Rating: PG-13 (For Lanuage)
Chapter 3: Memory Lane
"Ouch, goddammit," Ulrich cursed at Jeremy, jerking his shoulder away from the spirit soaked cloth. "Be careful."
Jeremy didn't flinch, but grabbed Ulrich's arm more forcefully, pressing the cleaning rag firmly into the wound. Ulrich hissed against the sting.
He'd stumbled into Jeremy's home shortly after his run in with Odd, bleeding, and sweating, and firing out disjointed explanations. Jeremy had forced him to lie down on his sofa as he gathered up medical supplies he'd gotten from god knows where. He'd managed to pull the arrow out and stop the bleeding, ignoring Ulrich's swears of protest as he treated the injured shoulder. He hadn't commented on what Ulrich had told him, though. And Ulrich wanted, needed him to say something about it.
"We're almost done. Just bear it for a little longer," Jeremy instructed as he began to wrap gauze around the swelling puncture mark.
"Easy for you to say," Ulrich winced against the pressure.
"I wouldn't complain if I were you. Your wound's not that bad."
Ulrich opened his mouth, startled and seething. "Not that…you've got to be kidding." He clamped his mouth shut again, more than a little bit angry. Jeremy obviously had no idea how much an arrow to the shoulder fucking hurt.
"Quite frankly, I'm surprised that you're still alive," Jeremy said as he tied off the end of the gauze, "considering that it was Odd you were fighting."
Ulrich sat up sharply as Jeremy started packing away his first aid kit. "Now wait a minute, what's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you should probably be dead right now. But you're not."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence. It's not laser swords and virtual battles anymore, you know. I think I deserve more credit than you're giving me."
"I didn't mean it as an insult," Jeremy said as he wheeled himself to a nearby shelf and deposited the first aid kit onto the bottom-most cubby. "It's just that Odd's not like a normal human anymore. He's faster, and probably even smarter than you are. You're basically fighting a human computer. And as good as you are, even you aren't a match for that."
"Fine," Ulrich frowned, "so you think I just got lucky this time, is that it?"
"Luck, huh?" Jeremy laughed mirthlessly. "No, no, I don't think it was luck."
Ulrich paused, easily following where Jeremy's train of thought was headed. "That's not it," he informed Jeremy through clenched teeth.
"You can be so sure?"
"Yes, I can. That's not Odd. It might look like him, it might even talk like him, but it's not."
"You of all people should know that things aren't that black and white. Is it so hard for you to believe that there's still a part of him that's fighting? The same part of him that spared your life tonight."
Ulrich shook his head fiercely. He didn't want to get into this. He hated getting into this. "He didn't spare my life. He tried to kill me. He's been trying to kill me, and you too, by the way, for almost five years now."
"Ulrich, listen to m—"
"No, you listen to me. I know what it's like to have nanites running through your brain. And those were just prototypes. The ones that X.A.N.A infected Odd with are ten times more powerful. We all saw the scans. They're embedded. Removing them would be killing him. And there's not going to be a time reset. So be optimistic if you want, but Odd's gone." He hadn't realized how worked up he'd gotten until there was a pain in his chest from his heavy breathing. "He's just gone."
Jeremy pushed at his glasses, forcing them up the bridge of his nose. "Are you trying to convince me of that, or yourself?"
Ulrich rubbed at his eyes with his knuckles, grunting in frustration. "Stop trying to be so profound!" He stood abruptly, as if to emphasize his point, and immediately felt a lightness in his head. He shut his eyes to keep the room from swaying.
"Sit down, Ulrich."
He ignored the advice. "He's a threat Jeremy. If you'd only seen some of his handy work, you wouldn't be so quick to defend him. People have been hurt because of the things he's done. People have died because of him. And he doesn't have one--"
"You're going to make your injury worse--
"—goddamn bit of remorse over any of it. He thinks he's making a better world. Can you believe that? And—"
"—and there's only so much I can treat in an apartment."
"—he wants me to help him! Help him, that bastard. Like it's the most logical thing in the world to help a monster as he tries to destroy the world. It may have Odd's face, but that's not Odd. It's a mindless automaton that's no better than those damn robots that I have to destroy every single day."
"Then will you be able to kill him like he's just one of those robots."
Ulrich opened him mouth, then closed it. He'd meant to say yes. His mind hand conjured the word, ready to send it into the room. But then…
"Did you just—?"
"I can't believe you just…Dude!"
"Dude, what?" Odd stood scratching his head with one hand, holding a towel around his waist with the other.
"You just…was that…" Ulrich frowned, finding it hard to phrase his question in a way that made it sound normal. "Did you just…spank me?" He finally asked.
Odd stared at him, slightly perplexed for about a minute before he figured it out. And hunched over laughing.
Ulrich frowned some more, throwing the towel in his hand around his neck as he waited expectantly for Odd to finish.
When he'd stopped convulsing enough to stand, or rather, to lean against the locker room wall, he did explain. Sort of. "Come on, Ulrich, you know, it's like saying 'good game.'"
"Then why don't you just say good game?"
"I dunno, 'cause it's tradition to do it this way instead."
"Spanking is tradition." Ulrich raised an eyebrow at his friend. "Seriously, did your parents beat you when you were little?"
"Ha. Ha. Funny. But you can't tell me you didn't know about it? It's…a locker room must after you win the game."
"Not in France, man."
"You are so wrong. I'll prove it to you. Hey, Dan," he yelled out to one of their teammates who'd claimed the end of an adjacent bench. "I bet you've slapped loads of guys' butts after games right?"
Dan screwed up his face. "How 'bout I fuck you up, Della Robbia."
"O…kay, bad example." He said as he quickly broke off eye contact with Dan. "Geez, what's the big deal. It's just a…a love tap. No, nevermind, wrong phrase," he correct at Ulrich's unamused look. "It's more like…forging a bond. Yeah, that's it. A bond between brothers, securing our steadfast loyalty to each other."
"A bond," Ulrich repeated dubiously.
"Yes!" Odd emphasized, throwing his arm into the air. "A bond of brotherly love."
The brown haired boy eyed him wearily before giving in. "Whatever you say, Odd."
Odd nodded in triumph, tying his falling towel around his waist, freeing his hand to rummage through his locker. As an afterthought, he added, "Man, you shoulda seen your face, you were, like, freaking out for a bit, weren't you?"
"Yeah, imagine that," Ulrich deadpanned as he threw his towel on the bench and began fishing around in his duffel bag for a comb. "Oh, Odd," he said, still immersed in his task.
"Yeah," his friend asked, finding his own shirt and pulling it over his head.
"Do it again, and I'll kill you."
"Sure, sure," Odd said waving his hand lightly at Ulrich. "Like you'll ever be able to do that."
Finishing with his hair (brushed forward, the way Yumi said she liked it), he zipped up the duffel and hefted it onto his shoulder. "You don't think I could take you?" He asked in mock incredulity as he walked towards the locker room exit. "I could take you. And beat you soundly."
Odd followed him out, bouncing easily into step beside him. "Yeah, maybe, but you could never kill me," he informed Ulrich, patting him on the shoulder. "I'm too lovable." He winked, grinning from ear to ear, the way he always did.
Ulrich shook his head, but laughed in spite of himself. "Hey, Lovable."
"Yeah?" Odd asked, smile still stretched across his face.
"You forgot to put your pants on."
Odd looked down, confirming that he was, indeed, wearing only a badly wrapped towel, and scratched the back of his head sheepishly at a couple of underclassmen who passed by. "Yeah…I'm gonna go finish…"
"Later Odd." Ulrich said, smirking good-naturedly at his absentminded friend.
It was a memory he was sure he should have forgotten by now, filed away with many of the other inconsequential things that the brain didn't always remember. And he had forgotten it for the six years since that conversation had taken place, until now. "Maybe I'm just a masochist…" he whispered, forgetting the 'yes' he'd been ready to answer just moments ago.
"Ulrich?" Jeremy had wheeled himself in front of him now, looking up at him in concern as he'd wandered down memory lane.
"I'll…I'll do what I need to do, okay?" He finally answered his friend's question.
"I know you will," Jeremy nodded, wheeling himself backwards and to his computer. "Now sit down before you hurt yourself." He waited until his injured friend had repositioned himself on the couch before continuing. "I know you probably don't want to talk about this either, but there's something else we need to discuss."
Jeremy was wrong. This is what he wanted to talk about more than anything else. "Yumi."
"She's alive. You knew."
He didn't have an excuse to give. "I did."
"You didn't tell me…no, you told me she was dead." There wasn't any anger in Jeremy's voice, but Ulrich found himself feeling rather guilty for the first time. After all, Jeremy had been through a lot, too, and he'd just put another burden on him with these lies.
"It's not like I wanted to lie to you. But, I didn't have another choice. It was for her protection. After what happened, she wanted an out. And I couldn't blame her. So I figured something out."
"I would have helped you, you know."
"Yeah, I know," he said staring at his scuffed boot. "But for Yumi's sake, I had to…"
"In case I turned out like Odd."
Ulrich looked up at Jeremy's spectacled face, remembering just how astute the genius boy was. "Yeah."
"And what about you?"
"Your right, there was a risk that I'd be infected too. So I managed to get her out of the country. A ticket to England…before they entered into the Treaty. I arranged for her to meet with a contact there. New ID, new documents, new life. One I wouldn't know about. After that she was supposed to get out of there, to some place I wouldn't know about either. And that's where the trail from me would end."
"Smart," Jeremy said, adjusting his glasses, "But that's not what I meant. Why didn't you go, too?"
Ulrich let out a long breath. "I'm not sure there's an easy answer to that."
"I didn't think there would be."
He tried to find the right words, but decided that there weren't any. Not now, at least. "The long and short of it was that there was too much history. And the rest…is personal."
Jeremy studied him a moment before acquiescing. "I understand. If you want to talk about it some other time…"
"Don't mention it. But now that she's resurfaced, what should we do?"
"If Odd knows where she is, I don't think we have another choice."
"I agree. So now there's still the matter of how to find her again. Do you have any idea? The contact you had her meet, maybe?"
Ulrich shook his head. "I broke communication, for obvious reasons."
"Good idea then, bad for us now."
"Yeah tell me about it." He ran his hand through his hair. "If I just knew where it was that Odd saw her…"
"Hmm…That may not be a bad idea." Jeremy told him as he began typing furiously.
"Jeremy?" Ulrich asked as he approached the computer. He caught fast lines of code scrolling down the screen, but couldn't make heads or tails of it. "Talk to me, what are you thinking."
"What if I told you that there's an archive of all the data X.A.N.A.s agents collect, from battles to recon, sitting on a server in Afganastan?"
"I'd ask you how the hell you know that."
Jeremy smirked. "I guess seeing you again kinda inspired me to be more creative in my attempts to reach Lyoko. I'd been too centralized, too direct all these years. So I tried it your way, I snuck around. And I found a few rather unprotected areas in his network. Routine stuff, like maintenance logs, and memory dumps. X.A.N.A. may be powerful, but he's still a computer. He's got to log everything." Jeremy furrowed his brow. "It's disappointingly predictable, actually. I should have thought of it sooner."
"Jeremy, are you telling me you hacked X.A.N.A.'s records?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. Nothing he would consider important, but something we might be able to use to reconstruct Odd's travel itinerary for the last year or so. Assuming that they dump his info into this server too. Which I'm thinking is very likely, since—"
"—since he's basically a computer himself."
For the first time in a long time, Ulrich felt a smile forming on his mouth. "Jeremy I could kiss you."
"I'd prefer if you didn't."
"How long do you think this will take?"
"Well, considering how many files we'll have to sift through, it'll be a while. But don't worry, you've got time. You're not going anywhere until that wound on your shoulder heals. To my satisfaction."
Ulrich clapped him on the back. "For once, I'm not going to argue."
To Be Continued…
AN: Yeah, yeah, this was a long time coming, but here's the next chapter. I'd like to thank all the reviewers who've read this crazy story of mine and left comments. I hope you enjoy this chapter as well. The next chapter begins the search for Yumi.
PS- Updates on the status of my other stories are in my profile. If you're here wondering when in the hell I'm gonna finish those, I apologize for the delay.