Future Imperfect

By Neptune

Disclaimer: I don't own Code: Lyoko. In fact, I've barely seen 4 episodes of the show (and apparently it isn't available on DVD or download anywhere…If I owned the show, it would soooo be available for purchase). So don't sue me!

Summary: He's learned the hard way that not all stories have happy endings. All he can do now is fight to save the worlds they protected so long ago. Set 10 years in the future. Hints of UlrichYumi, JeremyAelita and strong friendship between all of themAU.

Rating: R—mature themes and situations.

AN: I know, it seems really contrary to write a CL fic with such a strong rating, but I can't help it. I'm something of an angst fiend. And I just couldn't get the picture of Ulrich wearing a black trench and smoking a cigarette in an alley out of my head. I'm a little bonkers.

I know, I've got other fics to be finishing up, but shoot, I've had a tough week, and I needed to get something new out of my system. I hope you enjoy. Be sure to let me know how I'm doing by hitting that little review button at the bottom of the page.

Chapter 1: Rain

It had stopped raining, but the smell of precipitation still clung to the air. He inhaled deeply from his position against the wall, filling his lungs with a mixture of the crisp scent and the wisps of tobacco that trailed up from the cigarette dangling loosely in his right hand. It was a comforting smell, as comforting as he allowed things to be these days. In a world gone rotten, the rain sometimes seemed his only ally, putting out the fires that sprung up around his city, and others, before more destruction could be wrought.

And it was in the rain that he always remembered the sound of her laughter. Her whispers of comfort and affection tickling his ear. The feel of her skin, slick against his own, on nights much like this one…

He brought his palm up to his mouth, taking another slow drag of his cigarette. Maybe the rain was his comfort and curse rolled into one. He formed a small 'o' with his lips and exhaled, expelling a stream of smoke and those memories from his body. He'd learned not to dwell on the past long ago.

There was movement on the street just beyond the alley he was positioned in. With the subsided rain, some of the citizenship—he couldn't decided if those who hadn't fled the country were brave or depraved—had no doubt chosen to venture outside. Fools, he called them all. Stay out of sight where you're safe and sheltered. But they never heard his metal reprimand, and he never bothered to verbalize it. He served them enough by doing what he did now.

Taking one last puff, he dropped the cigarette to the ground. It sizzled against the moisture before he brought his black boot down on it, snuffing it out. His break was over. Pushing off of the brick wall, he adjusted the strap that diagonaled across the front of his dark trench coat. The holster of his katana pressed itself more securely to his back. The blade was forged of simple steel, unlike the energy sword he'd possessed in Lyoko, but it served his purposes well.

His boots were muted against the wet concrete as he pushed forward into the street. He had been right, there were a few people wandering the road now that the weather permitted it. He recognized the junkies, looking at him pleadingly with sallow eyes and trembling hands, waiting for their next score. And there were the girls, standing bared on the street corners, looking for scores of their own. They smiled as he walked by, posing to entice him.

"Baby, you look so lonely tonight."

His feet stopped of their own accord and he turned to the familiar girl who spoke those words. She looked older, he noted, thought he knew her to be his age, and if he hadn't had somewhere else to be, he would have probably taken her companionship for the night. After all, a lot had changed these past years, himself included.

She stared him down, when he hadn't spoken for a few minutes. "Look, you in or not?"

He slowly shook his head at her brown hair and thin lips. "I'm sorry."

She rolled her eyes and huffed. "Yeah, you're gonna be later."

His hand reached up and gently touched her white cheek. "I'm sorry I didn't protect this place better. For you, and for everyone."

Her eyebrows scrunched together in confusion, then irritation. Roughly, she grabbed the palm that touched her face and pulled it away. "I'm not giving away any freebees, pal. No touching." She turned away from him and stalked off, muttering "freak job" as she left.

He watched her go, honestly feeling sympathy for her for the first time. He appreciated that irony as he turned and continued on his way as well. There was an old friend he had to catch up with.

His fist pounded on the wooden door. The frame creaked with each impact—if he'd used a little more force, he could have probably just knocked the door in. But despite their years of separation, he respected his friend too much to do so.

He raised his fist to announce his presence again, when he heard the soft squeaking of wheels. On queue, the door opened, and his spectacled friend greeted him formally. "Ulrich."

Ulrich stared down at Jeremy and frowned. "You need to be more careful. You've got no security on this door. I could have broken in easily."

"Why, were you planning on robbing me?" Jeremy said, nonplussed by the reproof.

"You know that's not my point."

The younger man said nothing, placing his hands on the tires of his wheelchair, and pushing himself back into the small apartment. Ulrich entered on his tail, shutting the door behind them. He looked around the small room, filled mostly with dated computers, chords and papers. It looked just the way it had the last time he'd seen it fourteen months ago. Which meant Jeremy hadn't given up on reconnecting yet. Ulrich's frown deepened.

"It's been six years."

"Did you come all the way here just to tell me that?"

"No. I came hoping you'd have realized that by yourself." He got no response, except for the clicking of keys. Jeremy had returned to coding. "You could be so much more useful to us out there." He gestured to the small dirty window, but the other boy didn't notice. "We need you out there. In the real world."

"Who's to say what's real and what's not?" Jeremy didn't break from his fast typing.

"I can't keep having the same argument with you." Ulrich idly wondered how his friendship with Jeremy had become one big argument. During their days at Kadic, they'd always been on the same page. But, then again, during their days at Kadic, Jeremy had still had a firm grip on reality. Since the link to Lyoko had been severed, though, he'd become single-mindedly obsessed with restoring the connection. Initially, they'd all been supportive of the effort. X.A.N.A. was insinuating himself more prominently in their world, but they still divided their attention equally between fighting him on their home turf, and looking for the missing realm. More importantly, looking for Aelita, who had disappeared with Lyoko. Ulrich had wanted to believe she was still alive in the virtual universe, for Jeremy's sake, but the years had stripped him of his hope. There was little chance that she'd survived against X.A.N.A.'s attacks without their help. "You should let her go," he said quietly, knowing it was a surefire way of getting Jeremy's attention.

And it worked, for the keyboard stopped clicking, and the blonde head that was hunched over it sat up straighter. "I can't," he said just as quietly, but then added with disapproval, "I'm not you."

Ulrich started at Jeremy's reflection in the active computer monitor, hardening his eyes. Seemed like his old friend was trying to drag dirty laundry into this. So be it. He could fight fire with fire. "You can't keep chasing after a pipe dream. He's probably encrypted the entrance, so even if you did find it again, you wouldn't be able to get in. You may be a genius, Jeremy, but even you wouldn't be able to crack a code that complex."

Jeremy continued to stare at his reflection on the screen as zeros and ones trailed passed their faces. "You never used to be so faithless. You've changed."

Ulrich raked his fingers through his coarse brown hair, not needing a sermon about his personality flaws. "I've had to change. It's what you do to survive." His hand reached into his pocket, itching to extract his Marlboroughs. But he didn't—Jeremy had problems with second hand smoke. "It's what you do to stay alive, battle after battle."

"You fight your way, and I'll fight mine."

Ulrich's fist crushed the pack in his pocket as he tried to maintain his composure. "Look, X.A.N.A's not going to leave you alone for much longer. And when he comes after you this time, you'll loose more than just your legs."

The typing started again. "I've already lost more than that, Ulrich. We all have."

That was enough. "Fine. Do what you want. There's not much I can do if you've got a death wish." He turned quickly, his coat flapping around him as he did. He reached for the door, wanting nothing more than to get out of this apartment that reminded him of the past, and light up a cigarette. Before he could turn the handle though, Jeremy's steady voice stopped him. "If it had been her instead, trapped somewhere, hurt somewhere, would you have given up before finding the truth?"

Ulrich paused, unsure of what he should say. She was, Jeremy, she was, and I couldn't do a goddamn thing to help her. So I let her go. He tightened his grip on the doorknob, bowing his head before answering with "No. No, I wouldn't," instead. Both were the truth, for him at least.

"Maybe you haven't changed that much after all," the blond said, turning his head slightly.

"Maybe." Ulrich stayed silent for a few moments. He hadn't come here to leave angry. He'd come here to try and keep his last remaining friend safe, since he'd failed on so many other occasions. "Do you have a gun, or anything you could use to defend yourself?"

"I never liked guns, and I wasn't very good with other weapons either," Jeremy admitted.

Ulrich sighed, not surprised by the answer. "It really isn't a good idea for you to work here without some kind of security." He mentally went through his list of contacts. He'd be able to find something easy for Jeremy to use. "I'll find something and come by tomorrow. In the mean time, if you need anything…I…I still have my cell phone."

"Me too."

Ulrich turned to look at his oldest friend, his expression not so hard anymore. Jeremy's back was turned to him again, reabsorbed in his crusade. Against the side of his computer, partially obstructed by wires and pages of code, Ulrich noticed a small photograph. He guessed it to be at least ten years old—the color had faded and the edges were torn and bent. But the faces remained as crisp as the day it was taken. Jeremy, Odd, Yumi and himself, sitting around a park bench, smiling at a world not yet turned on its ear.

Is that the reason I'm still fighting?

He had no answer to give himself.

To Be Continued…

AN2: Formating on this site is really the biggest nightmare on the planet. Makes me not want to make chapters more than a scene long. Well, hopefully all of the markups came through, and this is easy to read. Let me know what you thought!