It began and ended with a flip of a switch. Ulrich Stern hadn't known at the time what it had meant for him or the four others that had become his closest friends and fellow warriors. It was just an old, dusty computer in a broken down, rickety factory, something that would have meant nothing to him had he not discovered that the same ancient computer held life inside of it, a future friend, but also another world he hadn't known existed, one that was overflowing with danger.
But that computer had sparked interest in the genius of Kadic Academy, Jeremie Belpois. It started with a determination to free the girl trapped inside the world he'd stumbled upon and shared with Ulrich and the others, but it turned into much more than that-an unbreakable friendship and a seemingly never ending battle for two different worlds: Earth and Lyoko.
Ulrich had been a student, mediocre at best, desperately trying to pass his classes to gain approval from his father. He'd counted on his performance in sports to impress him, but things became more complicated when you had two worlds to protect. His life twisted and turned, pulling him in different directions he hadn't imagined possible. Sometimes he felt like he was on the spin cycle in a washing machine.
Finally when he had been set free, spit out all wrinkled and worn, he'd thought that the worst and best adventure of his entire life had ended and in a sense, it had. Only something entirely different began.
Life had changed since the supercomputer was shut down. The teenagers had been able to go back to their lives. Their concentration shifted back to homework, sports, relationships and personal interests. Ulrich knew that they should be happy about this, if not relieved and he had been at first, but now he just felt lost.
He thought that when it was all over, things would be different-better, even, but now he wasn't so sure. It had been on his mind for weeks, but he hadn't uttered a word to the others about it.
Wherever he went, whatever he did, memories from his time serving as a Lyoko warrior always came flooding back to him, in flashes. He hadn't been to war, he wasn't a soldier, but he might as well be. Soldiers weren't the only ones that came back with a completely different outlook on everything.
What he went through would haunt him forever.
It was a Friday night when Odd returned to their dormitory after classes and attempting to charm yet another girl, headphones on and loud techno music blaring. He danced into the room, something Ulrich would have shaken his head at and grinned at any other time, but he was much too pensive for that right now.
Odd continued to sing and dance up until he shut the door and caught sight of the look on his best friend's face. Ulrich was introverted and often moody-the exact opposite of Odd, but this was something Odd was well aware of. Lately; however, Ulrich had been more reclusive than usual.
He tore off his headphones and looked over at the brunette lying on his back and staring at the ceiling. Kiwi was on the floor at the foot of Ulrich's bed, dozing soundlessly.
"Hey," he said. "Did you feed Kiwi?" He bent down to pick up his dog who awoke and licked his face excitedly.
"No," Ulrich grumbled. "Was I supposed to?" He finally turned his head towards his roommate.
"No, but I thought since you were skipping math class to lay in bed, it was the least you could have done." Odd shrugged and went into a drawer, rummaging through it quickly to find Kiwi some food, which he poured for him.
"Sorry," Ulrich mumbled, his gaze shifting to the wall.
"What is going on with you? I don't like math either, but I went and I even took notes that Jeremie said were legible. You can borrow them if you want," Odd rambled. When Ulrich moped it usually involved a certain black haired girl.
"I wasn't feeling well."
"Not even well enough to ask Yumi to the dance tonight?"
Ulrich shot up in his bed, resisting the urge to face palm. "That's tonight?"
"Yeah, Aelita's the DJ. Even Einstein is going!" And Odd knew that was a big thing for him, although it was Aelita, so there were really no questions asked when he said he was going. "Look, is something going on with you and Yumi? Did you guys get into a fight? Is that what this is about?" Odd was no therapist, but he did know that people needed to get things out. He also knew that Ulrich probably wouldn't respond in a positive way.
"No, it's not. Leave me alone, okay?"
And that was a typical Ulrich response that Odd had been expecting. "Are you sure? I thought that shutting off the supercomputer would make things easier for you two. I mean, we don't have to worry about saving the world anymore. You guys could finally date...I'm surprised nothing's happened yet." Although he guessed that he expected Jeremie and Aelita to make themselves official, which still hadn't happened. Odd was surrounded by a bunch of love birds, a bachelor of sorts, which he didn't mind. He was happy to play matchmaker.
Ulrich squeezed his eyes shut. He just had to mention the main thing on his mind. Odd was doing it without even realizing it. Of course, he too had thought that when they gave up their jobs as Lyoko warriors, he and Yumi could try and start a relationship, but in reality, they spent less time with each other then they did when they were saving the world. Yumi got caught up in life, in her classes and things with her family, who she finally felt she was able to be close with again, because she didn't have to lie to them. Everybody had become busy with their lives again, with things that didn't involve each other.
But he couldn't tell Odd that he was constantly plagued by what had happened in the past, something that would never bother them again. He certainly wouldn't tell Odd that the minute he'd walked into the room, a memory flashed through his mind. It happened frequently. Little things triggered memories of a X.A.N.A attack. Like Odd just walking into the room a few minutes ago, headphones on, jamming out to a new techno song. It was a normal thing for Odd to do, but one time, Ulrich had been trying to study and Odd would not shut up. He'd left the room in a fit of anger, and it turned out that the music had almost killed his friend, the doing of X.A.N.A. But that was just an example, just one of the attacks that had left him reeling and still scarred after all of this time.
He looked up to realize that Odd was frantically waving a hand in front of his face. "Sorry," he said, blinking away the memory and trying to concentrate on what was happening now.
He wondered if the others felt like this, if they were taking this just as hard as he was. If they were, they were doing a great job of hiding it.
"Do I have to lock you and Yumi in a room until you admit you're madly in love with each other?" Odd folded his arms across his chest, waiting for an answer.
"Shut up, Odd. This isn't about Yumi, okay?" No, it was much bigger than just Yumi. It was about Odd and Aelita and Jermie and himself and X.A.N.A and everything that had happened because of the supercomputer they'd turned on. It was about the fact that when he closed his eyes, he saw a montage of memories playing on the inside of his eye lids, like a movie playing in his head. And a lot of them were not pleasant things he wanted to remember.
Thinking of Yumi and being locked in a room with her, only made him think of the time at the Hermitage, where X.A.N.A had taken control of the house and locked him and Yumi in a room when they'd been in an argument. He'd even managed to turn up the temperature, trying to fry them alive. He could practically feel the sweat dripping from his brow and the thick tension in the air between him and Yumi as he tried to set things right. He remembered her pale skin as she removed her shirt and the exhaustion he was feeling, the onset of death.
He felt his breath catch in his throat and he tried to swallow, quickly standing up from his bed. "I've got to get out of here," he managed before bolting out the door.
Odd shouted after him and he only hoped that he wouldn't follow him, because Ulrich wasn't ready to explain the toll this had taken on him.