A/N—unbeta-ed because...well, you'll understand soon enough.
Song list: a) One More Night by Maroon 5 b)Down by 1000 Foot Crutch
The voice made its way past the fuzziness of sleep, stirring faint recognition in her. Who was calling her 'doll'?
"Blaine...?" Feral's voice was muzzy, as she tried to hold onto the dream she had been having. What had it been? She knew she had been happy in the dream, but the details were drifting away. She could feel that she was lying face-down on the bed. Next to her, the mattress dipped slightly with the addition of someone else's weight.
"You must have be really tired," the voice was saying while a large hand gently rubbed circles on her shoulder. "You've been pushing yourself pretty hard recently, haven't you?"
It must be Blaine, she thought. No one else was in the apartment...
"Sorry I haven't spent a lot of time with you recently," she mumbled, sleepily.
There was a soft chuckle from above her. "Shhh," the voice whispered, a nose nuzzling at the skin just behind her ear, bringing a smile to Feral's face. "Time enough for that soon..." A light kiss was placed on the back of her neck, making her shiver slightly.
"Mmmm," Feral hummed, squirming slightly to make herself more comfortable as she snuggled closer to the weight on the mattress. "What have you been up to?"
"Nothing you need to bother with, babe..."
Feral's eyes snapped open.
Blaine never called her 'babe'. This wasn't Blaine...
She rolled away from the weight of the other body on the bed, coming off of the far side on her feet and staring.
CLU stared back, a small, almost gentle smile on his face.
"What do you want?" she asked, trying to sound defiant but sure she had only managed to sound nervous.
"Not much," CLU told her. "I simply thought I would check and see how you were doing. As I said, you have been pushing yourself hard, recently. System records show you spending even more time in the training arena than before your being scheduled in the Games." He stood up and took a few steps towards where Feral was standing.
"I have been watching you," he continued, "and when you didn't join Rinzler on patrol this cycle I decided to come and check on you."
Feral turned away from CLU, crossing her arms over her chest as she did so. "Well," she said, still feeling off-balance, "now you know I'm fine; you can leave at any time..."
CLU let out another one of those soft laughs, coming closer until he was standing right behind her. Feral shifted, ready to move further away, when CLU wrapped his arms around her—pulling her back against him until Feral was tucked up with his body curving around hers.
"You know, the first time we spoke, I told you that had you would have been treated as an honored guest had I known about you sooner..." he told her.
"And look how well that has worked out for us both," Feral replied, her voice both bitter with anger and a little breath-y from CLU's unexpected closeness.
"I know we have had problems," CLU said, sounding slightly apologetic, "and I know that losing my temper kept me from making the best impression when you first got to know me; however, I really think that if we try to put all of that behind us, we could get along better, perhaps be friends."
"What!?" Feral was stunned. "Oh yeah, I'll just forget about the last 9 cycles and everything will be fine." She didn't ever try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice as she continued, "We'll be best friends in no time at all."
CLU made a small, agreeable sound behind her. "If you and I had met under different circumstances... We could be more than friends, if you were willing to be a little more accepting or understanding of how things are—here on the Grid." His voice was a soft puff of air in her ear as he added, "Think about it; we've each seen the other's memories on their disc. I know the things that led you to the Grid; you know what led to me having to take control of the Grid. No dirty little secrets to come out later and ruin a relationship."
Feral pulled away at that, moving out of the circle of CLU's arms and turning to face him.
"Are you serious?" she asked him, shocked amazement on her face as she stood less than a foot away and stared up at the system administrator. "What makes you think that there is any possiblity of me being willing to be in a relationship with you?" The idea that he had proposed was so unexpected, Feral couldn't decide how she should react.
CLU's blue eyes searched her hazel ones for a moment.
"Because," he told her quietly, "I can offer you something that none of the Users you were with in your past ever did...absolute faithfulness."
"Faithfulness..." Feral said, scoffing at his words. "I'm supposed to just trust you when you say that?"
"I have been faithful to a directive when even its creator failed to uphold it. Everything I do for the Grid, for this system and its programs, is because I am still faithful to what I promised to do all those cycles ago."
CLU was leaning closer as he spoke, his right hand coming up to cradle her jaw as he whispered the next words against Feral's lips. "If I have done all of that for a casually given order...how much more faithful would I be to someone that I chose to give my word to? I would never betray you the way they did..."
She wasn't expecting the kiss; CLU's lips soft and gentle on hers, the faint scrape of his stubble against the skin of her chin and cheek. She didn't expect it to be warm.
Feral most definitely didn't expect to find herself kissing CLU back.
Almost ten years of little physical contract that didn't leave her tensed and prepared to need to defend herself, ten years of not having anyone touch her in such a fashion, ten years of surpressed wanting and need rose up and overwhelmed her and Feral found herself not just being kissed but kissing CLU back. It only lasted a picocycle or two and she was pulling back, pulling away; not certain if she was more surprised by CLU kissing her or the fact that she had kissed him back.
"No," she shook her head as she spoke, "NO. I am not doing this again...I'm not going to be more accepting of things I believe are wrong. I'm not ever going to be understanding of that, CLU, and that means I'm not going to be in a relationship with you."
CLU stood there looking at her, his hand still raised where he had been cradling her cheek a moment ago.
"Your choice," CLU said, his voice low. "You could have changed the world with me." His hand dropped and he turned and left the room, pausing only as the door slid open to say, "It was your choice..."
It had happened so quickly that it caught her off-guard.
While she knew she was going to be taking place in the Games—CLU had left no doubt to that fact—Feral had thought for some reason CLU would require her to fight her way to the final round like the other combatants. Instead, she was the final round.
There had been a flurry of signed advice from Rinzler as he walked her to be prepared for the Games by the armory sirens.
'I don't know what Game CLU has chosen for the final round...remember, you're not as strong as most programs—stay out of their reach so they can't grapple with you. Use whatever you have to distract your opponent...it doesn't matter what it is. If it's Disc Wars—use the eye-catching moves to distract them and the audience...then make it quick and clean. Be careful if it's lightcycles. You keep dismissing the stablizing dorsal code and that can make it easier for them to injure you. As a User, you have a hidden edge; you can push more power to your lightcycle, enabling you to go faster than any program...' Rinzler had looked away for a moment before turning back to her and signing, 'I'm sorry you are having to do this. Don't let it get you derezzed, though.' The door had then shut between them, sealing her in with the armory sirens and signalling for Rinzler to return to CLU's side as he had been ordered.
Then there was nothing left to do but wait until the other door opened to release her into the Games.
On the other side of the Game cell, Feral could see the program pacing. The final Game for this cycle was apparently going to be Disc Wars.
Well, she had the training and skills she needed. She was going to make it through this; she was going to win the Game.
From high above the Game cell, CLU was addressing the assembled crowd that screamed for action.
"Programs! This is a memorable day and Game; the debut of a new Games champion!" CLU's voice boomed out over the arena. "I present to you...Feral!"
In her helmet, Feral heard CLU say, "Show me what you can do, Feral. Time to play the game..."
She looked up at where CLU stood at the window of his viewing box in the throne ship; giving him a defiant glare. In the back of her head she repeated some of Rinzler's advice to her.
Use whatever you have to distract your opponent...it doesn't matter what it is...
"Let's do this," Feral muttered angrily to herself; and, still defiantly glaring at CLU, triggered her audio glitch on purpose.
'I don't want to maintain, insane, you always... ' began the song as Feral activated her disc. On the other side of the cell, the pacing program that had won every match up to this point fell out of rhythm as he paced, turning a startled look her way as he did.
Feral took a few steps and launched herself and her disc into the air at the same time, starting the match.
Feral can hear CLU's voice inside her helmet.
"Finish the game," he tells her. "Derezz him."
She shakes her head quietly and says, "No."
Reaching behind her, she replaces her disc onto her disc dock and steps back; giving the other program room to climb to his feet.
The other program looks up at her fearfully from where he lies sprawled on the arena floor.
"Finish it!" she hears CLU order her again. Feral looks up at the command box and shakes her head.
"No," she says again. "I'm not killing for you, CLU. He lost. I won. It's enough."
Feral can see the tight, angry lines of CLU's body as he looks down at her from his throne ship. She cannot hear the order that he gives to Javis—who is standing behind CLU in his usually position—however, she is not surprised when BlackGuards come to bring her before CLU. They march her away, taking her to CLU's command box, more guards bringing the losing program along behind her.
"Jarvis," CLU says, promptly gaining the administration assistant program's attention. "Send some sentries out into the audience. Have them bring me the five most harmless programs that they can find. Make certain that the programs are not injured—I don't want there to be so much as a scratch on their renders—and bring them here before Feral is brought in." CLU paused for a moment before adding, "Also, send someone to bring her bit here."
"At once, sir," the administrative assistant program says, giving a slight bow as he does so. His gaze is curious behind his blue-tinted visor as he adds, "May I ask, sir, what you mean to do with them?"
From behind his black and gold-circuited helmet CLU replies, "No. You may not ask." He waits on the dais by the window, watching the remainder of the games. At least that is not proving to be a disappointment to him.
Currently ignored by them both, Rinzler waited at attention; curious as to what CLU planned. He watched as Jarvis glanced nervously in his direction before leaving to do CLU's bidding. Whatever CLU had planned would not end well for Feral, he thought. CLU might appear calm, but he was furious.
CLU was still watching the games from the window when Feral was brought into the room. The guards halted a short distance from the dais CLU stood on, his back to them. Feral angrily yanked her arms from their grasp, then looked around. She had been here many times before. CLU enjoyed bringing her with him; as though he was showing off a well-trained pet. This time, however, things were different. This time, the well-trained pet had failed to follow commands.
Yes, this time things were different. For one thing, she had never seen so many programs here before. There were more guards than usual, and a small group of civilian programs that huddled together nervously on one side of the room. They were apparently being guarded by some of the extra guards in the room.
But why were the civilian programs here?
The small group of programs shifted where they stood, casting nervous glances at everything: CLU, the guards, Rinzler, even herself. Feral had the feeling that they knew as little about why they were here as she did.
On the other side of the room stood the program that Feral had fought in the arena. The program looked at her, plainly terrified, with a guard on either side of him.
Jarvis stepped up behind CLU.
"Sir, everything is as you ordered," he said in a low voice to the system administrator. Jarvis handed CLU a touch pad. "The additional information you desired is here."
CLU took the touch pad and turned to face the rest of the room. Feral noticed that he still had his helmet rezzed. CLU often did so when he was being watched by other members of the Grid. To see him wearing it now told her that although the arena was below them, the games were somehow continuing up here.
"You disappointed me, Feral," CLU said, looking at her. "I though that glitch had been removed from your programming. I guess I need to re-enforce that protocol command. After all, I need you to follow orders promptly, not wait to make a show out of it."
What is CLU talking about? she wondered. What show? I said I would not kill for him. What is going on?
CLU continued to step forward until he was standing right in front of her. He leaned down slightly so that his helmet was near her ear.
"I will let you decide what happens now," CLU told her, his voice so soft that only she could hear him. "You can derezz the program you fought—here, now, and at my command—or you can watch as I order the guards to derezz these five other programs that are here watching."
Which will you chose?"
CLU leaned slightly back so that he could see Feral's face better. She turned her head towards him, an expression of horror on her face. Eyes wide and face pale, she looked at him.
"You wouldn't," she whispered hoarsely. "CLU...you can't. They couldn't have done anything to deserve derezzing."
Leaning closer again, CLU replied in an almost-whisper of his own. "I know. In fact, these programs have only come to see the Games...that's all. They are not threats; they have no combat coding at all."
Your choice, Feral. The program from the Games, or them. Which one do you choose?"
Feral turned her gaze to the dark floor. She seemed to be focused on mentally tracing the almost neon lines of code in the room around her.
"Feral?" CLU asked, his voice still soft. "Which do you choose?" When no answer was forthcoming, "Do not make me choose for you..." he said, leaving the unspoken threat hanging in the air.
"Games," she said, her voice tight, looking up at CLU with loathing in her eyes.
CLU nodded and stepped back onto the dais. She watched as—in the arena below—the large screens that listed competing programs and games winners suddenly showed CLU.
"Programs," his voice rang out in both the room and across the arena below. "As you have seen, we now have a second Games champion."
Some of you may have been feeling a bit...cheated...by not seeing the final opponent derezzed upon losing."
In the stands below, there was an answering roar from the audience as they shouted their displeasure.
"Well, apparently my new champion wanted me to see her finish the game from a much closer view." CLU chuckled slightly, as though he were smiling under the darkness of his helmet. "However, I will not leave you unsatisfied. YOU shall watch with me!"
CLU motioned to the guards watching the Games program, who now had a look of panic on his face as he realized what was about to happen. The guards quickly grabbed the program and shoved him into the center of the room. He stumbled to a halt near Feral, casting a fearful look in her direction. Feral looked over at the program with no expression on her face.
"Finish the Game, Feral," came CLU's command.
She slowly reached back and took her disc off of her back. The program in front of her started to shake as he watched Feral activate her disc.
"No," he pleaded with her. "Please..."
When she did not respond, the program decided to take a chance and bolted; trying to reach the door. At the back of the room, Rinzler tensed, alert. If the program reached the door, Rinzler would have to follow protocal and derezz the program himself.
There was no need for Rinzler to step in. Before the fleeing program had run half the distance to the door, a disc sliced though his back; derezzing the program in a shower of pixels. Rinzler looked up from the derezzed program to see Feral snatch her disc out of the air as it returned to her. She stared at him, expressionless, as she replaced her disc in its dock.
CLU's voice rand out over the arena. "There you have it, programs," he said, his voice strong and proud. "The first victory for our new Games champion; my newest security program—Feral!"
He continued, his voice sounding slightly amused. "Don't worry! You will never again have to wait to see her finish the game!" With that said, the screens over the arena went back to displaying competor and combatant names and final scores. But now the screens listed 'Final champion: Feral'.
From the arena below came a dull roar as programs cheered or called to each other, commenting on the events of the Games as they began to rise and leave the arena.
Above the arena, in the command box on his throne ship, CLU had turned to the five civilian programs and was speaking to them. They looked nervously at one another as CLU spoke.
"Thank you for joining me for the final moments fo the game," he told them. "I felt that it would be a special priviledge to give a few programs. You were the lucky ones chosen. I hope that you enjoyed the Games as much as I did, this time. Enjoy the rest of your microcycle. You can watch Feral again in upcoming games."
He smiled at them as—with intense looks of relief on their faces—they were escorted from the room by the guards that had been surrounding them. One or two had already begun to talk about 'how exciting it had been' before the door slid shut behind them.
CLU then turned to Feral. She still stood in the middle of the room, looking numbly at the place where the fleeing program had derezzed. CLU stepped down from his dais and walked to where Feral stood, his hands clasped behind his back. Reaching her, he halted and retracted his helmet so she could see him. CLU had a slight smile on his face—what Feral privately thought of at times as 'CLU's 'default' expression'—as he reached out with one hand to grasp Feral's chin lightly and lift it until she was looking at him.
"Now, that was not such a hard decision to make, was it?" he asked, patronizingly. "All you need to do is remember that every time you fail to finish the game, I will have five of those very harmless, helpless programs derezzed. In fact, if you ever fail to derezz a program when I give you the order, even if not during a game, I will have five such programs derezzed." CLU's hand tightened painfully on Feral's chin.
"Is that clear, program?" he asked.
"Yes," Feral said, her voice small. "I just want to go back to my quarters now."
CLU stroked his thumb over her cheek before releasing it. "Not quite yet," he said. "There is still the matter of you disobeying my order earlier. You understand why you will obey me in the future; however, I canot let what happened earlier go unpunished."
"I derezzed the program," she replied, dully.
"You did not follow my order when I gave it, now did you?" he asked, that faint smile still on his face.
"Rinzler," CLU called, not looking away from Feral's face, "Hold her. Make certain that Feral does not go anywhere. She will be trying to free herself, soon."
Rinzler walked over quickly from where he had been standing by the door at attention until he was standing behind Feral. He reached out and took her wrists in a strong grip behind her back. While it was not painful, Feral knew from previous experiences that she would not be able to break his hold on her. Another beating to take, she thought to herself.
"Let's get this over with," she told CLU wearily.
"I do not think you will be so eager for this to be over," CLU told her.
"Jarvis," he called to the assisting program. "Did they return with the item I told you to have brought here?"
"They are waiting right outside for your orders, sir," Jarvis said, looking up from the notations on his tablet. "They have it with them now."
"Have the guards bring it in," CLU said.
At the sense of the guards entering the room, Feral looked up at CLU, wondering what he had planned.
"No, no, no, no, no," came the scolding sounds of a grumpy, but familiar voice.
Feral whipped her head around at the sound of Spike's voice, craning to see past Rinzler's shoulder. As the guards came further into her view, she could see that they were holding Spike captive in a small force-field. The agitated bit bounced from side to side as it saw her.
"No," Spike said, again.
Feral's eyes widened at the sight of Spike being held captive. Shocked, she looked back at CLU.
"He's just a bit," she told CLU. "He can't hurt anybody; he's completely harmless..."
"As harmless as those programs I had brought in," said CLU, interrupting her.
"Yes! Don't hurt him...I will follow orders," Feral begged, tugging futilly as she tried unthinkingly to escape Rinzler's grip. "I swear it...please..."
CLU turned to one of the guards holding Spike captive. Looking at the glowing mesh that trapped the bit, he spoke.
"Derezz the bit. Slowly."
Horrified, Feral watched as the guard reached for his disc and activated it. For the briefest moment, she could only think that she was in a bad dream...until the guard reached again for the force-field.
Shrieking, "NO!" at the top of her lungs, Feral lunged towards the guardsman, only to be brought up short by Rinzler's grip on her wrists. She lunged again at the now distracted guard, kicking at him as she did so. The sudden attack caught both the guard and Rinzler off-balance. The guardsman had to step to the side to avoid her attempted blows and Rinzler was forced to change his grip. Now Rinzler held Feral with one arm wrapped around her arms and waist, her wrists grasped tightly before her; and the other arm across her chest and shoulders.
Realizing that she could not stop the soldier from derezzing Spike, Feral did the only thing she could think of...
"Spike!" Feral screamed at the the bit franticly thrashing in the force-field, "Shut down! Now!"
Immediately, the bit shut down its functions and went still in the guard's grip. It made it easier for the guard to slowly press his activated disc into the bit, causing the bit to derezz.
The only sounds in the room were the soft, broken-glass-like tinkling of pixels derezzing, Rinzler's low, angry electronic growl, and the broken sobs that came from Feral as she sagged in Rinzler's arms, staring at the rapidly disappearing remains of Spike.
A moment later, footfalls were heard as CLU moved to stand in front of Feral. His hand reached out and stroked her cheek as he murmured to her.
"How long before you understand, Feral? You don't want to defy me."
CLU raised his eyes from the sobbing User in front of him to Rinzler's featureless, black helmet.
"Now she can go back to her quarters," CLU told him.
Rinzler gave a slight bow of his head in acknowledgement and, still holding Feral before him, led her stumbling away.
A/N—no beta because all of my betas would have killed me after reading this.
Yes, Spike is.
No, he won't be re-rezzed.
Yes, you can hate me.
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