Disclaimer: I don't own Tron or the characters therein. This is a work of fiction not written for any sort of profit.

[Of Import] Author's notes: First off, this fic ran away with me and I want to make everyone aware that there is a huge trigger warning for suicidal themes. I hadn't planned on it when I first wrote this, so it surprised even me. Second, I wanted to be as accurate as possible to the digital world Tron introduces us to, so if you have a problem with some of the vocabulary, I would refer to the Tron Wiki or leave me a message and I'll try to explain my usage of it. I will explain that a millicycle is supposedly the equivalent of eight hours on the Grid. I'm also going off of what I've seen in both films and making up the rest, so please consider whatever doesn't mesh with other canon information as AU. Third, I have no idea why I wrote this in second person perspective, so I hope it isn't too bothersome. Thanks, enjoy!

EndofLineEndofLineEndofLine

Light blue eyes flash in amusement as he passes you a drink, making sure that his fashionable white gloves caress your hand as he does. You can feel yourself flush, being a program unused to such attention, especially from someone as influential as he is. Coloured lights flash and flit about the room like startled birds, and the gyrating movement of so many bodies dancing to the pounding music make you feel a little dizzy. You're also feeling a little overwhelmed by his closeness and by the heat being generated in the room. It's getting so bad that you're a little afraid that your system might overheat and you'll have to be rebooted—how embarrassing would that be?

His accented voice breaks through your calculations, "Drink up, love. You look like you need it."

"Thanks," you murmur, hardly audible over the thumping bass and din of the crowd.

He scoots closer to you at the bar, leaning in and putting a hand playfully behind his ear, his canines gleaming wolfishly even in the relative shadow of the corner you've perched yourself in. "You'll have to speak up. Now, what brings a pretty program such as yourself to the End of Line? Alone, I might add."

"I..." you start, but fall into an uncomfortable pause. "My friend convinced me to come with her."

"And where is she now?" He makes a show of looking around, as if he knows what Lyra looks like.

You point toward a pile of programs across the room, sensuously sliding their bodies against one anouther to the music in what is beginning to look less like dancing and more like an orgy. Lyra is the center of attention, as always. You can't help but blush as two handsome programs trail their lips on either side of Lyra's throat, her head thrown back in pleasure. When you turn your attention back to Castor, his platinum brows have climbed up his forehead, but his expression is more considering than shocked.

"Well now, don't they seem to be having fun?"

You shake your head. "Not really."

He frowns momentarily, confused. "No?"

You bite your lip, a habit you've been trying to rid yourself of for cycles, "I mean, I'm sure Lyra is having fun."

"But it's not your idea of a good time?" he interprets.

You shake your head, feeling sheepish under his gaze. You're sure that he'll leave you alone in your corner, now that he's seen what a bore you are. You don't actually know why he even bothered in the first place. You're just a plain program hiding in the shadows, hoping to keep unnoticed in such unfamiliar and chaotic surroundings. Before you knew it, however, he had sidled up next to you, leaning against the bar with natural ease and an aura of barely contained energy. He had handed you a drink before you could protest.

He pulls away from you now and you're surprised at the regret and disappointment you feel. If only you could be as beautiful and confident as Lyra, you calculate, he might have stayed.

Instead of leaving, however, he surprises you again by taking your untouched drink from your hand and placing it upon the bar. With a grand gesture and a smirk on his lips, he holds out his hand to you in invitation. You hesitate, but when his brow twitches upward in an expectant way, you take it. His grip is firm and the fabric of his gloves is soft against your skin. In your little corner, he pulls you gently to him, beginning to rock back and forth with you in the circle of his arms. It takes you a moment, but you realise that he's waiting for you to move with him—that he's actually dancing with you, slowly and patiently.

You panic, trying to keep your processes under control, but it's only a moment before you begin to sway against him. This is nothing like the dancing going on around them and there doesn't seem to be any expectation of it, either. You let yourself relax a little in his embrace. When you look up at him, there is a small smile on his face, but his bright blue eyes are closed. He seems to be allowing the music to flow through him, to guide him, even when he is hardly moving. It's beautiful, you realise. This moment, this sort of not-dancing in the arms of a virtual stranger in a shadowed corner of the Grid's most famous club, is something you've never imagined yourself experiencing. The only description you can find for it is that it's absolutely beautiful.

"Thank you," you say into his broad chest, covered in what had to be the softest, white fabric.

"Hm?" You feel his response rumble pleasantly through him. His smile has become more of a smirk now, and you know he heard you, that he understood you even if you can't put your true feelings into words.

You don't know how long you dance with him, safe in this corner and away from prying eyes. It could have been cycles and you doubt you would have cared. The music continues to thrum, songs blurring into each other by the expert MP3s behind the soundboard, allowing you to lose yourself in time and the easy movements of your partner. You sort of don't want this to end.

It's far too soon when he does open his eyes, the bright blue seeming to absorb the light around you. He leans down to say into your ear, "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?"

You begin to shake your head, but he places his hand upon your cheek and you freeze under his touch. He makes sure to look you in the eye before he leans in to place his lips softly against your other cheek. "I hope that wasn't too traumatizing, but I couldn't rightly resist. I do hope I see you again at the End of Line."

He winks at you before he's suddenly gone, swinging his ever-present cane through the crowd. "Programs, programs, if you please! It is that time once more, as unfortunate as that is."

There is a collective groan from the crowd, which makes Castor grin as he continues, "I know, I know. It is indeed disappointing. The End of Line Club would like to invite you back once more upon reopening, however. For now, you don't have to shut down your respective parties, but you will have to move along."

As he disappears into the mass of programs, you look over to see Lyra extricating herself from her tangle of admirers. You make your way through the crowd toward her, having to push your way through in places, while calling her name to get her attention. She grins when she finally sees you. "Hey! Where have you been? I lost you almost immediately. Did you have fun?"

You can't help the smile that steals across your face and you think that maybe you're blushing.

"You did! I'm so glad! I was really worried, actually, but when I couldn't find you I figured you had found yourself a companion." Lyra can read you easily. She's always been able to tell what you're thinking, even when you don't say anything aloud. It's one of the reasons you're both so close, despite the fact that you don't have much in common with one anouther.

Lyra is loud and gregarious, confident and sexy. She has opinions that she shares with the world and never backs down on them. Most importantly, she knows you enough not to let you fade into the background as you're often wont to do. She makes you go to clubs and parties where everyone loves her, taking you under her wing and making sure that you actually have a life. In return, you keep her from getting in too much trouble and remind her that not everyone processes the same way she does.

"So?" she presses as you exit the elevator back on the streets of the city, "Who was it? You have to tell me!"

You shake your head. She won't believe you. You hardly believe it yourself. Trying to keep a straight face, you say, "Castor."

She stops mid-stride and for a moment you think that maybe her system has frozen. She blinks at you in a way that says she thinks you're joking, but knows you enough to see that you aren't.

"Buffering, buffering," you smile, taking her arm and beginning to drag her along.

"What?"

You nod, answering her mostly unasked question. "It's true."

She makes an exasperated flailing motion with her free arm, "Wha-? How? When?"

"When you were preoccupied," you say, not missing the way her eyes brighten at the remembrance. She makes an obvious attempt to refocus.

"That still leaves the how! You were in a corner again, weren't you?" She stops again suddenly and pulls you to a halt. She looks very closely at you, as if she's examining you for some kind of damage. "He didn't bother you or anything, did he? I swear, if that pervert did anything-"

"Lyra," you interrupt before she can get really started, "I'm fine. We danced. I had fun. There's nothing to worry about."

"Honest?"

You smile and pull at her arm again. You can feel her relax in relief as she begins to walk next to you. Purposefully bumping into her, you ask, "When can we go again?"

She skips once excitedly, "Do you mean it? Really?"

EndofLineEndofLineEndofLine

Lyra convinces you to return to the End of Line Club upon its reopening, a millicycle and a half later. It doesn't take her long, but you are also anxious about going back. The last time was just a fluke, you're convinced, and you're both readying yourself for disappointment and excited about perhaps meeting the infamous program again. If anything, the previous time hadn't been so bad. It wasn't the worst place Lyra has dragged you to over the cycles.

You are stepping out of the elevator now and into the venue. Lyre leads you to the bar and orders the both of you a drink. You take a sip and shiver at the energy spike that buzzes through you, making your circuits glow brighter. The drinks here are quite good, but you don't expect anything less from a club like this. Especially with a program like Castor in charge.

Lyra is already chatting animatedly with the program next to her, who looks to be hanging on to her every word. You smile and take anouther sip of your drink, only half listening as you take in the music and the programs milling about. It's early enough that the party hasn't really gotten into its stride yet.

"Yeah, I can't believe this place was rebuilt so fast. Isn't this the third version of the same club?"

"The first was in a different part of the Grid, but yeah, this place hasn't had a lot of luck, has it? Part of why it's so popular now, don't you think? It's got that aura of potential danger."

"Wasn't his girlfriend derezzed when the last place got destroyed?" This was Lyra and she punctuated the question by nudging you to get your attention, as if this is vital information. It kind of is, as bad as that sounds.

There's no question who Lyra is talking about. Everyone has been chattering about what had happened to the End of Line Club and its eccentric owner since the explosion. "I heard that both she and Zuse derezzed. Shame. Zuse supposedly fought for the ISOs during the Purge. Castor is just doing his own thing now, I calculate."

You tune out after that, Lyra and her new friend reiterating how terrible the Purge had been and moving on to other subjects. You finish your drink and look out into the crowd, hesitantly hoping to see the manic stride and swinging cane of Castor. So far, you haven't had any luck. Knowing that Lyra is doing fine on her own, you make your way from the bar. You take a turn about the room, pushing through programs that have begun to fill the space and you find yourself once again in your corner, feeling disappointed.

You're only there for little while before Lyra appears, hand in hand with anouther program. He appears to be one of the bartenders and the look in his eyes when he glances at your friend says that you aren't the only one going home disappointed this time. They stop in front of you and Lyra practically beams. "Tell my friend what you told me," she instructs him.

The bartender waves in greeting, "Castor hasn't come down. No one has heard anything from him except for when we first opened. All he said was 'the show must go on.'"

"Oh," you say, "that doesn't sound like him." Not that you know him personally, but it's hard not to hear about his exploits as one of the more prominent programs on the Grid. Anyone who lives in the city has heard about Castor.

"It's really not like him to stay away from the club when he isn't meeting with other programs, no." The program pauses uncomfortably, but a smile from Lyra is all he needs to continue. "Personally, I calculate something is wrong. Even the MP3s are subdued."

"The music is a lot slower than usual," Lyra notices.

"Thomas and Guy have known Castor for a long time. They're bound to know more than we do. Unfortunately, they don't speak, so it isn't as if anyone could ask if they know something."

"Couldn't you go see him yourself? Doesn't he live here?" you ask.

The program winces, "None of us have ever been invited to his private lounge. His quarters are supposed to be just beyond. Gem used to...y'know, before she was derezzed."

"So, what's stopping you from going up yourself? If something is wrong, wouldn't it be better for you to check?" You can't believe that no one has calculated to do this.

"Castor is not a program you want to cross. A program can't just intrude on his personal space like that."

You're getting more and more angry as he speaks. You don't even know Castor, not really, but you can't believe that his employees are more concerned with staying in his good graces than finding out if something really is wrong with their boss. Lyra is looking at you with a concerned expression and she probably already knows what you are going to say before you say it. "Show me where to go."

The bartenders's eyes widen in shock. "Are you sure? I mean, if you tell him I sent you, I'll deny it, but-"

"Just show her where to go," Lyra says. They are no longer holding hands and you know that as soon as he answers, she is going to ditch him. You've been watching her level of respect for him drop as the conversation has gone on. Lyra might enjoy mixing with a variety of programs, but she does have standards and this program is clearly beneath hers.

He leads you to a set of stairs that he calls down from above. Lyra has taken this opportunity to lose you both in the crowd, looking for entertainment elsewhere. The bartender frowns when he notices, but you're sure he'll be fine.

"I'm going to recall the stairs once you've gone up. If he gets angry, don't say I didn't warn you or anything. Good luck, in any case," he tells you.

"Thanks," you murmur as you start to ascend, not really meaning it. Your heart is pounding to the bass of the music and you have to clamp down on the panic that is starting to stir in your circuits. It is suddenly hitting you after you take the first few steps up the stairs that you are about to trespass into space you are not meant to be—even if you do believe you are doing so for a legitimate cause. As you look up, however, you notice the MP3s are watching you. When they have your attention, they both signal you with a thumbs up motion. You smile at them, as much as you can with sudden fear coursing through you. At least you have support from programs who supposedly know Castor, which makes going up the remaining steps that much easier.

As soon as you hit the landing, the stairs begin to move. You don't look back at the club below you and instead make your way into the lounge beyond. It is dark beyond the strobing lights of the club below, but you can see a light coming from beneath a door across the empty space. Not even giving yourself time to back down, because you know you would take the chance if you gave yourself one, you make your way to the door and give it a light tap a few times.

You wait a moment, but there isn't an answer. So you knock harder.

There is no voice from the other side, but the door does open suddenly, causing you to take a step back in surprise.

"Well?" comes an accented voice from the next room. The room itself is cast in shadows, the light that you previously noticed dim in the large area. In the corner of the room, amongst all the other furniture, there is a bed with a figure huddled within the sheets. Castor's circuitry glows from underneath the blankets, but it's an unhealthy glow, and you are instantly glad you came.

"Castor?"

"Hm?" There is no movement to accompany the inquisitive noise, so you step into the room and move closer to the program lying within. It is as if words take too much energy for the entrepreneurial program to exert, let alone the shifting of his own hardware.

"...Is everything okay?"

One arm gives a lazy sort of gesture to the room at large and you're glad to see that he can move even if his words are obviously sarcastic, "Oh, exceptional, darling. Now, if you wouldn't mind turning back the way you came, there's a pretty miss."

You are about to do so, because he doesn't seem to be in any immediate danger and probably just needs to catch up with his sleep state, when his circuitry shorts in an alarming way—dimming almost completely to dark before sparking back to life.

You're at his side almost instantly, "Oh my User, you're derezzing!"

There's a depreciating huff of a laugh, "It certainly seems that way."

From what you can see, there isn't any physical damage. He is staring up at the ceiling as if waiting for the inevitable and the anger that you felt for the unconcerned bartender returns, stronger this time. "How can you be so apathetic about it?"

"I've been waiting for it. I had calculated it would be sooner, actually, and there was no reason to make an illustrious affair of it."

You're momentarily speechless. "I saw you only a few millicycles ago. You looked fine. A little tired, maybe." You finally understand. "How long as it been since you've taken in any energy?"

"Ah. You're the program from last night, are you? I'm sorry to disappoint you, love, but I wasn't looking for anything long term. You understand." He still hasn't looked at you, looking almost as if his system is frozen. His voice is hushed, nothing like the vivacious purr it was when he addressed you only millicycles ago.

"How long?" you press.

"Almost a hundred millicycles, I calculate."

"Since the explosion."

He doesn't answer and you doubt you'll be able to get anything out of him. You look around the room, noticing almost immediately the private bar. There is energy sitting in plain sight. You can't imagine how strong the urge to take it in would have gotten over time. No wonder his system is failing. You start to crave it only after a couple millicycles and the calculation has never come upon you to refuse yourself a drink. It's almost unheard of. You pour some energy into a tall glass and return to his side. "Sit up," you order.

He looks at you, a quizzical turn of his brows finally indicating interest in the conversation. "I, ah, don't calculate that I can anymore."

You huff in frustration and set the glass down on a side table. Grasping his shoulders, you cut off the urge to shake him. Instead, you begin to try to pull him up, which is much more difficult because he doesn't move to assist you.

"What are you doing?" he asks in a tone that suggests that it doesn't really matter that you are basically manhandling him.

"It should be obvious. I'm not letting you derezz like this."

"I don't want your help," he insists, suddenly showing more animation than he has since you entered the room. "I want this. I need it."

"No program needs this," you manage to prop him up against the headboard of his bed. You idly notice that the sheets and fabric of the blankets are the most luxurious you've ever felt. You put the glass to his lips, but he refuses to take it. "What about your User?" you try.

He turns away from the glass to answer and you know he would have simply spit it out had you tried. "Long gone, precious. It has been many cycles since I believed in the Users anyway."

"Your circuitry is still white. You must have some belief in you."

"I'm a neutral program. I fight for no one but myself."

"Except now."

"Essentially."

You shake your head. "Drink."

He cocks his head at you. "Why are you doing this? I've told you that I want this. I don't want your help."

You have to think for a moment. It isn't just that you developed an interest in him when you shared that dance. "There has been enough suffering," you settle on. "Since the Purge. Since Clu went against the Creator. I've had enough of it. This is just unnecessary suffering."

His voice is quiet when he speaks, hardly audible over the dull thrumming of the music you can still hear coming from the club. "...What if it's something I deserve?"

You place the glass back down and sit beside him on the edge of the bed. "No one deserves this."

He looks stricken, as if he can't believe what you're saying, but still wants to. "I've been the cause for a lot of suffering. How can you say that I don't deserve it in return?"

"You're supposed to be an intelligent program, but that's the kind of logic I'd expect from a bit brain. Two noes don't make a yes, you know."

That startles a laugh out of him, "Did you just call me a bit brain?"

You smile. "I did. You can call me out on it later, if you want. For now, I just want you to drink. Please, drink."

He turns his eyes away at that, shaking his head. "I can't. Can't you see that I can't?"

"You can." You put a finger under his chin to turn his attention back to you. His bright blue eyes are glittering with emotion and you know you're close to breaking him. You don't want to hurt him, but he needs this release before he can clear his system of the crushing guilt he's clearly feeling. "Drink. If you need help getting through this, I'm here. No expectations for the future, but I'll be right here."

You place the glass to his lips again and he hesitantly takes a sip, shivering at its effects after so long without. Tears are streaming down his pale face as he takes a deeper, desperate drink, glittering streams of data falling silently. It nearly overwhelms your system in the same way and you have to blink your own reaction back. You don't take the glass away until it is empty and there is a more healthy glow to his circuitry.

He closes his eyes and leans back against the headboard heavily. It will take a while before his energy reserves return to normal and for now he is exhausted. He makes no move to wipe away the tears and you reach out to do it yourself. His skin is warm under your touch and before you know it, he has taken hold of your arm and pulled you to him. You would have unbalanced if he didn't have you in a strong embrace, his head tucked in the space between your shoulder and chin. "I'm sorry," he whispers.

The only thing you can say that you feel matters at this moment is, "I forgive you. Whatever you've done."

A stifled sob somehow still echoes in the room and you thread your fingers through platinum hair. "Gem," he chokes, "Gem, I'm so sorry."

You can't say anything on behalf of a program you've never met, so you don't. You don't try to hush him or tell him everything is okay because he needs this and you don't want to make any promises that you may not be able to keep. So you don't speak, which is what you are comfortable with because actions always seem to have more meaning. You simply card your fingers through his hair and wait. You don't know how much time goes by before his body relaxes into you, although his hold on you remains strong.

There is a knock upon the door that surprises you, but the program at the door doesn't wait for a response before coming in. It's Lyra and she backs up almost immediately noticing how close you are to Castor—in his bed, no less. "Oh, sorry!"

You hold up a hand to stop her and then put your finger to your lips. She comes further into the room. "I was just worried about where you had gotten off to. Sorry if I'm disturbing something. Am I?"

"Nothing like you think," you say softly. "Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah. I had that sprite bartender show me up, but I can see you're going to be staying behind. Are you going to be all right here? Do you need anything?"

"No, you can go. I'll let you know what's going on when I can."

"You better," she smiles, "See you later. Good luck with whatever is going on."

When the door closes, you start to extricate yourself from Castor's embrace to get him into a more comfortable position. Castor groans, coming out of his sleep state, "Don't leave."

"I told you I would be here. You should lie down, though."

"I have to close the club." He tries to rise, but a hand on his chest prevents him from getting far.

"No, you don't. The MP3s saw me come up. They can handle it, can't they?"

"Thomas and Guy can't speak-"

"I'm sure they'll come up with something. You have other staff that should know what to do. Lie down, now."

He does lie back, but rather than letting you go, he pulls you down with him. He tucks you into his chest, nuzzling his face into your hair. "I hope you don't mind."

You can feel yourself blushing, not having expected anything like this to happen. "Just don't do anything too untoward. I have a friend who has more admirers than even you, I calculate, and she knows how to use them."

You can feel him smile against you. "On my honour, as much as that counts these days."

"Go back to sleep. Unless you want me to get you anouther drink?"

"I don't think my system is ready for that. I would just like to lay here for now. I haven't had an uninterrupted sleep state since-" he cuts himself off, but you know that he's referencing the explosion. Possibly even before, but you can't be sure.

"Then sleep," you say.

"You are quite the domineering program, aren't you?"

You're about to protest before he smiles and continues, "No worries, precious. I should thank you for it, actually."

You notice that he doesn't actually thank you, but let it go. "Do you always use such familiar terms for programs you barely know?"

"Would you like me to stop? You have me at a disadvantage, having done all of this for me and still not having introduced yourself, mystery program."

You tell him your name, wondering how you managed to get yourself into a situation where you are in anouther program's bed without having given your name first. This is an entirely new experience for you, in a lot of ways, and one you never expected to be in. You don't make a habit of joining strange programs in their bedrooms, let alone making sure they aren't about to derezz in front of you. And you thought that coming to the End of Line Club would have been relatively straightforward.

"I don't know if I am glad to have met you quite yet, but we'll see." He leans down and kisses your cheek. "I hope that wasn't too traumatic," you recognize the words from the first time you were in his arms, "I still couldn't rightly resist."

"Behave, or I'll really have to beat you with your own cane."

"I'd like to see you try," he sighs, finally beginning to relax again. You wait until he falls asleep before you close your own eyes. His warmth is pleasant and it isn't long before you begin your own sleep state.

EndofLineEndofLineEndofLine

You wake up to the feeling of fingers trailing across your cheekbone. Thinking it's Lyra come to tease you awake because she is already up and bored, you smack the hand away and bury deeper into the warmth beside you. Which is weird because while you and Lyra are close, she has never actually climbed into your bed before. It's a further surprise when a low, male voice interrupts the quiet with, "My apologies. I didn't mean to wake you."

Memories of before your sleep state come rushing back and you pull away from the program you've been virtually assaulting. He reaches out and grabs your shoulder before you can fall off the edge of the bed, preventing you from also leaving his personal space. When you look up to meet his eyes, there is something off about them, while still familiar. You recognized it vaguely when you first met him, how he always seems to be looking through you, rather than at you. His attention always seems to be far away even when he is actively interacting with those around him.

"You are blind, aren't you?"

He cocks a brow at you in surprise. "Now, is that any way to greet a program you've just slept with?"

You reach up by way of answer, waving your fingers in front of his eyes. He backs away, but you still notice that his vision doesn't focus like it should. "You are. What happened?"

He sighs. "You are a domineering little program. You remind me of her, you know. Always pushing. I've missed that."

You wait, somehow knowing that he will continue. "I don't know how I survived. The explosion destroyed the club almost completely. The photoreceptors in my eyes must have been damaged somehow during the blast and now they don't work as well as they should. Otherwise, I came out clean, when by all rights, I shouldn't have lived through it."

"Can you see anything at all?"

"Some light. Some things are more clear up close, but mostly all I see are blurry images and movement."

"It's lucky that you weren't derezzed—that you only lost your sight."

He frowns, flinching away from your words and letting go of your arm. "You say that. I'm not lucky. I should have derezzed. I deserved to derezz. Gem—Gem must have..."

"She saved you," you finish for him. "She must have cared for you to protect you like that. She was your girlfriend, wasn't she?"

"I cared for her. Very much. Our relationship—we never—we were friends. Very good friends. I wanted more, of course, but she was afraid. Of who I was. Of who I really am. I was too involved and she couldn't be sure that I wouldn't drag her into danger with me." He laughs, but it's a sad sound, laden with devastation.

You move closer to him, taking him by the back of his neck and pulling him to you. You place your forehead against his, startling him, but he makes no move to back away. Instead, his bright blue eyes stare into yours, a mix of emotions playing in their unfocused depths. You don't want there to be any chance that he'll miss what you are saying to him. "Gem didn't sacrifice herself just to let you waste away. Don't let her derezzing be in vain. If I get you some energy, will you take it?"

His eyes are wide, as if he hadn't processed that calculation until you mentioned it. He nods wordlessly against you.

"Good," you say, pulling away. "I need to contact my friend to let her know that I'm all right, but I'll be back. If you want me to come back, that is."

He takes your hand after you've extricated yourself from his sheets and squeezes it. "Please."

You smile and go to the bar. He takes the glass this time without any problems and you make your way out of his room to the lounge. Castor has a private communication line set up, of course, and you put out a message to Lyra. She answers almost immediately.

"It's about time!" she starts. "You had me really worried! I didn't have any way to get in contact with you."

"Sorry. I just slept late, is all. I'm fine."

She sighs, "I'm glad. Just don't do it again, okay? I know the Grid has calmed down recently, but anything could have happened to you and I wouldn't have known."

"I really am sorry."

"It's important, what you're doing, isn't it? You wouldn't be doing this otherwise."

"It is."

"Okay. Just—just don't get yourself into anything you can't get out of, okay? If you need anything, contact me immediately."

"I will," you promise and end the communication.

When you return to Castor's room, you notice that the glass is empty and sitting on the bedside table. He's sitting against the headboard with his legs crossed and his hands in his lap. His head is bowed, allowing some sleep-tousled locks to fall forward from their usual severe position.

"Do you mind if I use your bar?"

"It seems I've been an ungracious host. Forgive me, my dear. Please, make yourself comfortable."

A comfortable silence settles as you pour yourself a glass of the sparkling liquid. Castor hasn't moved from his previous position, perhaps because he no longer has to give the appearance of being able to see. You sit at the edge of the bed, content to just offer you quiet support.

You don't ask him what he meant about being too involved. There are rumours about Castor being the middle-man between programs and the even more infamous Zuse, which are more than likely true. There is practically no time in the history of the Grid where programs weren't 'too involved' with politics. First under the Master Controller and then under Clu, the Grid has been unstable since before you were written. It isn't your business if he doesn't want to share those details with you.

It is a while before he speaks again and it startles you out of your meditative state. "Was that your friend from before? Is she all right? I did try not to overhear, of course, but she did seem worried about you."

"Oh, yes, that was Lyra. I'm sorry you didn't get to meet her, because I think you would get along quite well."

His head tilts curiously to the side. "Indeed?"

You smile, "You have the air about you. You are guarded even when you seem to be carefree to the rest of the Grid. Other programs miss it because they just aren't looking."

He stares at you, speechless for a moment. "Ah," he blinks.

"I'm sorry if I've offended you." You look away and shift uneasily. It hadn't been your intention.

"No. No, I admire your honesty. You don't see much of that in programs these cycles. Even I struggle with it from time to time." He gives you a practised grin that you recognize from the first cycles you had known Lyra. You know the hardships that had broken your friend and it makes you wonder how much devastation this particular program has lived through.

"Are you feeling well enough now to leave your bed?" You ask instead.

He smirks and this time the amusement is real. "My little vacation is over, is it? I suppose it must be. I can't trust my little minions to run End of Line by themselves."

He moves to stand and you put your arm around him to help him up. "Not even Thomas and Guy?"

"Oh, no. Especially not them. Even without words, they manage to cause all sorts of mischief if left to themselves for too long. It's how they ended up here, actually." He stretches and winces at the cracking in his hardware. "That is a story for anouther time, however."

He moves slowly about the room and you pour him anouther glass of energy. He takes it, but only after a dubious stare and a vague look of guilt.

"Sip it," you say. "At the very least. When was the last time you had a system clean-up?"

"You have no shame asking questions like these of programs you're barely acquainted with, do you?"

You flush, idly wondering how many times you've done so in your short time knowing Castor. "It's what I was written for. Even after my User vanished, it is still a part of my nature that I can't give up. I refuse to give it up."

His eyes narrow, as if he can see into you and your inner coding might not agree with him. "Just what kind of program are you, then?"

"Diagnostic."

"Ah. That explains your ministrations." He sighs. "I don't know how long it's been since I last had my system checked, but it isn't as if I'm riddled with viruses. Now, if you are quite finished, I have a club to run."

You can tell that he's already closing himself off. He turns away from you to put the untouched glass down at the bar.

"Wait. I haven't been helping you out of any sense of duty or whatever you might be calculating. It isn't like that."

"I don't need your misplaced pity. You'll have to excuse yourself while I get ready to see to my club. Thank you for all you have done, but your services are no longer required."

You clamp down on the hurt and disappointment that you hate him for causing, just a little more than you hate yourself for feeling in the first place. This, this moment right here, is why Lyra does not get involved with other programs anymore. You should have known that this program would have been no different—his reputation alone should have told you to stay away. "If that is your wish. I do hope for the best for you in the future. I'll be sure to tell Lyra that she was right."

It's unfair of you to say such a thing, but for this moment you can't bring yourself to apologize. Instead, you turn and leave. It will be a while before you'll let Lyra convince you to go out, to End of Line or otherwise.