A/n: Yay! Final chapter! It's a little bit longer than the rest… but, yeah, it's hard to split of climaxes, and if you have the stuff after the climax in a separate chapter… people might not be bothered to read it. Oh, well, I'm sure no one will care.
Random stared at the car engine in front of him. It was proving to be a lot more difficult to fix than he'd first thought. At least trying to fix it had kept his mind off things – mostly. He was starting to wonder why he'd bothered coming back here. He didn't need to… hide, that's what he'd been doing. Didn't need to hide in the junkyard anymore. And Sparx was going to need help, as much as she would never admit it. He'd go back to the Thunder Tower tomorrow he decided. There was no reason for him to stay here; he didn't have to worry about his evil program taking over anymore. A smile slowly spread across Random's face. I don't have to worry about my evil program anymore. Then the smile faded. But Ace does. And he also had to leave to help Ace. He knew how much that program could hurt, and he'd do anything to get it out of Ace. Random promised himself that.
"Hey, lugnut!" he heard Sparx's voice, and turning around saw her come flying into the junkyard, Ace with her on the Lightning Flash. This time, however, he was unconscious, sitting in front of Sparx and slumped over the front of the flying vehicle.
Sparx followed his gaze to Ace, and then looked back at Random. "We need to use that machine again."
"What for?" Random asked.
"Duh! To help Ace! Ask Chuck, that stupid program of yours is tearing Ace apart or something."
The car pulled into the junkyard then, and Mark and Chuck climbed out.
"Random, we need to use that machine again," said Chuck.
"I know," Random replied. "But just what are you expecting it to be able to do?"
Chuck explained quickly. "It sucked the program out of Kilobyte. We should be able to suck it out of Ace."
Random nodded. "Make's sense. Let's hope it actually works."
"Yeah, you said it, dude. Ah, Sparx can you get Ace over by the machine while me and Random try to figure out how to do this right?"
Sparx nodded and moved the Lightning Flash next to the machine.
Mark just looked worried and eventually followed Sparx to where he could keep an eye on Ace. He couldn't do much else.
Chuck put his computer up on the nearest car bonnet, where Random could see it. "So, how're we supposed to do this, dude?"
Random looked at the schematic on the screen. He had already guessed the answer, but he wanted to be sure. "It can't just 'suck out' the program," he finally said. "Kilobyte only got rid of it because it went into Ace. The machine doesn't create or store power or programs. It transfers them. If we want to get the program out we're going to have to give it someplace to go."
"Okay…" said Chuck. "What can we transfer it into?"
Random looked at him for a second before replying. "I'm getting a few ideas…"
"Like… hey! Maybe we can get it to go into my laptop!"
Random thought about that. "You're laptop?"
"Yeah, I mean… I don't really need it and then if we disconnect the laptop maybe it'll destroy the computer… it's not that good… or a 'strong' computer… I guess. But it won't have anyplace to go if it destroyed the computer, it'll end up destroying itself."
Destroying itself. "Sounds good to me," Random growled.
"Right, I'll go hook this up."
"Got anything?" Mark asked.
"Yeah, we're going to pull it out and put it in the laptop. Hopefully it'll destroy it and itself as well."
"If not," Random added. "You can just smash the computer."
"Ah… Yeah, that works too…"
Chuck hooked up the computer and Sparx moved Ace so that he was touching the intake of the machine.
"I wouldn't be touching that computer if I were you," Random warned.
"Oh, right…" Chuck backed away, and then started up the machine. "Come on…"
The computer hummed away, but the machine stayed idling.
"Chuck, please tell me it's just taking awhile to start working," said Mark.
Mark sighed and looked away.
"I'm not even sure it can go into a computer anyway!" Chuck blurted. "Don't worry… maybe it's not connected properly…" He began fiddling with the wires; this time connected every port on the back of the computer up to the machine.
Even as Random watched him do it he knew it wasn't going to work. As far as he was concerned that left only one option. But it was an option he really didn't want to consider. Still, in the same way that leaving Ace with the program wasn't an option… well, it didn't make this an option either. Random found himself backing away from the others. He didn't want to have to think about this.
"Gah! It's not working!" growled Chuck in exasperation.
"Maybe it doesn't like machines," offered Sparx, "but then, lugnut's half machine… where's he gone anyway?"
"I don't know," growled Mark.
"We're supposed to be helping Ace! He can't just go wondering off. Anyone would think it wasn't his stupid evil ripping…" she trailed off with a glance at Ace, then growled. "I'm going to go find him. Get that thing working or something." Sparx stormed off deeper into the junkyard.
"But it's not working!" Chuck called after her.
Mark sighed and faced up to an old car body, leaving heavily against the metal and closing his eyes.
Chuck looked at him, but said nothing, instead connecting the computer up again and turning the machine on. It continued to hum uselessly.
Meanwhile, deeper in the junkyard, Sparx had finally spotted Random, staring at his shack. "Random!"
The cyborg looked at her for a minute, then looked away.
Sparx growled in exasperation. "What is with you! Ace is out there being destroyed by your stupid evil and you're moping in here like you've still got the damn thing! Do you even want to help him, or are you just happy it's not bugging you anymore?"
Random glared up at her, his fist and claw clenching. "I don't want that thing in Ace anymore than you do."
"Well, you're sure not acting like it, lugnut."
"Sparx, I know what that thing is like. I've had it in my head pulling me and telling me to destroy everything I've ever cared about…"
"Yeah, that's great! Poor Random, he's so messed up 'cause of his evil side! But wait! He doesn't have it anymore… Ace does! Hello! Why are you still moping about? You don't have to worry; Ace is the one with the damn thing in his head!"
Random glanced away. "Sparx, I know how to fix it."
"What?" Sparx blinked. "Then get out there and do it! What are you hanging back here for?"
Random didn't answer her.
"Grr! What in white hot oblivion is wrong with you?"
"A lot of things!" he snapped back.
"Yeah, and you went and passed half of that onto Ace, didn't you? Hate to break it to you, but you've no the one with the biggest problem at the moment."
"… I know."
"So, how are we supposed to fix him, huh?"
"Put me evil side back where it came from," Random replied simply, still not looking at Sparx.
"What? You mean… back in you?"
"It would work."
"But… then you'd have it."
"And?" Random growled. "I can handle it."
"That's a matter of opinion…"
"Fine, I can't." Random paused. "At least we know it won't destroy me."
"I guess not… but you'll be stuck in the junkyard again. And trying to destroy people, and…"
"I know," Random cut her off. "But it'll destroy Ace. If I let my evil side destroy him, I might as well be destroying him when my evil takes me over. It's my problem, Sparx. I have to deal with it, not Ace."
Sparx nodded slowly. "Sure you're not just doing it 'cause he's your friend."
"I suppose that might have something to do with it," Random replied. He faced his wheel back to where they'd come from and started rolling. "Let's just go and get it over with."
"Ah, yeah…" Sparx followed him out.
When they came back, Chuck was still trying to get the machine to work; Mark wasn't even bothering to watch his progress.
"This isn't working!" Chuck said when he saw them. "We need to try something else, but I don't know what."
"Random's got an idea…" said Sparx.
Mark looked up, waiting to see if they'd come up with anything that would work better than Chuck's laptop.
Random ignored Chuck's question, instead rolling right past. He started disconnecting the computer.
"Okay… well, if you don't need any help…"
Random threw off the last wire, then gripped the outtake of the machine tightly in his left hand. "Turn it on," he said simply.
"Huh?" said Chuck.
"But…" said Mark, finally speaking up, "that's going to send the program back into you."
Mark blinked. "Will it work?"
"I hope…" started Random. "Just start it up before I change my mind."
"Okay, dude," said Chuck. "Are you sure about this? I mean…"
"Just turn the damn thing on!" Random shouted.
"Alright! Turning on…" Chuck switched the machine on and stood back.
Random felt the electrical currents start to move beneath his hands, he could sense the machines internal workings start to move. And then everything went dark as the machine kicked into gear, linking him and Ace by an electrical path.
Ace didn't know what was happening anymore. Only that he had to hold on. Trapped inside his mind with the… thing, he couldn't move or do anything; he could only hang on as everything around him seemed to rip apart. Perhaps he was dreaming, the part of his mind that was still functioning projecting an image of the internal struggle in the only way it could understand.
As far as Ace could tell he clung to practically nothing. A whirlpool of darkness churned behind him, waiting to suck him into its depths. If he let go it would destroy him.
Ace felt his fingers slip and he skidded towards the dark depression. He gripped again with all his strength, managing to slow himself down. He couldn't hold on much longer.
He swore he heard someone call him. But he couldn't even think straight, he must've been hearing things. And seeing things.
Random stood in front of him. He was unaffected by the pull of the darkness surrounding Ace and just stood there.
I have to be dreaming, Ace thought. Because he saw Random like he was before. No mechanical attachments, no claw. Just Random. Perhaps this was the way his mind chose to portray his friend.
"Random? Why are you here?" he heard himself ask.
Random knelt down in front of him. "Ace, you've got to let go."
"What?" Ace gasped. "I can't!"
"I can get this out of you. Just let go."
Ace looked down at his hands, clawing into the ground. The darkness pooled around them, traced up into them, and stretched back into the whirlpool. He wasn't just holding onto the ground. He was holding onto it. Ace looked back up at Random. "It'll destroy me!" He looked back at his hands again, at the darkness that gripped them and seemed to give them the strength to grip back. "And… I'm not sure I want to…" It hurt him even as he said it.
"Just trust me," Random replied. "You have to let go." Then the Knight seemed to stop. "And… and I have to take it." Random slowly stretched out his hand towards Ace.
Ace looked at Random, then nodded. "I trust you." And then he let go.
He was dragged backwards, but Random's hand clasped over his before the whirlpool could pull him down.
Ace felt the darkness shift through his mind again and then withdraw. The ground shook beneath him and the whirlpool disappeared into itself. Seconds later it seemed to turn itself inside out, inverting itself from inside the deep depression into a dark tornado shape that reached into the sky, tapering to a sharp point. Then the tip dove back down, driving itself into Random's chest.
And then everything shattered apart and Ace was on the ground in the junkyard.
Mark was at his side in a second. "Ace, are you alright?"
Ace looked at him, disorientated. "I'm fine… where'd Random go?"
Mark glanced across to beside the machine and Ace followed his gaze. Random stood next to it, slumped like he usually was, no sign of anything going on inside him.
"Ace…" Mark started, not quite sure how to put it. "Random took it back. With the machine."
"What?" said Ace. He pushed himself up. He could still remember the darkness and its pull, but now it was absent. And he could remember Random being there.
Ace pushed himself up further and Sparx came and helped him up.
"Hey, you feeling alright, Ace man?"
Ace ignored her, just using her arm to drag himself up. Random had taken away the evil; that Ace remembered. Now his friend was slumped over unconscious, and though it seemed normal, Ace wanted to make sure he was alright.
Random reactivated. He pulled himself upright, his right eye flickering quickly between red and green before settling back on green. And then Ace understood. Random hadn't just taken his evil side away. He'd taken it back.
"Ace…?" said Random, disorientated himself. But that was normal. "Are you alright?"
"… I'm fine…" Ace replied, unable to think of anything else to say. How could Random just take back his evil side? Ace had seen what it was like and Random had chosen to take it back.
"Good to have you back, Ace dude," said Chuck, "you had us all worried!"
Ace didn't reply to that either.
"You sure you're okay?" asked Random.
"Why'd you take it back?" Ace finally asked.
"It's not your problem. It'd be wrong to leave it with you."
"But…" Ace started. "You know what it feels like…"
Random's eye flickered again and he looked away, trying to bring everything under control. He finally did, but couldn't bring himself to look back up. "I know. Perhaps that's the reason I took it back."
Ace let go of Sparx's arm and walked over to the cyborg. Random half looked up at him, but still couldn't make eye contact. "Guess it's back to not being able to trust me."
Ace put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'll always trust you." Then he pulled Random close and embraced him. "Thank you." At first it felt like hugging a piece of metal, but then Ace felt Random return it, as best he could with a metal claw at least, before releasing him.
"We should go," said Chuck, having picked up his computer and various cables. "You guys all going to be alright?"
"I think we'll be just fine, Chuckdude," said Sparx, smiling. It was good to have Ace not trying to blast them all again.
"Good to have you back, Ace," Mark said sincerely before following Chuck back to the car.
"Yeah… I vaguely remember trying to shoot you a few times," said Ace. "Sorry, about that."
Mark shrugged. "It wasn't your fault."
Ace looked down at the ground, then back at Mark and nodded.
"Thanks for bringing him back, Random," he added before getting in the car.
"Yeah, nice going, lugnut," Sparx added, still smiling.
The Knights watched the car leave.
"You going to be okay, Random?" Ace asked.
"I'll be fine."
For once, Ace knew he was lying. "Alright then." He gave his friend a half-smile and slapped him on the shoulder.
"I'll give you a lift, Ace," said Sparx, and whistled down the Lightning Flash.
"Thanks again, old friend," Ace said as he climbed on behind Sparx.
Random nodded and watched as they both flew off. Then sighed, looking over at a cracked car window; his reflection looked back at him in the damaged tinting. His eye flickered red. Random put his claw through the window.
"Stupid 'borg!" the Master Programmer slammed his fists into his keyboard. "How can you take it back! You're not supposed to want it!"
He looked back at the screen. "Now you're stuck with it again. See what friendship does to you?"
"Pathetic…" he added with a snort, before bashing his keyboard again.
"Um… dude? The car's stopped, you can get out."
"Sorry," Mark replied. He collected his wrist cannon slowly off the dashboard, then opened the car door.
"Don't worry, Mark. Your parents can't get that mad at you…"
"You sure?" Mark asked as if he sincerely doubted it.
Chuck shrugged. "Well… good luck then."
"Thanks." Mark shut the door and headed to his house. The front door was locked and Mark realised he hadn't brought any keys. He sighed. So much for sneaking in. He knocked on the door; his father answered it within a few seconds.
"Um…" said Mark. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
"No. I was awake," Simon replied simply.
"Ah, okay…" Mark stepped past his dad inside. Okay, so where was the grounding, reprimand…? He threw his wrist cannon into the open top of his bag, sitting in the dining room, before his dad could really see what it was.
His father walked in behind him, still saying nothing.
"Well, aren't you gong to ground me or something!" Mark burst out.
"… yeah, I guess, isn't that what you're supposed to do? I mean, why else would you be waiting for me?"
"Perhaps I'm more worried that I don't know where my son's run off to in the middle of the night."
Mark just stared at him for a second, then dropped his eyes to the floor. "I'm sorry, dad. It's just I had to help…" And then Mark realised he couldn't tell him… even though he wanted to. He needed to tell him why he'd left like that, need to tell him how he thought they were going to lose Ace. But couldn't.
Simon would've been blind not to notice the huge pause in Mark's sentence, or the totally lost look he got on his face.
"… a… friend…" Mark finally finished.
Simon put both his hands on Mark's shoulders. "I can't help you if you won't talk to me," he said quietly.
Mark took awhile to reply. "… I know. It's just… private I guess." Lie.
Simon sighed. "Okay."
Mark paused for a second, and then put his arms around his father before he could move. "Thanks anyway, dad."
Simon didn't quite expect that, but hugged his son back anyway. It didn't escape his notice that Mark held onto him longer than a 'thank you' hug really demanded. "That's okay. Now get up to bed, it's late. We'll discuss you getting grounded tomorrow."
As Mark climbed the stairs Simon wondered when it had gotten to the point that his son thought he couldn't talk to him.
Ace pulled his hands out of the transformer. Now fully powered up, he watched the electricity play across his hands. He no longer felt the urge to use it to blast anything weak.
"Feeling yourself now?" Sparx asked. She'd been watching him as he'd powered up, content just to have him back.
"Yeah, I guess. When I was… evil… sorry if I…"
"C'mon Ace! Quit apologising. I know you didn't mean any of that stuff."
"What if I did?"
"You don't think any of the stuff Random does is his fault. So it's not yours either," she said pointedly.
"I guess. I still don't understand why he took back his evil side."
"Because you're his friend?"
"Yeah, but… you don't know how powerful it was, Sparx. I don't know how he can live with it. And I couldn't… and I should've been able to defeat it for him… or something."
Sparx rolled her eyes. "Ace, you're letting your human emotions get you down again! You know that doesn't really make sense."
"Nothing is," Ace muttered.
Sparx rolled her eyes again, but was unable to think of anything to say in reply. "Can we just relax now? Seeing as you're not going to be blasting me anytime soon?"
Ace sighed. "Yeah, alright." It would be better than moping about the Thunder Tower.
Half an hour later, Sparx had turned on the TV and they were both watching… something. Ace didn't really know what it was, nor cared. He couldn't concentrate well enough to figure it out, or to even listen to Sparx's frequent comments about the absurdity or whatever of what was happening. His mind kept straying back to earlier. He couldn't quite remember everything he'd done. It came back in flashes, some of the images more vivid than those he couldn't quite concentrate on playing across the TV screen. And he could remember the thing in his head. The thing that promised him strength, but tore it out from under him as soon as it thought he didn't have it. The thing he'd left Random with. Ace got up quietly and walked outside. He just needed to be alone. At least he could be alone. With that evil in his head… that hadn't really been alone. He now realised part of the reason Random hid by himself in the junkyard. Because he never really could be alone. And so he hid from those he really needed beside him. But he couldn't hide from the thing inside himself.
"Aw, c'mon! How do they expect that thing to fly?" exclaimed Sparx, gesturing wildly at the television. She looked around and noticed now that Ace had left. Looking over her shoulder she could see the door was open. She almost felt like going out after him. But perhaps he was best left alone. Sparx reluctantly went back to watching the television, with less enthusiasm than before.