God, it hurts, it hurts, make it stop, please make it stop! Sam can't think anything coherent beyond the pain; it feels like he's being ripped apart from the inside, a million tiny claws digging into his skin and muscles and pulling him to pieces. He can hear screaming, a horrible, tortured noise, and he wonders who it is for a moment before he realizes the sound is coming from his own throat. He can't breathe, can't see, and he wonders if this is death and please, please, someone make it stop! Another wave of agony surges through him and he gags, retches, chokes, and feels strong hands on his shoulders, rolling him to his side.
"What's happening? Is he derezzing?" "I don't... I don't know! Sam, it's all right, just hold on, it'll be over soon..."
"I don't... I don't know! Sam, it's all right, just hold on, it'll be over soon..."
The voices echo over him, words barely understood. The hand on his shoulder is still there, warm, steady, holding him as he thrashes and writhes, and Sam needs... he doesn't know, he just needs...
Managing to control his limbs for the moment, he grabs that hand, pulling it down, wrapping a strong arm tight around him, hearing a surprised gasp over his own sobs of pain. "Just... just s-stay..." he chokes out, and he feels a warm body come to rest behind him, curling behind his own, arms wrapping around him, pulling him close. Everything hurts, and he's still shaking, unable to stop the cries and moans, but now it's a little less cold, and he can feel a faint pulse of energy from the hands resting on his chest, and maybe... maybe it doesn't hurt so bad now as he fades into blackness.
When Sam comes back to consciousness, it's to the blurry face of Alan Bradley staring down at him, his face full of concern. For a brief moment, Sam wonders just what the hell he's done this time to make himself ache all over like this, but then it all comes back in a rush: the muggers, the trip to the Grid, Tron holding him as Alan does... something to his disc, the wrenching, nauseating pain, and then warmth and comfort...
Shifting slightly, he feels that there are still strong, warm arms wrapped tightly around him, and he looks down to see Tron's hands pressed to his chest, circuit bars on his fingers glowing in a slow pulse. With a groan, he pulls away, pushing himself up on his elbows and wincing at the foul taste in his mouth and the sticky-slickness of the floor where he's lying. There's so much blood, pooling around him, drying on the floor and his suit, splattered on Alan, staining Tron's hands, and he swallows hard, realizing just how close he'd come to dying here. "W-what... how...?" He's not sure he can even formulate the question he wants to ask.
"Alan-1... Alan used some of my code to repair you," Tron says from beside him, and Sam didn't even think a program could sound shaken before now.
Alan's moving now, leaning forward, brushing his fingers lightly over Sam's stomach. "I didn't know if it would work," he says, and his voice is rough too, and Sam won't mention the glint of moisture he can see behind the older man's glasses. "Our bodies are turned to code here, of some kind, but it's different than any sort of basic program. I was able to patch Tron's code into yours and compile it, enough to make... ah, repairs. Looks like... looks like you're going to be all right. I think."
Sam finally looks down at himself, at the torn and half-derezzed spot where his injuries had shown when he first came through the portal. He barely remembers those moments, delirious with pain and blood loss, everything a blur, voices, cold, shivering, blackness... he shakes himself out of those too-recent memories and focuses on the newly-healed skin beneath the suit. Grimacing, he wipes the cloying blood away, then blinks in surprise. "What the...?" Patterned on his body, faintly glowing in the darkness of the duplicate Arcade, a mesh of delicate lines begins to emerge. Sam hesitates, almost afraid to touch, watching them brighten and pulse as he swallows, feeling a surge like adrenaline rushing through him.
"It must have been from the code transfer," Tron says, moving to his side. Sam watches as Tron reaches out to touch the new design, the lights on his gloved fingers still dimmed with Sam's own blood, and he shivers again, then jerks in shock as the program makes connection with his skin. The circuit lines abruptly brighten, blue-white racing along the pattern. Eyes wide, Sam meets Tron's surprised gaze, and Tron pulls his hand back quickly.
"What was that?"
Tron shifts, the lights on his suit flaring briefly. "Circuits," he begins slowly, his tone clearly awkward, though Sam has no idea why. "You've got circuits now."
Sam's eyebrows shoot up, but Tron clearly isn't going to elaborate on the subject any further as he pulls away. "Circuits, huh?" He pokes lightly at the glow, but doesn't feel the spark or connection that happened when Tron's fingertips brushed his skin. "So, what, do these look like yours under that suit?"
Tron doesn't answer, but stands and offers Sam a hand up. Sam grimaces at the sticky feeling lingering on his fingers, drying and cracking on the second-skin material of the gridsuit, but wipes it off as best he can before accepting the help. The room spins in a slow circle around him and he sways, staggering as he tries to regain his equilibrium; when he balances again, he finds his arm slung over Tron's shoulders and Alan's hand steadying him at his side.
"Easy there... just take it slow." He's not quite sure at first whose voice it is... Alan's, it has to be, the timbre is rougher, older, though it's disconcerting for a moment to try to figure it out. He laughs shortly and finds the floor solid under his feet.
"I'm fine, I'm fine." He waves off their concern, but keeps his arm around Tron's shoulders for a longer moment, still not quite trusting his legs. "Had worse, okay?"
Alan laughs, shaking his head. "No, I really don't think you have." Sam can see the weariness etched into the older man's face, and for a brief moment he feels a twinge of guilt, seeing every scrape, every bruise, every broken bone he's ever had reflected in Alan's eyes. He swallows and nods, quirking a smile that's meant to look cocky but probably just seems tired.
"Well. Yeah. But I've felt worse, anyway." He stretches, easing his arm off Tron's shoulders and testing his balance again as he steps toward the door. But not by much, he admits to himself. Give him bruises and broken bones from a stupid stunt any day over getting his... code rewritten. He shudders faintly, not wanting to think about that, or what the glowing lines on his skin will mean once he returns home. Flexing his fingers, he flicks more drying blood away and tries to ignore the dark puddle on the floor as he turns to Alan. "Whaddya say we get out of here, huh? Need to get back. Those assholes took dad's motorcycle."
A look he doesn't quite understand passes between Alan and Tron, and the program moves closer to him again. "You may want to consider recharging first," he says slowly. "A recompile like that would be draining for any program..."
"But I'm not a program," Sam interrupts, more harshly than he intends. He draws in a deep breath and tries to ignore the weak, shaky feeling that keeps threatening to overwhelm him, then forces a smile. "Hey, don't worry 'bout me. I just want to get home, have a shower and a beer, and sleep for about a week. Okay?"
Alan steps forward, placing his hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezing lightly. "All right, Sam. Let's get you home."
Tron watches Alan and Sam step into the light of the Portal, his hand raised in farewell. The younger User still looks tired, drained, and the faintly-visible circuit lines on his body are dangerously dim, despite the energy vial Tron pressed on him during the light-jet flight over the Sea. If Sam were a program...
But no. Sam had been adamant about that point. Tron's code may have repaired him, but he is still a User. Isn't he? Tron can't shake the feeling of worry he'd seen on Alan's face, though...
No. If Sam and Alan say it will be all right, he has to trust them.
He waits until the two Users fade into the beam, shooting upward into the stream of light, Alan's disc raised over his head. As always, there is the pang of loss as the Users leave the system, but he knows that they will return, as they have promised.
The portal goes dark before him, and Tron shivers slightly as the wind dies, leaving the place seeming even more empty than before. Turning away, he pulls a light-jet baton from the holster in preparation for the trip back, but hesitates as he sees the crust of black-red still clinging to his gloved hand. Grimacing, he tries to rub it away, but the blood is stubborn, flaking, crumbling, making his circuits itch, and it's everywhere, clinging to every part of his suit, streaks and gobs of it that he can't even see but he can feel it still.. He needs it off, the reminder that Sam nearly died in his arms, on the floor of the Arcade...
Sam lies beneath him, helpless, a disc at his throat as the crowd chants derezz, derezz but a bright red drop of blood splatters on the mirrored floor of the Arena, sparking recognition in his processes and stopping him from spilling more of that blood...
Tron jerks himself out of the unwanted memory file, his hand clenching into a fist. No. He won't think about that. And he has to get this blood off, now. He's alone out here, no one to see, no one to care, so he reaches up to his neck, flicking a sequence to derez his suit completely. Closing his eyes, he feels the wind pick up again, caressing his bare circuits as the armor crumbles, taking the blood and filth with it. For a long moment he simply stands still, letting the last remnants of the portal carry away the memories, then his fingers trail up again, brushing his throat and rezzing the suit back into existence, now spotless clean.
Even if he can still feel the cloying stickiness on his hands...
Pushing away that feeling, he strides out of the portal structure, jumping off the side of the landing strip and rezzing the light-jet underneath himself as he falls toward the Sea. Focused on the city in the distance, he tries to ignore the dark water beneath him, more memories trying to surface, of a fight in mid-air, a fall, and being lost for so long... he can never fly over this place without at least thinking of it.
A bright flash of light from behind him draws him out of those darker thoughts. Startled, he glances back, and his eyes widen behind his helmet as he sees the light of the portal glowing bright again, a beacon over the black sea. Why...?
It hasn't been long at all since Alan and Sam left, and knowing that time passes differently in the User world, Tron realizes that barely a few moments would have passed for them. All thoughts of the past, dark memories and regrets pushed aside, Tron accelerates his jet toward the city, angling toward the Arcade.
Something's gone wrong.