(A/N: my goodness I can't believe we're here already! It's been so much fun writing this and sharing it with all of you. This is actually my first piece of writing that I've actually completed in my 6 years of writing stuff, so it's really an exciting moment for me. I would love to give out individual thank you's, but seriously that would take up half this whole chapter, so instead I'll just say THANK YOU to all of you that have gone through this with me and put up with my horribly slow updates and gave me the most wonderful, thoughtful reviews and...man, I really love you all! I know it's helped me grow as a writer. Anyway, thank you for joining me on this and being totally super! End of line.)
The hour following Flynn's revelation passed by in a confusing blur of color and sound. Ram was only vaguely aware of the Creator's careful explanation of a world where programs led lives just as busy and real as their User counterparts. During the speech, Ram huddled close between Flynn and Tron, peering out with rather frightened brown eyes at the horde of Users. He spotted Lora fairly quickly. She caught his eye every now and again to give him a small smile, which he would return shyly. He tried not to focus too much on the enormous crowd or the fear it inspired, instead taking comfort in the reassuring sound of Flynn's voice and the warmth from Tron's slightly trembling form beside him.
It seemed to take cycles, but finally it ended, and the crowd dispersed, talking animatedly amongst themselves. Both programs let out a sigh of relief as music started up. A moment later, Flynn's warm arms had swallowed Ram up and he nearly went limp, giving a little breathless laugh.
"Good job, Ram," the User said warmly. "I'm proud of you."
He released the actuary and beamed at him before moving on to Tron. Alan and Sam were already deep in discussion, leaving Ram and Roy standing together and eyeing each other awkwardly.
"I never thought I'd ever actually meet my User," Ram gushed after a moment, unable to contain his excitement. "It's an honor, it really is."
Roy smiled fondly at his program. "I didn't even know you existed," he admitted sheepishly. "Sorry. I guess I'm not a very good, uh, User."
"Oh, no! Of course not!" The actuary was quite adamant about this. "You wrote me, you gave me a purpose, and you gave me the tools to do it. I couldn't ask any more than that. That's all I really need, anyway." He smiled brightly.
"You're cute," the User remarked, chuckling quietly. "So what's it like? Your world?"
Ram took a moment to consider. "I'm actually still getting used to it," he replied slowly. "See, I was derezzed in the cycles of the MCP, and Flynn only rewrote me a few milicycles ago. It's changed a lot, but it's still home." His eyes brightened. "You should come back with us and see it for yourself! You could come race with me and Tron on our lightcycles, and tour the city, and do all kinds of things! It'll be so fun!"
The smile on Roy's face brightened for a moment before fading somewhat, and he hesitated. "Oh, Ram, that sounds great, but I don't know...I'm a little busy here."
The program's face fell and he had an objection on his lips before he remembered himself. Roy was a User, and more than that, he was his User. It wasn't Ram's place to argue. "Oh," he replied quietly. "Okay."
Roy hesitated once more. Suddenly it made sense how Kevin had rarely said no to him. That sad look on Ram's face was heartbreaking. "Tell you what, Ram," he began, and the actuary's eyes rose to meet a pair of identical brown ones. "I'll do what I can, alright? And maybe I can find some time to visit you."
The program's excited smile was back in an instant. "Okay!"
Roy laughed at his younger twin. "C'mere, you," he invited, opening his arms and nudging the program into a hug. Well, Roy thought with a rueful smile, now I know why Kev had a sudden desire to befriend awkward little me.
"Hey, Ram! I think you owe me a dance!"
Ram giggled and looked over at Lora, already pink-cheeked from the few fizzy drinks he'd consumed. The User was halfway to the dance floor and grinning expectantly at her little partner.
"Coming!" He gave Tron a quick, one-armed hug and skipped away from the circular table to take Lora's hand. Tron snorted in some amusement, sharing a quick glance with Alan.
"No more drinks for him." User and program spoke in complete unison before glancing at each other and laughing.
"He's exactly how I used to be," Roy mused, watching the actuary and Lora with a smile.
"And he's just as much of a handful," Flynn remarked with a quiet chuckle.
Tron snorted. "You don't know the half of it. You didn't sit through all those cycles in the Games with him."
"What were the Games like in the old system?" Sam asked curiously, watching the monitor.
"Under the Master Control?" Tron gave a short, humorless laugh and took a sip of his champagne. "Just as brutal as under Clu. There was a little more variety then, though. You never knew what game you'd get taken to."
"Master Control as in the Master Control Program?" Roy guessed, some excitement in his voice. "That was back in '82 with Dillinger Senior. It malfunctioned and shut down, didn't it?"
Alan chuckled quietly. "Actually no. Ram, Tron, and Flynn all brought down the MCP from inside."
"Really?" Roy's eyes sparkled.
"Yeah, I think that's a story worth retelling," Sam commented with a small smile. Quorra nodded in agreement, leaning back and curling comfortably against the younger Flynn.
Tron smiled tightly and picked up his glass, standing up and pushing his chair back where it belonged. "I think I'm going to go get some air."
Kevin Flynn was just as good of a storyteller as Sam remembered, and it was with great amusement that he listened quietly to the tale of how his father accidentally stumbled across the Grid. This time, though, with no small children to shelter from the grim reality of life, Sam heard details that he'd never known before. This time he heard all about Ram's role in Flynn's adventure, from being the snarky cellmate, to the adventurous fellow escapee, and finally, to the good friend that died in Flynn's arms. There were a few sniffles and wiped eyes at that part of the story, particularly from the storyteller himself and Roy.
At the triumphant conclusion of one story, however, Roy called eagerly for the next. Everyone else, all familiar with the details of what followed, exchanged uneasy glances.
"That's a bit of a sadder story," Flynn explained gently. "Another time, old friend. I will tell you, but not now."
Roy nodded and a silence fell across the table, interrupted only by the beginning of another song. In the corner of the room, Ram and Lora were still dancing. It looked like she was trying to teach him a waltz. Sam smiled to himself for a moment before getting to his feet. Quorra watched him quizzically.
"What do you think? You wanna dance one song with me?" he asked her with a soft smile, holding a hand out.
The ISO's cheeks flushed pink and she smiled back shyly, but she made no move to accept his offer. "Oh, Sam, I would love to, but you know I'm not supposed to do anything strenuous."
"It won't be," Sam promised. "We'll be nice and gentle. Trust me."
Quorra glanced over at Flynn. He chuckled and nodded, quietly amused. There was another second of hesitation before she smiled brightly at Sam and took his hand.
"Of course I trust you," she laughed lightly.
"Oh good, I was worried for a second there," he teased, leading her onto the dance floor. He was slightly surprised when she assumed the traditional dancing position without being told or taught how. She laughed quietly at his surprise, letting her right hand rest on his shoulder as the other took his hand. "I've been watching people," she explained.
He nodded and smiled affectionately at her. "You look beautiful tonight."
A fresh wave of color rose in her cheeks and she beamed. "Just tonight?"
The User chuckled. "Every night, but even more so tonight."
"Oh, come on. It's just a dress and some make up."
"The little things end up making the big difference," Sam replied with a shrug. "But I think it's more than that."
He smiled. "We built this together. It's a big, scary world out there, but we're making it ours. You and me, Quorra. We're changing the world and carving our names into it. And it doesn't matter what anyone does or says about what we're doing, because for some reason I just...I don't care anymore what they think."
Sam let out a breath and looked at her. "No one's made me feel like this before. When I met you, suddenly it was like...I could do anything. Look how far we've come already! We actually are changing the world, and it if weren't for you, I would have never even tried just because it seemed so...impossible." He let out a little breathless laugh, matching her gaze with an intense one of his own.
"What I'm trying to say is that...after spending so much time with you, I'm starting to feel something I never thought I'd get to experience after going through the crap childhood I did." His expression was completely serious now. "Quorra...I love you."
His declaration was met with surprised pale eyes, and their slow rotations on the spot stopped. Quorra didn't breathe for a long moment before the sweetest of smiles crossed her lips.
"Really?" she whispered, almost afraid that if she spoke up, she'd break the spell and discover it was all a dream.
Sam chuckled softly. "Really," he breathed back, and then he kissed her.
Flynn watched the young couple with a smile before turning back to Alan. Roy had left to grab a few more drinks for them, leaving the table empty but for the two older men.
"Have you ever seen two kids more in love?" Flynn remarked fondly.
"Reminds me of you and Jordan, actually," Alan replied with a smile. "Doesn't it make you feel so old? I've watched Sam grow up, and now look at him. He hasn't had so much as a date since high school."
"It's crazy." Flynn nodded in agreement. "Everything's changing, man. I don't blame them for taking advantage of it."
Alan laughed suddenly, making his friend raise an eyebrow in surprise.
"If they're anything like you were, you should be getting ready to gain a daughter soon," he smirked.
Flynn chuckled. "I think I gained her as a daughter twenty years ago."
At that moment, a distraction presented itself in the form of Ram and Lora returning. Lora flopped down in the vacant seat between Flynn and Alan while Ram took the chair on Flynn's other side.
"Is it too early for congratulations?" Lora teased Flynn with a playful grin. He rolled his eyes.
Ram, however, was too preoccupied to laugh. "Hey, where's Tron?"
"I think he said he was going out to get air, but that was close to an hour ago," the monitor's User replied, peering at his watch. "I didn't realize it was that long ago."
The actuary frowned. "I'm gonna go find him," he announced.
It took a good half hour of hunting before Ram finally found Tron on the rooftop. He was leaning against the edge and gazing out quietly at the beautiful nighttime cityscape. The actuary swallowed, giving himself a stern reminder not to look down.
The security program turned at the familiar voice to see his best friend, curly hair a tangled mess, bow tie crooked, and his countenance unusually flushed. Tron must have been outside longer than he had calculated. With a small smile and a sigh, he stepped away from the edge and towards his little friend.
"Hello, Ram," he replied.
It was funny how those two words made the actuary light up. He closed the distance between them with a few stumbling skips and wrapped his arms tight around his friend.
"Are you okay?" Ram asked, concern in his voice. "Alan-One said you've been out here for ages. I would have come looking for you earlier but I was dancing..."
Tron smiled gently, releasing Ram after a moment to ruffle his already messy hair. "I've just been thinking," he explained. "I'm fine."
"Thinking about what?"
"You, actually." Ram blinked in surprise and Tron continued. "I've been wanting to really talk to you since I kicked Flynn out of my apartment."
The actuary's lips formed a silent 'oh' of understanding. "You mean about Rinzler. I thought we did, back at the hospital on our first night here?"
The monitor was seized with mild frustration. "No, I-no. We started to, but there were more things I wanted to say."
Ram nodded. "Oh, okay. I'm listening."
Tron sighed and nodded as well. He'd been trying to think of a good way to continue this conversation for days, but now that he was actually faced with the situation, he couldn't think of the words he wanted. "I-I just wanted you to know that...all of those things that happened...all of the things that I did and all the programs that I-I derezzed...It wasn't really me, Ram. I mean, it was, but I was a different person then, and-"
"Wait, Tron, are...are you apologizing to me?" Ram interrupted, incredulity on his face.
The monitor frowned slightly, confused. "Yes?" he replied, feeling somewhat sheepish now.
What happened next astonished him even more. The little program started to laugh. This wasn't the way this conversation was supposed to go! Utterly lost and completely taken aback, Tron couldn't even formulate a response.
Ram finally calmed after a moment or two, regarding the startled monitor with some amusement. "Tron, you don't have to apologize!" he said with a smile. "I had to think about it a little myself, and I know that none of it was your fault. You just said it yourself; you were a different person then. If there's anything I feel about it, then I'd have to say I'm proud of you!"
"I...what?" Tron blurted out helplessly, now even more lost. "How can you be proud of me for what I did?"
The actuary smiled again, putting a gentle hand to his friend's cheek. "Don't you see, Tron? What you did was brave and loyal, exactly what I would have expected from you. You sacrificed yourself to save your friend. Everything after that was Rinzler."
He sighed softly. "I always said you were more than a match for any opponent, and I was right, wasn't I? Because who really won in the end? It was Tron, not Rinzler!" He brushed Tron's long dark hair out of his eyes. "That's why I'm proud of you."
Tron couldn't breathe for a moment. He searched those warm brown eyes for some sign, looking for the expected pity or disappointment, but found none. All that was written there was quiet adoration, and, yes, a blazing pride in his best friend.
Gratitude like he had never known stuck in his throat and burned at the corners of his eyes. Ram, his Ram, his best friend, had somehow known exactly what Tron had been needing so badly to hear, and more than that, he'd really meant it. He pulled the actuary into a tight hug. bowing his head until his face was hidden in Ram's shoulder.
"Thank you, Ram," he whispered, and a moment later, Tron, Champion of the Game Grid, Head of Security, was sobbing quietly into the actuary's shoulder.
It didn't really matter what future lay ahead of them. The Portal was impassable until repairs could be made, and until then, the two programs had no choice but to dwell in a strange, frightening world that was changing quickly. But there was nothing to worry about, nothing to fear, because Tron had the best glitching friend in any world out there, who would always love him no matter how badly he screwed up, and would always, always, be by his side.
Together, they were invincible.
"It's alright, Tron," Ram shushed affectionately, rubbing a warm, slow hand across his friend's back and nuzzling him lightly. His voice caught. "I missed the old you, too."
END OF LINE
(A/N: Keep your eyes peeled for a sequel to appear in the coming months! I've got all sorts of ideas)