Author: Rhea
Title: To Be Who I Am
Rating: PG
Summary: When Soren, the Captain of the Vigilant, volunteered to aid the Nebuchadnezzar, it was not just duty that drove him. The reasons of a good man always lie beyond the confines of reason - deep in his heart.
Spoilers: Matrix: Reloaded
Disclaimer: I don't own the Matrix. All credit goes to Wachowski Brothers & co.
1972

"Jimmy?"

The boy's head snapped up at the sound of his father's voice. He squeezed his eyes tight, quickly wiping one sleeve across his face. He blinked a few times, and sniffed quietly. Drawing his knees to his chest, he put his arms around him. He felt a shiver running down his spine, and made a mental note to find a new hiding place in the future. Somehow, no matter where he went, his father always knew where to find him. His lips curved in a displeased grimace when he realized that being found now meant yet another 'serious talk'.

"Jimmy? What's wrong?"

He watched his father bend low as he looked under the shelf in the dark corner of the garage. The boy remained silent, afraid that if he answered, his voice would betray that he had been crying. He shook his head, involuntarily pushing himself further into the corner as if looking for shelter in the darkness.

His father tucked the blanket which covered the entrance to his son's hiding place behind another shelf, and squatted in front of the boy. "Hey, man." He said in a low, warm voice.

"Hi."

"Someone told me you wanted to talk," the man said in a tone of endless patience, sensing the boy's discomfort.

The lad looked up at him curiously. "Who?"

"That big bad monster from under your bed," he answered, smiling ever so slightly. He knew all too well what his son's reaction to said statement would be. For a short moment, he thought sadly that the boy was growing up, so quickly. Still a child, but less and less of it with each day.

"Dad," Jimmy laughed, leaning slightly forward, "I'm not a child anymore!"

"Of course you're not," his father replied, the tone of his voice growing serious.

A beam of light fell on the boy's face as he emerged from the cover of the shadow. A red circle under his left eye caught his father's attention. It already started to turn into slightly bluish hues. "Oh," he said, his voice never betraying the worry said sight suddenly caused him to feel. He reached out his hand, gently pulling the boy out of the corner. "I'm afraid to think what terrible injuries your opponent is nursing right now."

The boy's hand wandered subconsciously to his cheekbone and he winced, feeling the reason of his need to hide swelling under his fingertips. He caught a glimpse of his father's eyes, and intuitively pulled away, as if refusing to realize that what he had been trying to hide was already noticed. He sensed no anger; nonetheless, there was still the fear of it. He felt his father's hand rest slowly on his shoulder as the man held him in place. Gently, but decidedly. The boy didn't oppose even as the hand withdrew. He could feel the vigilant eyes of his father regarding him, as he obviously waited for some explanation of the incident. The boy swallowed audibly, unsure what to say or how to even start.

When the moment of silence between them began to get rather lengthy, the man clasped his hands around his knees, sending the boy a reassuring smile. "So. Are you going to tell me what happened?"

Jimmy sucked in a slow breath, nodding hesitantly to himself. He began to chew on the inside of his cheek, as he always did when he was nervous or scared. Apparently having made up his mind, his let his eyes flicker around the small space and his brow furred. A sudden expression of anger painted his face. He looked away. "That stupid Mark and his mates," he said angrily. "They were picking on Ted, and-" he broke off, remembering that moment, his eyes fixated on the wall.

"Mhm…" his father murmured, making himself comfortable on the floor. He sat right in front of the boy, folding his arms around his knees. "And you backed him up," he remarked, observing his son's face.

"I did!" the boy looked up at him, his cheeks burning. "I had to!"

The man resisted a smile that tried to fight its way to his lips at the boy's fiery reaction. "Of course you did." He nodded understandingly, having decided to remain serious. "Ted is your friend."

"Yeah." Jimmy turned his sight to the floor, his excitement leaving him momentarily. "It's just that…" he paused, his cheeks once more turning slightly pink, "Now he's like, my only friend at school. Everyone else listens to what Mark says," he said heatedly, the words coming out quickly.

"I see." His father nodded again. He looked away, still observing the boy's face out of the corner of his eye. "But you were brave enough to oppose them," he remarked, brushing his hand across the back of his head. "That's what a man should be like, Jim."

The boy blushed. "Yeah," He nodded back, "I guess," he said. His posture, now half-straightened, and his eyes locked with his father's showed that he was finally feeling comfortable and assured that he wouldn't get yelled at for getting involved in a fight. "Ted said he would be a driver when he grows up. But not a truck driver like his dad, he said he's going to race! And that he would be famous one day, and all that," he shared, suddenly filled with sweeping confidence.

"That's a nice dream," his father agreed, smiling at the big boyish plans.

"Yeah! But Mark said he was stupid and everyone else started laughing and saying that Ted was so clumsy that he would crash on the first turn." The words of his hectic explanation came out even more quickly than before. The pitch of his voice raised rapidly, betraying the boy's anger mixed with excitement. "But it's not stupid!"

"Of course it's not stupid." His father smiled again. "Everyone has dreams, and should have the will and the courage to do everything so that those dreams come true."

"Yeah," Jimmy agreed agitatedly, yet not fully convinced. He clasped his hands against his lap, as if dusting off his shorts. Then his face lit up. "I want to be a pilot when I grow up. It's so cool! And not stupid either."

The man's smile widened at that statement. He counted quickly in his mind how many professions had already been his son's dream career in the eleven years of his life. Like all boys, besides being Superman, Jimmy went through various stages of excitement over different occupations, finally arriving at wanting to be a pilot. He had held to that idea surprisingly long, his father mused briefly before he looked back at the boy. "You can be anything you want to be, if you really want it."

"Dad?" The boy leaned in, looking intently into his father's face. "Do you think that they will like me again? I mean… the other boys," he asked, visibly worried when the perspective of being rejected by the majority formed a clearly distinguishable thought in his mind.

"I don't know, son," the man said, watching the boy with a serious look. He let out an inaudible sigh, for a short moment contemplating whether or not he should point it out that getting into a fight is not what eleven years old boys should do. "But I know that you did the right thing."

Jimmy folded his arms across his chest in an attempt to add some confidence to his posture which otherwise expressed uncertainty. "You think so?" he asked, looking hopefully at his father. In his face he was looking for some evidence which would give him full assurance that his actions wouldn't, after all, be categorized as uncalled for and reprimanded.

Sensing the boy's worry, his father moved closer and placed both hands on his shoulders. "Of course," he said. He realized that perhaps what the boy did was partly wrong. And yet, he found that moment suitable to try and reflect on the good side of his actions, hoping the boy would from now on learn to recognize the value of friendship. "And I can tell you that one real friend is more valuable that ten other people who aren't there for you when you need them."

Jimmy looked down, pondering his father's words. "But…" he said, frowning. His face showed how rapidly he sought for words. "Having lots of friends is cool."

His father reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind the boy's ear, searching in his mind for an explanation. "That's true," he said thoughtfully, "But tell me," he paused briefly, forcing the boy to look at him, "Did you think that Mark and you were friends, too?"

"Yeah," Jimmy spoke somewhat sorrowfully, "A long time ago. Like, three months or something like that, then he found others friends at school."

The man smiled, resisting the urge to shake his head lest the boy would read it as a sign of his disregard for the seriousness of the problem. "See, real friends stay with you no matter what happens. It's good to stay in touch with many people, but only some of them will be your true friends. And I see you're ready to do a lot for your friends, am I correct?" he asked. The boy nodded.

"You will see," his father continued, "that sometimes you have to do something many people disagree with. But if you're sure it's the right thing to do, it's worth it. Especially if you're doing it for a friend."

"Have you ever done something like that, dad?" Jimmy asked, curiosity taking the better of him. He watched a smile appear on his father's face. "Yes," the man said, "I once had a friend I would do everything for. I was a little older than you are now, we were in high school." He shifted his position, straightening his legs and pressed his back against the wall. Jimmy sat cross-legged in front of him, his elbows on his knees. He rested his chin on his hands.

"He lived in a poor district, his family didn't have a big house or a car. But in our school a lot of kids had all the nice things they wanted to have, and they always picked on him because he didn't have what they had."

"But you didn't mind that?" the boy asked, curiosity ever growing in him as his father went further into the story. He moved even closer. He let his left hand fall to his side, still supporting his head with the right hand. He began to play with his shoelaces, but his eyes remained focused on the man's face.

"No, not at all." His father smiled. "Quite the opposite. He was a good buddy. We always hung out together, we were in the same volleyball team. And when others laughed at him, we just laughed at them back, and we didn't care. Some boys didn't understand why I wanted to be his friend, but then I just told them; Because I want to. And I never regretted that, because he backed me up just as many times as I did him."

The boy tilted his head, his eyes shining. "What happened with him?" he asked, impatiently awaiting the continuation of the story.

The man laughed. "He lives down the street," he said, watching his son's eyes widen in surprise. "Yes, uncle Nick and I have been friends since high school."

"Wow." The boy's mouth opened, his lips immediately curving in a wide smile. "That is so cool! So if Mark and others are picking on us, we should just ignore them?" he asked. "But…" he continued, not waiting for an answer. He hesitated for a short moment, his face still expressing doubt. "But then others won't like me. They'll say I'm stupid, just like today."

"If you feel you're doing the right thing, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and wait. They will see that Ted and you are good friends. Sooner or later they will understand it, too. You have to remember, no matter what, a man has to have rules, and the courage to live by them."

Jimmy sat on his knees, watching his father carefully as he pondered his words, drawing the conclusion his father had hoped the boy would arrive at. "And friendship is important? It's like, one of those rules?"

The man nodded, a smile painting his face. "That's right," he agreed. "There's a rule: if you know a friend won't leave you in need, then you shouldn't either."

"Like Ted and I."

"Yes. You have to remember, Jimmy. A man takes pride in always holding to what he believes in. And you believe in friendship, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do," the boy nodded his quick agreement. "Ted's my friend. I wouldn't leave him if he needed me," he said proudly, confidence beaming on his face.

"I know." His father smiled, lifting the boy's chin with his fingers. "Quite a proof of that we've got here."

The boy nodded, still slightly embarrassed.

"I'm proud of you, son. Perhaps you didn't have to go as far as getting into a fight…" he paused, seeing the slightly frightened expression on the boy's face, "But I admit that sometimes you can't escape even that. Sometimes it's necessary."

"It was!" the boy exclaimed, shifting his legs under him. His father laughed. "Alright, alright." He looked at his son, visibly pleased that the boy learned that, so important, lesson. After a longer while, he smiled, seeing the boy's eyes fixed on his face.

"So does that mean I'm a man now?" Jimmy asked, his voice saturated with excitement and pride.

"If you're ready to fight for what you believe is right, and take the responsibility for your actions, then yes, you are."

"Cool!" the boy grinned, straightening proudly. The man smiled warmly, shaking his head. "Always be who you are, Jim. Be a man."

"I will, dad!" the boy said, still smiling. "You should've seen how Mark flipped when I hit him back…"

"Quiet." Soren whispered, his eyes fixated on the holographic projector in front of him. Several Sentinels were lurking nearby, too near for comfort. The Vigilant was all silent, the engines shut down. It began to get cold in an instant, but turning the heat systems right now would mean as much as handing the ship to the machines on a silver platter. Jax sat in the operator's chair, his hand on the EMP. Soren placed a hand on the operator's shoulder.

"On my mark," he whispered, hoping that it would be unnecessary to use the only weapon they had against the machines. He observed the six awfully familiar, computer generated shapes swarming the mainline, heading straight in their direction. At times like this, the situation sobered him up in an instant. He realized even better how vulnerable one single ship was in the endless net of the pipelines against the killing machines.

Jax nodded a silent agreement; like Soren, he was fully focused on the holographics. Binary paced quietly towards them and stood beside Soren, casting a questioning look at him. The Captain gestured towards the projector, placing a finger on his lips. Everyone held their breath as the Sentinels swept into the tunnel, their sensors scanning the small space in front of the ship. Soren's lips moved as if saying 'nobody move', but no audible sound came out.

Several seconds later the Sentinels turned and quietly floated away in the opposite direction. As soon as they disappeared from the Vigilant's scanners, the three of them breathed out a deep sigh of relief.

Jax slumped in his chair, letting his arms fall limply to his sides. "That was close." He breathed, and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Soren nodded, mirroring his gesture almost simultaneously. Jax closed the lid on the EMP trigger and locked it. The Captain looked about the core, ordering the present crew members to get ready to go, and headed for the cockpit.

Halfway down the corridor, he ran into Vector. "Are we ready to leave?" the first mate asked, eyeing the other man warily. "We've got to hurry. Commander Lock ordered that every ship returned to Zion as fast as possible."

"The Council is calling for two volunteers to aid the Nebuchadenezzar. Are there two among you that would answer such a call?"

Soren cast a quick look at his crew. They sat as one, solemn and unmoving, looking at the Council with determined expressions written in their faces. Each and everyone of them in a similar pose, somewhat like one organism, which they were. A crew. A family. The discussion was most welcome, but it was needless. A split second it took him to regard his crew seemed to be dragging mercilessly as the situation called for an immediate response. His response. Soren knew it; he could hear the call echoing in his mind as he stood up, almost automatically, and yet not without a thought. He straightened himself proudly, his face giving away no emotion even though inside it was boiling.

He felt the eyes of all the people around fixated upon him, felt as the quick looks hit him one by one from all sides. He heard the quiet, nervous whispers of disbelief muttered under their breaths, words 'insane' and 'crazy' being the ones he could distinguish immediately with no particular effort. He drew a deep breath, suddenly feeling his eyes water slightly as he knew that the decision had been made. Still, somehow it seemed as if the timeline got oddly distorted, the disjointed images changing like in a kaleidoscope each time he blinked. In another fraction of a second, just as he opened his mouth to confirm with words what everyone in the meeting room and Soren himself already knew, a brief thought quickly crossed his mind. The decision had been made a long time ago, yet only now he had come to peace with all its possible consequences.

He knew. Knew what he had to do. And he knew why.

"Captain Soren of the Vigilant will answer the Council's call."

Voices murmuring around him. He didn't hear them. Looks of disbelief fixated upon his proudly straightened figure. He didn't see them. Vector nodded thoughtfully to himself, gently squeezing Binary's hand under the bench. The Captain didn't see it either. His eyes remained focused on Councilor Dillard's face, his own face set and perfectly calm.

"You understand the situation, Captain Soren?"

He did understand. He always had. Though, now more fully than ever before. "Sometimes you have to do something many people disagree with. But if you're sure it's the right thing to do, it's worth it. Especially if you're doing it for a friend. Be who you are. Be a man."

"Yes, ma'am," he heard his own voice answer the inquiry that he found needless to answer. He knew what had to be done; he knew he was the one to do it. He knew that regardless of any other Captain volunteering or not, it didn't matter anymore. If he had to do it on his own, he would. 'One on one, just like in the old times, Morpheus,' he thought to himself.

"Thank you, Captain."

Soren nodded, lowering himself back on the bench. He still looked at the Councilors sitting behind the long table in front of the audience, but his eyes unfocused. He heard Councilor Dillard ask for the second volunteer, her voice full of hope, expectation, something that was rather rare. Not the stern, commanding sort of tone she usually regarded the audience with, military or not.

He let a small smile play in the corners of his lips as he saw Niobe raise from her seat and heard her speak the same words he had spoken less than a minute before. He nodded to himself, being possibly the only one who was now looking at the captain of the Logos with a different look than the common 'you're insane' painted all over everyone's faces. Niobe's reasons were different than his, but did it matter? He found it irrelevant. A brief, ironic thought appeared in his mind, that if they were to die, then at least in a good company. He remembered what he had once said to Morpheus; 'You'll see, my friend. One day we're so going to make her believe.' - half-jokingly, but now it looked like there was quite a chance of this happening.

The Logos and the Vigilant would be cleared to leave as soon as the orders were given and both ships prepared. That gave him an hour, maybe two; Soren wasn't quite sure what to do with the remaining time. He was subconsciously ready to go as soon as he had heard that there hadn't been word from the Nebuchadenezzar and all attempts to contact them had failed. He decided to go straight to the dock, this time taking the longer route by the stairs, for a change. For once, he had time. He paced unhurriedly towards the nearest staircase, folding his arms on his chest.

He looked around, carefully taking in his surroundings. It seemed as though the usually cold walls of steel and stone were steaming with alertness and unrest that had settled quietly in the whole of Zion, in the hearts of its inhabitants. Now the people were aware of the perspective of their demise closing in on them. It approached at the pace of the giant diggers clearing the way for thousands of Sentinels heading straight down to Zion. The tension was growing by the minute. He could see it in every man and woman and child that passed by him. They knew that despite Morpheus' consoling words at the Temple gathering, and his best intentions to assure them that they would not fail, there was a lot to fear.

And, they were afraid. Contrary to Soren; he found it strange and refreshing at the same time that he felt filled with peace and acceptance of whatever was to come; felt it so strong that it almost stood out against the ever present aura of uncertainty hanging ominously all about the city.

Soren looked up, observing the regular, almost rhythmical movement of the people on countless levels above him. Ironically, it reminded him of an almost perfectly synchronized machine. Almost, because machine knew no fear. Zion did. Fear it was that disrupted the flow of the crowd, as the people were preparing - some of them to retreat to the Temple, some - to join the soldiers in their last stand. He knew; as long as the war lasted, these people were born with fear written in their lives, inherited from parent to child, from the prison of the pod to the body and the mind freed from it. War and fear were painfully synonymous, he thought to himself, slowly descending down the stairs.

At the feet of the staircase he saw a child wrapping his little arms around him in an involuntary gesture of defense, rocking gently back and forth. The curves of the Captain's face softened at that sight; the boy couldn't be older than ten.

Soren bent low slowly, never intending to scare the boy; still, the child's head snapped up as he noticed the tall man squat right at his side. The boy looked at him; his big brown eyes swimming with tears and fear. Soren placed a gentle hand on the lad's head, looking intently into his face.

"What happened?" he asked in a calm voice, trying to give it a soothing sound.

The boy sniffled, biting his lower lip. "The kids are saying that we're all going to die," he said reluctantly, his voice slightly breaking. "They're saying the machines will come and kill us."

Soren smiled wistfully, in an instant realizing how much of a reminder the boy's words were. This was war, and they were soldiers; all of them, those who were in the military service, and those who were not. By the part they took in the resistance; just by being there, in that city that was preparing to make its last stand against the machines, they were soldiers. He wondered, what does one tell a child who understood, too early, that nothing lasts forever, and neither does a human's life.

"Things may yet be well," he said, trying to give his voice a reassuring tone. His hand was still placed upon the boy's head in an attempt to give him something at least faintly resembling comfort. "You have to believe."

The boy regarded him with a questioning look, but remained silent.

"What's your name?" Soren asked, seating himself on the lowest step next to the boy.

The boy looked up at him, wiping his face on his sleeve, and sniffed, "Vijay."

"Well, Vijay," the man said, "I'll let you in on a very important secret. A man never loses faith, no matter what happens or how bad things look."

"But…" the boy spoke in a small, trembling voice, "I don't want to die." He said, suddenly back on the verge of bursting into tears.

The Captain put his arm around the boy's shoulders, looking at him closely. "You have to believe very, very much that you won't. You have to be a man."

"I am," the boy said, trying to sound convincing, but his tone saturated with fear made the attempt fail miserably. "I think."

"Of course you are." Soren smiled. "So be who you are. Be a man. Believe."


Author's Notes:

Thank you goes to: my sister Shan; Andy, Alhazred, and the Hardline chat for encouraging me to write a Soren Fic.

Btw, I could not resist pulling a Wachowski ::smirk:: The boy's name means 'Victory'.