Warnings and Disclaimers: I might have a couple of quotes from other sources in there, but if I do I can't find 'em.
This time, the corridor was nearly deserted, and they were able to walk three abreast. Morpheus had split off from the little group just after they'd left the Council's chamber, presumably to go to his own quarters, and none of them had spoken much since saying goodbye. The reason for Harry's silence, at least, was easily understood. It hadn't really hit him yet, standing there before the Council. It was done, it was official:
They were a family.
It was something he'd never had before, the Dursleys doing more to prove the lack than disprove it. He'd had a taste of what it was like, this past week, but even that hadn't been the same. Trinity, Neo, Tank, even Morpheus- they were the first people who'd ever treated him with kindness, and in the process Harry had come to see them as a pseudo-family, but it hadn't been real.
And now it was. Harry couldn't help the undoubtedly goofy grin spreading over his face. Who'd have thought?
"Harry?" Trinity asked, curiosity obvious in her voice, and the boy looked up to see her staring bemusedly down at him.
"It's real," he told her, still grinning hard enough to make his cheeks hurt.
The woman blinked, not following the non sequitur, but Neo chuckled. "Yes, it's real," he told his son with a little smile of his own.
Harry laughed happily, a brief, quicksilver sound, that for all its short duration somehow made the dull steel and stone around them seem brighter. The sound startled a laugh out of Trinity as well, though she still didn't quite understand what the short conversation had been about.
The young boy abruptly skipped ahead a space and stopped, turning to them with a serious expression on his face. The two adults shared a worried glance, stopping as well as they tried to figure out what had caused the sudden mood swing. He'd seemed so happy, why...?
Harry gazed at them for a moment more, then opened his mouth to speak. "Does this mean that I call you Mum and Dad?" he asked curiously.
Only a great deal of self-control kept Trinity from gaping wordlessly. That was something she hadn't considered... "Would you like to?" she asked after a couple of seconds.
Harry worried his lower lip between his teeth, a habit she realized he must have already picked up from either her or Tank, since she'd never seen him do it before. "...I don't know," the boy finally answered. "Can... can I think about it?"
She smiled, looking down at him. "Yeah. You go ahead and do that. It's completely up to you, hon."
Harry nodded, and by the expression on his face she knew his mind was already hard at work pondering the question. With a quiet chuckle, she put a hand on his shoulder and started him down the corridor once again. "Easy, kiddo. You've got plenty of time to decide."
Behind them, Neo was practically beaming as he trailed his wife and child. And all the way down to their quarters, that refrain ran happily through his mind.
Yes. It was real.
Morpheus sighed wearily, resting his upper body against the railing. Below, intermittent walkways spanned the thousand-foot drop, still bustling with people even though the chrono said the hour was late. But then, when there was no sun, no moon, there wasn't much weight attached to supposed "days" and ''nights". Truly, Zion was alive twenty-four hours a day; not so very different, in that respect at least, from the Matrix and the past it mirrored.
But it was different in so many other ways, and not for the first time Morpheus doubted his decision in letting Trinity bring Harry out.
Yes, he knew the boy had been abused by his uncle, but by Trinity's own admission, the man was dead and would never have hurt anyone again. Perhaps with the uncle dead and buried, Harry would have begun a better life, and someday even have been happy, never knowing about the horrors of the real world.
For reality, with its harsh truth and cold, unfeeling steel and stone, was not a place for a child to be happy. And who knew what life Harry might have led, otherwise?
Steel-shod footsteps sounded behind the brooding captain, and their owner joined him at the railing. "So, you've won this time," the commander stated harshly, and Morpheus sighed.
"It's not a competition, Lock," he replied, closing his eyes. "And, no, I didn't win."
The man made a skeptical noise, and Morpheus opened his eyes to finally look straight at him. "I'd hoped the Council might see fit just to leave Harry in peace," he explained. "But now, they will hound him for answers a nine-year-old boy couldn't possibly have. He doesn't need that."
Lock didn't say anything as his once friend gazed at him with sad eyes, merely staring down into the depths below, until finally Morpheus looked away. "There is one more thing," he abruptly said after long minutes of silence. "I've overlooked it until now, but you and your crew have had long enough to grieve. Safety regulations state a hovership must have two trained operators on board at all times. I'll send you the personnel files tomorrow and expect you to chose one of them before your next tour of duty."
Morpheus's mouth went dry with protests. Tank... This was going to hurt him badly, seeing his brother supposedly replaced. "I see," was all he said out loud, stepping away from the railing and turning to leave. "I'll look over the files as soon as they arrive, then."
He'd barely taken a step before a hand on his arm stopped him. "I'm not trying to be cruel," Commander Lock said quietly. "It's regulations. I shouldn't have let this go as long as I did. It wasn't safe for you or your crew." He released the startled captain, turning himself to leave. "Besides, look at it this way," he called back over his shoulder as he walked away. "You've got a kid on board.
"You'll need a babysitter!"
Trinity helped the green-eyed boy into his temporary bed and reminded herself to contact one of the construction crews in the morning about excavating a new chamber for him in their quarters. He couldn't sleep on their rough facsimile of a couch forever.
"You feeling all right?" she asked, pulling the blanket up to his chin. "You've had one hell of a day."
Harry chewed on his lip again for a few seconds. "I'm... worried, I guess," the boy admitted. "All those people, they all know I'm a... that I'm different," he expanded, quickly altering what he'd been about to say at Trinity's warning look.
The woman pondered that for a moment. "Alright. So what?" she finally replied. Harry gave her a startled look.
"So what if they know you're different?" Trinity continued. "I'm not saying the Council is made up of saints, but they're not your uncle, either." She brushed his cheek with a gentle hand. "There's no shame in being different, and certainly is in being just like everyone else."
"Really?" the boy breathed, his face hopeful.
Trinity nodded. "Just think of how boring it would be if everyone were the same." Which was the vision of the machines, who only specialized even their own forms in response to outside stimuli, like the ever unpredictable human race.
Harry was silent, contemplating that picture. Trinity smiled softly and leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead. "Good night, kiddo. Try to get some sleep, there's a lot to do tomorrow." Still smiling, she rose and had just turned out the lights when she heard a quiet voice.
"Good night... Mum."
Even after his foster mother had left the room, Harry lay awake in the near-darkness thinking about her words. They went against everything he'd been brought up to believe in the Dursley household. Anything outside of what his family considered "normal" was to be feared and ridiculed as somehow lesser, contemptible.
Harry'd never been normal, and under that belief system had thought it perfectly right that he be treated as he was. But now everyone around him seemed to think that his strangeness was not only alright, but to be lauded.
"There's no shame in being different..."
If that was so... would his new family still accept him if it turned out he was even more different that they thought he was? He still hadn't reminded Trinity about the way his hair had grown back, and ever since he'd demonstrated before the Council, a horrible suspicion had been niggling at the back of his mind.
Mind you, it was still only a suspicion, but it would take only a simple test to prove or disprove it. Was he brave enough...?
No. He had to know.
Before he could lose his nerve, Harry got up out of the makeshift bed. He had a feeling he wouldn't have too much energy left afterwards, if it worked, and better to collapse on the bed than across the room because he'd used it as his starting point.
The boy turned and looked back at the couch, grateful for the shuttered lamp Neo had set up as an impromptu nightlight. Without it, and with no possibility of natural light, he wouldn't have been able to see a thing. As it was, he was just able to make out the blanket-covered form.
Taking a deep breath, Harry fixed the image in his mind, then closed his eyes. As something he was beginning to get rather practiced at, he pictured himself sitting on top of the tangle he'd made of the blanket, and pushed.
There was a quiet 'pop!', and Harry fell perhaps an inch onto the couch.
Almost immediately lethargy set in, and the dazed boy was barely able to slip himself back under the blanket before what little strength he had ran out. His mind was nearly as sluggish as the rest of him, but it was still awake enough to be at least mildly panicking.
Oh, God, it was real. Trinity was wrong, it wasn't the Matrix, it was him. What... what was he going to tell her? She wouldn't deserted him, he was fairly sure of that, but his mind screamed at him that 'fairly' wasn't an absolutely.
Finally he shook his head, though there was no one in the darkness to see the gesture. No. It wasn't worth the risk. He couldn't tell her, couldn't tell anyone. No one could know just how different he was.
His mind made up, Harry laboriously rolled over into a more comfortable position and drifted off into a sleep that could hardly be termed restful.
A/N: And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the last curtain call on Know Thyself: the Prelude. After one year, seven months, and eighteen days, it is finally finished, if not at all complete.
I thought this might be a fitting gift for the occasion, given that today in and of itself is an ending, being the last day before the beginning of my senior year of high school. Dear God, I have to grow up soon...
Please, I hope you've enjoyed this story as much as I have, despite its occasional snarls and stumbles, not to mention just plain stubbornness. This is the first story I've ever finished, and now all I can do is lean back and say with pride... "My baby's growing up." (sniffle)
Our most sincere gratitude to Aagwyn, acr, aerinoutlander, Aidan, A lilmatchgirl, angelkitty77, bookfanatic84, bubblegumb1, Circe Visigoth, Damon Rhodes, darknesscomes, Eslyssa, Fate, Ferdia, Firehedgehog, FuNkY sWiMimEr, Gato-sama, ginnyNharrysecretlove, Inimene, King Dimension, Kitta-Baby, korrd, Lady-Slytherin-Warrior, Lauren, Locathah, Moonmage, Mr Blader X, Never Odd Or eveN, Night-Owl123, Queen of the Elven City, Rayne Saijeuz, Ryodo, SilverStreakH, stuck-in-a-tree, Sweetest Thang, The Lady Reaper of the Shadows, Toki Mirage, VainFirechild-EverSoVain, Voakands, Von, websurffer, wizardmon92, Wytil, and yo misma for reviewing.
Amaris Kincaid: looks annoyed Do you have any idea how hard it is dodging those monkeys of yours? Though, I did make a pretty penny after the Zoo called...
FrozenOnyxPhoenix: I have no problem with you using my ideas. In fact, I'd be honored.
Kaaera: I'm afraid my main Matrix info site got taken down, but www. geocities. com/ sgperihelion /matrixnames .html has some interesting tidbits. As for AIMing me, feel free. I should be on any night this week.
Rayven: Don't tempt me. Please, please, please, don't tempt me...
ReflectionsOfReality: This isn't my actual reply. I'm still working on that one, and should be able to email it to you soon. Let me just say that I'm utterly thrilled with how much thought you put into your review! Hugs
Wren Truesong: snickers Oh, that would have been hilarious...
Grins I was wondering who would be the first to see Trin's prophecy still came true.
Bursts out laughing I never looked at it like that... But you're right, who the hell pulls out a katana to kill a ghost while riding on top of a semi?
Makes a note to throw that joke in a few more times.
Violent, maternal women: what's not to love? Still haven't managed to think of a title yet... And of course I love you! Hugs
7 August 2005