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There's a tap, the phone, the silence of stone (The numb black screen that be feelin' like home)

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If there’s one thing Trinity has always taken pride in, it’s her work.

It’s probably not surprising that most unplugged have a natural affinity for electronics, or more specifically, hacking. The Matrix itself is simply another kind of mainframe after all, and the more aware one is of the code, the more adept one is at deciphering it.

It might be equally unsurprising, then, to learn that Trinity once boasted herself among the best of the best, out to prove herself beyond the supposed bounds of her gender and her genius, beyond the stereotypes and the laws and the men in suits holding all the keys. Before Morpheus, before the Nebuchadnezzar, the height of her hacking career was an exciting time, a whirlwind of pushing the limits just for the thrill of it, just because she could. It was the kind of work that rendered others dazed and confused, frozen in a stupefied wonder of what and how and who. The inevitable scramble that followed was always immensely self-satisfying; their mad dash to correct whatever program she uploaded before their precious images were tarnished or their bare truth exposed was both humorous and very, very sad.

She didn’t stop until she’d given every United States government official what for, and for no other reason than she enjoyed rebelling against a democratic society that didn’t give a damn about fundamental things like truth, much less truth at the hands of an ambiguous female hacker codenamed Trinity. She was a ghost, a vigilante. She was their worst nightmare in tight black pants and slicked back hair. She was a force to be reckoned with and she reveled every thrilling, intimidating second.

Trinity wasn’t just good. She was goddamn exemplary.

And yet.

Somehow, despite all she’s accomplished, all she’d unveiled, all she’d hacked and re-programmed, picked apart and morphed back together, a part of her was never satisfied.

That part of her wondered if there were others like her, people with a specific skillset who were empty inside. People searching for meaning but coming up short. People who stared at the computer screen long after it blacked out, stuck between one world and the next. People who had all the answers at their fingertips except the one that really mattered.

It wasn’t a feeling she couldn't explain or wish away, a vulnerability so unlike her freelance lifestyle and just as unnerving. More than once she wished she could just claw the feeling out and push it away, just far enough it would be a vague unease rather than a constant itch under her skin, waiting to implode. 

It turns out that same feeling is Trinity’s redemption, her exit of the system imposed upon humanity by machines. Trinity finds the answers she was searching for and then she finds him, finds Morpheus, and with it a newfound sense of belonging slides into place. The nagging uncertainty that’s been trailing her for the better part of a decade is silenced at long last and it's good, it's so good to have a purpose, to have a family, to have meaning.

It’s everything she ever could have ever wanted.

And for a little while, it feels like enough.

                                                             


 

Once she’s unplugged, the irony at being a proficient hacker in a system already run by machines is not lost on her.

It’s natural, perhaps, to be brave and foolish when you’re a teenager stuck in a world where you don’t belong. Some kids search out parties or sex, drugs or pills. Trinity’s addiction just so happened to be the thing that got her out and the others, well. They find their way of dealing, but they don’t find the real truth, either.  

Trinity was young, sure, but that’s just an excuse. She was rebellious and dangerous to a near unprecedented degree, but she was also blind and stupid and many other things, too. Everything has a balance, Trinity finds, and her exit of the system was just another kind of harmony. She was close to breaking through to something, maybe even the code itself, and that wouldn’t have ended well for either party, human or machine. It’s fortunate Morpheus got her out in time, fortunate she jumped at the chance to escape, fortunate she didn't die in the process. Fortunate and mind-altering.

It humbles her, shifts her perspective more than the Matrix itself. Where once she was invincible, top of the electronic food chain, now the makeshift titles crowned upon her former self hold little meaning. It was all one big, elaborate lie anyway, and no matter how advanced her knowledge of computer workings, at the end of the day the machines fooled her, too.

So, her focus changes.

She begins training with Morpheus for hours each day, and listens to his every word in between. He’s smart, smarter than her, and she appreciates his patience, his slow way with words. He’s a constant in a cold, unfamiliar place and she's never had much in the way of family, but she's beginning to think she might be onto something here. It's not like she really knows what the word means, doesn't have a practical application to compare it to, and would it even be a valid comparison anyway? She doesn't think so, and it doesn't matter besides.

Still, she's not entirely sure of her place in Morpheus' ragtag group of misfits. They’re all bustling with energy, with opinions, with raw, undiluted fight, but it's—inspiring, for all that, and at least they're not boring. They're more unpredictable and less stable but also more authentic, and that in and of itself is a breath of fresh air in a world that was anything but.

Niobe is a mother hen to the bunch, keeping everyone in line as best she can. She’s a force of nature, that woman, and her innate talent for not taking any bullshit is something Trinity can distinctly identify and appreciate. They may not share much in the way of conversation, but long unspoken silences they can do, and they do it well.

Mostly though, Morpheus is her tether. She might not say as much in as many words, but he's her anchor in this newfound reality. Trinity has never been the type to show affection through cliché words or long, grandstanding speeches and the truth is their personalities couldn't be any more different, but she cares for him just the same, with or without the verbal declaration.

She thinks he knows, though. It's the little things: how he singles her out for assignments, how he asks her advice even when he's already made up his mind. He respects her space, her independence, her forthright manner, while including her in the most mundane of tasks if she but chooses to participate.

Trinity has never had a father before, but if there's one truth she's learned both in the Matrix and out, it's that family is not blood. Real family is who you choose and who chooses you, over and over and over.

And choice, as any unplugged can tell you, is everything.

 


 

She's not sure how Morpheus managed to convince her this is a good idea.

Because this? Right here? Is bullshit.

Trinity has never believed in fortune tellers, or tarot cards, or whatever sort of witchcraft bullshit the ladies with too much makeup and not enough hygiene try to sell at the poor excuse for a tent they always seem to set up in. She wasn't a fan in the Matrix, and she sure as hell isn't one now, standing before a tan door in a too-quiet hallway, waiting to turn the handle and enter a gypsy-esque apartment to receive a gypsy-esque reading of her supposed future. Morpheus said it was her choice, that it's always been her choice, but for Trinity it feels less like a genuine decision on her part and more like a favor for a friend that's just been cashed in. She can all but feel Morpheus' delight radiating off him from where he's positioned beside her elbow, all secret grins and mischievous eyes and he knows. He knows she hates this and he finds her skepticism funny anyway.

She has half a mind to punch him in the face.

“Whenever you're ready,” he says, smirking.

Trinity sighs. “I told you, I don't want to know about my future.”

Morpheus seems to perk up at that, realizing this is a genuine crisis that calls for his attention. He take a step forward, hands clasped in front of him.

“Think of it less like a reading of your future, and more about what is being said about you.” 

Trinity looks over at him, one eyebrow raised in disbelief.

“There's a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path,” he finishes.

“Yeah? That piece of wisdom something she shared with you?” 

The smirk deepens, one side of his cheek dimpling. Trinity wants to tear those damn sunglasses right off his face. “Perhaps.” 

Trinity sighs again, rolls her eyes for good measure. This is by far the most ridiculous task she's been asked to complete since exiting the Matrix four months ago, but if it makes him happy she can force a grin and muddle her way through a conversation with “an old friend”.

What a load of bullshit.

Trinity has never actually had a palm reading of any kind, mind, so walking into a normal looking apartment and seeing children watching cartoons and practicing telekinesis on the living room floor does not strike her as normal, but it's not as though she has any past experience to draw comparison. 

It's equally un-normal, then, to find an Oracle who looks the equivalent of a fairy godmother leaning over a fresh pan of dessert bars and inhaling their scent as though it's not as fake as the world she lives in.

Trinity doesn't know if she's more impressed or unimpressed by the charade of it all.

She's still silently debating when the woman in question turns her sunny smile Trinity's way, removing one hot pad where it's fastened to her hand like a glove and untying the apron at her waist.

“Hello, Trinity.”

It's no wonder Morpheus likes her. Their smiles combined could generate enough heat to breach the scorched sky, if they tried.

Trinity forces a weak smile of her own. 

“Hello.”

The Oracle's face doesn't change exactly, but something in her expression shifts a bit, enough that her eyes take on a different kind of smile. It looks a little like sympathy and a lot like she knows something Trinity doesn't and that, right there, is the reason Trinity doesn't believe in this fortune-telling, future-reading bullshit. Because no one—no one—can read Trinity's mind or tell her what she's thinking, much less tell her how to feel. Especially not a program within an already monitored, fictionally created world.

“You don't like me, do you Trinity?” the Oracle asks, completely unbothered.

“I don't know you,” Trinity hedges.

“Ah, fair enough.” The Oracle opens a drawer and brings out a spatula, begins cutting the bars into perfect square pieces. “And you think I don't know you, either.”

“No one can know me the way I know me.” The words erupt out of Trinity’s mouth on instinct and she internally berates herself. She hasn't gone this in depth into a philosophical debate since she was unplugged, even with Morpheus.

The Oracle just chuckles, though. “True,” she relents, smile still firmly in place. Trinity can't see the full effect, just a glimmer from her station as a statue in the furthermost corner of the kitchen, and it suits her just fine.

“Though,” the Oracle continues, and this is proof that she can’t read Trinity’s mind, or she would have stopped before she started, “my perspective of you will forever be different from the perspective you have of yourself, don’t you think?”

That brings Trinity up short.

Trinity scans the room while she thinks, half irritated and half befuddled. She doesn’t enjoy being knocked off her feet any more than she enjoys pseudo-omniscient lines of thinking, which means she’s enjoying this conversation exactly zero percent. Still, maybe she can get a one up on this grandmother if she has a better understanding of her person. But all the green cupboards and small knick-knacks surrounding the sink tell her is that the Oracle is made to look harmless and easy-going. She’s designed to be everything warm and friendly, despite being one of the most powerful programs in the system—to their knowledge, anyway.  Trinity can’t appreciate the Oracle’s knack for keeping the other program’s clay-made, half-deformed creations without thinking this woman is predicting the future within a fallacy, which, in Trinity’s mind, means the whole prophecy must be a dud.

She’s just beginning to wonder if she can get away with not responding without being overtly rude when the Oracle speaks again.

“You don’t like me, Trinity, and it has less to do with me than it does with the lines of code surrounding me. You don’t want to get to know me, don’t want to know how I ‘get away with’ it,” she mimes quotation marks with her fingers before putting the oven mitt back on and waltzing back Trinity’s way, dessert pan in hand like she isn’t the most perplexing piece of hardware Trinity has ever had the misfortune of meeting.

“So I’ll cut the bullshit.”

She stops a foot from Trinity’s person. She smiles.

“Scotcheroo?”

“No,” Trinity says firmly, then forcibly relaxes. “Thank you.”

The Oracle’s smile becomes more a mischievous smirk, like she knows Trinity’s innermost thoughts and finds them amusing anyway. It’s oddly disconcerting, but Trinity won’t admit that, either.

The scotcheroos return to their place on the counter, though Trinity notes with interest the Oracle herself doesn’t take one. Trinity allows a moment to wonder if the Oracle would have grabbed one herself if Trinity would have accepted the offer, though she shuts the train of thought down in the next second. She reminds herself this is exactly why she hates this fortune cookie, sugar coated, one size fits all bullshit, if it makes you question yourself to such painstaking effect.

Instead she watches, transfixed and more than a little confused as the Oracle takes a seat at the kitchen table. Not as close to Trinity as she was a few moments ago, but closer than she was at the start. She’s distinctly not facing Trinity head-on, though. Only a sideways glance of her profile is visible and that small bit of effort is something Trinity can appreciate for the purposeful gesture that it is.

“So,” the woman says, delicate and slow, “you know why Morpheus brought you to see me.”

Trinity thinks of Morpheus’ casual grin, his superiority at winning Trinity over. She thinks of those circular sunglasses she’d like to crush under her heel. “Yes.”

“But you find the whole thing a waste of time.” The Oracle lights a cigarette, not looking at Trinity. The smoke tendrils around her hand like a magic wand, and Trinity has a moment to appreciation the sharp scent of nicotine before it evaporates into a thinly veiled void. It’s a point of nostalgia for her, maybe, a memory of a time long gone. Though it never really existed to begin with, so who’s to say what nostalgia really is, anymore?

“Let me tell you why you’re here,” the Oracle continues as though the previous inquiry was rhetorical. “You’re a good partner to Morpheus, you make a good team. He recognizes that in you, and he’ll promote you.”

Trinity opens her mouth to speak.

“No, no, let me finish, sweetheart.” The Oracle waves a lazy hand, slicing through the smoke like a sword, its magic lost. “I don’t expect you to take my word for it, nor should you. I could be a raving lunatic for all you know. Just…watch and wait and see how it all unfolds.”

The Oracle takes another drag, then gets to her feet.

“He’ll be sad, when Niobe leaves, but he’ll come around.” She circles the chair and points a wavering, cigarette laden finger in Trinity’s direction. “That’s where you come in.”

The Oracle keeps sauntering, and Trinity keeps not speaking because that seems the reasonable course of action. She has questions, sure, but voicing them feels like an admission of defeat, somehow. Like she believes any of this nonsense, like it’s worth being heeded.

That obstinate part of herself will not concede.

“He’ll need you, Trinity. Morpheus is the type who needs someone to lean on, this you already know.” She reaches the edge of the counter and sighs, long and deep. “He’ll be sad, but that’s how these things go. Sometimes we have to fail, before we succeed.”

It’s all Trinity can do to stand and stare, motionless and confused, as the Oracle places one perfect scotcheroo on a plate just in time for a child to come rushing into the kitchen and making a beeline for the pan, pigtails waving in her wake.

“Ah-ha,” the Oracle sings, and the child stops in her tracks. “Take one to our new friend in the corner, will you? She could use something to distract herself.”

The child obeys, all sunny smile and open palms. She skips over to Trinity, sandals sliding on the linoleum floor until she's standing at Trinity's feet, hands open in offering. They stare at each other, one cynical hacker and one innocent child, until Trinity relents, opening a black glove to accept the dessert.

Trinity feels distinctly like she’s been coerced into a decision, not unlike the favor to Morpheus that brought her here. She likes it even less the second time around.

Still, she has the presence of mind to wait until the child has happily skipped away before rounding back on the woman chuckling absentmindedly over the sink, rinsing her hands.

“You tricked me.”

“Oh,” the Oracle sing-songs, dark eyes dancing. “Did I? Or did you make a choice?”

Trinity's stare becomes distinctly more glare-like behind her sunglasses.

“You coerced the outcome.”

“Ah, now that's the tricky part, isn't it?” The Oracle sits back down, crosses her leg. Takes an easy drag of the half-burned cigarette with an effortless grace Trinity envies, just a little. There’s a serene air about her, like there's nothing this old woman would rather do than sit in her kitchen and discuss the outcome of fateful scotcheroos all afternoon. Like it's that fucking easy.

“Maybe I did bring the opportunity back around again, maybe I did coerce you into changing your mind. Or maybe I simply,” she gestures with the cigarette, “brought the same situation back around again in a different way and you were the one who changed the outcome.” 

Trinity’s hands clench, crumbs of chocolate goodness falling rudely from her palm onto the floor.

“You don’t know what that means yet, but you will one day. Because it’s going to happen again.”

Trinity would laugh, if she weren’t so irritated. “I don’t think I’ll be coming back here.”

“No, sweetheart,” the Oracle agrees, “not you. But someone is going to be coming into your life, someone very important to you. You’re going to fall love, Trinity, and that person, he’ll be the One.”

Trinity blinks.

“The One.”

“The one and only.” When the Oracle smiles the smoke curls around her face not unlike the Cheshire cat in the cartoons playing in the living room. “I can’t tell you much beyond that, and you wouldn’t believe me anyway. But there is one more thing.”

Another inhale.

“He’s going to die.”

“What?”

There’s a quick, snippy quality attached to the delivery that’s warranted, Trinity thinks, given the bomb she was just delivered. Beneath that, though, there’s the unfamiliar feeling of her heart plummeting down to the floor to join the crumbs at her feet. It isn’t like her to falter, to be tied to a what-if fantasy, but she doesn’t question the specifics right now, she can't. Where the hell does this woman get off, telling her something like that?

The Oracle just smiles a sad smile and takes a final drag of the nicotine dangling between her fingers before snuffing it out. She looks regretful, sure, but peaceful just the same and her patience in the face of delivering bad news grates on Trinity’s nerves. She feels her back stiffen the way it does when she’s irritated, though the Oracle probably knows that too, right? With her all seeing, all knowing bullshit? The effort of forced neutrality comes with a price: Trinity feels the remaining chocolate ooze between her fingers, ruining her gloves.

“You heard me.” The Oracle’s voice takes on a gentle, yet firm tone that would irritate Trinity on a good day, and today is not a good day. Today it just sounds like she’s being patronized, and she is so far from being in the mood to deal with any of this shit. But then, just when Trinity is about to lose her cool and say fuck you to destiny if it means toying with people’s feelings and futures, the Oracle speaks again, and this time she drops the grandmother act entirely.

“It’s very important that you save him, Trinity,” she says, and looks Trinity right in the eye.

There a moment of silence, a moment of strange but intense connection stifling the air between them, and for the second time in her unplugged life, Trinity is at a total and complete loss. It’s a feeling she never expected to feel again and it’s just as unnerving the second time around. It catches her off balance, it renders her speechless, it halts every defense.

Trinity stares right back and no alarm bells start ringing except the one at the base of her skull that whispers this is going to hurt.

She thinks of Morpheus.

She never finishes the scotcheroo.

 


 

She forgets, for a while. Or at least, she tells herself she does.

Trinity has never found much use in waiting for something to happen when she can simply take action herself. Not that she is actively searching for something as cliché as the One—both metaphorically and somewhat more literally—it’s just that there are other, distinctly ordinary people out there that are waiting for her and Morpheus and Niobe and Switch to rescue them and rescue them they shall.

Trinity has never found much use in waiting, and she’s never found much use in love, either. Once upon a time, perhaps, a younger more naïve version of herself might have hoped, but that was a long time ago and the landscape has changed.

Besides, it was all a dream, wasn’t it? Even if she had an inkling of that overwhelming, heart-stopping, cataclysmic kind of love, it was but a fleeting, momentary connection within an otherwise synthetic world. Even if the feeling was real, the world itself was not and that makes it less, somehow.

Once upon a time it was a dream, maybe.

Or maybe it’s all just a lie.

 


 

They find a kid with potential, and Morpheus is insistent that he be freed.

Trinity sees through his logical claims the way she always can, and it makes her nervous. His energy, while admirable, is dangerous if left unchecked.

It’s not that she isn’t excited about acquiring a fresh recruit, and she can’t deny the kid’s stats don’t look promising because they do. Her trepidation doesn’t have to do with the potential at all, but rather the lieutenant standing behind the monitor with that sparkle in his eye, that twitch near his mouth, that tone in his voice when he says, “Trinity,” all wonder and fascination and sheer, unbridled hope.

She hates being the one to take that away from him, to steer him back towards something closer resembling practicality, but it must be done. It’s too dangerous to assume the signs are prophetic, just like it’s unfair to give that burden to a kid just shy of seventeen. A kid who, in his world, is deciding on colleges and careers, not which reality is real and the long road to finding yourself.

That latter, at least, stays the same in both worlds.

Trinity scopes out the potential the way she always does when Morpheus is too personally invested: watching and plotting and hacking and planning. Everything falls into place beautifully, without a hitch and it makes the crew happy and the gossip lighter but for Trinity there are no smiles to be had or occasions to be joyous because it’s not right and she knows.

“Lighten up, Trin.” Cypher nudges her shoulder with a too friendly smile that makes her skin itch. “Enjoy the party.”

She smiles back weakly, hoping the Neb’s lights will flicker or the engine will stall so she has an excuse to get away. The kid is all dopey smiles and big, big green eyes and he’s objectively beautiful, in a youthful idealistic sort of way. No one she’s seen has handled the transition to reality as smoothly as him, but that doesn’t bring her comfort, either. It’s all too good to be true, from his boyish good looks to his casual acquaintance with the team and she should be happy, she knows she should but she can’t.

She can’t.

There’s a small, vindictive part of her that wants to tell them all that she would know. This may not be as false as the Matrix but it’s misleading just the same, and if there’s one thing Trinity has honed and polished to near perfect accuracy, it’s her gut instinct.

But then, when the lights do flicker and the smiles do dim to a fraction of their previous wattage, Trinity corrects her previous claim. She doesn’t need to be proven right, she doesn’t want to be right at all. Just this once it would be worth the blow to her pride, to keep this. To keep the rare smile gracing Switch’s face, the beam glowing from Morpheus’. To keep Mouse’s ridiculous singing to a makeshift tune, to relish Dozer’s clapping encore. Tank rigging up some soft music, pitching a blanket on the floor like it’s a goddamn picnic. Even Niobe is smiling one of her rare smiles, even if it’s begrudging and mostly in Morpeheus’ direction. It’s been so long since they’ve had anything to properly celebrate, and it would be worth just about anything to keep this and to stay here, right here, with nothing amiss.

It’s too good to be true but for a moment in time, Trinity wishes that Morpheus was right.

 


 

He dies two days later. Killed in action.

“You owe me,” Cypher tells Switch, grinning with apathy. “Told you he wouldn’t make it.”

“I never disagreed.” Switch rolls her eyes and helps carry the body down the hall.

Morpheus stays silent the rest of the day.

 


 

She can hear them, sometimes, through the Nebuchadnezzar’s too-thin walls.

It’s only when they’re exceptionally vehement—both of them—that she eavesdrops, despite her best intentions warning her not to. Normally, she would leave well enough alone. Normally, she wouldn’t stick her nose where it doesn’t belong. But the thing is, Trinity knows her captain. She knows Niobe doesn’t fight unless there’s something worth fighting about. She doesn’t mince her words, doesn’t entice conflict. She calls things like she sees them, and she never harbors doubt as to what she means.

Despite all that, it still feels like a cataclysmic shock.

Trinity can’t even make out all the words, that’s the worst part. All she hears is Morpheus’ tone take on a begging quality she’s never heard before; all she hears is the door slam harder than any she’s heard before; all she hears is Dozer’s surprised exclamation; all she hears are two simple words:

“I can’t.”

Turns out the Oracle was right about at least one thing, but Trinity doesn't even have it in herself to be mad, or upset, or even surprised. She doesn't have a reaction so much as a non-reaction, because the thing is she should have seen this coming. In retrospect the signs were there all along and Trinity was too distracted by her own prophecy to notice Morpheus' breaking Niobe apart.

It doesn't matter. It hurts either way. That's the one thing that stays true no matter where Trinity goes, no matter where she lives, no matter what life she chooses.

The truth always fucking hurts.

 


 

“I’m sorry,” Trinity tells him later, long after the Zion has come and gone, long after Niobe’s bunk has been emptied, long after the transfer papers have been dotted and signed.

Morpheus sighs and that single sound tells her everything she needs to know about his mood. He’s tired, she knows. So, so tired and he’s lost everything that's worth anything and he needs to know why.

Sure enough, the question comes in the next breath.

It sounds like it’s more than a question to Trinity herself. It sounds like he’s asking the universe, or maybe it’s just rhetorical: why he believed, why he failed, why it went wrong, where, why. Trinity stares at the Matrix code, then the monitor next to it. There’s a flickering image still on the screen of a boy with big green eyes and a too-sweet smile staring back at her. Status: deceased it says in a small box in the lower right-hand corner. Trinity stares at the pixels and wonders what Morpheus sees, wonders if his private thoughts are similar to her own. The sad crux of the matter is at the end of the day, they all just exist in lines of computer code either way. Here, or there.

Alive, or dead.

 


 

Trinity approaches him again after the crew is asleep, Morpheus offering the night shift the way he always does after a funeral. She joins him the way she usually does, which is without a word. She prefers this method of introduction, it’s less invasive and more a still, stoic presence at his shoulder. She’s not good at comfort in the traditional sense of the word, but wordless support she can do, and they balance each other this way more often than not. Where Morpheus is all grand hopes and dreams, Trinity is all realism and practicality in a single hardened shell. They clash from time to time, but he saved her life and the truth is worth a few rolled eyes and heated moments. Besides, his stoic sadness is far, far worse than all his dreams of prophecy combined.

It pains her to see him like this.

“The Oracle,” she clears her throat. “She told me I would know.”

Morpheus doesn’t look at her, doesn’t speak, doesn’t blink.

“I can’t tell you how. I wish I could, but I...” she falters before collecting herself. “All I can say is none of these are—they haven’t been—”

She can’t say it. She can’t fucking say it.

Her gaze drops to her hands, clasped together to ward off the perpetual chill in the air. She picks at a scab on her right knuckle, nervous for absolutely no fucking reason.

“I don’t even know if I believe her. I don’t—” She sighs, and it sounds just like his own exhale from earlier, just as pained. Maybe they’re more alike than she assumed. Maybe she’s spent so long focused on her duties, keeping him in line the way Niobe ordered, maybe she never stopped to consider how they’re alike, too. No matter what she thought of the kid, he was just that: too young, too hopeful, too idealistic to die, or at least, so young. Trinity may not believe, but that doesn’t mean she enjoys seeing that same belief extinguished, either. It doesn't mean she wants to see her crew torn apart.

“I don’t know,” she repeats, and it feels like both an answer and a confession all in one. “I’m sorry.”

Trinity looks at Morpheus and feels a sting behind her eyes, a sudden burst of empathy from her head to her toes. Everything just feels so frail, right now. So delicate, like the universe itself is slowly unraveling, but not in a good way like the stories say. Trinity wants to comfort him, console him, shield him, but she can’t, she doesn’t even know where to start. She wants the prophecy to be true for his sake but she also distinctly does not for hers because which pain is worse? Now, or later? Is any of it really worth the risk?

She touches his shoulder, eyes glistening. “I’m so sorry.”

For both the past and the future, she doesn’t say.

Trinity walks back to her quarters and the chill is colder than ever, the weight on her heart heavier than it’s ever been. It’s not until she reaches for the door that she hears him, barely a whisper through the cold, dark space.

“Thank you.”

 


 

The next few weeks are rough, but it only serves to make Trinity push back that much harder.

She trains hard, she recruits more unplugged. She beats Morpheus in hand to hand combat twice in one week and bests a few of his personal training records the next. It’ll drive him crazy when they get past this hiccup and that is precisely why she does it. She settles disputes, she repairs the ship, she sends status reports to Zion. She handles it is the point and this is where she shines. There’s a reason she is where she is, holding her head high, an unwavering beacon aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. She’s a true second in every sense of the word, in the Matrix and out and the thing is she’s earned this, she takes pride in it. The sheer accomplishment of it all sings in her blood like music.

But somehow, it’s still not enough.

 


 

Dozer finds a way to create a makeshift alcohol from some engine grease, the details of which Trinity does not know and does not care to know, and it’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrendous but it’s also the first time she sees Morpheus smile in weeks and it’s worth it, it’s all worth it, for the sight of that little ray of sunshine alone. The pleased grin on his face, the absolute delight that one of his crew created such an ingenious invention even if the thing itself is akin to death is nothing short of miraculous and it lifts her own spirit in mysterious ways. It’s the sun parting through the clouds, it’s the rain after a drought. It’s light and it’s hope and it takes her breath away.

Trinity drinks three more cups until her mouth burns and her stomach aches.

It’s worth every disgusting drop.

 


 

It's ironic, she supposes, that the thing that puts Morpheus into his funk is the same thing that brings him back out.

“I found him,” Morpheus says one perfectly ordinary morning, ignorant to the fact that Trinity's heart is pounding double time. She knows what those words mean, knows the precise emotion lacing the subtext. Just like she knows it's the most courageous and the most dangerous emotion there is.

Hope.

There are a great many things Trinity would do for Morpheus. Go to see an oracle, for instance, or stay on as his second when the previous captain left and offered Trinity a very different way to go. Trinity declined for the same reason Niobe left. She stayed because she cared, not because she believed, and there's a difference. Niobe couldn't reconcile the two halves of the equation, but Trinity can and Trinity will. Just like she can allow Morpheus this one fool's errand if it pleases him, but the only way she will is if he gives her a chance, too.

“One condition.”

Morpheus raises an eyebrow.

“Let me lead this one.”

Morpheus puts on his deep thinking face, the one where he gives nothing away, sunglasses or no. It's a contest of wills until it's not, until the tension in his shoulders eases and his smile breaks free, easy and warm.

“Deal.”

Trinity offers a smile of her own and finds it's genuine because this time, they're going to do it right. This time, they're going to do it together.

This latest recruit may not be the One, but the technicality of Morpheus' prophecy doesn't much matter. Either he is and Trinity will be forced to confront the truth of the Oracle's words, or he's not and Morpheus will be forced to confront his. It was always going to come down to this between them, Trinity thinks, and it's not an altogether pleasant thought.

But maybe the story doesn't end there. Maybe Trinity is ready to acknowledge the hardest truth of all. Maybe, after everything that's happened, maybe she's ready to admit that she'd rather be the one who's proved wrong. Maybe she'd rather it be her, than Morpheus.

It's a little too much to comprehend right now. It's still too big, too ridiculous to put into tangible words. It's just a flittering thought in the back of her mind, a slow recognition she can maybe, one day, acknowledge outright. For now though, she basks in Morpheus' easy grin, his carefree disposition hitting her at full blast, affecting her the way it always does. His unique brand of happiness is contagious, after all. You can't not believe in something after spending so much time with the man.

“I'll get started right away,” she says, and grabs a cup of breakfast to go.

Yes, Trinity thinks, this time will be different.

For now, she has an empty bunk to fill.

 


 

Thomas Anderson has brown eyes and rarely wears a smile.

He's a thirty year old disaster waiting to happen and a barely recognizable red blip on the radar at that. He's a depressed, lonely hacker waiting for a lightning strike, and if it were up to most of the crew or half of Zion command he'd just as soon be put out of his misery than deal with the responsibility—or the paperwork.

Lucky for him, Trinity loves thwarting authority.

“He's too old,” Cypher declares after scanning his file, and Switch agrees. Mouse plays both sides the way he usually does, Dozer waves a noncommittal arm like it doesn't bother him one way or another. Tank, the eternal optimist, backs Morpheus with bright, twinkling eyes.

No one asks Trinity.

It's just as well, because she would have lied anyway. Logically, Thomas Anderson is different in all the wrong ways: too old, too unstable. He's a wildcard if there ever was one, and that's not including the fact there's no actual, physical proof he's any different than the rest except for the last two digits on his date of birth. Morpheus' game is risker than it's ever been, but Trinity holds back on the warnings for now. Partly because Morpheus' excitement is contagious, it always is, and partly because she's—curious.

Trinity rationalizes the nagging curiosity away as just that, and it’s all too easy to do so. The thing about being devoted to your work is the work never turns off. “I'm going in,” she tells Tank day after day and no one bats an eye because the excuse doesn't sound outrageous to anyone except her. She never corrects herself, never acknowledges the lie because admitting something so small is also intertwined with an admission of something much greater and that—that is more dangerous than any of Morpheus’ hopes or dreams combined.

She rationalizes because she doesn’t need the code to see him, but she likes to see him anyway. Even if the difference is one computer code or another, a mere technicality of programming, his avatar within the code is not unpleasant to look at and still representative of his true self, at least in part. Besides, she tells herself, she gets a better read on people when she’s inside than out. People, after all, are more than mere machine.

The logic is there, the theory sound.

She’s still paranoid at being found out.

“You like watching him,” Cypher says over the phone one night, and part of her, the part of her she’s been silencing for the better part of a month is grateful when the tell-tale sound of a tracer catches her ear. It’s the perfect out, the perfect escape.

Except that, when she’s back Cypher doesn’t let it go because he’s incapable of letting anything slide, ever. It’s both effective and frustrating in equal measure.

“Why did you need to go in anyway, Trin?” he asks, eyes flicking over her form like he’s searching for clues.

“To observe the potential,” Morpheus answers for her, his tone authoritative. “She’s operating under my instruction, Cypher.”

“Well sure,” Cypher holds his hands up, placating, “but everyone also knows Trinity doesn’t feel the need to go in unless it’s necessary. She loves not taking risks.” At this, he sneaks a sly grin her way.

Trinity doesn’t find the joke funny.

“You’re right.” She looks Cypher in the eye, straightening her back until her joints pop back into place. “I don’t like unnecessary risks. The danger outweighs them, and in normal circumstances that would be true.”

A pause.

“But these aren’t normal circumstances. The potential is older than we’re used to dealing with, his mind more matured. We need to be careful, and that means more than sitting in the chair, on the ship, watching lines of green code flicker down the screen.”

They're drawing in stares, but Trinity can’t even be bothered to give a damn. She’s desperate and on edge, but more than that, defensive. But for what?

Or rather, who?

“Easy there tiger.” Where anyone else would step back to ease her temper, Cypher steps forward. “I don’t doubt your methods, you know that. I just want you to admit there’s something special about this one.”

“He’s older,” she responds, firm.

“No, it’s not that. Or at least, not just that.” Cypher’s grin grows wider, like the villains in the cartoons Trinity used to watch as a child. She hated it then, and she hates it now. It reeks of smug overconfidence.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Trinity stands her ground, hands crossed and eyes narrowed for a fight. She feels like she’s being interrogated, peered into, like the Oracle except worse, somehow. Where the old woman exuded patience to a near annoying degree, Cypher is just the opposite: looking for a reaction for no other reason than to prove a point. His smirk deepens like her defensiveness is exactly what he wanted, but before any more words can cut or punches be thrown, Morpheus steps between them.

“Cypher.”

It’s a request and a command all in one, brokering no room for argument. Cypher steps away, winking at Trinity before rounding the corner to the mess hall. He’s going to revisit this conversation, she knows it, like she knows this is a treat he can’t wait to devour.

“Trinity?”

A question of well-being, of hers and Cypher's.

“It's nothing,” she lies.

Trinity gives Morpheus a small nod before heading in the opposite direction.

She doesn’t go into the Matrix the next day.

 


 

All this time Morpheus spent searching, it never once occurred to Trinity that the opposite could be true.

It never occurred to her that the One could be searching, too.

Not that she thinks Thomas Anderson is anything special. But then, the truth is he hasn't been Thomas Anderson for some time now. These days she knows him by his hacker alias. These days she refers to his alter ego, his truest self. These days, he is simply Neo.

She likes him best like this: hard at work and intense, those brown eyes focused on each individual line of code. It's been so long since she's properly observed someone, so long since she took the time to appreciate the detailed craftsmanship that comes with the perfect inside job. And with that level of appreciation, there's something to be said for the crafter himself, too. It takes a genius to understand each level of security, to enjoy the hunt as much as the payoff. It's not about the glory, or even the takeaway. That's something only the best of the best understand, and those precious few are always blissfully, woefully anonymous.

Her fascination feels like giving Neo his due, in a way.

It's also the most likely reason his name never came up, before now. The truly desperate minds, the panicked ones, they almost always make themselves obvious to the point of becoming a public menace, or at the very least a danger. Most recruits are at the end of the line, frustrated and scared to the point of recklessness to get out any way they can. More often than not they're backed into a corner facing extinction by one hand or another, and it takes a team of unplugged to rush in and play damage control. It's almost always a botched effort, a stitched together plan born of little to no time and accounting for every possible variable in between.

Neo, on the other hand, is the first case Trinity has heard of that involves the long game. He’s not panicked, he’s not reckless. He’s searching, yes, and restless every hour in between, but he’s also calmer than any of the previous recruits combined. And it’s that serenity, that equanimity of spirit that allows Trinity the key ingredient to maybe, just maybe, make this improbable mission a successful one: time. Time to feel him out, to understand his headspace. Time to truly observe why he's doing what he's doing.

It just so happens that what he's doing is searching for them.

It just so happens he's well on his way to finding what he's looking for.

Trinity smiles into the headset, watches as Neo drifts to sleep mid-search on Morpheus. He's found records that date back to their latest unplugged attempt at the Heathrow airport, a more public incident than they would have liked. There's a blurred image of Trinity in the police report, a flash of dark leather and sleek black hair on the lower half of page two. Her breath catches in surprise, maybe even a little fear.

All this time she's spent watching and waiting, it never occurred to her to wonder. What if he's searching for her, too?

Or more importantly, what would it mean if he did?

The thing is, Neo has always been a faraway dream. He's always been on the other side of the code, always at a safe enough distance. Even within the Matrix itself he's been little more than a summary of a person, never close enough to know or to know her. Except now she's seeing real, tangible proof that she exists in his world, even if it's in the form a fragmented, pixelated image. Up until this moment, it's been easy enough to watch without any real danger, but now it all comes crashing down, now she realizes: this is real. He's going to exit the goddamn system and then where will all her careful musings go?

“Is he ready?” Morpheus asks, and Trinity mimes a nod, unable to speak. The truth is she doesn't have a goddamn clue. The truth is the answer doesn't matter. The truth is the real question involves a very different set of pronouns.

The truth is, she's not.

 


 

Thankfully, playing the part of an intriguing stranger is as second nature as breathing.

There’s a certain dark energy attached to the mystery of a good ploy, a certain rush of adrenaline at laying the groundwork and leading a stray exactly where you wish it to go. She used to play this game with men in suits and viruses in systems and now, well. Now she gets to practice the long lost art on a very singular target, in a much more personal way.

It’s just as exhilarating as she remembered.

Trinity doesn’t mean to enjoy herself, doesn’t mean to dangle the proverbial carrot in a much more intimate fashion than any potential before him. She doesn’t intend to but she does anyway, and it thrills her in a way hacking hasn’t felt in years.

He meets her at the club, standing in a corner booth looking out of place and miserable, and she has a second to appreciate the sheer height of him, all smooth planes and long legs, before he takes notice and half turns to greet her.

Trinity has seen Neo dozens of times by now, both in the Matrix and out, but nothing compares seeing that same image alive and in front of her, as close as the unconscious mind can get to the real thing. The effect is night and day, making her hyper-aware of everything about him in spite of the code, or perhaps because of it: from the way those brown eyes look her up and down, defensive and more than a little perplexed, to the way one lock of brown hair hangs down across his forehead in a disheveled, characteristic way. She finds the normalcy of his appearance reassuring, even as the sheer presence of his mental projection catches her off guard.

She doesn’t want to think too hard about what that means.

Instead, she steers the conversation toward more neutral ground, toward Neo himself, even when he attempts otherwise. He’s the reason she’s here, after all, and Trinity has one hell of a sales pitch.

He’s not as caught off guard as she might have predicted several short months ago, thanks in large part to the serene air that seems to roll off him in spades. Though he's not entirely calm, flickering glances between Trinity and the dance floor like he’s agitated, ready for a fight or for a certain distinct someone to jump out and draw him into a trap. But he’s not desperate, either. He’s aware, but not overly jumpy. Ready, but not too eager. Neo is a collection of checks and balances, Trinity finds, and beneath that, there’s a pool of raw, undiluted potential just waiting to be uncovered.

That’s when things get really interesting.

“That was you on my computer,” Neo says, and this time he turns around entirely. His arms stay crossed, wary, but he’s taking the bait and this is it, this is the moment they've both been waiting for.

Trinity tells herself the reason she returns the favor and steps forward into his space is because of the club, and the truth is she did pick this location on purpose. It’s the last place the agents would expect her to meet potential unplugged, this risqué club packed to the brim with codes just waiting to be reprogrammed, and there are any number of hosts here to choose from. It’s foolhardy, an unnecessary risk, and that is exactly why she does it.

It also just so happens to be the perfect cover to talk alone.

No one will glance twice at a man and a woman alone in a corner booth, standing together and whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears. No alarms will be triggered, no second or third cursory glances. Hell, compared to the rest of the club mere idle chatter is the tamest pastime of all, but the point is they don’t stand out, either.

All the while Neo thinks he’s learning a thing or two about the system, but what he doesn’t realize is the real pitch is Trinity herself: her knowledge, her mystery, her ties to the underworld Neo seeks.

“What is the Matrix?” he asks, and her heart skips a beat.

The answer, she tells him, is out there. The answer, she doesn’t say, is right here. The answer is with me, all you need to do is reach.

Trinity turns and walks away, disappears into the darkness as easily as she came. She doesn't look back, doesn't say goodbye. All Neo gained was a name and a face, a memory not unlike a dream, but if they're lucky, he'll remember. If they're lucky, he won't forget.

Either way, the hook and line are set.

Now all that’s left is sink.

 


 

He takes the red pill.

Trinity wishes she were behind the safe harbor of the Nebuchadnezzar's steel walls instead of the broken down hotel from Alice in Wonderland's nightmares, far away from codes and agents and new recruits named Neo who may or may not die in the next few minutes.

It's Switch who hears first, from her position eavesdropping at the adjacent wall. “He took the bait,” she smirks roguishly, and so the usual bets begin.

Trinity doesn't hear the final outcome of who gets the shittiest job if Neo lives or dies, and she doesn't much care. She's too distracted by the swooping acrobatics of her heart plummeting down to her stomach, too distressed by the heartache she never thought she would experience again outside the Oracle's too-bright kitchen, let alone so soon.

Trinity watches Neo sit in the chair, watches his heart rate climb higher and his breaths grow deeper. She watches and for no particular reason, through some inscrutable force it all becomes clear: the Oracle's words, Morpheus' belief, Niobe's departure, Trinity's pitch. It was all meant to happen exactly the way it happened, it was always going to come down to this moment, in this chair, in this room. All this time Trinity believed she was the hook, but that wasn't true, was it? She was just made to believe it, so that fate would guide her here.

Once upon a time it sounded like bullshit. Trinity has never believed in fate, any more than she believed in true love conquering all. But looking at the man before her now, hoping he somehow survives despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, Trinity realizes two things:

He is going to die. 

Her heart is the one that sinks.

 


 

There's a difference between knowing and believing.

It sounds like the type of whimsical bullshit Morpheus would preach over morning breakfast, but for once, Trinity believes the words.

No matter what the Oracle did or did not say in her kitchen that fateful day, none of what was unveiled is Neo's fault. Neither is Trinity's reluctance to have any sort of one-on-one personal anything involving a certain lean, soft-eyed unplugged that looks to Trinity for guidance more often than not. He trusts her, this much is obvious, and she's afraid of him, this much is also obvious. It's ridiculous, their circling each other like a couple of awkward teenagers, but then, the truth is usually a preposterous son of a bitch in Trinity's experience, so none of this is as surprising or random as it seems.

After two weeks of this ridiculous charade, he seeks her out.

His footsteps are light, lighter than most, and Trinity hides a smile when she hears those same feet stop mid-step, not expecting to find her in the operator's chair.

There's a moment of silence before Neo resumes his step, coming to rest near her elbow.

“Hello,” he rasps, voice grainy with disuse.

“Evening.” She looks him up and down, takes in his haphazard appearance. He's still beautiful, for all that. “Still can't sleep?”

That gets Neo's attention, head snapping from the Matrix code to her face. He looks surprised for a heartbeat or two, before nodding at the floor like it's some sort of failure on his part.

“Most new recruits sleep like a rock,” she half jokes, though it doesn't feel so funny anymore. She looks back at the code, lost in thought. “But you're different.”

They're both distinctly not looking at each other, and Trinity feels the silence swallow them like a fog, dense and overpowering.

“Different?” he asks, in a small voice.

And there it is, there's the question and the kicker and the dilemma all condensed in a neat, three syllable package. Trinity doesn't know how to respond, doesn't have an answer for that specific inquiry that doesn't involve death, doesn't involve heartache and prophecies and futures left unfulfilled.

He can't know.

Trinity has been asked several times now what she believes, and the truth is she knows as much as Neo himself, which is not a lot. She doesn't exactly doubt the Oracle anymore, after everything. No more than she doubts Morpheus, anyway. Trinity believes that they believe it, and she can't deny the evidence over the past six months makes a pretty strong case in their direction. Just like she can't deny Neo has potential, can't deny her private attraction throwing her off balance, even now where he stands tired and disheveled, a towering presence at her shoulder. It's just that, the whole thing might be easier to swallow if there weren't addendums and parentheses attached, if there wasn't a cause and an effect so intricately intertwined to Trinity's heart and its intentions.

And yet, the truth of the matter is they're both lost. Neo sighs from his position at her shoulder, like he wasn't expecting an answer anyway, or maybe just afraid of what the answer could mean, same as her. That single, resigned sound of defeat coming from Neo's lips softens Trinity in ways she can't comprehend or explain. It makes her open up despite herself, inviting the very thing she's been avoiding this past week.

“You feel like training?”

She really shouldn't abandon her post, but overnight shifts are less about active guard duty and more about passive silence. They watch for anomalies, for glitches, for outliers and hiccups. The agents have been quiet though, since Neo's escape of the system. They almost always regroup, after, to confer or transfer data or whatever the hell agents do in their spare time. Privately, Trinity likes to imagine a dull board meeting discussing their failures. It's always a satisfying image, in her mind.

Neo's eyes flicker her way, alight with something that looks half dangerous, half delightful.

“We can do that?”

Trinity shrugs. “Probably shouldn't, but activity has been minimal, and I'm relieved in an hour. We can make a quick run in the construct and be out before anyone knows.”

His eyes narrow a fraction. “You'd do that?”

Trinity chuckles, a soft sound. She won't admit it, but she enjoys being the one to catch him off guard. “Surprised?”

Neo's lips twitch, a smile. His reactions are almost always subtle, but the more she sees him, the more she sees how expressive he truly is. It's those damn eyes, always telling a story. Some people's eyes are beautiful in the traditional sense, a specific mathematical balance of features aligning just so on an artist's canvas. Others have no specific quality, no uniqueness of features, but are breathtaking just the same.

Neo's eyes are like that. There's nothing immediately special about them, their shade a neutral brown, their size proportional yet small. Standard, in every sense of the word. But there are hidden depths just beneath the surface, a whole novel of feeling evident in his blinks and his glances, otherwise left unsaid. He's still something of a mystery, this Neo, and Trinity's fingers itch with the familiar desire to unlock and decode, to find what treasure lays hidden underneath.

Neo looks at the floor, then back up at her. He looks almost shy, hesitant. “A little.”

“There's a lot you don't know about me.”

Trinity smiles.

“Like how badly I'm going to kick your ass.”

 


 

Mouse wasn't wrong.

He's fast.

He's fast and he's effective, improvising where he loses sight of the technicality of mere textbook maneuvers, effectively creating a whole new attack in the process. Before Trinity has the time to fully appreciate the fluidity of the gesture he's back on his feet, staff in hand, ready for another blow. He's a whirlwind of motion, never stopping to rest or recover, even better and even faster than his brief spar with Morpheus two days prior.

Neo is good, but Trinity is better.

She opted for training rods this time around, partially for the sake of training itself, and partly to put some much needed distance between them, fight or no. It's late, they're both tired, and the last thing Trinity needs is her guard faltering due to something as inane as proximity. She's a professional, after all.

Or at least, that's what she tells herself until Neo is standing above her, having swept her feet clear out from underneath her, his staff poised near her neck.

Trinity doesn't know which sound is more surprising: her harsh breath filling the dojo or the stunned silence that follows, the victor clear.

“Surprised?” Neo smiles down at her, moving the staff. Using her own words against her, what a cheeky bastard.

Trinity should be irritated or confused or even downright angry, but instead she finds herself smiling, impressed.

“A little,” she mimics.

Neo smiles, those brown eyes warming a degree or two.

“Again?” he asks, and offers a hand.

Trinity accepts the offer, extracting herself the minute she's back on solid ground before whirling in on herself and attacking his shoulder for no other reason than it's infinitely distracting in his black tank top. Neo seems to sense her target, perhaps even her singular rage, mirroring her posture and going for her own similarly black-laden shoulder, both of them bending backwards and circling each other without landing a strike.

“How long have you been unplugged?” Neo asks between strikes.

“Ten, eleven years,” she replies, lunging at those too-long legs. Neo evades with an air spin before switching positions not a second later with a gracefulness that looks even more impressive given his long, slender frame.

“And you've been Morpheus' second in that time?”

If she's being honest with herself she's surprised he noticed; she didn't think anyone had bothered explaining the hierarchy of authority on the ship. Not when something as complex as the Matrix was still very much being uncovered and understood.

“No.” Trinity exhales a harsh breath of exertion while circling around a beam, her eyes never leaving their target. “Morpheus was second, we had a different captain.”

That seems to catch Neo off guard, at least enough that Trinity lands a strike just above his kneecap, the wooden staff cracking with an audible slap against skin. Neo hisses and comes back around with a heavy swing of his own, their staves clashing.

“What happened?” he asks, quieter. Calmer, despite the blow to his thigh. Trinity can feel each puff of air that escapes his lips on her fingertips.

You happened, she wants to say.

Instead she brings her staff low to separate the standstill, then changes tactics when they separate and swings high, thrusting hard near his ribs.

“The captain she—” Neo dodges with practiced ease, leaning just far enough back to thwart her attack without stepping back, “—left, after some disagreements with Morpheus.”

Maybe Trinity shouldn't give so much away, but she's not really focused on the words between them so much as the fight. Neo is not so easy to take down as she might have assumed, and this assessment even after watching him face off against Morpheus. It's not so much Neo's knowledge as his innate movements, swift and smooth and largely unconscious, near as Trinity can tell. She's never observed another person move at such speed, with such precision, in such a specific way. It's nothing she's seen in a training download, or in a dojo, or in a fight. There's no ordinary explanation, no reason that Trinity can discern, it's just—him.

It's distracting, almost as distracting as the personal line of inquiry, and she doesn't know which is worse: his grace or his curiosity. Just like she doesn't know which defense she should fortify: her answers or her person.

Neo answers that question for her in the next breath, leaping forward with an inhuman speed and matching her parry for parry until Trinity's back is to the wall, her window of attack growing smaller and smaller until there isn't one at all, until Neo's staff lands and holds an inch from her thigh.

“But you stayed.” It's not a question.

She's heady with adrenaline and exhaustion, her body confused and elated in equal measure. Neo has proven himself without even trying, but largely seems unaware of the victory or the effect, looking down at her with an expression both intense and inquisitive but otherwise open, a fan of hair falling across his forehead like a work of art. Trinity, on the other hand, is the precise opposite: her mind reduced to a mess of desires and contradictions, a dangerous concoction just waiting to blow. She should be relieved at Neo’s seeming obliviousness to the situation growing larger and more dangerous by the millisecond, but instead she finds herself all the more tempted to find out just how deep the river runs, just how far she can tempt fate without tipping the scale.

So she plays along. She allows the proximity, allows the questions, allows the curious gaze staring at her to smolder into something intense and unanswered. Because it's exciting, because it's thrilling, because it's goddamn tempting and she's only human. It's those eyes, she tells herself, a little too curious and a little too close. It's those arms, slick and smooth, hovering with exertion so near her own skin. It's the sheer, looming presence of him, so close but not nearly close enough. It may not be real, but in this world, he's all she sees.

He's all she wants.

“Trinity?”

She blinks. “Yes, I—” A pause. “I stayed.”

It's strange, to tell this part of her history to someone who wasn't there. Strange because at the time, it didn't feel like much of a choice at all. The decision to stay or go, Morpheus or Niobe, the Nebuchadnezzar or the Logos. It never felt like she chose the believer over the non-believer, but standing here with Neo, seeing with sharp distinction just what—or rather who—came from that same belief, suddenly Trinity's choice to stay with Morpheus takes on a whole new meaning. 

“I think I—” Trinity looks at those too-soft eyes, not knowing what she's about to say until the words come tumbling out of her mouth. “I think I was supposed to. Stay.”

Neo moves the staff, easing the pressure on her thigh and her chest. One a physical weight and the other emotional, but both leave her breathless all the same.

Trinity isn't sure which is worse. Not sure if it matters, not sure if she minds. Not sure of anything except the bundle of nerves making her pulse somersault as she waits for Neo's reaction.

When he does respond, it's not with the words or the actions Trinity would have expected and maybe she likes it, just a little. Maybe his surprising unpredictability is alluring from a man who seemed a cookie-cutter of a person, quiet and meek in all the ordinary ways. Maybe she likes that spark of defiance in his eye, that glimmer of mischief illuminating his face. He's a different person here and maybe she likes what she sees. Maybe she likes that he's bending the rules and showing her up. Maybe she likes his utter control over the situation, over the tension, over her.

Neo takes a daring step forward, one hand coming to rest on her staff and drawing it away from her body. Trinity allows her defense to slip, allows Neo one iota of her perfect control, and in return he relinquishes his own staff too, dropping both to the floor without a backward glance. He stands upright, body a firm line of unending confidence and tight black clothes and this—this is exactly what Trinity was hoping to avoid but what feels inevitable just the same.

“For what it's worth,” Neo grins, and seems to know without a verbal cue that Trinity is no longer in the mood to answer questions or dwell on philosophical bullshit. He stretches a hand out instead, an invitation. “I'm glad you did.”

Neo beckons her forward exactly two times, and Trinity allows the familiar itch of competitiveness to override the familiar warning bell inside her skull. It's a dangerous game she's playing, she knows, but oh, is it sweet.

Trinity grins before charging forward.

This time, she lands the first strike.

 


 

She wakes feeling sore.

It’s always a little strange, a little disconcerting, how a body in a world with bendable rules deals with the fallout of a world with strict, precise ones. In the program, the mind reigns supreme. In the Nebuchadnezzar, it’s the purple, yellow and blue hurricanes blemishing her skin that rule, along with her aching ribs. It’s the slices and cuts that take countless stitches and days, gone in an instant when the familiar feeling of a jack to the skull hits her brain.

It’s strange and oddly vulnerable, but it reminds her what’s real. Pain is a distinctly human emotion, second only to love.

Trinity looks at the red welt already forming on her thigh and tells herself she is absolutely not impressed to find its existence. She walks into the mess hall instead, eats the same colorless breakfast she always does and absolutely does not meet Neo’s eye when he walks in all tired eyes and worn beanie and takes the seat to her right, his left leg touching hers in a way that feels purposeful but also perfectly explanatory. It’s so close to the bruise marring her skin, so near the pull and stretch of muscle still making her breath catch, and part of her absolutely does not flutter with anticipation at the thought that it could happen again. She need only ask.

“How are you feeling?” he asks a few minutes into her analytical inner monologue, voice low and smooth in a way that feels distinctly Neo.

“Fantastic,” she says, resolutely not meeting those inviting brown eyes she knows are waiting, tempting. “Sore.”

She feels rather than sees Neo's small smile.

“Good.” There's a trace of humor lacing the words, an undercurrent of satisfaction in the rasp of his voice making her cheeks burn. Oblivious, or perhaps just content, Neo goes back to his eating, and Trinity continues her staring at the tasteless breakfast and wonders what the hell she is going to do with the latest problem currently sitting far too close to her thigh, warming her body despite the cold. His leg brushes against hers once more over the course of breakfast, an accident, and Trinity absolutely does not wonder if Neo's muscles hold a matching set of bruises perpendicular to her own.

She doesn’t ask.

And she absolutely does not smile.

 


 

She must save him. That’s what the Oracle said.

Trinity wishes now she would have asked what she was too scared to, back then. She wishes she would have asked the only question that matters. Not for Morpheus, not for Cypher, not even for Apoc or Dozer or Switch. Finally, she can admit she wishes she would have asked for herself.

After so much death, it seems like the only goddamn question worth asking.

Trinity stares at Neo's beautiful brown eyes and this is the moment she can admit she was wrong. She was foolish for thinking she had it all figured out, just like she was an idiot for thinking providence didn't have a hand in this the way Morpheus always said. There are two bodies on the floor telling her how utterly useless her own reservations are, and a traitorous voice on the cell phone commanding her to finally, finally just tell the truth.

So she does.

“Yes,” she whispers.

Damn the Oracle, damn divine intervention, damn whatever god exists. Damn it all if it means putting this miracle right before her eyes only to take it away five goddamn seconds later.

“Yes,” she says, and that is the magic word, the one Cypher needs to hear. One word is Trinity's undoing, the same one that seals Neo's fate. He's staring right back and she can see, with agonizing precision, the exact moment he realizes he's going to die. He's going to die and there's nothing he can do; his fate is as out of his hands as Trinity's love for him is out of hers. They are forever intertwined, forever destined, forever doomed.

The truth, as always, fucking hurts.

And that's not even the worst part.

No, it gets worse because there's another half to this prophecy that's yet to be uncovered, an addendum Trinity was resolute not to hear, too incensed by the first half she never bothered to listen to the second. There's one last chance at a sliver of hope, of saving what's left of this god awful riddle, but the worst part is, Trinity doesn't have a single clue how.

This is what regret feels like.

Regret is staring at the person you love, and not being able to save them. Regret is knowing you could have done something, but it's too late. Regret is running out of time before the clock even started ticking. Regret is wishing you would have put aside your pride. Regret tastes like salt on your lips, like acid in your throat, like cancer in your heart.

Regret, for Trinity, is one unspoken word.

How?

 


 

Neo is the one to approach her after, Trinity offering the night shift following the funeral.

It’s been a sullen few hours, full of candles and memories and commemorations, and after that, hours of silence and questions and sheer, overwhelming doubt. Trinity misses Morpheus now more than ever, made all the more acute by his body still living and breathing in the chair, his life dependent on the jack attached to his skull like a bizarre form of life support. He's so close but also so very far away and Trinity doesn't know what to do, with any of it.

Her first act as ranking officer was leaving Cypher's body out with the trash.

Her last is sitting in a chair, watching Morpheus' chest rise and fall. His breaths are long and even, but his eyelids keep twitching, like all it would take is a leap of imagination and he could wake up. Except it never happens and sweat pours off his body instead, the only real indication of his duress so far.

Tank went to bed hours ago, or at least Trinity suspects it was hours. She can't say how long she's been here, recycling the same four actions: staring at the monitor, removing excess heat, applying an IV, looking over the code.

Rinse and repeat.

She hasn't seen Neo for hours, either. He attended the funeral, of course. His first. He didn't offer any words and kept glancing back toward Morpheus, hands shifting every few seconds in worry. He didn't excuse himself formally though, that she would have noticed. Ranking officer or not, Trinity keeps an eye on her crew. Or at least, she thought she did until she got Cypher's call this afternoon. That was one hell of a wake-up call.

Goddammit.

Trinity breaks the cycle, pours herself a can of Dozer's alcohol instead.

She's half chugging the disgraceful attempt at moonshine down her throat and wondering how many more cups she can enjoy before it's nothing more than a memory without Dozer there to create more of it, moonshine or memories, when she hears an aborted cough of a sound near her left shoulder.

“Jesus,” she half curses, half spits. If the stuff didn't burn on the way down before, it certainly will now. “You scared me,” she says nonsensically, because today has been a nonsensical sort of day.

Neo doesn't smile that timid half smile he usually does when he greets her, doesn't even look her way at all, in fact, and Trinity finds with a hollow sort of disappointment she misses its appearance. She didn't even know she could catalogue his facial expressions until this moment, but today is a day of all sorts of fucking revelations, isn't it?

“How is he?”

Trinity looks at Neo, then back at the monitor. “The same.”

Neo sighs.

“Drink?”

“No, thanks.”

There's a beat of silence in which Trinity feels awkward and out of place, standing so close to the other half of her inner turmoil these past few hours, but also the one she's put the least amount of thought into confronting or dealing with. There's very clearly something on Neo's mind as well, perhaps even the same two somethings as Trinity, but she can't know for certain and she sure as hell isn't going to assume.

“Look, I know I’m not...” Neo looks at his hands, fidgets with a string attached to the hem of his sleeve. He glances back up at Morpheus and tries again. “If there’s anything I can do...”

“What were you going to say?” Trinity doesn't know why she feels compelled to call him out. All she knows for certain is that she's burning with pent-up energy, that today has been hell, that she's been waiting for a match to ignite the fire clogging her throat and suffocating her lungs.

Her snippiness gets Neo's attention. Finally. He looks at Trinity and for the first time she's known him, he appears properly angry. She's set a blaze all right, but the effect is not where she expected or intended; behind those serious eyes staring her down, all predatory and sharp precision, is a brown that's almost black in this light.

“Nothing.”

“Bullshit.”

They stare at each other. Trinity stands from her seat, takes a foolish step his direction. Neo doesn't move, doesn't blink, doesn't speak. He's as stoic as she's ever seen him, and this is the moment Trinity realizes how deep that stubborn streak of his goes.

He hides it well. By all accounts he's the quietest, most amicable member of their remaining skeleton crew. The man standing before her now, however, fierce and unmoving and almost daring her contradiction, is a force to be reckoned with.

But then, just when she thinks this stalemate may go on forever, Neo surprises her because he always does. Because for all the frustration rolling off him in waves, he's also calm, calmer than her.

“We both know I'm the one who should be in that chair, Trinity.”

That's what this is about?” she all but gapes, too surprised to manage much else.

Neo doesn't respond, just glances back at Morpheus' monitor in what Trinity thinks is his equivalent of an eyeroll.

“Neo,” she exhales, allows a few seconds of anger to dissipate with the breath, “that's not true.”

“I know that's what you believe.” Neo's rebuttal is immediate, like he was expecting the words. “I know he did what he thought was right, same as you.”

He looks down at his hands before crossing his arms. Suppresses a shiver.

“But it doesn't change the fact. He should be here, and I—“ he looks back to that damn monitor, and Trinity wishes she didn't know the words he's going to say before he says it, just like she wishes she didn't recognize the compulsion to keep staring at the man on all their minds and all their hearts, “I should be there.”

Listening to Neo, watching his face fall and his belief wane, Trinity wishes for a great many things. She wishes she was a stronger, more honest person. She wishes she could refute Neo’s words for the garbage it is, wishes she could comfort him the way he deserves. She wishes she was a better second, a better daughter. She wishes Cypher's words didn't still haunt her memory, wishes the bodies down the hall didn't still weigh on her heart like the alcohol clinging to her throat.

There, on the precipice between one breath and the next, Neo turns away.

Trinity wishes he would stay.

 


 

She hasn't cried once since she's been freed.

It's not that she's against it, or doesn't believe in its healing properties or whatever explanation a younger one like Mouse might have assumed. Trinity isn't as unfeeling as her now-dead crewmates made her out to be, it's just that she never had much a reason to showcase it, either. Trinity has always showed her affection more practically, she thinks, or maybe that's just the world they lived in: survival first, everything else later.

Except now it is later, and Trinity is crying, but no one is here to see it.

No one.

 


 

It takes Morpheus being captured, it takes half the crew dying, it takes Cypher drilling her under penalty of death. But mostly it takes Neo walking away for Trinity to admit she was wrong.

Once upon a time Trinity thought that loving someone would be her downfall, her weakness and her doom. It's still partly true, but the ironic part, the worst part is that not having that someone by your side is worse than not having them at all.

It’s her fault. It's all her fault and she knows.

The love of her goddamn life survived today by what could only be described as a miracle, and instead of doing any of the things a normal person would do, a healthy person would do, Trinity pushed them away because of a very different kind of heartache currently hooked up to a machine beeping loudly to her left. She pushed back because she doesn't know how to explain that the confession a few hours ago is the only hope left in a ship with three used bunks, three empty ones, and one in between.

She doesn't know how to say the words, “I love you,” without sounding desperate and cliché, without taking away from Morpheus' very real, very physical decay right before their eyes. She doesn't know how to explain there's a choice here between a fatherly love and a romantic one, between one life and the other, and that's not a decision she can make or a risk she can take.

Trinity never found much use in waiting, and she never found much use in love either, but maybe that was just another lie. Maybe the truth was always staring her in the face, from that very first day: maybe Morpheus was right, and the Oracle too. Maybe Trinity is the only fraud to be found here, maybe the only threats in sight are the lies she cocooned herself with so tight they sounded like truth. A truth so profound, so obvious to everyone—even goddamn Cypher—but not her, never her, because Trinity was never built for love, but love found her anyway and she doesn't know what to do.

“I'm not the One, Trinity,” Neo says, and looks her right in the eye.

A short while ago, Trinity might have been thrilled at the words. She might have scoffed and rolled her eyes, might have given Neo one of those rare half smiles and knocked her shoulder into his. She might have said, “Yeah, what a load of bullshit” and they might have gone on with their lives, might have found another way to save their captain like none of it mattered one way or the other.

A short while ago, it might have been a gentle ribbing between friends.

Now, though. Now it doesn't feel so funny at all.

Now nothing adds up, nothing makes sense. The only reaction Trinity feels is her heart skip a sensitive beat because if there was ever a chance to fight for Morpheus' life, ever a chance in hell at this rescue mission being a successful one, it rests in Neo's hands. It rests in his abilities, in his belief, it lies with him, period. It lies with the man with too soft eyes and a determination in his soul, a man staring back at her with a sad resignation Trinity recognizes all too well.

Of all the possibilities Trinity imagined her life would go over the past ten years, this one doesn't come anywhere close to fathomable. There's an illusion of choice, but there's also no choice at all and Trinity doesn't know which upsets her more: the Oracle fucking with them, or the fact that the machines have, once again, outsmarted their human counterparts.

It doesn't matter. Whether the circumstances are scripted or not, Trinity decides then and there that feelings can't be foretold or predicted. It's the one thing humans have over the machines, the one thing that can't be manufactured or repurposed. It's the thing that sets them apart, that makes humanity the ones worth fighting for. It's their heart and their soul, the thing that makes them both impulsive and dangerous, as well as heroic and brave.

Morpheus always believed in the concept of the One, but for Trinity it's different.

Trinity believes in Neo, not in prophecies, and there's a difference.

 


 

She finds him in his bunk, minutes before Tank is about to load them up.

He's sitting on the threadbare cot, staring at his hands like they hold all the answers, like it's just another simulation to puzzle and solve. Trinity wishes the expression wasn't familiar, wishes she didn't have the same thought herself watching the blue line of Morpheus’ heartbeat flutter on the screen as she said goodbye, just in case. But the truth is she's seen this hopeless expression dozens of times, back when Neo was just Thomas Anderson, an under the radar hacker with depression pills in his medicine cabinet and an itch under his skin, a discontentment with reality that led him to this place: a cold, empty ship with more of the same.

Trinity swallows around her pride, knocks once to announce her presence. “Hey.”

Neo looks up, clasps his hands together in an awkward, too-fast jumble of fingers. “Hey.”

He stands. Trinity fidgets with a thumbnail, nervous for absolutely no fucking reason.

“Listen—"

“Trinity—"

For the second time that day, Neo says, “you first.”

Trinity smiles, just a little.

“I’m sorry.” She stops, makes a point to look Neo in the eye. It’s not easy for her to admit, but this needs to be said. “For this afternoon.”

Neo opens his mouth to speak, but Trinity holds up a hand. “You deserve to be here. And I'm still honoring Morpheus' decision, which means I've got your back. No matter what.”

Trinity lets out a breath. She doesn’t know what comes after this part, doesn't know what to hope for or if it's foolish to hope at all. Everything is so fragile and quiet, rushed and crucial. She’s off balance and off script, and it feels like Neo holds all the keys.

It seems nothing sort of cruel, she thinks, for the Oracle to plant the concept of looming death in her psyche, only to contradict the rules by planting the possibility of escape now, after everything.

“Trinity.” Neo steps forward, his hands coming to rest near her shoulders. He looks at her with a soft mixture of pleasure and pain and something in Trinity breaks for no reason at all.

She doesn't even have it in herself to be embarrassed at the show of vulnerability pricking behind her eyelids, slumping her shoulders and concaving her body in Neo's general direction. The sheer intensity of the past few hours overrides any of her usual stoicism, until all that's left is a shell of a woman Trinity hasn't known since she was sixteen and alone in a world that was a lie by design. Morpheus once wrapped his arms around her the way Neo does now, and it feels like another kind of rebirth is happening all over again, except this time Trinity doesn’t know what the outcome will be, or which version of herself will come out on top.

There's a strange feeling of inevitability throwing Trinity off balance, a sort of déjà vu taking her outside her own self, as though she's merely a pawn in a much larger game. She's only just catching the fringes of something greater than herself, too caught up in her own experience to know precisely what or where or who is orchestrating the event. It's Neo that grounds her, his existence the one true thing in a world that feels too big, too powerful to comprehend or examine. Neo, with his too soft eyes and his long, handsome face. Neo, with his heart not on his sleeve, but in his smiles and his glances, in his looks and his stares. Neo, with his hands on her shoulders, and a hook on her heart. 

Trinity steps forward until her face connects with Neo's chest, warm and alive and real

“I didn't want you to go with me because I don't want you to get hurt,” Neo whispers into the top of her hair.

Trinity clutches the back of his shirt, allows herself this one moment, if this is all she gets to keep.

“I know,” she whispers back.

“Do you trust me?” Neo asks, breath warm near her ear.

Trinity closes her eyes, takes it all in. Neo's arms shifting to her waist, not too light but not too firm. His thumb moving back and forth over her spine, a comforting motion grounding her body to his. Her arms around his neck, the feel of her fingers in his cropped hair. Mostly though, the warmth of his body cocooning hers, warding off the cold, dead weight hanging in the air and suffocating her heart.

When Trinity opens her eyes, she doesn't even have to think.

For the second time that day, the answer is unequivocally yes.

 


 

Things become a bit clearer after that.

It’s still a mess, to be sure. But the weight that’s been trailing Trinity like a plague has eased, at least enough that she can focus on moving forward. The stage is set, weapons hot and coordinates hacked.

They have their mission, and this time it’s personal.

It’s terrifying, but also a little thrilling, to embark on a duet of a suicide mission side by side with Neo. He’s the prodigy of the Nebuchadnezzar, a wildcard, and Trinity feels everything she has ever felt all at once: intrigued, terrified, but also excited.

They move in tandem together, Neo taking the brunt of the force while Trinity watches his back, floor by floor, room by room. Here Neo is everything he has ever been all at once, too: fast and fluid, graceful and smooth, long and lean, and black, black, black.

It’s infinitely distracting.

But not quite as distracting as the other half of the prophecy that Trinity knows is coming, looming ever closer to its tipping point. She doesn’t know how she’s aware, doesn’t know how she has time to even wonder, let alone predict it, but the more guards that fall, the more shots are fired, the more fires explode, the more a reality cements itself in Trinity's mind:

She loves him, and she can’t let go.

It starts out as a vague, flittering thought. I can’t lose him, she thinks when the agent fires his pistol, and Neo dodges with lighting fast ease. I can’t lose him, she thinks when she approaches an agent—an agent—and fires a single bullet into its brain. I can’t lose him, she thinks when Neo jumps out of the helicopter and catches Morpheus mid-air. I can’t lose him, she thinks, when Neo pulls her from the flames. I can’t lose him, she thinks when Neo lingers, close but not nearly close enough.

She thinks it over and over and over, but somewhere between the helicopter crash and the subway station, it becomes more a battle cry.

I won’t.

 


 

The agents come, the sentinels appear, the shots fire.

Neo dies.

Clinically dead, his heartbeat a flat line on the screen. He lets out a soundless scream, an exhale of breath before his chest collapses, along with his heart.

Morpheus stares, Tank flinches. Trinity refuses to believe it.

It's a surreal moment, her worst fear realized and playing out before her eyes in real time. Not in slow motion, not with a picture perfect backdrop, not even when he's goddamn awake. Nothing goes the way Trinity imagined it might, and it's only once she's staring at Neo's nonexistent heartbeat, that Trinity realizes with stark precision: her belief in prophecies or messiah’s is not enough to save him.

But her non-belief just might.

Trinity has been disregarding the status quo her whole life, she’s been refusing to accept the hand she’s been dealt since birth. Trinity lives on cynicism, not blind faith, so it must mean something, it has to mean something for Trinity to declare her love, not her loss.

Trinity may not believe in much, but if there’s one thing she’s honed and perfected to near perfect accuracy, it’s her gut instinct.

So, she speaks.

She starts talking and she doesn’t stop until she lays it all on the table. She tells Neo about her version of the prophecy, tells him why none of this can be real. “You can’t be dead,” she tells his body. Because it doesn’t add up. Because it doesn’t make sense. Because she can’t lose him, because she won’t.

“Because I love you.”

It’s the only part of her speech that isn’t tainted with some lingering anger or resentment, because Neo himself is the one good thing to come out of this bullshit. He’s the quietest, kindest savior they could ever ask for, the exact opposite of everything she ever expected him to be and she loves him for it. She loves him, period. No dashes, underlines, italicizes or parenthesis. Here, at the end, she's found the courage to say it, over and over and over.

“I love you,” she says again, and the last of those firm edges around her heart come unglued.

It’s cliché. It’s horribly, outrageously cliché, but Trinity can’t not kiss him, after that. She can feel herself falling headfirst into something she adamantly refused to believe, let alone admit, but she doesn’t give two shits about the banality of it anymore. This is as much about giving the Oracle the middle finger as it is about saving Neo, because Trinity refuses—refuses—to accept that this is it, that this is all there is.

Trinity has worked hard her whole life. She’s worked to make something of herself, worked to prove a point to the world. She’s worked to escape, she’s worked to belong. She’s worked her way into loyalties and friendships, through choices and gambles and still fallen short of that whole, complete goodness that comes with a satisfying ending. None of her private successes come close to willing someone back to life through sheer force of will. No amount of talent or skill could accomplish what her lips seal with a kiss, nothing in her life compares to this.

Trinity has always taken pride in her work, but she’s never really loved before—or at least she didn’t think she did. And yet the truth is Trinity has loved and been loved this whole time, right from the start. It started with Morpheus, she thinks, it started with the Nebuchadnezzar. It started with a proficiency for hacking, and later unplugging. It started with an Oracle dishing out shitty life advice, and later betrayal at the hand of a crewmate. It started with brown eyes belonging to one Thomas Anderson.

And it ends with those same eyes waking up.

 


 

Neo opens those pretty brown eyes and kisses her back, hand at her neck, tongue in her mouth, and it’s finally—finally—enough.

 


 

“You were right,” she says to Morpheus after, Neo hovering awkwardly in the background as Tank pulls him into a too-tight hug, tears glistening down his face as he murmurs, “we made it” over and over.

Morpheus nods, smooth and slow, a shit-eating grin planted firmly on his face. He’s enjoying every minute of this, carnage be damned but he’s earned the chance to gloat. He deserves it.

“We were right,” he corrects after a pause, giving her that particular side-eye glance he’s been perfecting over the years.

Trinity levels him with her best deadpan stare, but when Morpheus pulls her into an embrace of his own, she goes willingly. “It’s good to have you back,” Trinity says, and means it.

“Good to be back,” Morpheus replies, and holds her tight.

Over the impressive height of his shoulder, Trinity’s eyes find Neo the way they always seem to these days. His face is serious, his eyes intense as they stare at each other, wrapped up in people that distinctly are not each other.

Two people stand between them, but Trinity feels his gaze like it’s a physical thing.

 


 

She stares at him.

He stares at the floor.

“Listen, I—"

“I love you,” Trinity interrupts. Because she wasn’t soon enough last time. Because she needs to be soon enough this time. Because she finally understands how important it is, that she say what she really means.

Neo’s eyes snap up. He studies her for an inordinate amount of time, long enough that Trinity feels flushed with nerves and hyperaware of every blemish covering her skin. She’s anxious to move forward, to step into his space, to feel proof of him alive and in front of her again, but her feet stay planted some three odd feet away, which is three odd feet too many . Neo’s gaze flickers between one eye, then the other as though studying her for the first time, or maybe just studying her in a new light. It’s similar to his look at the telephone booth except it’s closer now, more aware. His eyes betray his surprise, maybe even a little confusion but he’s also—discerning. Discovering. Wanting.

“I—I love you, too.”

Trinity stares at Neo, a fluttering in her chest that feels suspiciously like hope. It's as unfamiliar as the man taking up residence in her bedroom, and she doesn't quite know what to do. All this time the Oracle told her she would fall in love, but she never knew if the opposite would hold true; she never knew that Neo could love her, too.

Neo appears to have no such qualms, his face is as beautiful as she’s ever seen it, open and free of all expression except the one she’s been most hoping to see. Soft and warm, it’s a look she’s received from Morpheus dozens of times, though it’s different in this light, from this man. There’s just something about him, Trinity thinks, something about the pure adoration adorning his face that makes her realize how fortunate she is. There’s a priceless gift staring back at her with hope in his eyes and his heart on his sleeve and Trinity thinks that she maybe, finally, gets the hype.

Neo tilts her face up with two gentle fingers. “I love you,” he says again, firmer this time, and his eyes broker no room for argument.

When Neo leans down to kiss her, Trinity would like to think she contributes nicely to their first proper kiss, a kiss not half-strewn across a console or a chair. A kiss where both partners are firm and upright and very much alive in every sense of the word. She'd like to think her romantic skills are above average, even if she doesn't have a lot of experience, even if her time on the ship hasn't really helped those odds any. She'd like to think it’s a natural gift, or maybe simple chemistry that might make her kiss memorable, or at least satisfactory.

She hopes so, because the truth is she damn near cries at the first brush of Neo's lips over hers.

It's so good, so much better than any of her dreams or idle curiosities. It has nothing to do with technique and everything to do with Neo’s warmth enveloping her everywhere: one hand spread across her hip, moving upward across her side and along her rib, the other strewn across her neck and winding into her hair. The sheer height of him, the quiet confidence with which he swoops down and kisses her again and again leaves her breathless and wanting, feeling young and alive for the first time in years. She’s a different person here—a bolder, more foolish version of herself, but it’s not so awful a thing to accept as she once feared. Not when she can push herself further into the hard planes of Neo’s chest and feel his arms snake around her back, those slender hands seeping warmth into her skin through the flimsy material of her shirt.

He’s tall and he’s enveloping, he’s everywhere and right now, he’s everything.

There’s that familiar feeling of déjà vu clinging to the edge of Trinity’s senses, that same feeling of inevitability making her hyper-aware of everything, but especially the man in front of her. A man she never thought she would accept, let alone love. A man devouring her with kisses, a man expertly tearing down her walls even as he stands them back up again. Except it’s not rude and untoward like she once expected it to be. It’s not against her will, or without her consent. And it’s certainly not bullshit—this elation she feels, this indescribable warmth is nothing that can be predicted or prescribed; it simply is, and Trinity finds it’s the best kind of comfort.

The best kind of love.

Nothing in the last six months has gone according to plan, but then, maybe that’s the reason it worked. Maybe Trinity wouldn’t have accepted the hand she was dealt any other way, maybe Neo was always going to catch her off guard and sweep her off her feet. It’s what she loves most about him, after all, that he’s different than everything she expected him to be. She loves that he’s soft, not loud. She loves his humility, his lack of arrogance. She loves that he’s sweet and honest and distinctly good.

Trinity twines her small fingers through Neo’s long, slender ones. She cups his cheek.

“I love you,” she says again, smiling. Because she can. Because this time it’s a promise freely given.

Trinity pushes Neo back into the wall and has her way with him, finally, and there isn’t much room for talking after that.

 


 

Trinity doesn’t know how she convinced herself this was a good idea.

She’s just completed a routine run, leaving a data cache for a neighboring ship to find and transport back to Zion. She made the drop in record time, didn’t need Neo’s assistance to get there or complete the mission. No agents, no calls, no tracers. Nothing but adrenaline in her veins and a fire in her footsteps, nothing but the addictive energy that comes with a job well done and a case closed.

It seems fitting, then, to take care of one more loose end.

It’s been nine years since Trinity was unplugged, eight years and change since she met the Oracle. Nearly a decade later Trinity stands in an all too familiar hallway, staring at a door she’s reminisced about far too many times, hand shaking and heart beating.

The kitchen is just as bright as she remembered, though Trinity notes a fresh collection of nick-knacks now lines the sink in somewhat more recognizable shapes. Beyond that the only thing that's changed is the woman standing at the entrance, a far cry from the scared teenager who once graced these walls.

“Hello, Trinity.”

The Oracle swivels around, hot tray in hand while the other works at untying the apron at her waist—this too, unchanged. There's not a hair out of place, not a single new blemish or scar. Nothing is new under the programmed sun, but it's not as disconcerting a sight as Trinity once remembered it to be.

“Hello.”

“I would say you look good, but you're not here to talk about yourself, are you?”

Trinity shakes her head, chances a glance down at her boots. “No.”

“Fair enough.” The Oracle finishes removing the oven mitt, draping herself along the counter's edge to face Trinity face on. “So how about you tell me to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Trinity doesn't mince her words, doesn't hesitate, doesn't falter. “You told me he would die,” she says, short and to the point.

The Oracle looks off to the side, bottom lip protruding in a half-shrug, half-thoughtful sort of way. “He did, didn’t he?”

Trinity scoffs. 

“Now, now sweetheart, I would think you’d be pleased.” The Oracle’s vowels lilt in that particular way that means she’s far too satisfied with herself. “By all accounts this is just as much your victory as it was Neo’s. He couldn’t have done it without you, after all.”

“For ten years I thought he’d be murdered.” Trinity means for the words to cut and bruise, but somewhere between here and there the heat behind the words loses its spark, falling somewhere on the sad part of the spectrum instead.

“I know.” The Oracle walks over, takes hold of Trinity’s hand with both of hers. “Change is always hard. By nature of its existence, it affects us in ways we can’t predict or understand. You had a rough few years. You kept what I told you close to heart, and it shaped you into the person you are today. It made you able to save Neo, when you might not have otherwise. You’ve grown, Trinity.”

Trinity wants to pull away, wants to fight, wants to flee. But more than that, she needs to confess.

“I hated you.”

The Oracle laughs, deep and hearty, genuine and light. She squeezes Trinity’s palm before releasing it, easy as anything. “You’re not the first person to disagree with me by far.” The Oracle turns and walks back to the counter, rummaging through some cabinets as she does so. “Though you may be the first to hold a grudge for quite so long. And that, my dear, is no small feat.”

She points a shaky finger Trinity's direction, an amused quirk playing at her lips.

When the Oracle returns, it’s with a sandwich bag with two cookies inside. She offers the bag to Trinity, ignoring her questioning gaze. “I ruined your life for a good ten years, I know. Take it from someone who’s been around the block a few times: it’s a tiring business dolling out bad news. So,” the Oracle shrugs, those dark eyes dancing, “maybe you shouldn’t listen to me anymore.”

Trinity’s eyes narrow. “Is this the part where you tell me what a wise mentor Morpheus is?”

When the Oracle smiles, her eyes are all but shining. “No. I’m telling you Neo has a great many more things to offer than a few cool superhero moves. He’s your best friend, Trinity, and he can teach you far more than I ever could.”

It’s the last thing Trinity expected to hear from the woman Morpheus considers the wisest being to ever exist. She anticipated some sort of parlor trick maybe, or a non-sequitur of an answer wrapped in a candy-flavored package. Instead Trinity gets what she always wanted, except gloating doesn't feel as good as she once imagined it would.

Trinity opens her mouth to speak, but the Oracle beats to her to the punch, holding up the bag of cookies.

“It's good to see you again, honey. I’m glad you decided to come back.” She gives Trinity’s hand one last pat just above her wrist. Her palms are warm, her fingertips cool. The Oracle smiles a small smile, like she knows Trinity's innermost thoughts, except this time she doesn't dare spill them. A secret between colleagues, perhaps, maybe even friends.

Trinity thinks she looks sort of beautiful, in her way.

“Give one of these to Neo, would you?” The Oracle says, winking.

“The last batch I gave him was no good.”

 


 

When Trinity returns, she finds Neo in their bunk.

He smiles when he sees her, open mouthed and warm. Heat radiates from his skin when he stands to greet her, a hand on her hip and a palm on her face.

“I have an important question for you,” he says, placing a kiss over the planes his fingers map out, branding a trail of arousal in their wake.

“Oh?” She means to say more, to tease, but Neo's lips lingering near her ear already have that covered. Her body arches forward on instinct, breathless and needy. If the chuckle vibrating from Neo’s body to hers is any indication, he’s all too aware of the effect.

“How do you feel about flying?” he asks, and her heart skips a beat.

“You mean—”

“Yes.”

Trinity looks at Neo, an easy excitement flooding her veins. They stare at each other, stupid grins alighting both their faces, and this is the moment Trinity corrects her previous claim. This calm she feels, this simple contentment isn’t something that can be measured or quantified. It isn’t just enough or not enough. It isn't even anything in between.

It’s everything.

“Let’s go,” Trinity says, and away they fly.