BECAUSE LIFE IS…
Soldiers on leave in Zion are required to stay in military headquarters.
The powers that be have always insisted that it's for our safety, although I've never been quite certain what they pretend to be protecting us from. Everyone has always known that the truth of it is that they want us at easy access, so that we could be sent out again at a moment's notice if ever the need arose.
I have always despised military headquarters.
What was left of our crew was assigned to a cell with four small sleeping quarters. These were identical to what we had on the Neb—only the warmer temperature, the slightly unusual scent of the air, and the notable absence of the sound of whirring machinery reminded me that I was not on the ship when I woke up each morning.
Neo was assigned to a bed in the hospital. The medics there were amazed that anyone could survive wounds like those he had suffered. We knew that we couldn't reveal who he was--the uproar that the announcement would have caused would undoubtedly have killed him at that point. So instead we went along with them, pretended to share their amazement. As he spent most of the next few weeks asleep in recovery, Morpheus and I devoted our time to figuring out what to do next.
We didn't need a mechanic's notice to tell us that the Neb was totalled. There was a new ship being built that we could probably have when it was completed, but that would take another several weeks or months. It was a hard time for all of us; none of us had ever worked on any other ship, and losing our home at the same time that we lost half of the crew was devastating.
Morpheus assigned me the task of supervising the construction of the new ship, while he dealt with the usual bureaucracy and paperwork that came with any kind of confrontation like ours. Though I'm sure he would have preferred my job, he's much better than I am at dealing with the incompetent council of free-borns that is assigned to "investigate and monitor abnormal occurrences in the Matrix." Fucking morons haven't ever seen the Matrix from the inside, but they're supposed to monitor it. There wasn't a single unplugged resistance fighter who could stand them.
I did not visit Neo for the duration of his bed rest. I tried so hard to make everything work the way it had before. I had to be the same Trinity—strong, a little stoic, and, above all, absolutely independent. You get emotional, you get dead.
When he was well enough to get up and help with the most basic tasks, I behaved no differently around him than I had before. He was my friend and fellow soldier, but nothing more. Nobody could know what had passed between us—if word got out, I was sure to lose credibility as a fighter, and people would definitely question my ability to lead with such clouded objectivity.
You get emotional, you get dead.
I could tell that I hurt him every time I rejected his advances… it nearly killed me to watch him turn away his brown eyes as I shrugged his hand off my shoulder, time and time again. The void was growing again. It hurt again. I felt like I was going to cave in on myself, but I had to stay strong, I couldn't give in. I couldn't.
It wasn't long before I stopped sleeping. The void, the hollow in my stomach, was pushing out from deep inside me, stretching me. It was the same hole that had been burned out months earlier, at that dingy Matrix club, when I had met Neo for the first time. It squeezed at my heart and prodded at my stomach. I would lie on my cot night after night, tossing and turning under my blankets trying to force myself to ignore it. No such luck.
Neo had been moved to the room next to mine, so only a thin metal wall separated our two beds.
I could hear him.
He didn't sleep either.
There were so many times when I wanted to go to him, to give up and run to his side and hold him. I knew that was what we both needed. But I fought it. I clung to the notion that if I ignored my pain long enough it would go away. I could get over him. In the Matrix he was the One, but in the real world, he was just a man like any other.
I'm not sure how many nights I lay awake listening to him toss and turn. I would lie there facing the wall, watching it vibrate lightly every time he struck it with an arm or a leg as he rolled over. Then one night, all of the sudden, it stopped. He had finally fallen asleep, but I could only wish for such a reprieve; I continued to lie restlessly, watching the wall, waiting for something to happen.
The sudden click of my door being unlatched from the outside rattled through my metal cell. Instantly on my guard, I propped myself up on my elbow and turned to face the hatch as it opened.
It was Neo, wrapped in the warm blanket from his bunk.
"I could hear you moving around in here, so I figured you couldn't sleep either," he said.
Nodding, I sat up fully and arranged myself at one end of the bed, motioning for him to sit down at the other. He took care to leave plenty of space between us. His knees were pulled up in front of him, and he encircled them with his blanket—a formless, fuzzy beige cocoon with Neo's head protruding from the top.
He reminded me of Mouse, sitting like that. Mouse always curled up with his blanket draped over his knees. The sudden pang I felt in my stomach surprised me… Mouse… He was so young… The pain I felt remembering all of my dead friends still unnerved me. This, in itself, was reason for me to want to keep away from Neo. If I was hurting like this over people I merely thought of as friends, what would happen if I were to lose a… a… I glanced up at him. The word 'lover' had come to mind, and I didn't like it.
I had to get over this. I had to. The prophecy had been fulfilled, and now we had to move on. Suddenly, I really wanted him to leave, but my curiosity over why he had come got the best of me. For a few minutes, neither of us spoke. Then, finally, he inhaled sharply.
"I keep thinking of that day when you were taking me to see the Oracle. We talked about how none of my life was real, and I asked you what that meant. You… you told me that the Matrix could not tell me who I am. I understand that, now. But then, those last few minutes in the Neb, you told me who I was. You made me realize who I really am." He paused for a few seconds. "What does that mean?"
I smiled in spite of myself, recalling those two fateful incidents. "I don't know," I replied truthfully, "but really, I didn't tell you who you were. I told you—" My words caught in my throat. Neo looked up at me questioningly when I didn't finish. He opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head dismissively and seemed to think better of it.
"What?" I prodded him.
"I don't understand why you always do that. You cut off your sentences before you finish them, like you're afraid of what you want to say." He gathered momentum. "You need to say what needs to be said. You can't… you can't live your entire life swallowing your emotions because you're afraid of what might happen." His tone shocked me. It bordered on despair. "What's the point of being free if you can't even—"
The sound of my hand connecting with the side of his face resonated through the hollow cell.
For a moment, we were both too stunned to speak; I hadn't anticipated my action any more than he had. I stared at my hand like it was an alien thing. He rubbed his jaw gingerly as he reluctantly lifted his gaze to meet mine, eyes brimming with a strange blend of pity and confusion instead of the anger I expected. Hot tears stung the back of my eyes, but I suppressed them along with my urge to apologize and looked away.
"I understand where you're going with this, Neo. But you need to understand something. None of us can afford to become too attached to each other. We need to be able to leave each other if one of us is in a situation that has gotten out of control, and we need to be able to recover from the loss. Especially you. You need to be able to leave us to save yourself. We are soldiers first and people second, and—"
"Are we? Is that what we are? What about Morpheus? He was beyond saving but we, you and me, we decided to fuck that and go after him anyways. And we won, Trinity, we WON! How is that different?"
My thoughts and emotions buzzed around in my head like so many swarms of gnats. A single one became coherent: Shit, Neo, you still don't get it, do you? WE didn't go in after Morpheus, Neo. YOU went in after Morpheus. I went in after YOU. It was true, but I wasn't about to tell him that. Instead, I gave him an answer that was not so much incorrect as it was incomplete:
"Neo--in retrospect, we had no right to risk ourselves like that. Especially not you. Your life is worth more than Morpheus's, Tank's, and mine combined." I forced myself to continue as the guilt settled on his shoulders and made him hunch down further in his seat. "Of course I'm glad we did, but we're soldiers, Neo. We have to be able to sacrifice each other in the line of duty."
His voice was quieter, weaker, as he started again. "That's the second time you've said that. And yes, we are soldiers. We are the most elite, most important soldiers that this planet has ever seen. But what are we fighting for, Trinity? We're fighting for freedom in every possible sense. We're fighting so that every single person can have what we have. What's the point in being free if fear still controls us? What's the point?"
I couldn't respond. His insinuation of fear infuriated me, probably because it hit a little too close to home. At the same time, his words made so much sense… But they just couldn't work. They couldn't.
"So what was it you were saying before? You didn't tell me who I was, but you told me…. What?" His persistence frustrated me, but all of the sudden, something inside me cracked. The void was pushing so hard that it broke something. Fuck it all.
"I told you…" His eyes caught mine, and once again, my voice died in my throat. You get emotional, you get dead. I swallowed hard and started over, pointedly avoiding his gaze. "I didn't tell you who you were. I told you… who I… who I was. Nobody could tell you that you were the One, Neo. You had to learn that for yourself. Me, I told you who I was, what I felt, the truth. And that's what you needed to hear to figure out for yourself who you were." There, it was said. "It can't work, Neo!" I pulled my knees up to my chest and crossed my arms over them, burying my head in my hands. The void and the fear were fighting each other in my head and my heart and my gut, and for a moment I felt nauseous with confusion.
Nobody spoke for several minutes. I didn't look up and I didn't look at him. Eventually, I was relieved to feel the bed move as he stood up to leave. He had wanted a confession, it appeared, and I had given it to him. He just couldn't understand, though… he couldn't... The door clicked shut behind him, and I shattered. I began to sob hopelessly into my arms, curled up like an infant in an effort to make the hurt stop.
I was so absorbed in my own misery that I didn't hear the door open again or the footsteps moving toward me. I was caught completely off-guard by the two strong hands that took a sudden, firm hold on the sides of my head and forced me to look up. It was Neo.
I grabbed onto his wrists and attempted in vain to free myself from his grip. I should have been able to do it—his muscles were still weak from both his relatively recent unplugging and his long period of inertia while he recovered from… dying. But my psychological weakness translated into physical, and I couldn't budge him. His brown eyes locked into mine. His thumb gently stroked my cheek, blotchy and puffy from crying. My whole body wracked in violent, uncontrollable shivers as the shame threatened to choke me—I hadn't cried since my father left. And now, here I was, bawling like a baby and trying desperately, though unsuccessfully, to hide it.
"Trinity… What's the point of living in the real world if you're afraid to experience life at all?"
He wasn't expecting an answer. He just gazed intently into my eyes, and the void rose into my throat until I thought I would choke.
Tears continued to trickle out of the corners of my eyes. "Neo… please, you don't--"
His lips covered mine, cutting me off in mid-sentence.
I was so taken aback that for a moment I forgot to kiss back and I sat there like a statue, unresponsive, with my hands still clutching his wrists. He pulled back and looked at me entreatingly, eyes searching mine for some indication of the emotion that he was no longer certain he would find there. His grip on my head loosened and his face expressed defeat, but I didn't move and I didn't let go of his wrists. Something inside me clicked, and in that moment, in that fraction of a second, everything made sense.
…you're gonna need him, too…
I did need him. I needed him, and that was ok because he needed me too. He needed me too. The hollowness in my stomach—it wasn't the love. It was the emptiness and the want and the loneliness of having hidden myself away for so long. Love was what fixed the hole, what made it better, what could make me strong again. Long ago, I had sworn not to let my heart turn to stone in my chest. I had been successful at that. But to do it, I had walled myself away, hiding from anyone who came too close. You get emotional, you get dead… even if that was true, was I really alive at that point, anyway? Did anything really matter?
I guess you could say it was an epiphany. As the wave of truth washed over me, I let my hands slip off his wrists. He moved as if to step back, heartbroken, thinking I was rejecting him. But before he could leave, I seized his head in the way he had held mine and held him there, just looking at him, marvelling at him.
…become your strength…
My shivering subsided. I could trust him. Tentatively, I touched the purpling blotch on his chin, and I felt my eyes well up again. A single tear leaked out of the corner of my eye and dripped down my cheek, and the answering look of concern that appeared on his face threatened to melt me. I cupped my hand gently over the bruise, hiding it, wishing that I could forget that I had done that to the only person who...
"I'm so sorry." I whispered. I wasn't just talking about having hit him. I could tell he knew.
"Hey, it's ok… it's ok," he whispered so low I could barely hear him. He wiped my tear from my chin. "I love you, Tri-" I pressed my lips against his before he could finish. It was a desperate kiss, perhaps a little harder than I had meant it to be, but he didn't forget to kiss back, suddenly as desperate as I was.
…you're gonna need him, too…
My impulsive release of everything that I had been suppressing for weeks on end gave a pointed intensity to my emotion, but his fervour matched my own. And though I don't know who moved first, somehow he was on the bed beside me and I was falling into his protective embrace, relishing the escalation of sensation that his attention evoked in me until I was beyond knowing anything but him… Our souls became permanently intertwined, then, and the void evaporated as our love and need exploded into uncontrollable fits of passion.
…fall in love… with the One…
We became lovers that night, in every possible physical and emotional sense. The fear that the word had instilled in me earlier was gone, and in its place was a complete, languid serenity the like of which I had never before felt. The experience coursed with the full-scale intensity of the real world. Later, sleep came easily to both of us. Neo held me close—his breath tickled my neck. I could feel his chest move against my back, his legs tangled with mine, and his hands clasped protectively over my own… I'd never felt so safe. This was love, this was life--this was what it meant to be free.
* * *
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: 'I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all'…
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"