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Frosted Glass

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Wind glossed of the glass hood of Beck’s Light Cycle, flowing down, across and behind him as he tore across the road and into the Outlands. Climbing the mountain and the Hideout, he was in full spirits. Driving upward and around the cliff, he gasps when he catches the threatening shine of red light.

The Program nearly flies of the cliff, regardless of his attempt to break and slide. The momentum throws him forward, leaves him hanging dangerously off the cliff side. The Recognizers searchlight is only a body length away, but Beck’s dealt with this before. He pulls himself up, grab his baton and rolls, springing up and pressing himself against the mountain walls.

He waits for another micro cycle, energy coursing through his code in anticipation. The light passes, but a hand suddenly claps over his mouth. When he surges up to throw his attacker off, Beck finds himself suddenly shoved face-first against the mountain wall. He struggles and pulls at his wrists, but his attackers grip is practically restraints.

“Beck. Stop it, it’s me.”

Even through the filter, Beck knows who it is. “Tron? What’s going on?”

“Someone ordered a security sweep of the Outlands,” he says, releasing the other, “the base has a lockdown function, it won’t be operable for the next three cycles.”

“Great, so they’ve found us?” Beck sighs, rubbing at his wrists.

“No, not yet. But we need to escape. It won’t be safe here.”

“I figured.”

Tron detracts his helmet and looks upward. Beck follows and realizes the shadows of at least three other Recognizers hovering above them. The it hits him. “Wait, your healing chamber-”

“I’ll be fine.” The other insists, no surprise there, “it’s only three cycles. I’ll survive.”

Beck squints in the low light, and manages to make out the shape of Tron’s scar. He hopes he’s just imagining it, but the other Program sees the way the long line of black pixels crawls across his neck. Beck considers calling it out to Tron, but he figures the other Program would just dismiss him again.

Still, “There’s a lot of data we still need that's inside there.” Beck says, “can’t be too hard to break back in.”

“Tesler or his goons can’t get anything as long as it stays inside the base.” Tron cocks an eye at him, “what are you really trying for Beck?”

He sighs, he should’ve expected Tron to call his ruse. “It’s just - your scar. Don’t you need to use the chamber every other cycle at least?”

“I told you, I’ll be fine.” Tron insists. Beck swears the pixels grow further. “Just go home. I’ll find you.”

“But-”

“Beck.”

Tron’s voice is less stern than he expects, he steps behind him and sets a hand on his shoulder. There’s no tense squeeze, just his hand on his shoulder. “You don’t need to risk your life for nothing. I’ve got places to hide in Argon, take this time to smooth things out with Able. While you have the chance to.”

The sympathy surprises Beck, it’s more than he expects. “Well, okay. If you say so.”

The mechanic turns slowly, sparing one last glance upward, before collapsing his baton and driving back down the mountain. As he leaves, Tron raises a hand to rub gingerly against the scar that grows up his face. He bites down any sound of discomfort and raises his helmet again, soon following the other Programs trail.

Amazingly, Beck doesn't find himself stuck under the spotlight of another Recognizer. Re-entering the city is equally simplistic. Sneak past the guards, jump over the barrier and re-rezzing his lightcycle just out of their vision. Driving back towards the city, Beck considers what he could do with the time he has. But he rolls his eyes at the thought, knowing that something was bound to happen in the three cycle period.

Driving towards the Garage, Beck can already see Zed and Mara speaking to one another by the entrance. He waves, but when they turn to face him, their expressions aren’t as cheerful as he’d hoped.

“You’re late again.” Zed deadpans, Mara’s arm’s are crossed, but oddly, neither of them seem too angry.

He sighs. “I know, I’ll get started.” Beck moves to step inside, but Mara stops him with a hand to his chest.

“Beck, we’ve… you’re always gone and off somewhere else. You never talk to us anymore.” She says, “I’m just saying that… that we’ve been friends for a long time. Why aren’t you telling us where you keep disappearing of to?”

“Yea, I mean, we are still friends. Right?” Zed chimes in, trying to joke. But nobody finds it funny.

Beck struggles internally, trying to figure out something that doesn’t sound too much like a shallow excuse. “I - It’s something… I can’t really explain easily.”

“Then tell us what you can explain.” Mara insists. Her expression is earnest, a mix of concern and sadness. “Please, you can trust us.”

“Beck! You’re back.”

All three mechanics turn to see Able walking forward, carrying a small stack of Light Batons. “Glad to see you’re okay. Hope the meeting wasn’t too much trouble.”

“Meeting?” Mara and Zed echo.

Beck wisely keeps his mouth shut, but gestures with his eyes for Able to continue. “Wait, you forgot to tell them?” Able asks.

“Yea, yea. I did. Was in a rush, you know how he is.” He says.

Able gives a knowing smirk. “Yea, I do. Surprised you’re back so soon. He let you off early?”

Beck smiles. “Yea, there were some setbacks. I don’t think I can make it for a couple cycles. But he’ll be alright.”

The older Program sighs and shakes his head. “Of course he is.”

“Uhh, hello?” Zed waves have s hand between the two, “care to inform the other Programs in the sector?”

“It’s nothing important, Zed.” He says. “He’s just an old friend Beck happened to stumble upon.”

Able quickly passes over the stack of batons to the three. “I need these done by the end of the next cycle. Think you can manage to stay long enough for that Beck?”

“I can manage.” He smiles.

“Good, now back to work, Programs.”

Once he turns and leaves, Beck makes his way to a station and activates the baton. Quickly going to work, he sets his tools in places and begins to re code the derezzed portions of the bike. But from under it, he can’t see how both his friends are still standing over him.

“So you’ve been gone all this time on ‘business meetings’? That’s the crazy news you couldn’t tell us about?” Zed remarks.

“Well… it just kinda slipped.” Beck says, “it’s mostly private stuff. Not much I can say.”

“Fine.” He hears Mara’s reluctance. She leans against one of the yet to be fixed bikes, “but I still want to know what you can say. It can’t be that secret if it’s not such a big deal.”

Beck stays under the bike for a micro cycle longer than he needs in order to form a decent response. After his time’s up, he checks the code, closes the interface and pushes himself out from under the Light Cycle.

“Well, uhh, even Able hasn’t told me much about them.” He starts, pulling back the Light Cycle isn’t a baton and idly twirling it as he moves to set it back on a stack, “I just get stuff from him. He’s pretty private. Doesn’t talk much.”

“Do you at least know his name?”

The Program just grabs another baton. “Look, I promise I can tell you more later. Let’s just get this done before Able gives us more to work on.”

Reluctantly, Zed and Mara each grab a baton and begin to work. But they both instilled that promise into their memories. Their shift continues - oddly - without any other notable events. The trio of mechanics finish their stack of Batons before it’s over and eventually, they split to work of separate projects.

Before their shift is over, Beck fiddles with some of the code on a Light Jet recently sent by the Occupation. He toys with the idea of uploading another virus. Glancing upward, he catches something shifting in the rafters above. Beck straightens and scans the ceiling.

He locks onto a familiar form for half a milicycle before it disappears towards the roof. The Program groans, then glances around. Mara and Zed are bickering playfully over something. So Beck takes his shot. Casually stepping outside, Beck checks for any stray Sentries before making a running jump onto the side of the Garage.

“You know,” Beck mutters as he pulls himself up onto the curved roof, “there are better places to meet than here.”

Tron is perched on the very edge of the building, looking down towards the docks. He’s wearing the same design from when they went to Purgos. Little to no circuitry. Beck itches at how claustrophobic it looks.

“Better doesn’t mean safe.” Tron argues.

Beck just shrugs and sits beside him, letting his legs swing over the edge. “So, I doubt you came here for the view. What’s wrong?”

The other goes quiet and dread begins to worm its way into Becks code. Until he hears a barely audible sigh filter through the helmet. “I… need you to ask Able for more energy.”

“Why do you-oh, right.” Beck stops the thought, both due to realizing why himself and because of the tilt in Tron’s head that he knew was masked irritation.

When Tron doesn’t comment, Beck decides to risk another question. “Where are you even staying?”

“Purgos.”

The flat, pragmatic tone of his mentor shocks him and he has to brace his hands against the edge. “What?” Beck startles, eyes wide with disbelief, “but, but Purgos is - that’s not even close to safe.”

“It is if Programs don’t want to be found.” Tron says calmly, “Purgos is the only place where nobody asks who you are.” As an afterthought to try and ease the other, he adds, “I’ve managed.”

“You can’t even power down on the off-cycle there without someone trying to steal your Disk.” He insists, “there’s got to be a better place for you to stay.”

“Do you have any options then, Beck?”

He stalls, for a moment nothing comes. Then Beck settles on something. “My origin folder. I’ve got some room. And it’s megabytes safer than Purgos.”

Tron stands and Beck knows he doesn’t like the idea. “I’m not about to put you at more risk than you already are.” He says.

“Neither am I.”

The response is more brazen than Tron expects. Beck takes the chance to stand, ready to reach out if the other Program tries to run. “I can get the energy and drive you to my folder. You can enter through the window if you really need to and I can get you a list of all the other Programs inside.”

Beck takes a step forward and sets a hand on Tron’ shoulder. “I’m not letting you stay there.”

Tron shakes his arm off, turns to face him and he hears another sigh. “I just need the energy. Everything else is taken care of.”

The mechanic was sure his irritation was visible, but he didn’t care. “Fine. But I’m leaving my window open. Just incase.”

He steps past his mentor to begin descending the roof. From the front, Beck could hear the chatter of other Programs exiting the garage. Catching sight of Mara and Zed, he waves them over. Suddenly realizing he’d be help up once again. “Hey… guys.” He tries to stress an easy smile.

Judging by his friends expressions, it doesn’t work. “What is it now Beck?” Zed asks, “Able sending you to meet this ‘mysterious mystery Program’ again?”

“Well, no.” He says. “I’ve just gotta ask him about some things. With me missing shifts and all that. I do kinda owe him an apology.”

“You owe us too.” Mara says, but Beck is glad to hear the anger’s drained out of her voice, “maybe we can race around the city? Or just hang out at the bar like old times?”

“I vote energy!” Zed perks up, already pulling Mara away as she laughs, “and Beck?”

He turns. “Yea?”

“You’re buying the first round!”

“Hey!”

Beck cracks a wide grin despite himself and waves off his friends, before turning back towards the garage. Unknown to him, Mara glances over her friend’s shoulder and digs her heels into the ground. The motion startled Zed enough for him to let go. “Wh-Mara? C’mon, Beck said he’s be coming.”

“Don’t tell me you’re not at least a little bit curious.” She says, watching as their friends slips back into the garage. Once he’s out of sight, she begins to jog forward.

Zed tries to grab her, but the other Program is already out of reach. “Mara! Wait - I, okay fine.” He rolls his eyes and follows after her. She’s leaning against the edge of the main hangar doors, scanning for other Programs. “Okay, you got me. I kinda wanna know too.”

She turns with a very satisfied smile. “Told ya.”

“I thought you trusted Beck enough to tell us later?” Zed asks, the flash of anger on her face makes him physically back away, “woah, don’t take it the wrong way. I’m just, doesn’t this feel kinda wrong?”

Mara frowns to herself, then sighs. She realizes that’s she’s being a hypocrite. She hasn’t told either of them about the Jolly Tricksters. “I guess, but I just… I need to know why Beck’s been so distant. I don’t think he’ll ever tell us everything.”

Beck meanwhile, is standing facing Abel’s back as the other Program punches in a code. Then he steps back as a panel on the floor pops up with a quiet chirp. Able pulls out one of several cylinders filled with glowing blue energy and tosses it back towards Beck, who catches it without missing a beat.

“There, for your ‘friend’.” He says, “how long did you say he’d be out there?”

“Three cycles.” Beck repeats, leaning against Able’s desk while rolling the energy between his hands, “can’t believe he’s still staying in Purgos.”

“I’m surprised you are.” Able says, faintly amused. “He’s always been stubborn.”

“I know that.” He retorts. “But I offered to let him stay somewhere safer, and he’s still saying no.”

“Like I said, stubborn.” The older Program crosses his arms and has a clear smirk on his face, “I’m amazed the two of you even get along.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Beck cocks an eyebrow.

Able just laughs, before he steps past his desk and follows him towards the door, offering a reassuring pat on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Good luck with him.”

“Thanks Able.”

Beck jogs towards the back of the garage, unbeknownst to him, Zed and Mara follow behind him. Checking around - with Mara hastily pulling back Zed behind a crate - and finding nobody, Beck slips through the backdoor. Glancing around one last time, Beck tilts his head up and calls out.

“Hey! Down here!”

He watches as a near-black figure flips of from their perch on the roof and towards the ground, legs bending in a low crouch and head bowed. A shining, blank helmet jerks up to meet his eyes as the Program stands to his full height. Beck just cracks a smile. “Do you really have to be so dramatic?”

“Did you bring the energy?” Tron says, ignoring the question.

The mechanic sighs and shows the glowing canister. “Yea, I’ve got it.”

“Good.” Tron reaches for the energy. But Beck stops him, gripping him by the wrist. “What are you doing?” He chastises.

“Why Purgos?” Beck insists, unwilling to let it slide again. “I’m already in enough danger as it is, it’s not like you staying in my Folder’s gonna make it any worse.”

“Beck, I told you. I’ve managed.” Tron insists, jerking his arm back. But it isn’t enough to break his grip.

“That’s not what I asked.” He steps forward, wishing he could see the others eyes through the helmet. “You don’t have to stay there. I’ve got room. We can make it work.”

The security Program goes quiet. Beck presses his point. “Look, If things really, really go that bad I can get myself out of this mess. If Sentries come and start asking for Disks or if another Program sees you or… or whatever, we’ll come up with a plan and we’ll be okay.”

“We don’t have any plans.” Tron states. “That’s what’s worrying me.”

“But at least if you’re staying at my place you can watch out for me easily. And it’ll be easier for me to get you extra energy.” He adds. “Not like anyone followed you here. Right?”

More silence. Beck sees Tron’s helmet tilt to the side, almost like he’s considering his points. The mechanic decides to let go and holds out the energy with open palms. He sighs and lowers his head, voice low. “Tron, if you don’t say yes, I swear to Flynn I’m going to track you down and drag you out of Purgos if I have to.”

This close to the other, Beck can almost swear he hears the other laugh, even if it’s heavily filtered. He steps back from the others space and watches as Tron stares at the energy. Then Tron tucks it away and reaches forward and after a long hesitation, speaks again.

“I-I might stop by the next Cycle.” He says. “But I have to make sure it’s safe.”

It’s not what Beck had hoped for, but it’s better than no. “I’ll keep the windows open then.”

He sees the security Program nod and pull of a Baton from his thigh. Taking a running leap, Tron snaps it mid-air and a Light Cycle rezzes around his form before dropping to the ground and riding off towards the city. Beck hazards a small wave as he watches the other disappear beyond. But when he turns to enter back through the same door he came through, he hears a squeak, followed by frantic movements as the door swung shut.

Beck freezes, racing with the possibilities of who it could have been. Slowly pressing himself against the side of the wall, he throws the door open with his Disk raised to strike. On the other side of the door, Zed and Mara have fallen over, lying prone on their backs

In the process of pushing themselves up, Zed is the first to find words, standing and rubbing at a sore patch. “Is that why you’ve been late Beck?”

“What?” Beck frowns and docks his Disk, offering a hand to Mara, “what’re you talking about?”

Mara just grins, one hand on her hip. “You know, tall, dark and handsome.”

“First the Renegade, now him. How can you even tell? They’re both wearing masks!” Zed says, voice thick with exasperation.

“Well I trust Becks taste in Programs.” She shrugs, but she does regard him with a scrutinizing stare. “Is he the one you’ve been ‘meeting’ with this whole time?”

His micro cycle hesitation is all she needs and she cracks into laughter. Beck hides his face behind his hands, struggling to repress the light purple flush working his way across his circuits. Zed - for the most part - is quiet, but his expression is faintly judging.

“So Able’s been covering for you and this whole time you’ve been of interfacing-”

“Wh-no!” Beck snaps. “No! Flynn, no. It’s just work!”

“Sure.” Mara says, but her expression becomes less joking after a moment, “did you really think you couldn’t tell us about this?”

He scratches the back of his head, knowing how they must think of him. How they think that he doesn’t trust him with his private life, even if they’re wrong. “No, it’s not that I swear to Flynn. He’s just a work partner. And really, really private.”

“Not surprised, since he lives in Purgos.” Zed quips. “What’s Able making you collect? Stolen Discs? Light Jets? Bits?”

“It’s-it’s nothing like that!” Beck insists. “None of it’s illegal.”

“Then what is it?” Mara adds.

“Mostly… uhh.” He stutters, but then the perfect plan comes to head. “Batons! He - he finds other Programs Batons and offers to bring them to Able to fix. Most of them have problems getting out of the city, so he brings them to us.”

Beck thinks it’s a good enough lie, given how little time it takes. He can tell both Programs are still suspicious, but they seem to have taken what he’s said without complaint.

“Anyways, I thought you guys wanted drinks?” He says, stepping forward to sling his arms around the two. “C’mon. Let’s go before I get pulled away again.”

“Okay Beck,” Mara rolls her eyes but follows in step, “but you still owe us.”

As the trio walk outside, Able watches from the mouth of his garage. Gentle fondness and amusement clear on his face. Beyond him lies another, perched on a rooftop and overlooking the city. The Program glances to the energy in his hands, before disappearing back into the shadows.

Chapter Text

Beck passes the set of light blue drinks across the table and towards Mara and Zed. They knock glasses and take a deep swig, other Programs chanting that they don’t stop. Mara is the first to slam her empty glass against the table - if he’s not wrong this is their 12th drink, adding to the large stack besides them.

The micro cycle they’d entered the bar, his friends pulled him over to their usual booth and had him order a long list of a dozen different energies, some of which Beck hadn’t even seen before. Tall glasses of neon green, small, fizzy pinks and even a translucent one that left the two Programs circuits flashing yellow and mint green.

Zed does manage to finish, but Beck can see a small drip of energy from the corners of his mouth and has to shake his head several times before setting down his glass. “Another one, Beck!”

“I think we’ve both had enough.” Mara laughs, reaching out to wipe of the glowing energy while the other tries to sloppily bat their hand away.

Zed starts to lean away as his friend, slowly moving closer towards the edge of their seat. “Maraaaa, Mara stop. Gridbugs, stop it. Stop.”

“Don’t act like a Bit. Let me just-“ She’s practically on top of him by now, with Zed shuffling back on his elbows and batting at Mara’s face.

“Mara, Mara stop. Cut it out! H-hey!”

“Zed would you just-“

It doesn’t take long for the two of them to tip of the edge of their seat and land on the floor with a loud thump in a sprawled out heap. Mara also manages to knock off Zed’s stack, leaving the two of them to be pelted under a small shower of glasses and the occasional broken pixel.

The two struggle to untangle themselves, but Mara - still determined to clean of Zeds face - eventually ends up slapping the other to wipe of the energy. Ending up with her tacking the other as he tries to crawl away. Other Program around them laugh and Beck joins, sparing a moment before helping the two up. They dust of some of the fractured vowels of glass and roll their eyes.

“See, this is what we’ve been missing!” Mara grins. “Just the three of us having some fun. No Occupation. No work. Just us.” She sighs and falls back into the seats lazily, folding her arms behind her back, “I wish we could do this more.”

“Yea! Beck! You’ve gotta try these more often!” Zed adds, filled with a new, jittery energy Beck hadn’t seen from the other in a long time. “I feel colours!”

“I’m pretty sure whatever you drank wasn’t energy.” Beck jokes. Landing him a sloppy punch from the offended Program. Zed nearly falls over him again, but this time he and Mara sling their arms around their friend.

“Let me go, guys. I can stand. I can -“ He takes a sudden step forward and nearly ends up dragging the other two with them. Beck swears he sees another flash of colours - orange or lime green, he can’t tell - before Zed let’s his head fall limp, “yea, nevermind. You just carry me.”

Mara rolls her eyes fondly. “Where are we gonna go now, Beck?”

“You’re asking me?” He says with mild surprise.

“Well, yea. This is for all of us.” She tells him, smile lit with fondness, “so, where to?”

Beck thinks, then cracks a wild smile. “The Park. Let’s see how many Programs we can rope into a free for all game of Jai-Alai?”

“Like this?” She questions, hiking up Zed for emphasis.

“Well, why not?” He counters. “You’re saying we shouldn’t?”

Her face firms into a determined look, even if Beck can feel her subtly sway. “You’re on, Program.”

It takes them what feels like half a cycle to carry Zed into the transport. Once they do, they dump his limp shell into one of the empty seats. Beck taking a spot beside his overcharged friend and Mara taking the opposite spot.

She sighs and folds her arms, leaning to look out towards the windows. “When was the last time we did something like this together?”

Beck does struggle to come up with the appropriate time stamps. But when he does, he doesn’t want to answer. Mara tilts her head in his direction, then the realization awns on her face too. “Oh… Bodi.”

“Yea, guess it really has been a while.” Beck mutters, crossing his arms loosely. The strong bitterness rises in his throat again, something he’s struggles to keep where it is. He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes, forcing the images away.

Mara hunches forward and copies his posture. “I wish I could’ve done something. I wish the Occupation couldn’t just… just get away with derezzing Programs!” She suddenly glances around to the Programs sitting closeby, then leans in, “I wish I was the one who destroyed Clu’s statue.”

The bold claim doesn’t shock Beck as much as the public declaration. But he doesn’t try to dissuade her. “I’m amazed they didn’t catch whoever did.” He says, leaning closer as well.

“I’m glad they haven’t.” She smiles. “He’s a Hero.”

Beck has to suppress the instinct to let his circuits flush. He still can’t believe he got lucky enough the first time. Or the dozen after that. “For Bodhi.”

Some of the gloom lifts from Mara’s face. “Yea, for him.”

At that moment, Zed decides to suddenly punch his fist in the air and yell out a flimsy cheer. “Yea! For him! Him is the best!”

Beck and Mara both share a laugh at the others expense and the three spend the rest of the ride to the park. Part of Mara wishes the statue were still standing so she could see what Clu’s statue would look like covered in tags of ‘TRON LIVES’ in different shades and patterns. Letting her gaze fall back towards the window, she tries to imagine what it would look like.

Then she catches a speck of red on the horizon. And below them, something tall and orange. She shoves at Beck’s shoulder and points towards it. “No way.” She mutters. “It can’t be.”

Beck squints and as the squad of Light Copters grow closer, their suspicions are confirmed. It’s another statue of ‘their great Liberator’. But he sees the deep frown of Mara’s brow and reaches out to her for comfort. And before she can try something reckless.

Neither of them comment of the statue as the depart the train. Zed’s circuits have dimmed back down to a much more even glow, they manage to set up a few three-way rounds before he starts to complain about always being the first to lose. Eventually, he takes a seat against the walls of their area and cheers both of his friends on.

They do manage to attract a small crowd of at least a dozen Programs, half of them who decide to play. Beck and Mara dodge and swing against each of them, though they both silently agree not to aim for the other. The other Programs come close, one even knocks out Beck’s ring just as he jumps across. Eventually, Zed is joined by the same dozen who begin to cheer them on.

The two remaining Programs circle one another, eyeing one another’s actions. Mara holds the ball and doesn’t hesitate to fling it sharply. Beck dives to catch it before it hits his platform, then jumps and spins it back towards her. She doesn’t miss a beat and leaps over one of her missing rings to catch. She makes a short run before launching it with even more force.

Beck doesn’t think he can catch it in time and instead resolves to dive back and let it take out another one of his rings, leaving him to awkwardly jump between the remaining platforms.

“Getting tired?” Mara quips, loading the next ball into her glove.

He shakes out his legs, mentally rushing to plan. “Nah, are you?”

She just smirks and swings her glove. Beck nearly stumbles over the edge as he reaches, but he recovers fast enough. He sends it back at a sharper angle, aiming for a spot he knows she can’t reach in time.

Just as Beck readies his attack, the whole arena ground shakes and he stumbles back and over the edge. Where he falls through, he hits the ground hard on his Disk dock. He bounces, hisses and curls onto his side, trying to shove himself back onto his feet. A sharp, tingling sensation crawls up his back and over his shell. More unpleasant than painful, but it causes his vision to pixelate for a micro cycle.

“Beck!” Mara yells, quickly stepping down from her platform and running to his side, “are you okay? Did anything break?”

“M’fine.” He groans, it’s not the worst impact and the shock through his code quickly passes. He stands and steps out of the ring, joining a small crowd of other Programs chatting among themselves about the tremor, “I think we both know what that was.”

Both of them look to the skyline and the new pillar of orange light in the horizon. Beck sees the way Mara’s fist clenches and shakes, he worries for what might be running through her mind. But he can’t deny his curiosity and his chance to destroy another gaudy statue.

Beck surveys the crowd and realizes clusters of them are gravitating towards the light. He tugs lightly at Mara’s wrist. “Think we should get a look?”

She looks confused at the suggestion. “Why?”

“Um, we can laugh at how stupid Clu’s face looks?” He tries.

Mara thinks, then shrugs. “Sure. Should we bring Zed?”

“Bring me for what,” He asks, stepping up from his seat on the ground, “what’s everyone looking at?”

“Guess that answers that.” He shrugs, following the crowd. “C’mon. Let’s check it out.”

“Where are we even going?”

“Just follow us, Zed.”

He does, if a bit begrudgingly. They remain near the back of the masses as the Programs take in the scale of the statue. Along with what surrounds it. Some of the Light Copters that escorted the statue hover above it, while Sentries and Black Guard Programs rotated around in tight formations. Spotlights were positioned at exact angles so Clu’s entire form would be illuminated at every angle.

Beck had to admit that he thought this was somewhat overkill. Mara mentally listed of how long it would take to code a new set of tags. Zed glances to the two Programs lost in thought and hesitantly shakes at their shoulders.

“Great. It’s back.” He comments. “So, can we go now? I don’t wanna get arrested for… I dunno, staring too angrily.”

Beck sighs. “You’re right. We might get in trouble if we stay here too long.”

Even Mara relents, though both Programs can hear her reluctance. “Alright Zed. Let’s go.”

“Hey, maybe we could set up a free for all game of Disk Wars?” Beck offers. “Maybe I’ll win if I don’t get knocked off my footing again.”

“Maybe we should get Zed back to his folder.” She says. “I’ve got something to do at the Garage. Is it okay if you take him?”

“Sure. Do you want some help with your thing after?” He asks, despite knowing - or at least strongly suspecting - that he knows what she’s planning.

“Uh, sorry. It’s… really delicate.” She lies, fighting the urge to run a hand over her circuits. “But thanks anyways Beck.”

He just smiles and shrugs. “I understand.”

Zed’s awareness mostly returns to him by the time they’re back to the transport and on their way to his folder. Other Programs had left the park with them, Beck could overhear them speaking in hushed whispers behind them. Zed leans back against his seat and frowns, seemingly dismissive.

Beck tries to find something to say, the sight of the new statue - so close to where Bodhi - releases memories he struggles to lock away and contain. But he still feels the burning anger, ever time he strikes down another orange-lit Program. He wonders how Zed copes.

“-eck. Beck! Grid to Beck!”

“Wha?” He snaps up, and suddenly realizes he’s been staring at his friend the entire time, “uhh, nothing. It’s nothing. Just thinking really hard.”

“Yea, thinking.” Zed parrots, leaning back down with his elbows on his knees. He fidgets with his hands and looks anywhere but at him. Beck is the first to break the question.

“Are you okay?” He asks.

“Why’re you asking? Of course I am.” He insists. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s just, well, I wanted to ask since we don’t talk as much as we did.” Beck’s fingers twitch and brush against the back of his palm, “I figured I owe you this much to make it up to you some way, since...”

“Since Bodhi got derezzed?”

Beck is taken aback by how plainly Zed states it. The shock must show, because Zed continues. “I know, it’s hit all of us. But… but he’s just… gone. It hurts a lot to think about. I guess I’m just taking it better than everyone else.”

He scratches the back of his neck, trying to think of something uplifting to say. “You - look, whatever Able is having you do, just stay safe. I’m not losing you too. Not after everything that’s happened to us.”

The memory of his near-derezzing experience plays in his mind. Mara’s almost confession, then being rescued by the Renegade. He still wonders if Beck was there to witness it. Or if he’s just oblivious. He hopes for the former, at least that way he doesn’t have to break the news to him. Beck - once again - debates on whether or not to tell his friends about everything.

Instead, he says, “Thanks Zed. I just hope that things get better.”

“Don’t think that you have to owe me your time or anything either.” He adds. “Able’s probably going to send a Gridbug swarm on you if you keep cutting time to meet with your ‘partner’.”

Beck lets himself laugh and roll his eyes. “He isn’t my partner.”

“Sure.”

“I’m serious!”

“Mhm.”

He crosses his arms in mock frustration, but laughter does bubble up at their banter. Zed’s stop comes all too soon and Beck waves him goodbye from the window as his next train sends him towards his own folder. Stepping inside, Beck almost believes that Tron might be standing solemnly by the windows like he does at their base. Or cycling into sleep mode at his port.

Beck takes his spot instead and looks outward, wondering where his mentor may be hiding.

Within the city, one Program sits against the side of a building. Wearing a mask stretched out into a wide, flowing grin. She pulls up an interface and her fingers glide over the screen, colour and text blossoming across its surface. Underneath the mask, a similar smile begins to form.

She looks out and scowls at the statue, radiating a contrasting orange pillar of light through the sea of blue that surrounds it. She holds the interface beside it and decides that her vision is much more complementary.

Chapter Text

The next cycle starts of as almost tauntingly uneventful. Beck can’t help but glance over his shoulders at every noise, thinking that a squadron of Black Guard Programs might descend upon him and expose his identity. He keeps his helmet rezzed until he’s securely inside the confines of Ables garage. It was so mundane, and yet so familiar, Beck found himself just standing at the center of all the goings on within the garage.

He finds Zed soon enough, then openly gapes at what exactly he was working on. A small squadron of Light Jets. All of their windows completely blocked by the mass of colour and tags that littered it. He isn’t surprised by the sight, moreso by how sudden it is. Beck hadn’t expected results this quick. It fills him with pride to know his friend is still so proactive, but it scares him just as much,

Zed works on the second in a row of half a dozen, deleting the design and muttering about how annoyingly tedious the job was. “Stupid, grinning masked vandals.” He groans. “Like we need more of those.”

“Got another tool?” Beck asks, crouching by his side.

“Go ahead, take your pick.”

“Thanks.” He starts to work, then pauses. Beck doesn’t care if the anxiety in his voice is too clear. “Wait, where’s Mara?”

“Oh yea, she said something about needing a break. Don’t know what that’s about. Able let her off for the cycle.” Zed says, removing himself from his work to face his friend, “she didn’t send you any pings?”

Beck shakes his head earnestly. “No, nothing.”

Zed’s face contorts into another suspicion and sceptical frown. “Weird. Nothing from me either. I hope she’s okay. Guess last night really hit her hard too.”

“In more ways than you think.” Beck comments soberly.

“Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?”

The mechanic blinks, then actively resists the urge to bang his head against the wing of the Jet. He didn’t think he’d said that outloud. Zed crosses his arms expectantly. He fidgets with his tool while one again trying to come up with a believable answer. “Well… uh, to be honest I don’t really know. Maybe she’s just coping differently than us.”

“Hmm, alright.” Zed accepts it.

Something else comes to Beck. “Maybe you could talk to her? When she gets back.”

“What?” He asks, stunned. “Why me?”

“Out of all of us, you’re taking it the best. At least… I hope you are.” Beck explains.

“Thanks?” Zed hazards.

“It was a complement, don’t worry.”

They work in silence, trading idle banter as they slowly clear of the tags. Just as the pair of mechanics finish the last Light Jet, Beck snaps up when he hears the faint rumbling of a Recognizer. He dashes of towards the mouth of the garage, leaving a confused Zed to tail behind him. Tipping his head back, he freezes at the sight and Beck’s hand almost flies to his Disk. Until he hears his friend quip behind him.

“Finally, those things we’re taking up way too much space.”

“O-oh.” Beck hopes he didn’t see how panicked he was - for the second time this cycle - and steps back as the Recognizer lands. “Right, right, got it.”

Zed cocks an eyebrow at him, but that’s the extent of his reaction. Lowering from the ship comes a squad of Black Guards, along with Commander Paige. Beck has to suppress a stupid grin, but he does try to smooth his hair. She marches forward, shoulders back with a plain and serious expression set on her face. Beck likes to imagine her eyes linger on him for at least half a milicycle longer than they do.

“Have you finished clearing all of the iligal code from our Light Jets?” She asks briskly, already marching towards the garage.

“Ah, y-yes madame.” Zed stutters, trying to match her pace.

“Good.” She doesn’t smile, but she nods approvingly.

Other Programs begin to part way as the squadron of red-lit Programs cut their way through to the back. Each of the Jets are lined up precisely, not a single stray pixel of colour on their surfaces. Paige walks up and steps into the cockpit before quickly de-rezzing the vehicle. Examining the Baton, she gestures to the rest of the Black Guard and they all take up a Baton each,

“I’ll be sure to give my regards to Tesler. You mechanics always manage to surprise us.” She says. Beck knows it’s meant to be a compliment, but he and Zed both share an uneasy glance. They both remember their first meeting with the Program facing them. How Zed was unwittingly conscripted into the Games. Beck’s first rescue mission.

It isn’t a pleasant file for them to revisit. Zed doesn’t even bother to comment as he turns to help another pair of Programs with a set of simple Transports. Beck watches as Paige flies of towards the warship hovering above Argon. He grins in satisfaction when he still spots the fragmented remnants of the Jolly Tricksters tagging. Beck checks his chronometer.

He’s got a while to go before his shifts ends. And he’d look incredible suspicious if he left right after the Occupation’s visit. Not to mention Zed would undoubtedly notice. Part of Beck would also feel guilt at the idea of leaving one of his closest friend all alone. But knowing what Mara might be doing, it scares him.

“You know staring off into the distance isn’t gonna make her come back faster.”

Beck jumps as Zed barks out a laugh at the Programs reaction. “I wasn’t staring at that.” He mutters.

“Uh huh.”

“I wasn’t!”

“Sure.” Zed smiles. “C’mon, help us out with these Transports. Looks like a swarm of Gridbugs ate away at its code.”

Beck suddenly realizes how bad he must look from his friends position. “I really wasn’t staring. I was thinking.”

“About what? Their next visit?” Zed retorts.

“Hey!”

Maybe if he finishes fast enough, he can negotiate with Able to let him off early.

::::

A slender Program whose face is blocked by a wide, grinning mask dashes across rooftops. She runs over short gaps, her expression matching her mask at every leap and bound. In her grip is a file loaded with the reason she’s risking derezzment.

Looming in the distance is the statue, glowing an ugly orange. Mara takes a moment to stand and take in the sight. Despite the danger, she can’t help but smile. She can’t help but take pride in what’s she’s doing.

Recalling the Light Copters, she ducks between the cracks between buildings and waits for the searchlight to pass. Her circuits want to flare with energy, but she keeps herself contained. Looking down, she finds the dots of orange that reveal one of three patrols cycling around her target.

Climbing back upwards, she flips the tool in her hand. Mara can see the patrol making its way around the statue. She steps to the edge of the building, ready to leap onto the streets and dash towards her mark.

“You should watch your back.”

Mara gasp when she feels the cold-hot press of a Disk along the edge of her helmet. Fear floods in, but her resolve doesn’t crumble. “Same could go to you. You don’t know why might be watching.”

“I think we both know the answer to that.” The Program replies. Mara slouches, even if she didn’t think he’d fall for her bluff. “On your feet, Program.”

She stands and turns to face her captor. “You!”

The Program’s suit is almost entirely black. Almost to the point where Mara hazards to guess that he hasn’t been taking in enough energy for cycles. But that distinction tells her enough about him. “I know you. You work for Able.”

Behind the mask, Tron’s lip twitches. He fights back the urge to assert his dominance, but instead turns it into another question. “And how do you know that.”

“Uhh.” She curses inward at her impulse. “I know other Programs from… from Purgos. They talk about… Programs like you.”

“If you know I’m from Purgos, you should know what I can do to you.”

Mara berates herself further when she briefly forgets the Disk at her throat. Tron reaches down to grab at her file, but she yanks her arm back hastily. He tisks audibly and suddenly switches his grip.

Tron lunges for her other arm, using his Disk to force Mara to the ground and slamming her against the roof. He keeps her pinned, with both arms around her back and kicks away her file. But Mara doesn’t relent, she squirms, kicks and growls through her helmet, trying to make some progress.

“You’re not getting out of this.” Tron states. “You’re lucky you haven’t been derezzed yet.”

“So what?!” She yells. “There are others like me who have been derezzed! Why should I stop struggling? Why should I stop fighting?”

Mara sees the helmet of the Program above her tilt. Taking her chance, she tries to roll and throw him off. But his Disk slams into the ground adjacent to her head, close enough that she can see the pixilated cracks against the floor, highlighted by the glowing edge.

“Are you that willing to risk your life?” He asks.

“I think that’s enough of that.”

The Renegade steps onto the rooftop, holding his own Disk towards Tron. Beck could vaguely understand why his mentor was treating his friend like that, but that didn’t mean he approved. “Let her go, she’s with me.”

Tron does listen, pulling back his Disk and stepping away. Mara scrambles back to her feet, arms raised, but not reaching for her Disk. Beck can hear him sigh. “You know this is a bad idea.”

“I already told you, I’m not going back.” Mara retorts.

“She really won’t.” Beck adds, turning to stand beside her. “Neither of us are.”

“Of course you aren’t.” Tron says.

“Is he going to try to turn us in?” Mara questions.

“No, he won’t.” Beck tries to ease her concerns, laying a hand on her fists, “he’s a friend. That’s just… how he greets other Programs.”

He can see the flat look on his friends face, even through the helmet. “Alright then.” She says. “But I don’t trust him.”

“I don’t blame you.”

Beck and Tron move to look back over the edge of the building. Somehow, the patrols haven’t taken notice of the sounds of their squabbling. Tron pulls out a scanner and zooms into the Programs below. “How exactly were you planning on defacing Clu’s statue?”

“I was just about to, but you stopped me.” Mara says pointedly.

“You didn’t have a plan though.” Beck adds, knowing she’s take the criticism better from him.

Her head tilts down and she says nothing, which is still an answer in of itself.

“You have potential.” He speaks up. “But… you can’t always run in and get lucky. There are too many guards if you plan to just run away once they spot you.”

“Okay, then what should we do then?” She says. “One way or another, Clu’s statue won’t be the same by the end of this cycle.”

Chapter Text

Beck waits in the alley that faces Clu’ statue, Disk already in hand. He waits for the patrol to step close enough before he throws. It arches through the air, cutting a trail of light across the open field before it slices through the staff of the guards. It’s a difference of pixels that keeps it from decapitating them. All of them turn to face him, stark white against the shadows.

“Halt Renegade!”

He rolls his eyes behind the mask, already turning tail and dashing down the alley. He can hear The rapid footfalls behind him, the sound of several Disk’s lighting up and a Light Copter trailing behind them all. Beck swivels to face the squadron. He swipes the legs out from under the first Guard and kicks back the second. Hastily deflecting the rioche, the Renegade continues his sprint down the alley, leading them away from the statue.

The pilots in the Light Copter above soon fix a target onto the younger Program, but a second shining blue Disk cuts through the glass front, scattering voxels down at them. Tron dives through the hole, then tosses both Programs out through the side of the ship. They flail and land in a heap on one of the rooftops, both of them remaining imobile.

”Take them down,” Tron orders over their comms, ”but make sure to circle back to your friend. There’s more Guards waiting for her, they’ll call in reinforcements soon.”

”Copy Tron.”

Beck flips over the remaining three guards still chasing him. He catches a glimpse of the stolen ship turning back and firing at the two still circling the statue. And just at the rim of the plaza, Mara waits. Clutching her templates, she waits. Brimming with anxious energy that makes her circuits flare with anticipation.

Once Tron begins to open fire on the guards, she’s more than ready to act. Just as the two Light Copters aim their guns at him, she points her tool towards their cockpit and strikes them with a beam that quickly causes it to be overrun with colour. With their views blocked, they swerve through the air blind and the pilots ends up diving from their ship as it crashes into the side of a building.

When Beck hears the early close crash, he flips back just in time for one of the wings of the Light Copter to tear across the thin street. He doesn’t hesitate to rezz his Light Cycle and ride back towards the statue.

”Beck! Reinforcements arriving to your left!” Tron calls to him. ”Tank and a squadron, cut them off!”

“Glitch.” He curses under his breath.

Meanwhile, Mara takes her chance to make a dead run towards the statue. Tron has her covered from the skies, watching the streets for tanks and keeping the other patrols focused on him. He sends down a volley and the ground beside the mechanic explodes. When she turns, the ground of the plaza is covered in voxels. Her steps falter and she brings up an arm to block the spread of pixels against her code. Mara tries not to think about what - or who - they may be from.

Coming to the foot of the statue, Mara finds herself grinning. She aims for the face of Clu, already reveling in the masterpiece it’ll become.

Until the beam of code bounces off, leaving no trace and evaporating mid air.

“What?” She exclaims, sending up another beam. And once again, its deflected.

”What’s going on with Mara, Tron?” Beck asks hastily, peeking out behind a building only to flinch back as the tank blasts away more of the code, ”Is she okay? Tron? Tron!”

”The statue’s shielded!” His mentor calls. “Take out that tank, Beck! I can’t keep this up.”

He almost asks what, until Beck realizes the tank has ceased fire at him. It’s switched targets. Tron weaves through the air, dodging it’s assault. Behind and below him, Mara taps furiously at the code of the statue. The code isn’t as malleable as the Tanks, but it’s familiar enough to her. Silently, she thanks Pavel as she hovers over the command to begin.

“Wipe that smile off your face!”

Mara snaps up, has a moment to react, and ends up springing backwards. Narrowly missing the downward slice from the aforementioned Programs Disk. She falls to her back, crawling on her hands and trying to create some distance as he stalks closer.

Tron doesn’t miss the movement. He jerks the ship around and aims for Pavel. But the moment is all the tank needs to shoot it down. His Light Copter goes down hard, crashing just behind Clu’s statue and explodes into a mess of pixels. Beck watches from his point of the alley, grappling between Programs against a wall just as his partner readies to sever his head.

“No!”

He twists hard. The Disk cuts just across his shoulder, but he manages to slip away. Sliding between their legs and leaping onto the Tank, he severs the gun before leaping off. Rezzing his Light Cycle mid-air, he knocks the final two Guards off their feet and speeds off towards the crash. Beck pleads to any User listening that his friends are still somehow safe.

Mara ends up rolling across the ground from the haphazard shot Tron send in her direction. Another violent storm of pixels erupts from the ground. Her vision goes fuzzy from the shockwave and she struggles to push herself onto her forearms. But once she catches the sight of rec circuits flying towards her, she shoves herself up and rolls out of the way of Pavels Disk.

He grins, catching his Disk and slowly encircling her. “I thought you’d learned your lesson when I removed your friends hands!”

Mara reaches for her own Disk immediately, enraged at the memory of Rasket. “I’ll never learn from someone like you! You’re nothing but a monster!”

“Then I suppose I’ll have to remove your head next!”

The Commander rushes her without thought, laughing madly. Mara can only raise her weapon to block his wild swings and shuffle her feet back in an attempt to keep her balance. Her legs feel shaky but she can’t spare even a microcycle to look down and see the damage. She keeps her grip firm even as every strike sends shakes through her shell.

“I hoped you Renegades would have more fight in you!” He jeers. “But you’re all just weaklings hiding behind a mask! Believing in a derezzed fool who fought for the Users!”

“You’re wrong!” She cries. “Tron still lives!”

Mara takes the chance to thrust forward, aiming both her Disk and her anger directly to the center of Pavels chest. But she catches her smirk at the last second. He sidesteps her attack and drives his elbow into her Disk Dock.

Pain floods through her system and she cries out from the shock. Her Disk rolls and clatters harmlessly against the ground. Mara blinks and tries to roll onto her stomach. Something bumps against her side and she has just enough clarity to turn her head up to see Pavel leaning over her.

Beck just manages to slide into the plaza to see the other Program raise his Disk to derezzed his friend. “Mara!”

He’s already driving full throttle towards him. He doesn’t care what happens next. A half formed plan comes to mind involving throwing himself into the side of Pavel. He’ll most likely derez, or loose a limb.

That doesn’t matter. He can’t lose both of his friends.

“Such a pity. But look on the bright side,” He shakes his head in mock pity before breaking back into a grin and raising his Disk, “now you finally have the honour of meeting Tron Yourself!”

“I think that’ll have to wait.”

A white lit Disk strikes Pavel’s hand, knocking it away and causing him to stumble away. He screams, clutching the glowing red wound as Tron catches the rebound as it arches over the trio of stunned Programs.

Beck can’t stop, so he simply jumps. Flipping back and landing smoothly, he lets it fly towards Pavel. As he expects, he scrambles out of the way. He winces as it shakes, tilts forward and smashes against a adjacent wall. But he’s too happy to care.

“You’re alive!” He says, amazed.

Tron moves to his side and assists him in pulling Mara back to her feet. “Of course I am. It’ll take more than a crash to do me in.”

The trio snap back towards Pavel as he cries out in anger. This time, all three Programs draw their Disks.

“You’ve lost, Pavel.” Beck speaks up. “Just leave. And consider yourself lucky we don’t plan on derezzing it you.”

There’s the barest tilt in Tron’s helmet at his students statement, but Beck doesn’t notice. Mara does, but she doesn’t know what to make of it. The red lit Program’s eye stare down the alleys, like a army will come at his command. They spend tense moments staring each other down and Beck almost fears that he has called in an army.

When he finally gives in and runs away from the plaza, Beck sighs in relief.

Mara’s relief is equally palpable. She, smiling as wide as he mask as she looks to the Programs at her side. Eventually, her gaze lands on Tron. “You saved me. I - I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything.” He states. “It was the right thing to do. So I did it.”

“I can’t believe you even survived that crash.” She marvels. “Who are you?”

Beck looks to Tron and almost wonders if he’ll tell her. But he knows what he’ll say, even against his hopes.

“I’m sorry. But I can’t tell you.”

“Really?” Mara wines, but Beck can tell she doesn’t mean it. “Alright. I understand. Still, it’d be nice if I had something to call you.”

At that moment, Beck has the absolute worst - or best - idea to mess with his mentor. Even at the risk of immensely intensified training.

“Well, He always told me that he’d wanted a Bit.” He mentions casually.

”Beck, don’t you dare-“

“Bit?” Mara repeats. “That’s actually a pretty clever code name.”

“My name will not be-“

“Anyways,” Beck cuts of Tron before he can protest, “we came here for a reason. Want some help with the statue.”

“No, I figured it out.” She states proudly. “But I’ll let Bit have the pleasure of messing up Clu’s face.”

Both Beck and Tron turn to each other in mirrored confusion. “He saved my life.” Mara continues. “He deserves it.”

“Go ahead, Bit.” Beck encourages.

”You know I’m not letting you get away with this.” Tron finally hisses.

”I know.” Beck accepts it without even a hit of regret.

Tron steps forward and spares one last glance at the face of his friend before slamming down on the command to initiate. Stepping back, the trio of rebel watch as the washed out gold give way to bold lines of blue, pinks and violets. Alongside the patterns of light are slogans, one of which catches Beck’s eye.

’Remember Bodhi’

Tron lets himself smile minutely in approval at the younger Programs. But the moment has to end. “We need to leave. If Tesler hasn’t sent reinforcements yet, he will soon.”

He tosses his Baton to Beck, who looks down to it then back to his Mentor. “Wait, where will you go?”

“It’s not too far from Purgos. I can hide out there until everything cools down.” He says.

“Why can’t you come with us?” Mara asks. “I know somewhere safe.”

“That Light Cycle can only hold two Programs.” Tron states.

“Then I’ll come back for you.” Beck tries.

The distant thrum of more tanks and guards just reinforces Tron’s resolve. “Just go!”

“But-“

“Now!”

Beck can’t spare the time to keep arguing. Hastily grabbing Mara’s fallen Disk, he rezzes the Light Cycle and helps Mara onto the back before speeding down and away. “We can’t just leave him.” She protests weakly.

“Bit’ll be fine.” He tells her. “He can take care of himself.”

Mara’s too tired to protest. So she lets herself lean into his back. Craning her head, she watches as the statue is overrun with streaks upon streaks of light.

Chapter Text

Traveling back to the Garage, Beck wishes for energy. He’d even settle for whatever had turned his friends circuits into multi-colored strobe lights. Rolling back his shoulders, he rubs at his circuits to try and restore his energy cycling. His recharge was restless and he’d be willing to bet Able’s bike that Mara was the same.

He’d driven Mara directly home. Thankfully, she’d passed out halfway and even if he ended up having to crawl through a window, he was just glad to see her safe. Beck wished that he knew where - or all least how - to find Tron. The mechanic trusted the older Program enough to spill out his anxiety over the entire event.

’I was too slow.’Plays on repeat in his mind. I couldn’t save her in time. Mara could have died and if would be my fault.’

Shaking his head, Beck realizes that he’s once again late. He finds Zed quick enough. “Did Mara call in sick again?” He asks.

“Oh, good to see one of you here.” Zed states in his standard exasperated tone.

“Sorry, guess last night took a lot out of me too.” Beck says.

His friend stands from his work at the foot of a lift, arms firmly crossed under his arms. “More of your ‘business’?”

“Yea, yea that’s it.” Beck agrees, thanking Able once again for his excuse.

Zed’s gaze is scrutinizing and he has to fight the urge to fidget, but he does end up glancing away as his friend narrows his gaze. “Alright.” He eventually relents. “I get it.”

“It’s not like that.” He retorts reflexively.

“I didn’t mean like that!” Zed rolls his eyes. “I mean, what Able has you doing. Collecting Batons, I mean. It’s… well, it’s noble. I guess. I understand if it takes a lot out of you.”

He’s glad his friend isn’t angry, but the lie still hurts. “Thanks Zed.”

They continue to work in tandem, but as they do Beck can’t help but overhear what the other mechanics are saying.

“ That damn Renegade sighted again...”

“...so close to the Square…”

“Did you guys see what happened to the statue?!”

“... more than one…”

As the comments pile on, Beck’s apprehensions pile higher and higher for his friend. After almost half their shift passes he begins dreading the worst. Pacing by the entrance while Zed leaves to gather more tools, he watches the streets for the train or a Light Cycle. Any sight of his friend. Logic tells them that the Occupation couldn’t have known it was her, they’d worn masks when infiltrating Tesslers ship.

‘But what if’s’ begin to form. Questions and worries wrapped into a messy horror of images and thoughts. What if they were followed? What if Mara told someone else who turned out to be a traitor? What if she caused a scene and was currently being shipped off to the Games?

His hand ends up raching for his Disk on reflex, rubbing the edge and once again considers if it’d be worth the risk to grab the nearest Baton and rush to Mara’s folder. Once he finally does see the train pulls up, he doesn’t hesitate to rush towards the platform. Leaning up through the sea of other Programs, Beck shoves them aside as he tries to single out the pattern of her circuits.

He tries to stick his head over the din, tries to yell over the crowds. “Mara? Mara can you hear me?” Beck tries not to panic when he detects not even the whisper of a response. “Mara!”

The crowds begins to disperse, which is a small mercy on him at the very least. Flynn must’ve been listening that cycle. As he walks across the station, he spots the signature yellow dots and blue hair of his friend. She's lounging against one of the benches, head tipped back and dangling over the edge.

Beck figures he knows why her position is so lax. Walking to her side, he gives her a gentle nudge against her shoulders. Immediately she darts upward. If he hadn’t been standing to the side, he’d have been kicked over as she threw herself off the bench.

He ends up jumping back and nearly trips over the side of the platform. But thankfully, Mara does catch him before he could fall off the edge. “Beck! Oh glitch, I’m so sorry I’m late. My recharge timer didn’t go off and I ended up missing the train.”

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. I’m sure Able can forgive you.” He dusts of his shoulder as they sto down and back towards the garage.

Though as they do, Beck ends up catching a glance at Mara’s back. Cracks. Hairline thin and practically invisible, they weave across her calves and thighs and hide just under the edge of her Disk dock. He can see the way she has to walk, leaning on one leg and keeping her arms stiff so she doesn’t agitate the loose code. There’s no risk of derezzing, but Beck knows what it feel like. Like someone was running the wheel of a Light Cycle against your shell.

The sight causes Gridbugs to start crawling around his insides. He flickers away the t guilt as soon as Zed comes rushing.

“You’re finally here!” He threw a arm across her shoulders and Beck could see how Mara’s hands bit into her palm as she squeezed out a smile. Pulling back, Zed cast a teasing smirk towards him, “don’t tell me she’s picking up on your habits now.”

“Pretty sure it was just a one time event.” He dismisses.

Mara - he should’ve expected it - just shrugs and smiles. “Maybe. But some other things might come up.”

At that, Zed looks at both of them scrupulously. “So what? Did Able conscript you two into this secret Baton gathering squadron?”

“No, but I don’t think I’d turn it down.” She muses. “Oh, speaking of, did you hear about what happened last cycle?”

“Us and half of Argon.” Zed mutters. “There’s three of those guys now? Great.”

“They aren’t doing anything that bad.” Mara counters.

“They blew up half of the square!”

“It’s not like they wanted to!”

Beck turns and berates himself internally. That was technically his fault. If he’d been faster, he could stop the tank before it shot down Tron, before the explosion went of and left the cracks in Mara’s shell. There’s too much he can blame himself for, but he can’t think about it now.

Once again, they turn back to their work. Beck remains quiet and tries not to stare too hard at the mess across Mara’s back - he’s responsible, nearly derezzed again - as they go about repairs. He’s adjusting the subroutines that control a transports speed when he feels someone hammer at it’s side from above.

“Beck. In my office.”

Able doesn’t wait for Beck to pull himself up as he steps away. Beck sets his tool down, looks to his friends and tries to reassure them with a nonchalant shrug. “Guess I am in trouble then.”

Making his way towards the back, Beck makes his way inside only to see another Program standing in the room. He’s already taken his stance, Disk drawn and alight before he realizes who it is.

“You’re fast, but your footwork is still sloppy.” Tron comments, detracting his helmet as he moves to stand in front of his protege.

Beck casts a confused glance to the older mechanic. “You let him inside?”

“Didn’t want him to make you crawl up the roof of my building again.” He states. “I’ll let you two have your moment, nobody will bother you in here.”

Able leaves. Tron’s eyes flick to the doorway, only turning back once he hears the soft click to signify their privacy. “You weren’t wrong when you said your friend had potential.”

“She does.” Beck sighs, leaning against Abel’s desk, “and I almost got her killed. You saw what happened, I was too slow. If you hadn’t been there, she’d be derezzed and that would be my fault to. I can’t keep letting her do this, not… not after what we did.”

“Both of you do have Teslers attention, he’s sent out new search parties across the entire sector to try and flush the two of you out.” Tron adds.

“They still don’t know?”

“No.”

He drags a hand through his hair, before rubbing at the circuits running up his forearms. Beck is glad for that much at least.

“What the two of you did before, Tesler isn’t the only Program who saw what happened.” Tron continues. “More Programs are talking, now more than ever.”

“I’ve heard.” Beck can’t help but retort. “It’s not that great.”

“Like I said, it wouldn’t be easy.”

“I know.” He repeats. “I… I want to tell them so bad, but if something like this happens to them again, then we’re all gone. But I just… I just don’t want to keep lying behind my friends backs. I don’t… I don’t want to be alone.”

It sounds like childish winning once he says it out loud, but Beck can’t deny it. As horrifying as the last cycle was, it was amazing. To see Mara’s work painted across Clu’s face, boldly and unabashedly proclaiming their defiance. But he can’t deny fact, Beck can’t - will not - let this happen again. Working alone is required with what he has to do. He can do it.

While he debates over that point in his mind, Tron watches and reads it as he searches for his own way to console the other Program. Beck hears a soft sigh to his right and it’s enough to snap him back to the office.

“I’m proud of what you both did.” He says. “And I understand what you mean. Remaining independent is taxing to a degree. But… if you don’t want to risk your friends then I see no better option for the time being.”

It’s not the answer Beck wants to hear. But once again he knows that now is the worst time to break anything to Mara. Though what hits the Program the most is what Tron confesses. “You mean that? The first thing you said.”

Tron doesn’t repeat himself, he simply nods in affirmation. Beck isn’t sure how to react and he’s suddenly aware of his prior poor choice in wording, followed by Tron’s confession after he’d lost his memories. “I never meant that you were bad company. I mean - it’s just that, well, I guess I’m not used to you seeing me as a… as a friend.”

“You are.”

It’s short and clipped, but Beck knows how hard it must’ve been to squeeze out those two words. The security monitor stares pensively at the ground. Then he stands, rereezing his helmet. “ I have to leave now. The base should be clear to return to in a few cycles. I know that you have a lot on your mind. And if… if you want to, you can talk.”

“Thank you... Bit.”

Beck offers him a smile. He’s just imagining it, but he likes to think Tron is smiling under the helmet.