A/N: Ah, the title lameness. Anyway, angst-y Ulrich and Jeremy friendship fic. AU-alert!
Disclaimer: Code Lyoko belongs to Antefilms. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
I gave up on sleep and pulled the earplugs out of my ears. Odd's snoring immediately greeted me, but I really didn't care. Instead, I walked over to the laptop my parents gave me, slid on a headset, and started typing.
It's been a year since Aelita was freed, but we all still connect to Lyoko. Her cure came at a high price, and we all need to check up on him.
The sequence to connect to Lyoko had become familiar. It didn't take me long to see the computer's colored connection bar start flying towards 100. Within moments, I could freely communicate with one of Lyoko's two prisoners.
"Jeremy? You up?" I asked.
It only took a second for a 3D representation of Jeremy's face to appear. He smiled wryly. "Ulrich, every time you call, you ask me the same question. And every time you ask me that, what do I answer?"
I couldn't help but chuckle. "'I barely slept on Earth when I needed sleep, so why should Lyoko—where I don't need sleep—be any different?'"
"Glad to see you remember." He paused then gave me a mischievous yet stern smile. "And look how late it is. You should be asleep."
He called up another window with a ticking clock, showing the late hour. He waggled a finger at me with a mock-scolding air.
The first time he did such a thing had frightened me into telling Aelita. She had immediately started sobbing.
"He's completely a part of it now," she'd explained to the others' and my horror. "I don't think I can get him out now without pulling XANA with him."
On that day, we stopped trying to find a way to free Jeremy from his self-imposed exile from the real world.
You see, Jeremy discovered that the only way to free Aelita was for one person in the real world to switch with her; XANA didn't want to be alone in its prison. However, Jeremy didn't tell us, just acted on it. He entered Lyoko nearby us and confronted XANA, making it take on a physical form. The form it chose was, ironically, a mocking version of Jeremy himself.
He agreed to switch with Aelita if XANA removed the virus from her, and XANA agreed. We naturally protested but, apparently, we didn't get a choice in the matter. Jeremy made his deal with the digital devil.
Aelita had glowed for a moment as her programming was restored to its original form. She had run over to Jeremy, pleading with him not to do this. He wouldn't even touch her, which—at that second—had seemed so cold considering how much he cared for her. Instead, he had walked over to XANA and said he wanted them to shake on the deal.
I guess XANA learned cockiness as time went on since it agreed. It thought it had won by trapping the guy who could get us to Lyoko and was our strategist here. It took Jeremy's hand, and red, burning light seemed to come from Jeremy's hand and into XANA. XANA had screamed in outrage, and we had been forcibly ejected from Lyoko by some set of programming Jeremy had put into place.
It really didn't take us long to realize what Jeremy had done. He had infected himself with a virus that would make XANA unable to use the towers that gave it access to our world. He hadn't touched Aelita because he didn't want to infect her instead. Though it must have been gut-wrenching to be within a foot of the person he loved without being able to even give her a peck on the cheek to tell her he would be all right.
Yet Jeremy's virus wasn't as complete as we thought it'd be. Either that, or XANA warped it. The virus made such a horrible mess of Jeremy's computer code and tangled it up with XANA's.
"So, how was class?" Jeremy asked. The question gave a bizarre feel of normalcy to such a sad and peculiar situation.
"Same old, same old. You're not missing much. You probably already learned it from your little connection to the Internet."
Like Aelita, Jeremy can connect to the outside world using the towers, a privilege that XANA has—obviously—been jealous of. Jeremy would've been dead long ago had it not been for his foresight to give himself a special ability: the ability to shape shift into any animal he chooses.1
"Maybe. Now that you mention it, I surfed the Internet today."
"You do that everyday."
"No, I mean I actually surfed it." Jeremy gave an excited grin. "Ulrich, it was amazing! A little twisty and bumpy since I didn't know what I was doing, but I haven't had that much fun in days!"
A second to Jeremy feels like a year now, so I can only imagine what days must feel like. Probably an eternity each. Aelita said once that she'd had some trouble adjusting to Earth time because everything was so short.
But the fact that he'd actually been on the Internet shocked me. "You got out of Lyoko?"
Maybe there was still hope of freeing him after all.
My hopes were dashed at his response: "Yes, but it was only temporary. I have to return to Lyoko in order to replenish my energy and survive."
I took a deep breath and tried my best to feign excitement. "But still, you got out! Maybe there's a way to free you some day."
We all try to put on a good face for Jeremy. We haven't told him that we've given up trying because we need him to have hope. Each time one of us tries, we lose our nerve. How do you tell your friend that you can never save him and that his family will spend the rest of their lives searching for somebody who isn't even on Earth anymore?
Yet Jeremy didn't give the usual "I hope so" or "possibly" that came with comments like mine. He gave me a long, hard stare. "Ulrich, I'm not getting out."
I nearly choked. "Of course you are, Jeremy. It's just like with Aelita: It'll take some time."
"No, Ulrich, I'm not. Every time I was scanned into Lyoko, there were errors. The one exception was that parallel warp bubble XANA created once to imprison you all, but I had to change my code when adding my special ability. I didn't have any time to double-check for bugs thanks to all of those XANA attacks, so my code was probably corrupted. The virus was created to be held on mostly theoretical code, so there were bound to be errors. This is the price I pay."
"Well, why didn't you check it?!"
"We were fighting XANA practically every five minutes. You all were wearing out." He glared at me. "What was I supposed to do: Watch from the super computer screen as you all were tossed into the digital void or completely deleted?"
I could hear the agony, the guilt in his voice. So Odd's joking comment about letting the pros handle things2 had been gnawing away at Jeremy for some time.
"I couldn't sit by and watch anymore. There was a chance to end it, so I took it." He looked away. "I just…regret it…some seconds."
I can understand why he'd regret it. He's left his family in a permanent state of confusion and sadness. He's given up his chance with Aelita in order to free her. He's given up his freedom to do as he pleases to stay forever locked in a virtual prison.
I don't think I'd be able to make those kinds of choices.
"I want you to do me a favor," he said suddenly.
"When all of you get older and start to die, I want you to shut down Lyoko."
"Jeremy, that's suicide!" Odd's voice blasts from behind me. I must've woken him up.
"I'm well aware of that, Odd."
"Then why're you asking us to shut it down?!"
"Live forever young locked away from the rest of the world with nobody but XANA for company. Yeah, great future ahead of me." Jeremy's voice practically dripped acid.
I turned my head to see Odd bow his. Jeremy's logic—as it almost always was—was sound. He had no future ahead of him. The only reason he was still alive was because none of us could bring ourselves to shut down XANA and Lyoko.
We sat in silence for a moment before Jeremy said, "I downloaded a game off of the Internet today if you guys wanna try it. I would really like a human opponent. XANA's a bit of a sore loser. Like when we play chess."
"You play chess with XANA?" I asked. I tried (and pretty much failed) to shake off the melancholy that had settled over the room.
"Sometimes. When I'm bored." And to Jeremy, that was almost a natural state. He was practically ADD now. "But, like I said, it's a sore loser. Last time it sent three crabs after me since it was so mad."
"Now there's a fun opponent." Odd rolled his eyes and pulled up his desk chair.
"I got my exercise for the day, so I guess I can't really complain. But are you guys up for a game?"
I exchanged a quick glance with Odd before nodding. "Sure."
The download bar immediately came up as Jeremy uploaded something to my computer. I listened to him talk with Odd and laughed when he told us about some of his mishaps when surfing the Internet.
It all seemed so normal, but I knew it could never be normal again.
1 I'll admit that I got the idea from Teen Titans. It seems like Jeremy wouldn't be that skilled with any sort of weapon, so he'd choose something to fight with that required quick wits.
2 Reference to "Ghost Channel."