Title: Alethia

Author: fangirl_lizzie

Rating: PG, alas.

Fandom: The Matrix

Pairing: Very slight Neo/Morpheus, if you squint and turn your head.

Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue. All you'll get is a collection of my trashy fanfic and a well-thumbed copy of LotR anyway.

Summary: Neo has a crisis of confidence.

***

When Trinity left the room he was thinking of Zion. He looked up at her as she left and a smile tugged briefly at her lips as she closed the door behind her. She thought she understood. He loved her, but she didn't understand.

They came at him in waves and bearing gifts he found ugly in their triviality, their wide eyes and their hot, clutching hands demanding nothing short of his every living breath in return for their fervour. As the months had passed he'd felt the panicked nausea that it all raised in him begin to subside slowly. And he'd come to accept it all, perhaps even understand it; he stood there like a saviour to them, though how they could believe when he'd showed them not a single shred of proof was entirely beyond him.

Neo had always been a very literal man, grounded in fact. He found philosophy intellectually fascinating and for a while he'd flirted with it from afar, but the literality of his consciousness precluded serious philosophical engagement. His life was lived in fact and not in question, and he supposed that explained his attraction to computing; he'd see the code flash across his screen, he'd bask in the cold electric glow and he could trust that; code had no guile, no cunning. Code was inherently direct and upfront and was only deceptive if you allowed it to be – everything necessary to its understanding was right there and required zero interpretation.

It was interpretation that bothered him.

He sighed, lying back on his bunk, the back of his wrist resting heavily against the bridge of his nose. He shivered and almost imagined he could see his breath on the air like when he was a kid and his family had stayed up in that cabin in the mountains that one Christmas. He'd stood outside on the slippery wooden porch and watched as the snow fell, blanketing the wood and the world in white. The heat of his breath misted the air and he licked melting snowflakes from the back of his hand. He was seven years old then, wrapped up tight and warm in his winter coat, and happy. He liked when it was cold enough to see his breath. It sort of reminded him that he was real. Even at seven years old, he'd needed reminding.

But the air on the Nebuchadnezzar, though cool enough to make him shiver and peak his nipples almost painfully beneath his shirt, wasn't quite *cold*. He'd never really seen his breath. And he wasn't sure that his family even existed, let alone that cabin in the woods, the mountains, the snow. Neither thought was particularly comforting.

He was going stir-crazy in that room, alone with his thoughts. He sat up and swung his legs off the bed, pulled on his boots and wandered down the corridor toward the common room, the kitchen, dining area, whatever it was serving as at that particular moment in time.

The hum of the deck-plates beneath his feet made him feel sick and the philosophy of the Matrix made his head hurt. For a literal man, waking to the truth from the dream that had been his reality was jarring to say the least. What was his reality now? The hovercraft, Trinity, Zion, the fleet, the hot core of the earth, Morpheus, the Matrix... He shivered. So many years of untruths, his reality fed to him through a jack in the back of his neck. It was ironic, really. The only thing he'd ever trusted was technology; he'd organised his life around computers, dedicated his life to them, only to find that they'd lied to him all along.

Now he didn't know what to believe. Beliefs belonged to other people. Faith was nothing. Truth and knowledge were relative.

But Morpheus believed. Morpheus had faith. In him. It was almost a shame that half of Zion thought that Morpheus was mad, and the other half thought he was some kind of a prophet. And that half-mad prophet was sitting at the table as Neo walked into the room.

"Neo," The way he said it was half way between a greeting and a question and Neo wasn't sure how to respond. He just flashed an uncomfortable smile and took a seat at the table. "Trinity told us you were sleeping".

"I couldn't sleep." He didn't sleep. He never slept.

Morpheus nodded solemnly, as if this were the answer to some great, perplexing riddle. He was sitting with the chair tipped back, one booted foot curled around the chair leg and the other pulled up and resting against the edge of the table; it was an awkward-looking pose, completely out of character - it was as if he could topple over at any given moment, when Neo felt he should be in constant control. Morpheus was always in control, measured, calculating, knowledgeable. And at the same time he was so open, everything in him there to read like a code on a screen. It was reassuring and somehow unsettling together, like so much was these days.

Neo's eyes moved over him slowly. Morpheus was reading. He looked up and caught him staring. For a second he smiled, a small, faint smile, then he looked away.

He couldn't sit still. Neo fidgeted on his chair, pushed at the objects on the tabletop, smoothed his permanently wrinkled trousers, tugged at the cuffs of his sweater. He made himself a drink and drank it. He sat on a worktop and swung his legs. He reorganised the cutlery. Eventually he ran out of things to do in the small room and slumped back down onto the same seat where he'd begun his little misadventure. If he'd been inside the Matrix he would have run or flown or fought... he almost wished he were jacked in, Agents everywhere, glasses on, ready to fight. But he wasn't. He was sitting there on the Nebuchadnezzar, tapping agitatedly at the tabletop, angry at his own inconsequence.

Inside the Matrix Neo was a god. What did that make him outside?

Morpheus didn't even need to ask him what was wrong. All he did was look at him over the top of his pad, raising an eyebrow quizzically.

"How do I even know this is real?" Neo blurted before he even knew he meant to say it. "I mean, I know it's real, but *how* do I know?"

Morpheus smiled darkly. "How do we know that anything is real, Neo?" he said, his voice eerily soothing. "Your senses cannot be trusted. All that you can know are the facts, the universal truths; whether inside the Matrix or outside, there are always constants – those of mathematics, science. Beyond that there can be no knowledge, no 'real'. Beyond that there is just belief."

"Comforting."

Morpheus smirked and set down his pad, set the raised legs of his chair down on the deck plates. "You did not ask for comfort, Neo."

"No, I guess not." Neo sighed and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. Outside the Matrix, in the glare of the shipboard lights, his eyes always hurt. It was now just something he lived with. "But... inside the Matrix I can feel that it's not real. I can *see* it. Here... what I see seems real. Sometimes a little too real."

"The Matrix is not reality, though it is real."

Neo shrugged. "Perhaps it's *my* reality," he said.

Morpheus nodded once, simply, considering, then spoke again. "The Matrix is the dream from which you woke. Did you simply wake from that dream to fall into another, or is this reality?

Neo paused. It was a terrifying thought, that Zion could be just another construct, no more real. He just couldn't believe that. He of all people couldn't afford to.

"This is real," he said, with every last scrap of conviction he had in him.

"I'm glad you believe that." But there was something in Morpheus' tone that made Neo wonder if any of them really did believe. How could they? But Neo knew that wasn't a question he could ask. It was best left to the philosophers, the leaders, left for other people to decide while he went out to save the world, real or not.

Outside of the Matrix Morpheus was in every way his superior, and Neo acknowledged the fact. When Morpheus stood, Neo watched him. He had that kind of gravity to him, the kind that made him a leader. Neo wanted to look away. He didn't like the way Morpheus was looking at him. But he couldn't look away, even as Morpheus stood beside him, cupped his cheek roughly with the hot palm of his hand as if trying to ascertain that Neo was really there. As if he were checking that Neo was really *real*. Neo wondered what conclusion he came to.

"Tell me the truth," Neo said. "What do you believe?"

"The truth is relative."

"Then tell me your truth. Tell me what you believe."

Morpheus smiled. "I believe in Zion," he said, and dropped his hand to his side. "I believe you are the One."

The One. Being the One set Neo apart. But as Morpheus left the room, as his words echoed in Neo's mind, he didn't feel so alone.

*** End ***