by Tenshi

The sector of Grid City around Flynn's was instantly recognizable, to Program and User alike, as a bad neighborhood. Long considered a breeding ground for revolutionaries still loyal to their Maker, CLU's constant Recognizer patrols and Program roundups had left the sector vacant, with half-rezzed shells of buildings awaiting their turn at rectification during the next rebuild initiative. That cycle never came. After CLU's fall, Flynn's sector was left to its own devices, a place avoided by all programs, regardless of their allegiance. Grid bugs and worms were common, the structures unstable. But not all avoidance was of a practical nature. Rumors spread like foxfire among the Grid's inhabitants, whispered breathlessly in the dark. Flynn's ghost had been seen there, flickering dully in the shell of his broken creation, looking as he had the day the Grid had been born. Some even said they had seen Tron, his lights unmistakably blue in the shadows of the past. Other programs walked there, too, programs never seen in the Grid before, with strange lights and unsettling circuit patterns. The Grid was a dangerous place in those cycles, and there was no need to invite more danger. Flynn had created his programs with a better sense of self-preservation than that.

Which was why he had set up his new headquarters right in the building that bore his name, bold as brass and twice as stubborn. Yori's presence in the building was invaluable for security, for a start. Flynn had asked her to keep up subtle frequencies of unease to target any stray program that might wander too close. She could also shut up the place tight as a clam should invaders arrive. Flynn said he wished he'd had that kind of protection on his old arcade back home, Tron wondered what exactly a clam was, and Ram asked Yori for the umpteenth time if she wouldn't like to come out of her housing in the walls to join them.

"Well, it's as good as we're going to get for now," Flynn said, as Yori politely demurred Ram's offer, and Tron shot Ram a look of warning to stop chatting Yori up while she was working.

"I think it's perfect," Ram said, impervious to Tron's frown. "I mean, apart from the fact that it's got nowhere to sleep, nowhere to change, and the interfaces are about a million cycles out of date."

Flynn looked over his shoulder at Ram, mildly annoyed. "Hey, man. This is an underground operation, not the Hilton."

"That's right," Tron interjected, even if he didn't know what a Hilton was. Ram was one of his oldest friends, multiple versions not withstanding, but he had spent a lot of time in the interconnected computers of the modern Users' world, and it had made him a little cocky. "You don't like the panels, go and salvage us some better ones."

"No need for that," Flynn said, cracking his knuckles and settling down in front of the main terminal underneath Yori's housing. "I'll just have to write us some upgrades. Might take me a little while, though."

"...Could you use an extra hand?"

Tron's hand went to his identity disk, Ram's to the weapon baton on his thigh. But the circuit patterns on the tall stranger in the arcade doorway were familiar concentric circles, and Tron's noise of challenge became one of greeting, instead.


"Sorry I didn't let you know in advance I was coming," Alan said, coming up the steps to the control alcove, and clasping Tron's outstretched hand in his own.

"We weren't expecting you for another few millicycles," Tron said, both his lights and his eyes brightening as he greeted his User. "But you know you're welcome any time."

Alan tilted up his glasses, the one part of his attire that he never switched over to a Grid-equivalent. "Sam was planning on coming in tonight instead of me, but something came up at Encom."

"Something is always coming up at Encom," Flynn drawled, still futzing with his code. "Is he sorry he took the job, yet?"

"I think he's having the time of his life," Alan said, leaning over Flynn's shoulder to peer at the code he was writing. "What's on the agenda for the evening?"

"Redecorating," Flynn announced, turning around in his chair. "Ram here says the quarters aren't up to snuff."

"I didn't say that exactly," Ram stammered, as Alan turned to him. "I just meant, if this is going to be our base, it should probably be more functional."

"See!" Flynn declared, to nobody in particular. "Bradley gets the sweet-talk, I get the twerp." Flynn shook his head. "If I didn't know better, Ram, I'd think you had a crush on ol' Alan--"

"I'd better go and check the perimeter," Ram said suddenly, standing up. "Can I bring anything from outside?"

"Maybe a rug and a potted plant," Flynn said, returning to his coding. "Make the place homier."

"I don't know what either of those things are," Ram said, in some consternation.

"Who's old?" Alan put in, belatedly.

Flynn arched an eyebrow at him in the panel's reflection. "You are, man. But don't sweat it. You look fine."

"He looks more than just fine, Flynn," Tron said, taking a step in front of his User as though to defend him. "And Ram, Flynn's teasing you. Go and pick us up some light array generators, if you can salvage them. Alan can help us recode, but I for one don't want to feel like I'm in a pit cell. The place needs some color."

"Fine," Ram said, "But no fair making my room smaller, okay?" He turned a smile to Alan. "I'm counting on you, Alan!"

"I'll make sure it's fair," Alan assured him, and Ram jumped over the railing to the lower floor, bypassing the stairs entirely.

"And I want a window!" he added, as he went out the door.

"And probably his own energy spring in the middle of it," Tron muttered. "We're still at war."

"He's young, Tron," Alan reminded him. "Just because he has Ram 1.0's memories doesn't mean he's got your cycles of experience. Be patient with him."

Tron lowered his head in obedience, but Alan had long suspected that his program was as short on patience as his creator was. "I'll try."

"That's all I could ask for."

"There!" Flynn hammered out a decisive final line of his code. "Run that through for me, Yori, and we'll see how it looks."

Affirmative. Yori's voice flowed through the walls, and with it, Flynn's new code for the building went live. The walls shimmered in a wave of transformation, turning the dark I/O terminals into slender pillars of light. The arcade floor became an electronic Zen garden, with benches to sit in and an energy fountain whispering to itself in the middle. Yori's niche became a glass-enclosed control area, full of grid panel terminals and a large meeting table. Together, the separate spaces were clearly delineated but harmonious in their functions: one place to voice ideas, another to take action. Stairs branched off the landing, glowing banisters led to a scalloped balcony lined with equidistant doors.

"What do you think?" Flynn said, smirking. "Junky on the outside, awesome on the inside. Pretty slick, yeah?"

"Great," Alan said, impressed. "Can you redo my dining room?"

"Do I look like an IKEA to you?" Flynn rubbed at the stubble on his chin, permanent now that he'd been forced to swap forms with CLU. "Hrm. Don't think I like the shape of that fountain. I'll give it another go. Tron, you two head up to the rooms and see what you'll need for yours and Alan's. I'll set up ones for me and Sam and Quorra later."

"And one for Roy," Alan reminded him, and jammed his hands in his coat pockets. "Once I figure out how I'm going to convince him to come here, that is. I haven't been able to broach the subject, yet. I'd prefer to keep up the pretense of sanity among my peers."

"Ahh," Flynn said, with a wave of his hand, "just get him hammered and throw him in front of the laser. It'd do him good."

"If it didn't do him in," Alan countered. "He's had a high-stress life in the past two decades, Flynn, I don't really want to be responsible for giving him a heart attack."

"You're the one that hired him back at Encom, not me," Flynn said, and made a shooing motion with one hand. "Now scoot, you two. I'm working here." To further emphasize his point, a glass panel slid down between them and Flynn, enclosing the Grid's creator in his own private office.

"I think we've been dismissed," Tron said dryly.

"He always did his best work alone," Alan admitted. "But let's go see how his architectural skills hold up, huh?"

Most of Alan's time on the Grid had been spent on his feet, in action, or traveling from one end of the Grid to another. He had very little idea of just how the other half lived. He knew they took energy as food, most often in the form of liquids, so the glassware on the tables made sense. He knew they rested in a way not unlike human sleep, and sometimes even dreamed in that state, so he had no questions about the comfortable beds in each room, positioned under the windows with the glittering lights of the Grid beyond. He did not know they had any use for a sunken tub with jacuzzi jets.

"...Why?" Alan asked, surveying the bathroom in the quarters Tron had chosen for himself--the smallest and most spartan of those available.

"To clean up," Tron answered, bemused that his User had to ask. "Why else?"

It sometimes took Alan a little while to switch over to Program syntax, the dialog of their existence that was at once so human and yet so utterly alien. "But you don't get dirty, do you?"

"If we didn't regularly get rid of accumulated data detritus, it would affect our performance," Tron explained. "Not to mention the smell." He paused. "Dirty?" He inquired at last, curious.

Alan realized that he had never seen anything of the sort on the Grid. "Hrm. You have sand here, right?"

Tron nodded. "Flynn insisted that the Sea of Simulation needed the substance for its border. Personally, I'm not sure what use one would have for such small matter particles. They get everywhere. You can't build on them. They stick to you."

"Small particles of matter in the User world are dirt," Alan said. "And there's a lot of it around. If you get it on you, that's dirty."

"Sounds unpleasant."

"It's worth it for the trees," Alan said, and laughed at Tron's quizzical look. "Maybe I should just take you there sometime, and you can see for yourself."

Tron became very grave, without a trace of the interest Alan had expected him to show at the prospect, and studied the section of floor between his boots.

"Do I need to send you a written invitation?" Alan prompted. For all he knew, the Users' world was the Programs' proverbial Eden, complete with the threat of wrath and the flaming swords. There was no telling what awe it had taken on in the mythos of the computer world, and in Tron's mind. "You're invited, if that's what you want to know. You have my permission."

"Alan-1," Tron said, at last, "You wrote me to be strong, to face danger without wavering. I defeated the MCP, I came to the Grid without question, I endured the ravages CLU placed on my coding. And yet--" He paused, his brows drawn together. "Would you think less of me," he asked in a low voice, "if I told you I was more frightened of your world than I am of anything in mine?"

Understanding diffused Alan's confusion. "No," he said softly. "To tell you the truth, I was afraid to come here." He looked around at Tron's room, at the pulses of light in Tron's armor, at the various soft electronic chirrups in his walls, and made a little breath of laughter. "Sometimes it still frightens me! It's only normal to fear things you don't understand, but you have to overcome it if you hope to understand it."

"I would like to see the Users' world," Tron admitted. "More than anything. But that's what I'm afraid of. I've dreamed of it for so long, what if..." He stopped, his mouth a taut line.

"You don't want to be disappointed," Alan finished for him.

"Users were nothing like I expected," Tron said, and Alan thought he detected a trace of relief, that he was grateful his maker understood. "Your world--"

"Will also be nothing like you expect," Alan said, putting both hands on Tron's shoulders. "No. And parts of it are ugly, just as in any world. Parts of it are sad and unfair. But parts of it are indescribably beautiful, just like this." He gestured to the view beyond the window, the City sparkling around them in cobalt and diamond and obsidian. "And I'd like to show it to you. Will you give me the chance?"

Tron nodded. "When the Grid is secure," he said, "I'll go with you."

"I look forward to it," Alan said, and absently brushed his thumb over a line of light in Tron's armored shoulder-blade. The circuit flared purple for an instant, and Tron sucked in a startled breath.

"Ah, sorry!" Alan said, letting him go. Programs were forever like some new cutting-edge mobile phone; god only knew what you were going to set off by hitting random buttons. Not to mention the fact that Alan was a User, and sometimes that fact meant he shook up code unintentionally. "What did I do? Did I hurt you?"

"No," Tron said, but there was something unsteady in his voice, and in the way he would not meet his User's eyes.

"Tron." Alan let the slightest touch of sternness creep into his words. "I'm hardly an expert on how things work, here. If I've damaged your code you can tell me--"

"You didn't damage anything," Tron broke in, and whatever else he might have said hit hard against the back of his teeth as he cut it off, unwilling to show further insubordination to his User. "It's fine, Alan, really."

Alan shot him a sidelong glance. There was still a strange flicker to Tron's lights. "It's not often you drop the one off my name."

Tron was silent, a taut muscle twitching in his jaw. Do programs really have muscles? Alan wondered, or am I only perceiving a fluctuation in his code as a biological movement? Alan reeled that line of conjecture back before it could spiral off too far. Sometimes it was better to just accept things on the Grid the way that they appeared, even if they were framed in flawed human metaphor. Program or not, Tron was upset, and something Alan had done was to blame. The technicalities could wait.

"Tron," Alan said, gently. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."

Alan wasn't used to seeing a look of hesitation on Tron's face; more often his program was halfway through his chosen action before bothering to give any indication of it in something so frivolous as his expression. But the set of his features was just that: hesitation, and something not unlike shame. "It would be easier," Tron said, his hand outstretched to Alan's chest, "if I just showed you."

Tron's fingertip brushed the central circuit pattern on Alan's chest, and Alan's nerves ignited like a firecracker fuse. Light and sensation were one and the same, swelling through him in an unexpected tide, bursting in a slow explosion under Tron's touch and throwing his face into shadow. The feeling had not yet had time to fade before Tron ran a hand down the center line of light from Alan's sternum to his navel, and Alan shuddered in its wake. It was as though the most sensitive places in human anatomy were rendered completely arbitrary, and capable of a focused response far beyond the confines of his physical body.

"Oh," Alan said, and couldn't really come up with anything more enlightening to say after.

"I know it's different," Tron said, his eyes on the ripples of violet light he was sending over Alan's torso. "But I wanted you to understand. Not just any contact can initiate the sequence."

"I had no idea," Alan breathed. "Sorry if I was too..." Alan flailed around for words. "Well, Users would call it an unwelcome advance. I didn't intend it that way."

"The current has to be the same to complete the circuit," Tron said, and rested his hands just above Alan's hipbones, even that light touch enough to make Alan shiver. "So you say you didn't intend it, but--"

"Well I didn't intend it to be unwelcome," Alan clarified, feeling his face heat up, and not only from embarrassment.

"It wasn't," Tron said. "If it had been, I wouldn't have been receptive to it. And you wouldn't have been able to activate it."

"Ah," Alan said, in what he hoped was a steady enough voice. "Sorry, Tron, I don't know much about..." His voice dwindled, and he coughed to bring it back. "I mean, I know about Users, but I'm not sure how Programs... um... interface." Alan got to the last word, but only just. Tron's fingers were creeping up his back, causing flares of light under Alan's coat, and each one was a surge of pleasure that went straight to the growing ache low in his belly. Not only that, but Tron had his lips compressed in a way that was clearly holding back a smile, and Alan suspected his Program was struggling not to laugh at him.

"God, Tron," Alan breathed. "I'm out of my depth here, I admit it. I'm sure there's some complex moralistic conundrum about the ramifications of sleeping with your own program, not to mention the inherent narcissism in--um."

Tron had brought both hands up to Alan's face, and touched his fingertips to Alan's mouth. His smile was in full evidence now, but it was more eager than mocking, and covered a range of barely-controlled emotions that Alan, as a User, could not hope to comprehend. "Alan," he said. "Trust me."

All of Alan's anxiety evaporated. It was not easy to turn off his brain, though Flynn had told him more than once that the best way to cope with the Grid was to just accept it as it was. Alan was not properly geared for that kind of a Zen outlook. He was constantly trying to dissect his experiences on the Grid, to put them in neat compartments that he could readily understand on either side of the screen. But Tron moved forward and pressed his open mouth to Alan's, and for the first time Alan understood what it was like to think like Flynn.

It was, quite simply, to not think at all. Rather, it was thinking on some purely visceral level, applying only the logic of the moment to the moment, devoid of preconception or expectation. It was to stand in a slow-motion firework of violet light, to feel the uniquely human touch of a kiss combined with the indescribable pleasure of being in a closed conduit of shared, exquisite current.

Alan's coat had de-formatted before it hit the floor. He had only borrowed a Program's circuitry exterior; beneath it, his all-too-human form cried out for more. It was not even conscious, the way his body armor dissolved beneath the sweep of Tron's fingers, revealing one bare shoulder unmarked by lights. Tron's kisses traced a new path of current, from Alan's jaw to his collarbone, and left a cobweb-fine line of electric light in Alan's skin.

Alan ran his palms over Tron's sides, and the tiny plates of his clothing vanished at his touch. For all that Tron was not human, his skin was supple and warm, his ribcage felt like one of bones and muscle enclosing mortal breath. The only difference was the heat of the circuits in his skin, pulsing with energy, the light blossoming at the slightest touch of Alan's hands. The intensity of Tron's glow doubled; the Program made a guttural sound of longing that went to Alan's blood like alcohol. His body arched up against Alan's, and the scant remains of his armor dissipated in a shimmering wave.

"My User," Tron exhaled, in both prayer and plea. Alan had the fleeting thought that maybe Kevin Flynn had the right of it all along, and then he gave up coherent thought all together.

Tron pulled Alan down towards the bed, and as they fell into the blankets with which Flynn had so thoughtfully furnished them, several prurient questions Alan had about Program anatomy were decisively answered. There was nothing strange or alien in the way Tron's thighs enfolded his hips, or in the burning line of his need pressed to Alan's own. There was only Tron's unquestioning love of his maker, and Alan's awed wonder at his creation. Eyes open, lights blazing, Tron canted his body up to accept Alan's wordless command, and the circuit was completed.

Afterward, when Tron's lights had reverted from blinding magenta back to sleepy blue, and Alan's breathing was steady again, they lay curled up together in silent contentment. Alan was tracing the pattern of light on Tron's back, and becoming pleasantly lost in it.

"You'd really never thought about it?" Tron asked, as Alan's fingertip found its way out of the maze, and traveled in a lazy zig-zag over one perfect buttock.

"I never said that," Alan confessed, and Tron laughed softly into the bend of his elbow. "I, um. I take it I'm not your first User," Alan said, his hand coming to rest on the rise of Tron's hip. "It's all right, you know," he continued, when the pitch of Tron's silence became awkward. "I mean, it's not like I haven't gotten done by Flynn myself. The man's charisma is indecent."

Tron caught Alan's hand in his own and kissed his fingers, the tips slightly rough from years of working over a keyboard. "Flynn is my friend," he said, and tilted his cheek into Alan's open palm. "...But you are my only User."

And Alan, humbled, wrapped his arms around his Program until there was no light from Tron that did not fall gently over his User's skin.

"They're going to ask what took us so long," Tron said, smoothing the collar of Alan's newly reformatted coat. "And I don't know what to tell them."

"Tell them the truth," Alan said, with a wink. "We were testing out the furnishings." He held Tron's hands, to keep him from continuing to fuss over his User's attire. "And I'm telling Flynn to make that tub at least another foot wider in diameter. It's too small for one set of our legs, much less two."

"We managed," Tron reminded him, in a tone that was very nearly smug. "Now let's go see if Ram's got those array generators I asked for."

The main room of Flynn's base was empty. He had obviously reformatted the fountain to be a series of staggered rectangles rather than a square, but little else was changed. The glass panel enclosing his office was still firmly shut.

"Huh," Alan said, puzzled. "I guess he's still coding, and Ram's still out."

"I heard Ram come back," Tron replied, frowning. "He disengaged the security bit and reset it."

"Then he must be in with Flynn--" Alan began, and didn't finish. The glass walls of Flynn's office were suddenly suffused with a distinctive violet glow, one that built in steady intensity until the columns of the atrium were thrown into stark shadow. Alan and Tron looked at each other in wordless understanding.

"Indecent charisma," Alan said again, and Tron made a little helpless shrug.

"I can't really blame either one of them."

"Yeah," Alan sighed, and jammed his hands in his coat pockets. "Well! What do we do now?"

Tron considered this for all of a nanosecond. "We haven't checked out your room, yet."

Alan lifted his eyebrows, and smiled. "Better be thorough, right?"

"I wasn't programmed any other way."

The light below them began to stutter like a strobe, and it stirred quite a few of Alan's more recent memories. He reached for the handle of the door adjacent to Tron's, and it swung open on silent hinges. "...And I think we can all thank our Users for that."


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