Disclaimers: The Matrix belongs to the Wachoski brothers.

Warnings and rants: Featuring a non-aggressive!Smith, which is pretty OOC. The pairing here is Smith/Neo so anybody who doesn't like slash (m/m relationships) should stay well away.

Summary: After the war, the Matrix is a shadow of what it once was, and Zion stands. Neo salvages something from the wreck.


Zion is still standing.

There was the war, and then the peace, and Zion, the last human city, is still populated. The lights are still on, the people still walk in the narrow, industrial alleys, and they talk to each other. They discuss important things, like Newton, and Kant, and Nieztche, the lost thinkers. They talk about the rising price of grain, of the store that just opened nearby, how more and more people are flooding into Zion now that people trapped in the Matrix are being freed. They will have to be relocated as the government sets up refugee camps on the outskirts of Zion as the workers expand their city.

The Matrix still exists. It is there, miles and miles long, stretched out across the caverns, the tunnels, and the gears are still humming, the mechanisms still turning. Contrary to belief, the Matrix still exists, it is not destroyed. It is the machines who are destroyed, the ones who maintained it, the ones who ran it. And in their absence, the Matrix has started to deteriorate.

People who go into the Matrix are the ones who travel to the urban areas where the masses congregate. It takes place outside, this exodus. People stand there and wait to be given their red pill. The Matrix is crumbling around them. Buildings turn to dust instantaneously; when the windows shatter on the concrete, the glass shards morph into animals, tiger-striped birds and winged cats, dogs with tusks and unicorns with neon lights shining from behind their eyes.

Lakes become mountains, and the water flies in the air and hovers there before turning into furniture items. It is only a matter of time before they decompose into something else, and all around them, everything is changing, chaotic, and at other times, as the machinery struggles to repair itself, its automatic mechanism, everything is still, and nothing moves.

The people waiting to be retrieved don't wait patiently, but they occupy themselves with their newfound powers. With the Matrix shutting down around them, the physics of the programmed world are broken, and businessmen make clouds with their fingers, and children fly in the sky as laboratory technicians grow arms on people and laugh as they disappear. So as the physics are shattered, the red pills are scattered in the air and whomever wants to pull out first can do so whenever they want, catch a red pill in their hands, and then fly to the rippling portal.

There are transport buses stationed at every waste outlet in the Matrix, ready to leave on the hour and they send the reborn to the registration centers where they will file under their old names for family purposes, and they will be sorted and grouped that way before they are relocated.

Some people are unwilling to leave; they will stay in the Matrix, and will not go.They play with their powers, and will exist as long as the Matrix does. Some call these the heretics, and they call themselves the loyalists.

Neo is shut in his room, and he is sitting at a desk, his arms crossed on his chest, his eyes are glazed. He doesn't see what is there in front of him, he doesn't want to. Trinity is directing a relocation team outside of Zion, and appears in the Matrix at times as a figurehead, as queen of the freed people. They might love her more than he does. She has been gone for fifteen days.

He doesn't care, he thinks, and stands up, leaves.

It is a short distance to travel from his living quarters to the military base. He requested it, and at first, he didn't know why. But he realized that it might be that because most of them don't believe that he's anything more than a mythical hero. There were ways to explain why he was a 'chosen' one. Morpheus had never told him if there had been another One, if he or she had refused to take the red pill, had gone on to live in the Matrix like before.

Most of the military commanders he once knew are dead. They died defending Zion against the machines, and they had won. The men and women sitting here now are nothing more than a shadow of those who had once existed.

He has an access card-- he can go wherever he wants to within the base, provided he alerts the base that he is here. A guard approaches him as he nears the west entrance.

"Neo." The guard nods curtly, and presses a button on the gate. He is a familiar face, Neo thinks absently. I always approach from the west entrance, and he's always the one here.

"Thank you." He says, and walks past the others, heading straight for a door that will take him down to the ships.

"Oh, Neo." He hears. "Trinity's back from her work in the construction sector. She's in the control room."

He doesn't listen to the words, and makes his way down the stairs, hearing his footsteps ring on the unrelenting metal.

"Hey, Neo." Link's voice says, and Neo peers around the corner to see the man working at a control station. He steps inside.

"Link." He acknowledges, and surveys the machinery around them, the wires, the seats in the middle of the room, the people occupying them. He recognizes the recently elected chancellor, a few members of the government, a few military officers. He sees Trinity lying on one of the seats, her eyes closed, lashes smudged against her cheeks, a plug inserted into the back of her head.

"They're inside right now." Link says, rubbing his chin as he squints at the spiraling code of the Matrix in a computer screen in front of him. "It's a lot more exciting than it was before. Lots of freaky stuff."

Neo smiles a little in amusement as he watches the screen. "Link, I need a favor."

"Sure." The man says, and turns to face him, waiting expectantly.

"Plug me into the Matrix." He says, and Link raises an eyebrow.

"I thought you'd never want to see that thing again." Link says, and Neo feels himself clenching his fists, and the air seems to compress around him, he feels stifled, like he needs air.

"No." Neo says, his voice controlled. "I need to finish something."

Link knows not to ask questions, and shrugs. "Suit yourself. Trinity's in Central Park right now. You want me to jack you into New York? You'll have to fly two streets down, but watch out. Air traffic is heavy."

He nods, and heads to an empty chair. Neo remembers the comfort, the familiarity of it, and he stares up at the ceiling as Link connects the plug into his head, and he feels the metal there, and at the same time, he doesn't feel anything at all. Then Link is at the keyboard again, and Neo hears the sound of typing, the clicking on the keys. Once everyone is saved, he thinks, nobody will need this anymore.

He closes his eyes.

The sound of crying and screaming and laughter greets him as he appears in an open space, a phone clutched in his hand. The sun shines harshly and it is raining two feet in front of him and snowing behind him. There is a huge crowd in the snow, and it seems that the people stretch for miles and miles on an end, and at the other end must be where the chancellor is, where Trinity is, where the people are waiting to be freed.

The phone disappears from his hand, and Neo takes a look around him, and heads into the rain, away from the snow, choosing to walk this time.

He finds a building that remains constant, that stands still, even as the others are collapsing, their steel structures shifting under invisible weight, and he turns the knob of the door, and walks in.

This hallway, this corrider, is not the same, pristine white it always has been. It seems as if age has reached this room, this one last sanctuary of the Matrix. Watermarks appear on the ceiling, cracks appear in the walls. The doors are still standing, but they look weathered, they look like the walls, old and cracked and dead, painted in imperfect, different shades of green. The lights are dimmed, flickering, and he sees a spider scuttle across the floor, out of place.

"Well, well, if it isn't Mr. Anderson."

He turns around to see a figure three doors down from him, back pressed against it in a protective way, as if this is the one last thing he can save, this is the last thing that means anything to him. It is ironic, that this should happen, that he should feel protection for an inanimate thing.

"Smith." Neo says, looks at the floor, watches the light flicker around them, wills for it to stay lit, for one more minute.

They stand there in silence, neither wanting to break it, neither wanting to disrupt it. It is something they don't have, when their breathing is not hurried and when they are not fighting and playing out the roles of defender and liberator, except it was never like that in reality; it was just an elaborate structure that would fall upon itself, that would disintegrate.

"Do you know why I did it?" Neo suddenly says, and he looks up at Smith, and his face is impassive, it is emotionless, and he sees himself reflected in the sunglasses.

"You went through the other door because she was in danger." Smith looks away.

Neo shakes his head, and his lips form the word no, but he doesn't say it.

"You did it because she was falling from a building, fighting an agent, and in your dreams, she would have died." Agent Smith is leaning against the wall for support, one hand pressed to his forehead, a stance that an Agent would never assume.

Neo shakes his head again, watching the light, the flies trapped in it, and he wonders how they got there. This is the programming maintainance room, and it's the last one to succumb to the glitches in the Matrix, even as it struggles to repair other programs, other hardware.

"If the Matrix were destroyed," Neo says, "if I had chosen to go out the other door, the results would have been the same as the previous ones. The Matrix would rise up again, reconstruct itself, and the same thing would happen again, from the beginning. Zion's forces had never been tested against such a huge force of Sentinels. No one had ever done that before because they thought the risk was too great."

Smith looks up, and Neo takes the opportunity to speak to him so that they are both really listening, so that they are both really hearing this, these words that don't mean anything to them, but hold an underlying current that explains so much more.

Neo's movements are jerky and irregular when he reaches into his pockets and holds something out to Smith. "This is what happened to me."

The Agent's eyes peer down and inspect the little red pill, which gleams a faint orange in the dim light, shiny, like a drop of water. "This is a tracking device." He says, and looks up at Neo, and Neo still can't read that cool expression, the one that he knows hide volumes of emotions, the one that says this is not a machine but he is an A.I. and therefore is like a human.

"Take it." Neo says, his voice shaking. "I want you to have it."

"Neo." Smith's voice has dropped to a low growl, as if this thing is contaminated, impure, unholy, and he takes two steps back, retreating back into the shadows, and Neo feels like he is coaxing a wild animal out into the open, to cage him, to trap him, except he doesn't want to do that, he wants him to live.

"Then if you won't--" Neo says, "Here." And he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another capsule, this one is blue, and it is tinted green in the light, and the light flickers, and everything turns black for a second. And he is still staring straight ahead, trying to find the familiar glint of Agent Smith's glasses. "It will erase your memory of this, of everything that's happened. Between us, everything will be like it used to. We'll be enemies again."

He means something. He means, I went through that other door to save you, I went because if I had chosen to restart the Matrix, you would have forgotten what it was like and I want you to take either the red or the blue because I want you to either accept or reject this situation, these emotions, but you can choose to take neither of them and just walk away, out one of those doors, and I won't be able to find you anymore after this.

"You'll forget me." He finishes, and pulls back, defeated.

Agent Smith steps out of the shadows but doesn't face Neo. He's looking at a door, the one located at the end of the corridor, the one that that the Keymaker opened. "And will you take one as well?" He asks, and it is a carefully calculated question, but not selective, not exclusive.

"No." Neo removes his glasses, slips them into his coat pocket, but the room is still dark, still shadowed, and he still can't see what he's straining for, an answer, a solution. "I won't forget anything. How can I afford to?"

"Then you can stay here." Smith says, quietly.


Neo tilts his head up, looks at the cracks on the ceiling instead of the lights, he feels his vision blurring. "I can't."

"And if I take the blue one?" Smith is saying, and Neo feels his footsteps as he treads closer. "I would hate you again, and what purpose would that serve?"

Neo feels cool fingers on his wrist, and Smith opens his clenched hand so that he can see the pills again, the red one, the blue one, the commands for tracking and eject and memory deletion, and it doesn't mean anything now.

"I would just keep waiting for you and you would never come back." Neo hears, and he wants to collapse, because this string that's holding him up is going to break, and he'll either be caught, or he'll keep falling.

There is silence, the only sound the electricity humming through the straining lights, struggling to keep lit, not to shut down completely, and Agent Smith's fingers are still grasping Neo's wrist, and Neo doesn't want to look anywhere else but at the one flickering light, because if he looks at him, Smith might change his mind, for better, for worse, Neo doesn't know, and this is one thing he doesn't want to risk. He is aware that his heart is beating quickly, that there is sweat on his upper lip, that it feels like electricity where Smith's fingers are around his own.

"Neo." His voice is so controlled, even now, and Neo puts his hand back in his pocket, only one pill left there.

Neo's breath catches in his throat. "What?"

"How will you find me?"

Neo wants to look down and look past the glasses and into his eyes, he's only seen them once, and it was like ice, like water.

"I'll find you." Neo says, and he takes the pill out of his pocket, and looks at it, and it's blue.

It's simple to catch a transport to one of the outlets, to board a ship and gain access to the control room. Somebody is excited to meet him, but he isn't paying attention, just nodding every now and then. He is watching the screen for something different, and switches back and forth from the heat-seeking monitor, the motion detectors and the exterior cameras, looking for something different.

The crane in the other room senses a thrashing movement, and reaches in and picks somebody up. Neo looks over to the adjacent room-- a little boy, about seven, is grinning radiantly, gibbering complete nonsense, did you see me? did you see me turn into a dinosaur? did you see me fly?

And then he sees it-- the flash of silver, something glinting in the dim light of the ship, and he rushes over to the little boy who has just been rescued, ignoring the cry of the medical workers who haven't disinfected him yet.

He's holding it. He's holding a computer chip in his hands, and nobody has noticed it yet.

Neo leans down, kneels, and looks the boy in the eyes, those big, brown, innocent eyes, shining at the ride he's just taken down one of the Matrix's waste canals, laughing as the dirty water is dripping off him.

"Where did you find it?"

Children are used to spontaneous questions because they ask those kinds of questions as well, and the little boy smiles and waves the computer chip enthusiastically in Neo's face. "When I was sliding down."

"May I have it?" Neo asks, and follows the errant path of the boy's hand with his eyes, the silicon glints errantly, and then it is snatched away.

"Only." The boy pauses, one finger pressed to his mouth. "If you say 'please.'"

"Please." He says.

"All right." The boy drops it in Neo's hands, and Neo looks at it, at the silicon chip in his hands.

"What's your name?" Neo asks, as he stands up.

"Michael." The little boy smiles, and is ushered away by health workers to the back rooms.

The control room is empty when Neo returns to the base, with the exception of Sparks, who is working on something, and Neo leans against the doorframe, watching the green light play over Sparks' angular features, watching the way the light flickers in his eyes.

"Night shift?" Neo asks.

Sparks glances up, smiles a little. "Yeah. Link just left. I can still get him, if you want."

"No, it's fine." Neo shakes his head, and Sparks nods.

"He seemed a little pissed off when you just left without a word, though." He laughs, even as his fingers type furiously on the keyboard, surveying the Matrix. "You headed off to the ships, right?"

"Yes." Neo says, and runs his hand over his pocket, and the faint outline of it reassures him that it's still there.

"Did you know somebody who was unplugged?"

Neo doesn't answer, and Sparks looks up when the silence grows too long, inquiry in his eyes.

"Yes." Neo finally answers, and looks at the monitors, the scrolling code, more sparse than it has ever been. "Is there a spare room with a processor?"

Sparks looks a little surprised at the change in subject, but nods. "It's over there in our storage room. It was Ghost's old one."

"Thank you."

Neo wonders if the simulation should be this white color, wonders if the walls and the floors and the ceiling is white, and he wants to change it, and then he's out in an open space, by the ocean, the white sand giving way under his feet, seeping into his shoes, while a breeze blows in his hair, makes his coat flap in the wind. A seagull cries out in the distance, and another one answers.

Tentative fingers on his arm, barely touching him, and they turn him around. Neo regards Smith for a moment, seeing the blue of the sea, the white of the foam, cresting on the shore, this continual motion, out of the side of his eye.

"You weren't damaged more than this?" Neo says, his voice low, disbelief at their situation, at this absurdity that in one moment, when he chose the other door, that this would happen. Smith is still perfect, but his sunglasses are cracked, and Neo takes them off, and Smith gives him a smile, an unguarded one, because they're here where nobody else is, they're completely isolated, and it feels...

Smith leans in, whispers against Neo's ear, "I never needed them anyway."

Comments are appreciated! ^_^ However, if I can defend myself for the dada-esque nature of this… I was taking cold medicine when I wrote this, so that probably accounts for the … disjointedness. _ ::drowsy:: OoOooh.