Damn, I accidentally deleted this when I was attempting to delete something else. I apologize for messing with continuity on this site; just re-uploading. Don't mind me!

The Fourth Kingdom

What is the Matrix?

It had all started with the simple question. Once, Neo thought the answer that question would bring meaning to his strangely empty life. He had been lost, adrift in a sea of antipathy, searching for meaning where he felt sure no meaning had ever existed. In finding the answer to the Matrix, he was sure the answer to his own life would follow. Surely, once he understood this strangely foreign, secret entity, he would understand everything.

Bullshit.

As he stared dumbly down at the ruined Sentinels littering the main deck of the Nebuchadnezzar, he knew with a kind of sinking feeling in his heart that the answers to the Matrix were nothing more than keys to even harder riddles to crack. He still felt empty…though this was a different kind of emptiness. He couldn't classify the difference; he wasn't sure if it mattered anyway. But there was definitely a difference between the emptiness of the Matrix and the emptiness of the real world.

"I almost didn't make it." He looked up at her with something akin to reproach as he reached around behind him and tried to pull the data spike out of his access plug. He couldn't reach; his arm didn't bend quite right. With a lopsided attempt at a rueful smile, Trinity leaned forward and did it for him. She was backlit by the emergency lighting of the Neb, the strange pale light that was somehow like that of a tomb.

This was a tomb. Almost belatedly, Neo turned his head to look at the floor to his left. The covered bodies were proof positive of the terrible price they'd paid to gain him-gain the One. Guilt washed over him, and yet even crushed by that terrible emotion, he felt that this was somehow better than the hollow emptiness of before.

Then Trinity touched him again, inadvertently brushing her hand against his arm as she reset the data spike in its holder, and everything vanished except that single point of contact as her skin brushed against the sleeve of his torn sweater.

This was something the machines hadn't managed to program correctly. Whether it was because they lacked the programming language to describe what it felt like when Trinity touched him or whether they had left such powerful emotions out of the Matrix on purpose, Neo didn't want to say. But whatever the reason, the surge of…he didn't have the words to describe that feeling…whatever it was…that shot through him when she touched him…it left him both overloaded and wanting more.

Sudden scraping sounds alerted him to the presence of others, and he turned his head in time to see Morpheus and Tank coming around the Core to check on Trinity and himself. He met Morpheus' eyes, and nearly couldn't believe the fatherly pride he saw there. Pride…and concern. Morpheus cared about him. Morpheus cared what happened to him…and not just because Neo was the one. It was something else. He cared about Neo.

Neo swallowed and broke the eye contact, gingerly pushing himself upright in his chair. He didn't hurt, though he knew he probably should. There was blood on his shirt, but when he cautiously put a hand to his stomach he felt no pain, no sting of exposed flesh without the protective layer of skin.

"Jesus Christ, man, you took long enough," Tank said suddenly, breaking the silence and-to everyone's relief-the strained atmosphere.

Neo didn't respond, only worked on getting on his feet again. He didn't hurt at all, but he knew he should, and that made him cautious. Trinity was there beside him in a moment, holding out an arm wordlessly, and he took it though he did not need it, wanting the simple shock of contact again.

It came, though not in an unpleasant way, and Neo felt strengthened by the warmth in her hand as her callused palm rested against his smooth one. There was no question-Trinity was the strong one between the two of them. But they made a pretty good team, he figured.

And she kissed like…he didn't know. Didn't want to say. Nothing he'd ever experienced before. He chalked it up to Trinity rather than the real world, for the electricity of contact had simmered below the surface every time she touched him, Matrix or no Matrix. It just hadn't been this potent before.

"We have a lot to do, and not much time," Morpheus said, switching back into his commander mode. All three heads snapped up, knowing that what he would say must be obeyed if they were to continue to live. "The EMP disabled the Neb's electrical systems as well; we didn't have time to shut them down before blasting the Sentinels. We're going to have to get her running again-and fast."

"Will they wake up?" Neo asked, cautiously toeing one robotic tentacle. It didn't move.

"We're not going to leave them together enough to find out," Morpheus replied. "Tank and I are going down to see what's left of the med bay and try to patch him up. Trinity, you and Neo start dismantling the Sentinels, as fast as you can. All the spare parts go down to the scrap room to be melted down. I don't want anything left that the machines can still control. I'd leave them here if I could, but we just can't waste all this metal."

Trinity nodded at that. "You want the hard drives and memory chips, too?" she asked.

"No," Morpheus said in a tone that brooked no argument. "No matter how valuable they may be, we just can't risk transporting them with the Nebuchadnezzar in this condition. Melt them down into solid cylinders of metal and toss them out." He turned his head, and suddenly the bodies in their makeshift shrouds came into his line of sight. Pain slammed into his features for the briefest of instants before he shook his head. "We'll find the time to grieve later."

It was then that he realized Neo wasn't paying attention. He was staring at the Core, scowling in thought.

"What is it, Neo?"

Startled by the voice, he jumped.

"Neo?" This time it was Trinity, her hand still locked with his. He looked into her eyes and he saw the questions there. But he also saw faith. No matter how ludicrous he sounded, she would believe him. Such faith…it frightened him with its awesome power. Her power.

"I think…" He wasn't sure about this, or about how to broach the topic, but he knew it was now or never. They couldn't waste any more time if what he'd felt back there in the Matrix had been real… "Morpheus, how long could Switch and Apoc's bodies last without life support?" he asked. "I mean, if they were to suddenly…wake up…would their bodies still function properly?"

There was a long, tense silence in which Morpheus weighed Neo's words, trying to guess what his young protégé was attempting to say. He knew well that the ex-programmer found speaking his mind and feelings very challenging, and also that he felt immensely uncomfortable attempting to do so. There was only one thing Morpheus could assume from those words, and he scarcely dared to hope…Neo thought he could bring them back.

Morpheus glanced over at Trinity, who, instead of looking at him as she usually did, was still watching Neo. He had seen their clasped hands and the gentle glances between the two, though he had not seen either kiss-not the one that brought Neo back to life, nor the one that cemented the bond between them. He knew, though, that an important leap of faith had been successfully made and now the fruits of it were slowly being reaped. He knew that a budding relationship, if that were indeed what he was witnessing, would have to be nurtured.

But this was not the time, nor the place, for such thoughts.

"What are you trying to say, Neo?" he asked, trying to pull the thoughts out of Neo's head without quite so much guesswork.

"I…felt something. Back in the Matrix." Neo motioned with a jerk of his head toward the Core. "After the Agent. Morpheus, they're not dead. Not really." He swallowed; this was hard! "They were…separated from their bodies, I guess. They're floating in the Matrix as code. Eventually, with no anchor, they will fade away-die. But it hasn't happened yet."

"You think you can bring them back." Trinity's eyes flickered and Tank saw the flame of stubborn will that had lighted those strange ice-blue eyes when she chose to throw her lot in with Neo and try to save Morpheus. She wanted Neo to try.

"I think I can." He looked at Morpheus. "I want to try."

Morpheus was silent a moment, weighing the pros and cons of letting Neo try. They would get to see more of what the One could-or could not-do. They might get their crewmembers, their friends, back. But then again, it would waste valuable time, and after the EMP blast he knew more Sentinels would be on their way to see what had caused such a disturbance. Time was against them.

But wasn't it worth the risk?

His mind was made up in a moment, and he nodded slowly. "Tank. Will you be all right for a little while longer?"

"Yes, sir." They could almost feel the excitement in their operator's voice. He wanted to see some of Cypher's dirty work erase itself, see them one-up the traitor.

"Then kick on the backup generator. Have Neo help you. Trinity, help me."

They flew into action, Neo and Tank tailing it down to the engine room to manually switch on the backup power source. It hadn't been functioning when the EMP blasted the ship, so hopefully it would still be in workable condition. As they left, Morpheus and Trinity carefully lifted the blankets covering Switch and Apoc.

"This is crazy," Trinity said softly as she reached, hands trembling, under Switch's arms and lifted. Morpheus caught her legs, and together they ever so carefully hoisted the body into its loading chair. Trinity felt her gorge rise at touching the cold skin, knowing this was her friend, her crewmate, who lay so lifeless beneath her hands. Death was one of the very few things she had not come to terms with, one of the few things that could still scare her. Still shaking, she reached for Switch's data spike and inserted it in her plug.

"Good," Morpheus said, reaching for the screens that listed Switch's flatline vitals just as the power flickered back to life. He allowed himself a small smile, then forced himself back into his expressionless mask. If Neo was wrong…. But, no. They had to trust him. He was the One. He knew what he knew, better than anyone else could tell him. He was a part of the Matrix like no other biological being ever could be.

"She's stable," he said, nodding to Switch.

Trinity, her eyes on the screens, nodded her assent. "Not much time left, but her blood hasn't congealed yet. If he hurries…" She let her voice trail off, but Morpheus already heard all he had to. He knew that she trusted him now, believed that Neo was the One and, inside the Matrix, could do anything.

They lifted Apoc, bigger and more difficult to maneuver, and had his body securely strapped into its seat by the time Tank and Neo reappeared.

"Ready?" Tank asked as Neo eased himself back into his seat and waited for the bitter cold of the data spike to take him.

"Ready as I'll ever be," Neo replied.

"Does it matter where I send you in?"

Neo shook his head. "No. It'll only take a few minutes. That's all I'll need…to know whether this will work or not."

Trinity stepped up beside him and reached for the data spike, but her eyes were on his face. "I trust you, Neo," she said. "You can do it."

And with those encouraging words, he found himself back in Room 303 of the Heart o' the City hotel, a deserted little hovel of a room lit with dingy green. He closed his eyes and opened them again, in his head the thought of green code spilling from the walls and windows. Immediately as he thought of it, the Matrix was there in all its amazing complexity, its shifting, dynamic code that no human brain could ever memorize.

Neo wasn't trying to memorize it.

He thought of Switch, of how she looked and how she sounded, how she held her firearm, how she tossed her head as if she were trying to brush away long hair that wasn't there anymore. Immediately next to him he felt the code of the room change and what was left of Switch's mental-digital self appeared in the gap. The part of him that still saw with his everyday eyes could detect no change in the room, but the part of him that saw the Matrix as it truly was saw the difference. He looked her over quickly…and though he had never seen human code before, he immediately knew there was something not right about her.

As soon as his mind sensed there was a problem, the questionable area highlighted itself. Fix it, he ordered, and he saw the code change. Letters were subtracted, numbers switched around. He knew, as it righted itself, what had been wrong. Switch had gone insane.

At the second her mind detached from her body her mind had snapped. The strain of detachment had been too much for her, and she…broke. It was the only way he could explain it. But now he saw with his normal eyes a faint outline in the room, a body dressed in white. As the code became more and more correct, she grew more and more solid. And as the last line of digits fell into place she fell forward to her knees, coughed, gagged, sucked in a huge mouthful of air, and stared up at Neo as if she wasn't sure she were all in one piece.

"What the fuck-"

"No time," he said. "Tank!"

The last was shouted into his cell phone, and almost instantly the exit phone in the room began to ring. Neo picked it up and held it out to Switch. "You've got to get out of here."

"But where are the others?" She looked around. "What happened? I can't remember anything…"

"They'll explain it back on the Neb," he said. "You have to trust me."

She stared at him for a long minute, then nodded and took the phone. She disappeared, the receiver dropping to the table with a loud bang. Neo didn't care. There were no Agents around to hear it. He could tell, as he cast his senses out in the Matrix code, that no Agents were aware of his appearance yet. And if they became aware of it…well, he could handle that, too.

Trinity unplugged Switch as the other woman gasped for air. Morpheus released her restraints and let her double over as she was attempting to do. He rested his hand on her back encouragingly as she coughed and tried to breathe.

"You can do it," he urged, his eyes darting back and forth over her struggling form. Her heart rate on the monitor was off the wall, practically humming it was going so fast-a combination of adrenaline at waking up and her body attempting to pump blood through veins gone cold.

"Cold," she whispered finally through her gasping coughs. "Why…breathing…heart…hurts…"

"You'll be all right," Morpheus said. "Just calm down. Concentrate on breathing. The answers are coming."

Then another call from Neo, another tap from Tank, and Apoc was with them and going through the same thing. He blacked out, unlike Switch, and Morpheus and Tank lowered him to the floor on his back, still attached to the monitors. Trinity continued to watch Switch as the two bigger men labored over their comrade, though Switch was getting her breath back and her heart was returning to normal.

"Here." Trinity threw a blanket over Switch's shoulders, and the blond woman gratefully huddled under it. Her body temperature had dropped dangerously when she died, and she had come back to that cold body. She shivered, and Trinity rubbed her shoulders through the blanket, roughly rubbing up and down her arms to stir circulation. "We'll get you warm again as soon as we can."

Tank was busy helping Morpheus as they monitored the unconscious Apoc, so when the call came through from Neo Trinity deftly slipped the earpiece off his head and took over as operator for him.

"Trinity?"

"You were maybe expecting the Easter bunny?" she asked sweetly.

"How are they?"

"Come see for yourself." She typed in the access codes and then hit the button on the touchscreen and patched the call through. He hung up the cell phone, and she watched his encoded self on the screen pick up the exit phone and disappear.

She was at his side as he opened his eyes, and she tapped his screen and then unplugged him. Her eyes were unreadable, but the corners of her mouth tipped up in her imitation of a smile as she looked at him. "You did it."

He glanced over and saw Switch huddled in her blanket and Apoc, now sitting up and attended by Morpheus and Tank. The glance took seconds, if that, and then his dark eyes returned to Trinity. The silence between them thickened, and he slowly lifted his head toward hers…

"Neo."

They both jumped as if stung, and as one they swiveled around to face Morpheus, the source of the call. Instantly he regretted disturbing them, for he had not seen what was happening before he called the name. Now he wished he'd had better timing…but that could not be helped. Trinity, he knew, would understand.

"Sir."

"Good work." He smiled, the mysterious Morpheus smile that seemed both to be a sign of pleasure and a sign of…something else that nobody could quite know. Neo knew, at that smile, that no matter how important Morpheus said the One was, Neo would never be anywhere near as knowledgeable or important as Morpheus himself.

Neo acknowledged the praise with a nod, but his face still showed insecurity. He sat sideways in his chair and Trinity joined him, the two squeezing together, as Morpheus addressed the rest of the group.

"The impossible has become possible, in more ways than one," he said, his voice grave, "and we have cause both for great pain and great joy. We found a traitor in our midst-one capable of both blackmail and murder." Switch and Apoc watched him with blank faces, neither able to quite fathom the importance as their commander spoke. "Most of this crew was brutally, systematically killed, either by the machines or by the traitor himself."

Switch cast a confused glance at Neo's chair, though both he and Trinity knew she really didn't see how they sat, or the arm that was wound around Trinity's back and how Neo's hand rested against her hip.

"Cypher betrayed us all," he continued his eyes on Apoc now, "sold me to the machines, caused the Agents to kill Mouse…and then pulled the plug on both you, Apoc, and Switch."

Silence reigned.

"I know, by all rights, you should be dead right now. This is hard to grasp for you, I realize, but you need to hear it now. You were dead, technically. But Neo brought you back. I still don't know how he did it, and I don't think any of us could have done it." He paused, the dramatic silence building. "He is the One, my friends. We have found the One."

Both Apoc and Switch stared, and Neo felt himself shrinking under their measuring gazes. But, strangely, he felt somewhat relieved that someone wasn't staring at him as if he were some prize specimen with amazing superpowers here to save mankind. Even skepticism was a welcome relief from that.

"I…don't know if I can explain what I did," he told Morpheus hesitantly. His mentor only smiled.

"There is plenty of time for that later, Neo. I don't expect you to be able to tell me what you yourself don't understand at this point." He looked at his remaining crew for a long moment, realizing the wondrous gifts that had been bestowed upon them. Blessings. Tank was alive-hurt but alive-and Trinity had gone through some kind of transformation. Morpheus wasn't sure just what that transformation had been yet, but he was willing to bet it had something to do with his new protégé. Apoc and Switch were back from the dead. Back from the dead. Morpheus knew that he couldn't quite grasp yet just what an impossible possibility was now staring back at him from the faces of his beloved crew. And Neo. Neo was the One, in truth and actuality. He was now what he was always meant to be.

And there was no time left to marvel.

"Switch, Apoc. Can you work?"

At their affirmative nods, he continued. "I want Trinity and Neo working on dismantling the Sentinels and melting them down. You have your orders from before. Apoc and Switch-I want you to work on getting our normal power systems back online, as quickly as you can. Any structural damage to the ship that has to be repaired go ahead a repair, but leave what can be left. I want her flyable and nothing else at this point. Tank, as soon as we patch you up, I want you helping them." He then nodded to Tank and the two of them descended the ladder down to the med bay, hoping that enough was left down there to patch up Tank's horrible burns.

The four remaining crewmembers stared at each other for a long minute, then turned away to begin their respective tasks.

Switch paused for a long minute, staring at the covered bodies of Dozer and Mouse. She sniffed, then turned haunted eyes to Neo. "Can't you do anything?" she asked, and in her words Neo knew that she had accepted him as the One, superpowers and all. He sighed and shook his head, then shrugged. "Don't know how," he replied. "Dozer…it had nothing to do with the Matrix. Can't help him."

"What about Mouse?"

"He was shot multiple times," Trinity objected. "We all heard it."

"So was I," Neo said, frowning. He lifted up his bloodstained sweater a little bit to show his smooth, unbroken skin. "Not a mark on me, though."

"But you refused to let the Matrix hurt you," Trinity argued. "Remember? I heard you. You said no. You rejected its forced reality. Mouse can't do that…or if he can, he hasn't learned how yet."

"But…" Neo lifted up the blanket concealing Mouse's body. He raised the bloody shirt, to find a flat, pale chest that was covered in blood but no traceable rips in the skin.

"His mind was shot, not his body," Trinity reminded him. "He died, Neo."

But Neo was now thinking hard as he knelt there. "How did the blood get there if his body wasn't hurt?" he demanded.

Switch answered, "The digital reality of the Matrix gave the cause of the blood-wounds. Wounds were inflicted by the machines and won't show up here. Only the effect shows-the blood. That was caused by the mind believing it had been shot, not by actual bullets."

"He's probably bleeding internally," Trinity interjected.

"Can we stop that?" Neo asked.

There was a pause. Then, "Yes."

"Send me in. I can't promise anything…but I'll try."

Trinity obeyed, though she was the ranking officer on the deck, something that showed both Apoc and Switch the trust she had to have for their newest crewmember.

"Won't Tank feel worse?" Apoc asked as Neo strapped his own feet in, "With his brother the only one who stayed dead?"

Trinity shook her head. "I've known Tank for a long time. He's hurting, but the more of us we can save…we have to try."

It took longer, both to find the tiny wisp of Mouse's mental self still trapped in the Matrix and then to fix him. Trinity very nearly pulled Neo out again as he disappeared from her screens, only to reappear again with a reassuring phone call…right in the hotel where Mouse had been murdered.

"He couldn't come to me," was Neo's reasoning, "so I came to him." Trinity gritted her teeth, her jaw tightening, but said nothing as she saw the lifeless code that was Mouse suddenly begin to whir and change. He started glowing brighter and brighter, the glow of life, and then suddenly he was breathing in the Matrix, breathing…

Then he was led to the repaired exit phone in that building and he was opening his eyes on board the Nebuchadnezzar and nearly weeping with the pain of it.

"Hurts," he whimpered. Trinity pulled Neo out for what she hoped would be the last time that day, and they all ran to Mouse. He was holding his stomach and coughing up blood.

"It's in his windpipe," Trinity said calmly after assessing his vitals screen. "Keep coughing," she instructed him, "and you'll feel better."

He leaned forward and continued to cough, sticky red-black trails of blood leaking from his mouth until he suddenly gagged and vomited. He hadn't anything much in his stomach but bile and blood, but he seemed better after purging. He caught his breath slowly, punctuated by small coughs, and looked up at them, confusion and exhaustion warring in his eyes.

Apoc ran down to the mess hall and returned with a cup of hot water, which he gave to Mouse. The boy drank it carefully as Trinity scanned the monitors carefully, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He seemed fine.

"Okay now?" she asked finally, unhooking him from the monitors and releasing the last of the bindings holding him to his chair.

"Think so," he replied. "What happened?"

"We don't have time now," she said. "The Neb's ruined and we need to get her running again ASAP."

"What can I do?"

They put him to work disassembling the Sentinels with Neo and Trinity, Switch and Apoc disappearing below to tinker with the electrical systems and try to get them operational again. For a long time, they all worked in silence. Trinity was grateful for Mouse's willingness to trust them and accept that they would tell him the truth when there was time. She was finding it difficult to even work alongside Neo, her hands sometimes coming perilously close to touching his as they tore at the mechanical beasts. There had been only the one moment of shared understanding too deep to explain in words, the sudden ache in her stomach that only intensified as he reached up with his head and found her mouth…. One moment. One promise. One kiss. And then Morpheus had been there, unaware of what he had inadvertently disrupted, and the pressures of fixing the Neb so they could continue to survive.

But dear God how she wished there had been more time!

She could feel his nervousness as he worked beside her, and how it made his fingers clumsy on the unfamiliar metal. These machines were put together with amazing precision, and they were strong. It was all they could do with wedges, hammers, and sometimes even torches and crowbars to dismantle the things into pieces small enough for their ship's melting chambers to accommodate.

The power went out, all but the emergency lighting, after about an hour, after which everything came back on full-force. Trinity allowed herself a tiny, satisfied smile. Switch and Apoc had done it. The power was back.

A few minutes later the duo trudged back up the ladder and into the main deck, weary but not exhausted.

"Power online," Switch said unnecessarily, a tired grin lighting her features. Trinity had to smile back.

"Structural report?" she queried.

"She can fly," Apoc replied simply.

"Good." Trinity stood up and stretched, hands on her hips, cracking her back and wincing as she noticed that her left foot had fallen asleep as she crouched on the floor of the Neb and pried apart the damned Sentinel. "Lend a hand here, will you? I'll go lay in a course."

She left, feeling Neo's eyes on her as she climbed to the bridge. There she set a steady course in, toward the center of the planet. She knew Morpheus would want to find a supply ship at the very least, so they could repair the ship, and likely would want to go straight to Zion itself. They worked so well together because they anticipated the other's wishes and actions. Most of the time. Trinity smiled inwardly, a rueful gesture. Morpheus knew nothing of what the Oracle had told her. He had not asked, and she had not trusted him enough at the time to tell him of her own free will. He didn't know…

"You will lose your mentor, child, just when you feel you need him the most."

The words rang through Trinity's head as if it were yesterday she'd heard them. "You will lose him, and it will take a great leap of faith for you to regain him…if you dare. But, young one, you won't have to take that leap alone. I foretold the coming of the One who will bring about the end of the Matrix a long time ago. That was my first prophecy, you know. Well. You'll fall in love, Trinity, and it won't be just any love. This will be a lifebond, something to last forever. And that man, the man you love, will be the One."

The rest of what was said didn't matter as much to Trinity. She feared losing Morpheus, but it was talk of love that had unsettled her. Love wasn't in the stars for her, it seemed, and she nearly dismissed all of the Oracle's prophecy on that one point.

But here it was; a love so deep that she couldn't explain it. It was terrifying in its intensity and wonderful in how it made her feel. She hadn't known it was possible to feel both frightened and exhilarated all at once, but now she knew it was entirely possible. Because she was both terrified and in love, and everything seemed to stem from the same source.

Trinity sighed and turned away, setting the Nebuchadnezzar on autopilot and returning to her place near the Core. She returned just in time to find Morpheus and Tank climbing up the ladder, reappearing. Tank stopped in place, eyes bugging out, once he caught sight of Mouse working, bloodstained but obviously in no pain, right alongside the rest of the crew. Morpheus paused, but if he was surprised to see five crewmembers instead of four he said nothing.

"Good, good!" he approved. "Trinity, did you lay in a course?"

"Yes, sir."

"Heading…?"

"In."

"Good." He nodded and cast his eyes about again. He was about to speak, but suddenly Neo grabbed for his head, his calm face suddenly scrunched into an expression of intense pain, and he exhaled violently.

"What's wrong?" Morpheus asked, concern written on his features. Trinity was by Neo's side in an instant, her hands over his, and he leaned into her without realizing it, letting her cradle his head and run a soothing hand across his temples.

"Head…hurts," he gasped out, and Morpheus nodded.

"Should have expected this. Typically, if you work your mind too hard in the Matrix-even in the construct-you can get a headache. I'd say, One or no One, you stretched your mental muscles a little too far today. You're not used to all this." He nodded at Trinity. "Take him up to cabin nine, Trinity, and no arguments. You both need some rest. We'll all take shifts off until the repair crews from Zion meet us. I'll send word in to them right now."

His tone brooked no argument, and so with slightly red cheeks Trinity guided Neo to his feet and led him to the ladder. At Morpheus' signal she nodded-as soon as she got Neo resting, Morpheus wanted to speak to her. She was too tired at this point to be worried about what he might ask.

*****

Neo knew his skull was going to split wide open, he was sure of it. Trinity's hands, cool and gentle, soothed it somewhat, but not much. He hardly knew where she guided his feet as together they climbed the ladder and she led him into the mess hall. She sat him down, rummaged in a rusty drawer, and withdrew a tin of white powder. Neo put his head down on the cold metal table, holding it in his hands and whimpering a little. Trinity watched, seeing the beaded cords of sinew and muscle vibrating in his neck and shoulders, the little vein throbbing near his temple. Quickly, she drew a mug of water and dumped a spoonful of the powder in it, stirring the mixture until it dissolved.

"Here," she said, sitting next to Neo and urging his head up. "Drink all of this."

He drank blindly, trusting her implicitly as she pressed the cup to his lips. Immediately the pressure in his head receded, and by the time he drained the cup it had reduced to a tolerable-though still painful-level. Cautiously he opened his eyes.

"What is that?" he asked hoarsely, his muscles slowly relaxing again.

"Damn strong painkiller," she replied calmly, mixing another mug for him. "Numbs just about anything."

"What's it come from?"

"You don't want to know." She gave him the second mug and he drank it off without hesitation, then sighed.

"Feel better?"

"Much. Still hurts, though."

"I can imagine." She paused, one hand a warm pressure on his shoulder. "What you did in there was amazing."

His eyes slipped up to her, solemn in his equally solemn face. Trinity smiled, the gesture tinged with sadness as her smiles always seemed to be, and kissed his forehead very gently before removing the mug from his hand. Neo did not see the kind of awed worship that so bothered him in the eyes of the others. In Trinity's actions and expressions he saw only trust-dear God-love, and a kind of weary regard.

"Let's go."

He followed her out of the mess hall and back up the ladder, moving under his own will this time. His head pounded but did no more than that, giving him none of the trouble with his senses that he'd been having before. The numbness that replaced the pain was blessedly soft and almost warm.

"Where are we going?" he asked as they passed the floor with his own cabin on it.

"Cabin nine," Trinity replied. "I've never been sent there before, but I guess this situation warrants it."

"What do you mean?"

She sighed. "It's for us when we…need a break. When we can't keep going. It's like detox…rehab…therapy…I don't care what you want to call it."

"Another simulation?" Neo asked with distaste. He couldn't bear being plugged into anything else this day…

"No." Trinity smiled briefly, inserted a console key into a lock beside the door-none of the other cabins were locked, Neo noted-and twisted open the hatch. "Everything here is terribly real."

Neo understood as soon as he stepped inside. Creature comforts. The ambience was unfamiliar, but relaxing just the same. He heard Trinity close the hatch behind them, felt her presence at his back as he stared blankly at the cabin before him.

It was big-spacious enough for them to move around without bumping into each other, which was something he couldn't say for his own quarters below. There was a big, full-sized bed dominating the room, but it was sunk into the floor so as to give the illusion of uncluttered space. The floor was lightly carpeted, though the carpet was old and industrial, and the lighting was low and soft.

And, wonder of wonders, in a little alcove separated from the main cabin by a curtain, there was a pool of steaming water. It was sunk into the ship at floor level, just like the bed, and looked suspiciously like a hot tub. Neo felt his aching muscles yearning for a bath as he caught sight of the tub, but he knew he would never stay awake long enough to finish one and likely would drown if he tried to bathe now.

"Tell me why we can't live like this every day," he mumbled.

"Not enough room on the ship," Trinity replied, sitting in one of the two upholstered chairs and stretching out her long legs. "But we need it every once in a while…for real."

Neo knew what she meant. They lived in a world, here, of ice and steel and soft living bodies weren't meant to hold up under the strain of such a harsh environment. He nodded, eyelids drooping, and heard Trinity's low chuckle for the very first time.

"Come on," she said, standing up and guiding him over to the bed. He didn't need to be guided but relished the contact anyway. "To sleep with you."

"What about you?" he asked as his knees crumbled and he fell back on the cushioned softness.

"I have to give my report to Morpheus," she replied, "and then I'll be back."

"Never stop, do you?"

"I could say the same thing about you." She coaxed him onto his stomach, and as he stretched out he felt her hands removing his boots. He made a move to do it himself, but she pushed him back to the bed. "Rest, or else your headache will come back."

That got his attention, and he lay back, cushioning his head on his arms despite the fact that he had a pillow. He felt Trinity rise next to him, and then her strong hands were on his head. "God," he whispered as she pressed delicate fingers against his temples, stroked gently, firmly down to the base of his neck. He closed his eyes and gave in to the wave of calming sensation as her fingers deftly loosened his muscles and he was borne away on a wave of warmth he hadn't ever experienced before. He was asleep in two minutes, and Trinity smiled softly to herself as she covered him with a blanket.

She paused, then, wanting to kiss his sleeping form before she left but knowing it might wake him. The desires warred within her for a split second before she slowly lowered her head and touched his cheek with her lips very gently. He stirred but did not wake, and she left to go find Morpheus.

*****

He was in the pilot's chair as she had expected, and he was waiting for her.

"Morpheus."

"Trinity." He eyed her, knowing he had her complete trust but wondering just what she was willing to tell him. He wasn't sure at all; had never been sure even though Trinity had been with him since very nearly the beginning. She was the first person he'd ever located, the first person he'd released on his own while attempting to build his own crew. She was special to him, and he had hope that now, with Neo, she had found something to make her happy. He knew nothing else in this world had ever made her happy. Maybe now her smiles would have more of joy and less of sadness in them.

"You want my report of the incident," she said, guessing why he'd called her.

"Please. I got Tank, too, but there were gaps in what he knew."

"He wasn't there," she replied. "How could he know?"

"True enough." Morpheus waited.

"Where do you want me to start?"

"When you left me."

She nodded. "We slid through the walls, down to the basement, where we lost Cypher. Apparently he got out before us, because Tank directed us to the same exit, only Cypher reached it first. He was already back on board the Neb when we got to the exit. The phone was ringing, and I picked it up and handed it to Neo. It must have gone dead just before it hit his ear." She didn't like this; it was too raw for her still to talk like this. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to continue. "I called Tank, but Cypher answered. He started talking-about being tired, about wanting to be somewhere else. He said the Matrix was more real than this world, and that you had betrayed us-and then he unplugged Apoc. He-he told me who he was going to unplug before he did it, just so I could watch them die." Trinity swallowed, forcing back the raw terror that threatened her. Fear wouldn't help now; it was all in the past, and almost everything had been fixed…

That didn't help her fear in the slightest.

"When he got to Neo, he asked me if I believed. If I believed Neo was the One."

"What did you say?"

"I said yes." Her words were cold, but Morpheus had not worked with her for so long without knowing some of her personal idiosyncrasies, and he could see right through the dispassionate voice. "He said it would take some kind of miracle to stop him from unplugging Neo, and that miracle would prove it one way or another." She swallowed around the constriction in her throat and dropped her head, the next words coming out very low and quick. "I don't know what happened then; he stopped talking and suddenly the phone started ringing again. Neo made me go first, and when I came back Cypher and Dozer were dead, Tank was injured, and…" She shook her head.

"Tank told me what happened. Go on."

"Tank wanted to unplug you, and I told him he could." She neither apologized for her actions nor tried to make excuses, for which Morpheus was grateful. Under the circumstances, he would have done the same thing, and he held no malice toward the crewmembers that would have sacrificed him for the good of Zion. "Neo stopped us, said he wasn't the One, but that he was going in to save you anyway."

"What did you say to that?" Morpheus asked. "You are his commanding officer."

"I told him he wasn't going to risk his neck, but he didn't listen to me. So…I figured if he was so set on committing suicide, I might as well go with him and maybe together we might be able to bring you back."

"Didn't like that much, did he?"

Her eyes were wary. "How did you know?"

Morpheus smiled. "He is a loner, Trinity. Up until now he has never had a reason to create strong bonds with others. You offering to help was an alien concept to him." His little smile grew bigger. "And I expect there was no little bit of misplaced chivalry in there, as well. He wanted to keep you safe."

"Asshole," Trinity said, but with no real malice, and Morpheus couldn't tell whether the remark was leveled at Neo or himself. "I'm a resistance leader, Morpheus, no doll to be kept on a shelf."

"I know that, Trinity." He lay a hand on her arm. "Please, continue."

"Not much else to tell," she said. "We went in with a very loose plan-kill people and blow things up. It hinged on the fact that nobody has ever done anything like that before. They didn't expect us."

"No, they didn't," Morpheus agreed. "You caught them by surprise, Trinity. It's the faith that did it, I think. They are machines. They can't understand the power of belief."

"Or the power of love." Trinity looked at him, then, squarely in the eye. "You are my father, Morpheus. I wasn't going to just sit there and let them kill you."

"You're right. They can't understand love-they can't feel it. They can't understand why you and Neo would risk your own lives trying to save mine." He leaned forward. "I want to tell you something, Trinity. It's something I have felt from the moment I was unplugged and began working for the resistance. Love, Trinity. Love and faith. They are the greatest weapons we have, and they are what's going to win us this war."

She nodded.

"But there is one more thing I want to know."

Expecting his question to be about the reappearance of Mouse, Trinity waited. But that was not at all what Morpheus said.

"Trinity, Neo died. I saw the flatline on the screen myself, and it went on too long to be a simple anomaly. He died, and then he came back. I want to know what brought him back."

There was silence for a long, tense moment, as Trinity refused to meet the eyes of her mentor and captain. She took a breath, let it out again, and took another. Finally- "I brought him back."

"How?"

"The Oracle told me a lot of things I didn't believe at the time," she said softly. "She spoke of…things I didn't understand. I don't believe in fate, Morpheus-at least, I didn't. I still believe we have choices we have to make, but I also believe that some things are just meant to be. I have to believe that now."

"You've seen something to change your mind?" he queried gently.

She nodded. "The Oracle told me…she told me that I would fall in love with the One." Trinity swallowed, still refusing to look up. She shook her head as she spoke. "I tried to deny it. I tried to tell myself I didn't love him-couldn't love him. I'm not the kind of person meant to rely on anyone else like that. But I couldn't stop it. And when he died, I knew he wasn't gone for good. And I knew I had to tell him…so I did. I told him that I loved him. I kissed him. And he woke up."

Morpheus let her sit in the silence, let her run over her words again in her mind before he leaned forward and lay his hand over hers. "Thank you, Trinity." He said nothing more. Then, "That was all. I'll call for you and Neo when I want you again."

Trinity knew a dismissal when she heard one. She rose and slipped away quickly, mulling over the discussion in her mind as she made her way back to the cabin and the sleeping Neo.

*****

This door did not squeak as badly as most, and she did not disturb him as she stepped inside and shut the hatch behind her. Exhaustion, sheer and simple, washed over her as she dropped her shoes near one of the chairs and gently sat on the bed, tucking her feet up under her. What had Morpheus wanted out of the last bit of the conversation? She couldn't guess, unless he had been watching her with Neo and suspected something…

But she couldn't be sure. It was all so questionable, and nothing was clear and straightforward.

Suddenly the brush of fingers against her knee made Trinity jump, and her head snapped around to see Neo awake-at least partly-and his sleepy eyes looking at her from under his short, stubbly hair. "For Chrissakes, Trinity, come to bed," he groaned, and in that laughably normal sentence all the rightness Trinity had felt when she kissed him came flooding back.

She let him pull her down next to him on the wide bed, wrapping them both in the warm blankets already heated by his body. She felt her body relax as, still on his stomach, he nudged up next to her, her shoulder fitting into the crook between his chin and his own shoulder. He slid an arm around her waist, the contact making her entire body tense up before she forced herself to relax. Then he moved his hand sleepily and his fingers found the hem of her shirt and the warm skin beneath it. She melted at the touch of skin on skin, even something so tiny as his fingertips at her waist, and fell asleep tangled in the blankets and a warm pile of arms and legs, his gentle breath tickling her ear.

She was the first awake, though there was no way of knowing exactly how much time had passed. All Trinity knew was that she had not yet been summoned by Morpheus, though she wasn't sure if that was good or ill. It bothered her, somewhat, that he seemed so eager to push Neo upon her. She hadn't been sure at all whether or not he would approve of her feelings for their newest crewmember. But like she'd said before in her debriefing, she wasn't in control of her own heart when it came to Neo. God knew she'd tried to stop. It just hadn't worked.

She opened her eyes and shifted a little, only to find that they'd somehow moved in their sleep and Neo's body was spooned around hers, his arms locked in a firm grip around her waist and one of his warm hands resting under her shirt, palm flat against her stomach. With a kind of fatalistic, resigned touch to her thoughts, she knew that they were in this deep now, together, no matter what happened.

Ordinarily, Trinity knew she'd be dubious about the state of Neo's feelings and whether or not he loved her in return. But oddly enough, she didn't care. She knew that, by all rights, she should. She didn't. Maybe it had been the look in his eyes when he'd opened them after being torn out of the Matrix-alive. Maybe it had been the touch of his lips for the first time, or the way he heard her and obeyed while plugged into the program. How he had heard her, she still had no idea. He wasn't supposed to be able to.

But Neo was the One. Trinity decided that supposed to would have to be thrown out the window when it came to him.

He shifted in his sleep, then, and she felt his lips and the tip of his nose brush against the back of her neck. She struggled to hold back a shiver at the slow movement of skin upon skin, knowing that it was useless. Her body awoke fully, then, and she became fully aware of Neo's presence behind her, his body solid and firm against her back and side, his arms encircling her in what was an extremely comforting grip. Desire tickled her stomach, completely unexpected, and she ruthlessly pushed it away. This was not what she was supposed to be thinking.

Dozer was dead. Dead. Cypher had betrayed them all, and were it not for the man lying unconscious behind her, wound around her, three more of their crew would be dead too. No, she corrected herself, four. Morpheus would have died as well, and she would have been left with an operator and a half-trained…whatever Neo was…on her hands, looking to her to lead them. She shivered. Though she kept telling herself that might-have-beens were useless to think about, she still couldn't help but dwell on the frightening spectre of what could have been.

If Neo hadn't realized his full potential…

If she had not found the courage to tell him the truth…

All had hinged on the two of them. Their lives and the lives of their crew had been held in the balance, and it took them both acting as a team to save them. Trinity shuddered and put one of her hands over Neo's. It was too much to think about at the moment. Trinity closed her eyes again, waiting for sleep to reclaim her.

"Wow."

Neo was awake.

"What?" she asked, turning her head slightly. His arms flexed around her, his hand moved on her stomach, sending another flutter of frightening want through her body. Trinity struggled not to react but then his lips brushed the back of her neck, on purpose this time, and she gave up as a shiver of pleasure ran up her spine.

"Never thought I'd wake up to this," he said, a small chuckle in his groggy voice. He shook his head and she felt his breath tickle her hair.

"Why not?"

"Never thought I had a chance in hell with you." His arms tightened. "But shit, you'll never know how much I wished I did."

She rolled over then, not wanting him to let go but needing to see his eyes. Still foggy with sleep, he slipped to his back on the mattress and loosened his arms as Trinity rolled onto her stomach and propped herself up on an elbow, watching him. His arms still loosely held her, one hand lying casually along her jutting hipbone.

He rubbed at his eyes and then blinked a couple times before focusing on her. "Christ, you're incredible." He paused. "You saved my life, Trinity."

"And you saved mine," she said, her almost-smile playing across her sharp features. She paused, then leaned up from where she rested and kissed his forehead gently. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he replied, and then he took her chin in his hand and very gently tilted it down so her lips met his.

The dizzying explosion of sensation as their mouths touched took them both, held prisoner by feelings they could neither understand nor control. Neo knew that if he were the one balancing above her, he would have fallen on his face by this point. But with the firm pillow below his head, he felt safe enough to pull her closer.

Trinity half-fell against his chest, one of her hands sliding up his neck and tracing the line of his jaw as she gave in to his pleading request for her to open her mouth. She wasn't sure it was the wisest idea, and knew it was not the moment their tongues met. The sensations of hot and wet, of contact so close and intimate, blew all thought of reason from her mind. Neo's arms tightened around her and she pressed closer to him. In that moment she wanted all of him, her body demanding more as his hands unlocked from her waist and slid up her sides.

With the last bit of strength she possessed, Trinity bit his lower lip and then sucked it into her mouth, effectively ending the kiss. He let her pull away slightly, both breathing much more heavily than they had been moments before, and they stared wordlessly into each other's eyes for a long, stunned moment.

Then Neo sighed ruefully and reached forward again, kissing her lips gently and tracing the line of her jaw with the tip of his tongue. "Probably should stop…now," he said, though the regret in his voice was real.

"Probably," Trinity agreed. Her eyes traveled over his face, and she saw the blatant desire there. She wanted to give in to it-how she wanted to! But this just was not the time…it couldn't be the time. They weren't supposed to feel like this, not when their ship was damaged so badly, they had three Sentinels in pieces somewhere in the depths of the Neb, they had come so close to death, and two of their crew lay dead-one of which had betrayed them all. No. This was not the time for learning how to love.

Her body wasn't as clear on that point as her mind.

She told herself the million reasons why this should not happen-Morpheus could call them at any moment. They needed time to grieve on their own. They barely knew each other.

None of it really mattered as her eyes locked with Neo's again and she saw, in the shared gaze, exactly what was going to happen. She surrendered to it with a sense that fate was taking a hand again, as Neo's hand slid down her back, grasped her thigh, and gently eased her leg over his body so she was straddling him. That was the last touch, the last coherent thought she was sure of before everything faded into bliss and the warm hiss of sheets and skin, differing sensations of hot and wet, silky-soft and rock hard.

"Neo…" It was the one word she spoke in plea, just before the fall and the blessed numbness of release took her. His arms were hard against her, clasping her tightly, and she found herself wishing fervently that he would never, ever let go.

They fell asleep like that, still entwined, too exhausted to do more than shift into a more or less comfortable position before surrendering to unconscious again.

*****

"What are you thinking about?"

The query was breathed into her neck, eyelashes tickling her skin as he blinked. She shifted slightly and wrapped an arm around his head, hand playing in his short hair as she held him to her shoulder. He kissed the hollow of her jutting collarbone and waited for her answer.

"Matrix code for a human RSI," she responded after a moment.

"Sha."

"I'm serious." She stroked his hair absently. "I was thinking about different kinds of strength and how they translate when encoded."

"Wow."

"What?"

"You really are a programmer."

He felt her almost-smile though he could not see it, and he could not tell what it was about her that made him so perceptive to tiny changes. It scared him, in a way, when he realized he already knew her habits and could pinpoint her expressions just by her voice.

"Is that so hard to believe?" she asked.

"Programmers don't walk around kicking the shit out of G-men."

"This one does." She exhaled, and Neo felt her stomach flex. He smiled. Sometimes it was hard to remember she was human…but not when her warm body was pressed close to his without the hampering layers of cotton and wool. Though he knew it was impossible, at that moment he wanted nothing more than to lie there, just like that, for at least a month.

"So what else do you do?" he asked, more to hear her voice and feel it buzz beneath his cheek than anything else.

"Kick the shit out of cops, too."

"Jump off buildings?"

"Mm-hm."

"Fly?"

"In choppers."

He paused. Then, "Do you cry?"

She tensed against him, and when she relaxed again a moment later he knew it was because she had forced her body to calm itself. "I used to."

Using his newfound knowledge of her body, Neo ran a slow hand up her side and drew his fingertips across the curve of her shoulder. She shivered and pressed closer to him, her own hands warm against his skin. "Why?"

"I thought it was real."

"Real?"

"The Matrix." Her tone was resigned, as if she really didn't want to talk about this but knew he wouldn't stop asking. It felt strange, so strange, to have loved her body but to not know these things about her mind, her personality. Neo didn't know how to go about working this relationship, a relationship that while still in its infant stages seemed already so permanent. It was the kind of fated circumstance he absolutely hated, but there wasn't a thing he could do about it. His heart was committed now, and he didn't know if it was possible anymore to live without those ice-blue eyes near him.

"You mean…before?" he asked, his eyes flicking up. From where he lay, pressed against the incredible warmth of her chest, he could see the sharp curve of her chin and the barest line of her bottom lip as she spoke.

"Mm-hm. I always knew there was something more, something I should understand."

"You thought Morpheus could give you those answers."

"He did, in a way." She shifted, and Neo moved his thumb idly against the skin just below her breasts. "He set us free." Her voice hitched a little, a result of Neo's touch, and her arms tightened around him. He felt her muscles, hard just below the surface of her incredibly soft skin, and as they tightened the tickle of desire awakened once more within him. He stretched up and found her mouth with his, kissing her again with the kind of want that had ignited them before.

Her palms were warm as they flowed up his back, light fingertips smoothing over the ridge of his shoulder blades, the smooth pink scars where his plugs had been removed. Trinity's own scars had long since healed and were barely visible, the only proof of her own unplugging in the single plug left in her forearm and the big data outlet hidden in the wisps of her dark hair. Neo licked gently at her lips, nipped them, and with a low chuckle of laughter she opened her mouth and deepened the kiss.

"You were…" Neo let his voice trail off as she opened her eyes and regarded him, the ice-blue strangely warm.

Trinity pressed her hips up against his, wrapping her legs around his and nudging her body close to him in a way that drove him mad. "You were virgin, too," she said with a small, ironic smile. "Technically."

Neo grimaced and hid his embarrassment at forgetting the Matrix for a moment by kissing her again. Her arms came up to hold him and she rolled them over, instinct and reflex taking over once more as rational thought fled.

They made love gently this time, slowly, for what fueled their actions was more than the mutual wanting that flowed through their blood. This was what they were fighting for, Neo realized as he held what he knew to be the most incredible woman in the world close. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks flushed in a way he'd previously felt sure he'd never, ever see in anything but his dreams. But there it was-she wanted him. Loved him, and Jesus, he was going to do all he could to be worthy of that love.

It was not exhaustion that took them after their desires had been slacked this time, but a companionable sense of consciousness where they wished to do nothing more than lie in each other's presence. There was no need for talk, no need for anything but the most basic of human functions-heartbeat, pulse, breath. Neo felt so alive that he couldn't put into words the strange emotions that were coursing through his body.

"Nobody can tell you you're in love. You just know it through and through, balls to bones."

She'd been right, and Neo grimaced when he realized the Oracle probably had known exactly what was going to happen between himself and Trinity. But, he questioned his own heart, did it really matter? Did it really matter what this one person knew or didn't know? It hadn't changed the fact that he loved Trinity and nothing could ever end the frighteningly wonderful feelings he encountered when she looked at him with those eyes, or touched him, or-dear God-when she…

A discreet knock on the door alerted them to somebody's presence. Trinity had been drifting, not quite awake nor completely asleep, and she jumped a little at the sound. Then she sighed, draped a blanket around her body, and rose from the bed. "Be right back," she said, and Neo could hear her voice dropping back into its usual professional impersonality.

Trinity opened the door to see Tank standing outside. He was obviously surprised at her state of undress, though he tried to conceal it. Trinity resisted the urge to pull the blanket tighter around herself, knowing full well that Tank could not see anything and not really caring if he could. Human bodies were taken for granted here, where their lavatory was communal and there was virtually no place except bed to go for any privacy at all.

"Wake-up call," he said with a lopsided attempt at a smile. "Looks like you needed it."

"We'll be down in a minute," Trinity said, ignoring the gentle jab. "How are you?"

"Tired." He grinned again, and this time it worked a little better. "I get my own break as soon as you come down."

"We'll hurry," she promised and shut the door.

Trinity waited a moment before turning back to the bed and the man waiting there. Tank would have no problem imagining what had happened in that room while the rest of the crew worked. She didn't feel guilty, exactly, because they had earned their break and had not simply sneaked away to fuck. Making love hadn't even been in the original game plan, though looking back she knew that it had been an inevitable conclusion to sleeping so close to the man she was destined to love.

But gossip traveled fast on board the ship, and now that Tank knew what had happened in the comfort cabin everyone else surely would as well. Neo didn't know, as Trinity did, how big the bets were getting on whether or not anyone would ever crack the impenetrable shell she had built around herself. Every time they unplugged another person the crew waited for her to give some sign of anything other than friendship. Every time they entered Zion they watched her like a hawk, waiting for some free-born man-or woman-to turn her eye.

She didn't like to think what kind of conclusions they might draw about her new relationship with Neo, but that couldn't be helped at this point. Holding back a sigh, she went to pull her clothes back on and urge Neo out of bed.

Little did Trinity know that Morpheus had spoken with what was left of the Nebuchadnezzar's crew at length about her and Neo.

"I know the kind of jokes you've all shared about Trinity finding a partner," he had said after she and Neo disappeared up the ladder. "Normally I wouldn't interfere-you're all smart enough to handle your own affairs without your captain telling you how to breathe. But I'm going to ask you all not to tease them, at least for a while." He let the request sink in for a moment before continuing. "I had some words with the Oracle after she saw Trinity. This was fated to be, and nothing Trinity could do would have changed it."

"She was meant to fall in love with the One?" Switch's voice was somewhat skeptical, and Morpheus could understand why. What point did love play in a war?

"She is an integral part of him being the One," he replied. "It was Trinity who awoke in him whatever it is that makes him different from us. It was Trinity who broke the wall holding him back-Trinity who brought him back to life. She's having a hard enough time dealing with learning how to love. I'm asking you not to make it any harder on her than this already is."

After that there was much whispering among the crew about what this could mean to the ship in the long run, but though there were jokes and teasing among them, none of it ever got back to Trinity or Neo.

*****

The two appeared more or less at the same time on the main deck, and though they did not hold hands and there were no longing glances shared between them, it was obvious that a great change had taken place. No one had any doubt as to what that change had been, and no one dared defy Morpheus and call them on it. Tank doubted that he would have had the heart to do so anyway, noting the nervousness he saw underneath Trinity's calm exterior. She wasn't as cool and collected as she liked people to believe she was. Neo had cracked that calm façade-without even trying to.

They set to work without a word, Trinity with a welder and mask and Neo becoming a runner, taking bucketsful of the Sentinel parts down to the scrap room. He'd never been down there before, and when Mouse showed him where it was, way down in the bowels of the ship, he'd shuddered. It was a small room with a dingy conveyor belt, on which sat pots of some metal impervious to the temperatures they subjected it to. Into these pots-each held perhaps a half-gallon-they piled the bits of metal they'd pulled off the machines. Then the pots slowly moved into the incinerator, the doors closed, and they were melted into liquid metal. The metal cooled and was mechanically slid out of the pots in solid cylinders, stacked, and the pots swiveled around again to be refilled.

Mouse and Tank took their time off as Neo and Trinity relieved them. Less time had passed than they actually thought-instead of the endless rest it had felt like, they had altogether slept (and loved) for a little more than ten hours. Why they hadn't slept longer, Trinity hadn't a clue, but she set to work feeling more awake and alive than she could ever remember before.

Long hours flew by as they toiled, trying to repair the ship and tear apart the Sentinels before some remote-activated system could re-awaken them. Once the buckets had all been emptied, Neo knelt near the others on the ground and began picking at them again. His fingers grew numb both from the cold of the ship and from the repetitive work. They stopped for food twice, and had a short break when Tank and Mouse reappeared to relieve Switch and Apoc. Neo glanced at the console hanging near the Core, amazed that another ten hours had passed. Though he was tired, cold, bored, and his back ached from crouching on the metal floor, he hadn't really felt them.

Morpheus was in and out, sometimes helping Trinity, sometimes watching the shifting patterns of the Matrix, but most of the time up in the cockpit. Trinity said he was talking with Zion a lot, though she would not say whether or not that was a bad thing. The atmosphere was tense, hurried, and nobody seemed to know why.

They reached the central motherboards of the Sentinels during the next shift as Switch and Apoc took a break. Everyone relaxed back with small smiles, too tired to cheer, as they tore apart the memory chips and dumped the mechanical brains into the last bucket. Mouse carried this one down to the incinerator and came back up twenty minutes later with a lump of cold, dull metal. Trinity opened a small panel in the wall, Mouse dumped it through, and Tank pushed a button. Neo heard a low clanking noise that quickly faded away.

"It leads to the outer hull of the ship," Mouse said in explanation. "We just chucked it out into the sewers."

Neo shook his head with a small smile on his face. If the machines wanted that hunk of metal and somehow were able to track it down, the Neb would be far, far away by the time they found it.

Morpheus entered again soon after that, giving Trinity and Neo their second break. "We're to be intercepted by a mechanic," he said, and he looked wearier than anyone else could possibly imagine. "We're not going to Zion right now."

"What's the matter?" Neo asked. Trinity shook her head and led him away, her eyes promising answers. He followed her trustingly though he really wanted to speak to Morpheus and find out what had happened.

They returned to cabin nine to find towels laid out for them-clean, but thin and tattered like everything else on board the Neb. The bed was rumpled differently than they'd left it, and Neo understood. The others had been here, just as they had.

"There is only one cabin like this on the ship," Trinity said softly in explanation as she pulled her sweater and undershirt up over her head. "Where else would they go?"

Neo watched, enraptured, as she shed her clothing and slipped into the bathing pool. His body wanted her and was beginning to distract him, but he wanted answers. "Trin?"

She looked up at the first use he'd ever made of her nickname, but said nothing.

"What was wrong with Morpheus? Why aren't we going to Zion?"

She sighed and held out a hand, beckoning to him. He didn't have to be told twice. In record time he was out of his clothing and had lowered himself into the pool, gasping at the water as its warmth latched onto muscles that had long-forgotten the feeling of being surrounded by this kind of heat. It was almost as incredible as the feeling he got when Trinity held him.

"It's complicated," she said, her head leaning back against the lip of the pool. The tub wasn't big enough for them both to stretch out unfettered, but they entwined their legs, wet skin sliding against wet, facing each other amid the steam that rose and curled around their heads. "The situation in Zion right now is precarious at its best, and Morpheus needs to sleep. That's about as simple as I can make it."

"Too simple," Neo said, shaking his head. That prompted a small smile from Trinity, and she shifted in the pool, the water lapping at their shoulders as they rested.

"Morpheus is tired because he hasn't rested properly since…everything happened," she said. "He's not quite thinking clearly. I think, if you don't mind, that we'll cut this break short and I'll relieve him. He won't sleep unless I'm on duty."

"He trusts you."

"He trusts all of us," she objected. "But I'm the second in command."

Neo allowed this, and Trinity continued. "The problems in Zion are new, and because of that, the government doesn't quite know how to go about fixing them."

"There's a government in Zion?" Neo didn't know why that surprised him-cities had governments, and Zion was a city-but something as normal as elections and politics didn't seem to belong in this world, this reality.

"Not a very powerful one," Trinity said. "They don't control much. It's there to calm the fears of the people. We are, technically speaking, living in a state of anarchy. They issue laws, but it's up to the people whether we follow them or not. Morpheus himself broke a long-standing rule when he unplugged you."

"What will they do to him?"

Trinity shrugged. "Under normal circumstances, he'd likely be officially reprimanded. There's not much else they can do. But as he found you, found the One, it's hard to say what will happen."

"Does Morpheus work for the government?"

"Oh, no." Trinity hid a smile at the absurdity of the question, but she knew the question was an obvious one for someone like Neo who understood nothing of how Zion worked. "Officially, we don't really exist. We're pirates, Neo, and we use our equipment here to hack into the Matrix and fuck it up, make life hard for the machines. We bother them, like little gnats. Sometimes we search for people-coppertops-that would benefit from being unplugged."

"Like me."

"Like you," Trinity agreed. "That's basically what we do. We answer to no one. We carry scrap metal back to Zion-that's how we eat, you know. Metal is a very precious commodity because right now scrap is the only thing we have to build with. But our real job is down there in the Core."

"In the Matrix."

"Mm-hm." She ducked under the water, holding her breath, feeling its warmth seep into her pores and relax the strain her muscles had been under for long hours. When she came up for air, Neo was watching her speculatively, waiting for her to continue.

"So what's wrong with Zion now?" he pressed.

"There's been a split," she said. "The fundamentalists still believe we need to wait for the appearance of the One before making any sort of plans or trying to fight the machines in any way. And now there's a group of young hotheads who want to plan an attack on the machines even though they don't know you've been found. They say the One is simply some kind of folk legend and that the old ones are afraid of change-afraid to fight."

"Let me guess. These kids are free-borns."

"Mostly," Trinity agreed. She sighed and stretched forward with one foot, touching her toes to his stomach. Neo grabbed her ankle under the water and pulled, a playful spark lighting his eyes. Trinity shrieked as she was pulled under, not noticing as Neo dove too, slipping around under the water until his mouth was level with hers. She struggled against him, but not very hard, and Neo used the opportunity to press his mouth to hers.

Her arms went around him as soon as the kiss and the placement of his lips oriented her, and as she opened her mouth he breathed out, sharing his breath underwater. It was a strange kind of intimacy as they wound their legs around each other and held the shared breath of air as long as they could. With true regret, Trinity pushed her feet against the bottom of the pool and propelled them to the surface gently, breaking the kiss just as they rose out of the water. Beads dripped from her thick eyelashes, running down her cheeks like tears, and Neo ducked his head and licked at them with the tip of his tongue, his lips a velvety softness against her skin.

Neither knew exactly why this love, this feeling of oneness held them so firmly. It gripped them, not allowing them to let go or even pull away from each other emotionally in any way. Neither wanted to. For Neo, finding warmth in Trinity's eyes and arms was like finding a home here in this alien land where he'd been sure he would never feel comfortable. For Trinity, just knowing he was there was the knowledge that she would never be alone again. For once in her solitary life, she was not alone. That thought both scared and exhilarated her in a way she'd never felt before.

"So…" She tried to drag him back to the topic they'd been discussing, but Neo had decided her throat was more interesting than political struggles in Zion and his lips and tongue against her wet skin were more than distracting. He kissed a line up the side of her neck, scraped her soft earlobe with his teeth, and nuzzled the warm skin behind her ear very gently as she tried to gather coherent thoughts in her head through the warm fuzzy haze he was creating with his actions. "Neo-"

The last was a warning, and he pulled away with a small, foolish smile, knowing he really needed to understand what she was trying to tell him but wishing fervently that there was some other time in which he could be briefed. This was not his idea of foreplay.

"Dissidents in Zion, right," he said, pulling himself back onto the subject and releasing her body, knowing full well he wouldn't be able to pay attention with her tempting skin anywhere near him. She shot him an ironic look, and he knew she wanted to scrap the whole idea of talking just as much as he did. They didn't quite dare to, though, much as they both wished.

"The government Council is worried about what these people will do," she said. "I spoke to Morpheus earlier today. He hasn't told anyone but the highest-ranking Council members that you've been found-he wants to assess the situation in the city for himself before he makes any decisions. Technically, since Morpheus unplugged you, you are an automatic part of his crew. They can't place you elsewhere without both Morpheus' consent and yours. Morpheus is worried about the Council's ability to keep you safe from any hotheads that might decide it's better for their cause if you are never found."

"God."

"What?"

He shook his head. "Thought we had machines to fight. Never thought we'd have to fight our own-other people."

"Nothing is clear right now," Trinity said, gliding toward him again, a sign to Neo that the information session was over. "Transitions take time."

"Time," Neo agreed, as his arms reached out and snaked around her as she drew near. Their mouths met as she reached his body, her arms slipping around his shoulders with a splashing sound as water sloshed over the lip of the pool. The shine of dim light on wet skin was all Neo saw from then on-that, and ice-blue eyes that would never truly loose their cool exterior though behind it they burned with love.