One nerve remaining; waiting on one look…
The last chapter of Symbiosis (in terms of date written, anyway, not chronological order @_@)is finally complete. Timeline-wise, this story takes place in between In Absentia and Chasing the Dawn (Links go to AO3).
For some reason, this chapter came out twice as long as ANY of the other fics I’ve written for this series, so I’m going to be posting it in two parts. Thank you all SO MUCH for reading, and for all your encouragement. :)
(Lyrics quoted are from this song by Imogen Heap)
Author’s Note 07/09/12
This is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite piece of Tron fic I’ve ever written.
It’s also the longest, and originally I posted this to Tumblr in 2 parts, since at the time I was unsure whether or not Tumblr had wordcount limits. I’ve since learned that it does not, and so I’ve re-integrated it back into one piece.
Have You Got it in You
All at once; not a whisper, no word, then all at once
(Let me have it all, let me have a battle on, easy target look can we just get it over with?)
It’s getting worse; against all the odds, it’s getting worse
(Guard down, floor’s yours, last man standing can we just get it over with?)
Been one of those days; safety first, don’t push
(What’s the hurry?)
One nerve remaining; waiting on one look
(Have you got it…)
Have you got it in you…?
“We’re the perfect team, you and I.”
He’s standing in front of the huge plate glass window in his office, looking out over the city below. Kevin is behind him, hands settled on Alan’s hips, the touch making him gasp in a way it shouldn’t. He wants to tell him to stop, ask him what the hell he thinks he’s doing, but he’s as mute in this dream as he is in all the other ones. Through the window can see the lights of helicopters stitching back and forth over LAX, the great searchlights sweeping the skies from Memorial Coliseum. It’s those beams, bizarrely, that seem to fixate his attention, distracting him from his and his missing best friend’s ghostly reflections in the glass.
“I knew you had it in you, man,” Kevin purrs, nuzzling into the back of his neck, and it’s only then that Alan looks down and realizes his hands are covered in blood.
Lora wakes to the sound of the shower running and Alan’s side of the bed empty—not unusual, for any given morning. But then she registers that the bedroom is still pitch dark, that the alarm clock on the nightstand reads 3:38, and the first warning bells begin to go off at the back of her mind.
“Alan?” she calls at the open bathroom door.
There’s no answer, and Lora’s unease grows. Alan has been sleeping badly for years, now, but in the last nine months or so it’s gotten exponentially worse as the stress of their day-to-day lives mounts. Lora has lost count of the number of nights she’s been awakened by his tossing and turning, caught in the grip of strange nightmares he either can’t or won’t talk about. Worse than that is the way they seem to affect him through the morning: the shakes, the way he starts at reflections, the way he sometimes seems to lose his voice upon waking.
She turns on the bedside lamp and steps out of bed, crossing the room to the bathroom and entering quietly. Alan’s standing slumped beneath the spray, eyes closed, forehead resting against the wall beneath the showerhead. There’s no steam.
“Alan, are you alright…?”
He turns slightly at the sound of her voice, but doesn’t respond. Lora pulls the curtain aside and reaches in to touch his shoulder, and her worry blooms into outright dread.
“This water’s freezing, Alan!”
Alan opens his mouth to speak, but once again seems to be unable to find words, so Lora does the only thing she can think of to do: she turns the water temperature up to warm and steps into the shower with him, wrapping herself tightly around his shivering body. She’s still in her nightgown, but she couldn’t possibly care less. All that matters to her is Alan, and the need to bring him back from whatever awful place his dream must have taken him.
“I’m here,” she whispers into his back, squeezing his hands and fighting back tears at the way he jumps. “I’m here, it’s alright, you’re safe, I’m here.”
At first, Alan thinks he’s handling it very well, considering.
He’s known this has been coming for most of the last year. It’s been flashing at him like a neon sign at every board meeting, with every memo that somehow never reaches his desk, every fire-or-hire decision or project funding proposal made behind his back. He knows it was half the reason the board put all their weight behind the petition to declare Kevin Flynn’s death in absentia. Knowing it was coming, however, doesn’t do anything to blunt the sense of betrayal.
“You’re asking me to resign,” he states, flatly. Not a question.
“I’m asking you to do the smart thing, Alan. For yourself,” Hardington replies. “We both know this isn’t the right position for you. You’re a programmer, Alan, one of the best Encom’s ever had, and maybe one of the best in the country. You were never an executive, and it wasn’t fair of Flynn to force you into this position in the first place.”
“Flynn never forced me into anything,” Alan fires back, making a heroic effort to keep his voice level. “I stepped into this position because the company needed me to.”
“And you’ve done a fantastic job. Far above and beyond the call of duty. But now it’s time to take Encom in a new direction if it’s going to have a future.” Hardington looks at him with a mixture of concern and smug condescension that makes Alan feel like snarling. “I know how hard this has been for you. But Flynn’s gone, Alan, and you’re running yourself into the ground trying to be him. Look at you…you’ve lost God knows how many pounds and you’ve got circles under your eyes a panda would envy. Can’t you see I’m trying to do you a favor, here? I’m trying to give you a chance to be yourself again, to go back to doing what you do best. I can’t imagine Flynn wouldn’t want that for you.” He lays a heavy hand on Alan’s shoulder.
“What I do best,” he repeats softly.
“Look, Alan, the board’s already voted. But it doesn’t have to be official. We can cut through all the bureaucratic bullshit and…”
Alan doesn’t hear any of the rest.
Something strange is happening to him. His heart is racing, but his blood feels as though it’s turned to ice. All sound is muffled, but his vision has sharpened to a surreal, impossible clarity. He’s aware of every inch of space around him, every vector of movement, every possible escape route. Most of all, he’s aware of Hardington, and how easy it would be in that moment to wipe that arrogant, insufferable expression of false concern off his face forever. He is, after all, standing solidly between Hardington and the closed door.
He has no weapons, but that’s alright. He’s never truly needed them.
Oh Jesus Christ what is happening to me, Alan thinks, and the thought seems to come from a thousand lightyears away.
He has to get out of here. If he doesn’t, he’s going to snap. He can feel himself seesawing violently between horror at himself and that icy, alien rage, and he wonders if this is what a nervous breakdown feels like.
“Think about it, Alan,” Hardington finishes, but before the last word is even out of his mouth Alan’s moving, tearing away from the hand on his shoulder and practically throwing himself out the door.
The executive bathroom is private, thank God, and Alan locks himself in.
For a while he simply leans back against the door, pulling off his glasses and squeezing his eyes shut in an effort to get himself back under control. But that just makes it worse, makes the images (Hardington’s body pinned beneath him, his hands locked around the bastard’s throat, bone and cartilage cracking and collapsing beneath his fingers) stand out brighter against the black backdrop of his closed eyelids.
He stumbles to the sink on shaking legs and splashes cold water on his face, forcing himself to breathe in slow, soft inhales and long, flat exhales because that’s what always seems to work best, trying to make the runaway beat of his heart match the much calmer rhythm of his breathing. Finally it starts to work, and Alan shudders in relief. But then he catches sight of his reflection in the mirror—pale face and shadowed eyes and too-prominent cheekbones—and suddenly the adrenaline surges through him again, and before he even understands what he’s doing he’s driven his fist into the mirror with a hoarse, ragged cry of rage.
The world goes blessedly grey for a moment.
When Alan comes back to himself he’s still slumped against the counter, braced on one hand. There’s a great round spiderweb of cracks in the mirror now, obliterating one of his reflection’s eyes and warping and distorting one side of his face. His other hand hurts like hell; Alan wonders dully if it’s broken.
“Please,” Alan whispers, whether to his reflection or God or to the Universe at large, he’s not sure. “Please, no more. No more.”
The house is empty when Alan gets home. Lora’s gone for the next three days, on her final interview for the position at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Part of him desperately wishes she was here; the other part is profoundly grateful she isn’t here to see him like this. It was hard enough to convince her to take the job in DC as it was. He can’t give her another reason to worry about him now.
He sets a pot of coffee to brewing and pulls some ice out of the freezer to make a pack for his swelling left hand. I had to put my good hand through the goddamn mirror, he thinks, and emits a strangled noise that might’ve been a laugh.
For the next few minutes Alan feels almost like he might be settling back towards some semblance of normal, but then something new sets his nerves on edge and his skin crawling. It takes his exhausted mind another five minutes to realize it’s the sound of the coffee maker percolating that’s doing it, of all things, and he yanks the cord out of the wall violently enough that the entire machine ends up crashing to the floor, sending half-brewed boiling coffee and broken glass everywhere.
He’s still staring numbly at it when he hears the front door open.
“Hey, Uncle Alan? You home? Sorry I just let myself in, but I left one of my textbooks over here the other night and you weren’t answering the phone, and I saw your car here so I figured…”
Sam Flynn turns the corner into the kitchen and blinks. He looks from Alan’s face, to his icepack-covered hand, to the coffee maker’s corpse on the floor, and then back up to Alan’s face again, with that boggle-eyed expression he gets whenever he encounters something that just doesn’t make sense.
“Holy shit, Uncle Alan, what happened? Are you okay?”
Alan opens his mouth to answer, but it’s simply too much, the final straw. His vision greys out once again, then tunnels all the way to black, and he feels his legs give out underneath him. The last thing Alan hears is Sam’s shout as he rushes to catch him.
“Alan? Hey, come on, wake up buddy, anybody home…?”
Alan opens his eyes to find himself lying on his living room couch, with Roy Kleinberg perched on its arm next to him, a glass of water in his hand.
“About damn time,” Roy says, smiling lopsidedly, the relief in his voice unmistakable. “How’re you feeling?”
“Roy…? …what’re you…when did you…?” he starts, his voice barely more than a croak.
“Sam called me,” Roy answers, pushing himself off the arm of the couch. He kneels next to Alan, helping him sit up and pressing the glass of water into his uninjured hand. “I sent him home a few minutes ago—the kid was damn near hysterical. He thought you’d had a heart attack. Damn near gave me one.”
“…’m not so sure I didn’t,” Alan mutters, draining the glass and nodding gratefully to Roy. “Thanks.”
“Alan, how long has it been since you slept?”
“I’ve been sleeping fine,” Alan answers automatically. “Just…had a stressful day.”
Roy isn’t having it. “Alan Bradley, you are the worst goddamn liar in the world, and you know it, so don’t bullshit me. Can you stand?”
Alan thinks about it for a moment, then cautiously stands up from the couch, bracing himself on the arm until the dizziness goes away. “Yeah. I think so.”
“Good,” Roy says. “Because I’m taking you to the doctor.”
He’s got Alan in the passenger seat of his beat-up red Honda hatchback before he can properly protest, and by the time they’ve pulled out of Alan’s cul-de-sac Alan is dozing, drifting to the sound of REM playing on Roy’s radio.
The doctor X-rays his hand and diagnoses hairline fractures of his first and second proximal phalanges. He sends Alan home with a cast and prescriptions for painkillers and a new type of sleeping pill called zolpidem, along with an admonition to come back and see him in two weeks if his insomnia hasn’t improved.
“Don’t worry,” Roy assures him. “I’ll drag him in here with a chainfall if I have to, and I probably will.”
Alan doesn’t bother with the painkillers, but he takes the first of the sleeping pills almost as soon as he’s sent Roy off, promising to tell him everything tomorrow. He can almost imagine Roy’s indignation at the Chairman of the Board’s proffered “favor”, and the thought actually makes him smile, a little.
He’ll never be able to tell him about the rest, though. Alan can’t think of anyone he could possibly tell, anyone he could explain it to—he can’t even explain what happened today to himself—and in those last minutes before the sedative drags him under, Alan has never felt so alone.
In his dream he’s standing before the broken mirror again, looking into the shattered, distorted face of his reflection.
I’m sorry, he whispers to the face in the mirror. I wish I could understand. I want to understand. But I can’t. I can’t take this anymore. I don’t have it in me. I’m sorry.
The reflection lingers for a few last moments, staring back at him silently through the web of cracks. Alan can almost imagine some emotion in the one visible eye—anger or fear or sorrow—but he can’t quite get a handle on it.
Then the reflection is gone, leaving only the empty glass behind.
When Alan wakes, his pillow is damp, as if he’d been crying in his sleep. But he can’t remember his dream, if indeed he’d had one at all, and the only emotion that comes to him is relief.
For the next six hundred cycles, Rinzler never breaks his programming again.