well, here we are," he said.
"This is your home?" Quorra dismounted and spun slowly around, looking everywhere all at once.
Sam coughed, following her gaze. "Sorry for the mess. Obviously I wasn't expecting company."
She whirled on him, baffled that he might have misunderstood. "You think this is a mess?" Her voice was a whisper, like someone in a museum, or a cathedral. "It's marvelous."
"Glad you think so," he said, shaking his head. He was wracking his brain, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd brought someone home with him. Maybe he never had. "Make yourself at home."
Marv trotted over and Quorra made a half-stifled cry of obvious delight. Sam had to remind himself that she'd never seen a dog before; they made friends instantly. She knelt at his level and Marv, unphased by the unexpected guest, pressed his face into her open hands.
"He's just looking for his breakfast," Sam said, but couldn't disguise the fondness in his voice.
"He's glad you're home," she corrected him.
"Home." Sam looked down at himself and shrugged. "Ugh, I've got to get ready for work. Here, c'mon up."
Quorra followed him up the ladder like a cat, peering over the ledge that made the bedroom loft before climbing the rest of the way up.
He handn't made his bed the night before, sheets and shirts all in a sloppy twist at the foot of the bed. He cleared his throat. "The bed is yours-- I'll fix it up, don't worry-- and I'll sleep on the couch. Bathroom's there along the back wall; shower runs kind of hot, be careful. You're welcome to anything in the fridge, but I'll warn you now there's not much there at the moment, and if you don't recognize something, you might not want to eat it, till you get used to User food." He realized he was rambling, checked himself. "...Place is probably too small for a 'grand' tour, but there you have it."
Quorra nodded sagely to everything he said, though he realized she probably didn't understand half of what he was saying. Did they have showers on the grid? Did programs even sweat? He peeled out of his own sweaty shirt, tossed it most of the way to the hamper in the corner, then remembered he was being watched, and picked it up again. "Sorry. not used to--"
She was swinging her legs off the end of the bed, looking not at him but up at the ceiling. "It's so soft!'
Sam laughed quietly to himself. He found the shirt he was looking for in a half-hearted pile of clean clothes; started digging in his drawers for a fresh pair of socks. "Hey listen, when I get home from Encom tonight we can go shopping, pick you up some clothes and things."
"Why?" she said, tugging experimentally at the corners of her leather jacket. She was sitting upright again, fascinated by a half-stripped motherboard that Sam had left on the floor. "What kinds of things?"
"Well for one thing, the temperature's not constant, here. It's not like the grid. You'll need some warm weather things. And something to sleep in; you don't want to sleep in jeans. And you'll need some shoes." He grinned at her over his handful of T-shirt. "And I've never met a girl who didn't love to buy shoes."
"Shoes?" She tilted her head at him. "Is it... necessary to have a lot of shoes? To be a User?"
He stopped, shirt halfway on, and looked at her. He wanted to laugh, but her face was quite serious. "No," he said, sincere. "But I'll let you get used to the weather here before you make up your mind on that one."
Still barefoot, he dropped his socks and brought up his hands (nearly over his shoulder, grasping for the disk that wasn't there, for the weapon he no longer carried).
She'd just noticed his shirt. She crossed the room to him, reaching out to trace her savior's name in letters across his chest. FLYNN LIVES. She made a little sound, like she might cry. Sam, breathing back against the adrenaline, pressed her palm to his father's name, covering it with his own, larger hand. "It's going to be okay," he said.
He'd never had to comfort anyone besides himself on that point. It was a novel sensation, and he certainly didn't feel convincing.
But Quorra nodded. "I know," she said, and she sounded more sure of it than even Sam himself felt. She gave him a smile, and he found himself buoyed by it. For a moment she left her hand against his heart, her fingertips tapping the rhythm of it. "So fast," she said, after a while.
"Yeah well, you startled me," he admitted, wry. "Guess I'm a little on edge this morning."
She looked up at him. "You're going in to Work, aren't you. To finish your father's... business."
"Maybe not 'finish,' no, not in one day. But yeah, I'm going to pick up where he left off." He squeezed her hand. "And you'd better stay put today. Until I can introduce you to Alan, and hopefully Lora will get back into town. She'd be a much better shopping buddy for you, let me tell you."
Quorra looked intimidated, but unafraid. "Your world is strange. I-- I like it a lot."
"Hey, I wish I didn't have to go, too. But there's plenty of time for me to show you everything you'd like to see. You and Marv just take it easy today."
She hugged him, impulsively, and her arms were strong. He brushed a kiss against the top of her head, without giving himself time to regret doing it. "See you tonight," she said, nodding bravely.
Not till he was outside and steeling himself for the eight a.m. showdown in the boardroom did he realize she'd left tiny tear-tracks on his shirt, slowly drying in the early morning air.
It was late when he got back home. Really he'd known it would be; he and Alan had their hands full. When they'd finally gotten free, well after dinnertime, Alan had headed to visit "an old friend," and Sam expected Encom would have another employee on the payroll before the sun rose again.
He braced himself for his arrival. He still felt guilty for leaving her alone with so many unknowns (the shower, the gas-heat stove, the toaster, the half-eaten kung pao chicken in the fridge; the list had gotten longer as the day had gone on). The least he should have done was left instruction manuals, something. What kind of a host was he? Not just a host to his own small apartment, but to the whole city, the whole world.
He wasn't ready for all this responsibility, and it made him laugh in a rueful sort of horror. Halfway between being a sudden parent, and dating a foreign exchange student.
A beautiful one, who didn't even know it.
He found her and Marv lying in his bed, curled against one another. She was wearing an old Caltech T-shirt and a pair of his boxers, both too big for her. Marv, for his part, was whurfling happily in his sleep, too small for a proper snore. Beside them was a carefully-folded towel-- she'd managed the shower, at least-- and a stack of his books that he was pretty sure he hadn't left on the bed.
At first he thought she was asleep, too, but when he stood close enough he realized she was watching him.
He angled his head so he could look her in the eye. "How'd you make out?"
"You forget I've read a lot of user books," she said, smiling up at him. "But I wasn't quite prepared for the toilet."
"The toilet?" He gave her a look. "I don't think I want to know, do I."
They laughed, rousing Marv from his nap, and Sam sat on the edge of the bed beside her. "Sorry I was gone so long. You sleepy?"
She nodded, and her face was serious again. Never mind that Marv was rooting around for a new warm spot on the bed, sniffing ticklishly against her feet. "But I thought it might be nice for you to... have someone waiting up for you. Flynn used to say that, anyway."
He swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Yeah. Yeah, that is nice." The silence stretched a minute too long before Sam remembered. "Oh, right, I bought you some presents. It's not much, don't get too excited, and I really have no idea what size you wear. But there's a bag downstairs for you: pajamas, toothbrush, socks. ...Though I guess you've already found some pajamas."
He'd never seen her blush before; maybe programs weren't capable, but now that she was in his world, she had blood and pulse just as he did? "Sorry," she was saying, but he wasn't really listening. "You did say I could make myself at home."
"Don't worry about it," he said, and meant it. "Whatever I've got, you're welcome to it. But I just thought you might not want to smell like my aftershave."
"Your... what?" She was laughing as she spoke, hugging her knees, knowing just how much she didn't know. As she moved he saw it: on her arm, an impossibly luminous tattoo. He shouldn't have been surprised that she'd kept it, even here; it was part of who she was. But it was remarkable nonetheless, an ISO, on his bed, wearing his clothes and smelling of his shampoo. Sam brushed his thumb against her ISO-glyph and she went utterly still, reverent. "Thank you, Sam Flynn."
It was his turn to start, fingers stilling self-consciously. "For what? My place is hardly the Ritz."
She shook her head. "For sharing your father with me." She spread her hand over his shirt again, as she had earlier in the day: FLYNN LIVES. A quietness settled on her face, softening her fey features, and Sam wrestled with a tide of emotion rising from long-buried, secret recesses of his heart. She was his newborn, his sweetheart, his sister; all of these things, and none.
And then she was yawning like a child awake far past her bedtime, dragging sleepy knuckles over her eyes.
"That's enough talking," Sam said, gently, and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. He was a little surprised that Marv stayed with her, instead of yipping to be carried back downstairs with Sam-- but maybe not too surprised. He put out the light. "Good night, Quorra."