A/N-Why did the apple upset CLU so much? Inspired by a prompt on Archive of Our Own.

CLU walked over to the long table that occupied part of the brightly-lit, white room. There was a pair of candlesticks surrounding the centerpiece, a bowl of shiny, almost spherical objects that rested underneath the chandelier that hung over the table. He reached out and picked up one of the objects from the bowl to examine it more closely.

It looked familiar. A quick check of his memories determined it to be an apple. Not a true apple, as was seen in the memories that he had from Flynn; but the shape was unmistakably that of an apple.

CLU remembered how early in the Grid's runtime Flynn would try to code various items from the User world while he was on the Grid. Some things were useful, like the lightrunners. At least, the item that inspired the concept that had led to the lightrunners. Other things, CLU simply had not seen the point of spending the time to code them.

Like User-style food items. They already had energy in the Grid. There was no real need to change the look and shape of it to match that of User foods. Why bother with wasting time with 'food', when there were so many other issues that needed Flynn's attention? There was always something that he had to try to get Flynn to deal with so that they could create that perfect system. Even at the beginning, when the Grid was still new and developing in unexpected ways, Flynn would be distracted by inconsequential things; more often than not leaving CLU to do his best to care for the needs of the Grid and its programs alone.

Apples. Flynn had never managed to get them coded quite right. He would always find that there was a flaw somewhere in the coding. The color would be wrong or the flavor would be bitter. They would have the wrong texture when they were picked up or held. The apples were too hard, or they were too soft to the touch. Or they would derezz when their surface code was disturbed. Like when a User bit into them.

Eventually, Flynn had stopped trying to code food when he visited the Grid after enough spectacular failures with the apples. Apparently he had tried again while he hid here in the Outlands. And it seemed that he still had not been able to code a 'real' apple, even after all these cycles. Instead, he had made these shiny chrome apples.

CLU found that he approved of these apples. They would not destabilize, or 'rot' the way that the apples Flynn remembered would have eventually done. They did not contain energy; locking it away from use unless 'eaten'. They were all solid and identical in their weight, feel, size and appearance. Their only use seemed to be that of an ornament; and while not necessary, they did fulfill that function. They were, in their own way, perfect. If Flynn could make these apples perfect, then they could have made the Grid perfect, together, if Flynn had just understood what the Grid truly needed.

Why had he not been able to make Flynn understand? He was a digital copy of Flynn, his mirrored image. The Coded Likeness Utility. They even shared the same memories, the same desire; for the Grid to become the perfect system, to be able to change the world-digital and User.

CLU looked closer at the apple, noting his reflection on the surface of the apple. It reminded him of when he was first coded; seeing his reflection and realizing that it was Flynn, his user. Receiving his directives, and everything was new and full of promise. Flynn's promises.

The curved contours of the apple bent his reflection, showing him as bent and twisted-a distortion of himself, not as he truly was.

A distorted reflection.

CLU set the apple down carefully in the bowl. He hung his head as he leaned forward, his arms spread slightly as he rested his hands on the table. His gaze was thoughtful for a moment.

The shock of understanding went through him. This was why Flynn had not understood, why they had not worked together like they should. Why he had never been able to make Flynn listen to him. When CLU looked at Flynn, he could see himself.

When Flynn looked at CLU, all he saw was a distorted reflection; something that couldn't be real. That was why he had turned away from his programs.

He gave a sudden cry of rage as he swept everything off of the table; the candlesticks, the bowl with its apples, the chair that stood at the end of the table, all went flying through the air to come crashing down on the floor. CLU leaned on his hands once again, his head down as he looked at nothing at all. Around the room, Jarvis and his security watched him in silence, not knowing what to say or do; uncertain as to what had caused their leader to behave in such a fashion.

He began to laugh as he looked up.

A moment later, he straightened up, turning to lean almost sitting on the edge of the table. He looked at the room before him, chuckling softly for a few moments before falling silent. There was nothing for them here. Now that they knew the location of Flynn's hiding hole, there was nothing here for Flynn, either.

"Let's move," he said, and started to walk away. Rinzler, Jarvis, and the rest of his security team followed him.

After all these cycles, he still could not understand why Flynn had turned his back on the Basics, the programs that Flynn had created. Now, however, he knew what Flynn had seen the last time he had looked at CLU.

Something perfect, reflecting back a distorted picture of himself.