When Jordan died, the exhausted balance of Kevin's world came crashing down in all directions.
It wasn't just that he loved her too much to let her go. He needed her, too. She was the anchor point of sanity, grounding him in the real world when his projects and obsessions threatened to carry him away. She was stability and warmth and an understanding smile, and she knew him. She understood how much she meant to him, even when Kevin lost track of time, got distracted, disappeared into his own world for days at a time.
When Kevin had turned up two hours late to his own wedding, his parents were livid (Jordan's too). But she had only laughed and thrown her bouquet at his head.
Now, with Jordan gone, Kevin was unmoored. He needed a new anchor. He wanted to bury himself in the Grid and never come out, but there was one vital, perfect reason he couldn't.
Sam needed him.
At four years old, Sam was too young to truly understand what had happened. Kevin didn't know how to explain, that death meant Mommy was never coming back.
But he tried. Through the aching emptiness in his own chest, he tried. And when Sam withdrew—when he went quiet and small and refused to speak to anyone for six straight days—Kevin felt it like the worst sort of failure.
It was desperation that finally put a new idea in his head. All Sam's short life, Kevin had been telling him stories about the Grid.
Stories about Tron. The security program, the warrior. The hero. Those stories had always put the brightest glint in Sam's eyes. But now Sam's eyes were distant, no matter how Kevin tried to reach him. A wall was rising between himself and his boy, the only anchor he had left.
So on his next visit to the Grid, Kevin took his son along. Sam clung to his hand through the empty arcade, tiny fingers tightening around his as they descended the narrow steps to the hidden basement.
"You okay, kiddo?" Kevin asked as they entered the lab.
Sam looked up at him and nodded, but didn't speak. Kevin was almost growing accustomed to the silence.
"All right, buddy. Let's do this thing. You ready to see the Grid?"
Again Sam didn't answer. But when Kevin sat in his chair before the laser array, Sam climbed trustingly into his lap and shifted to peer down at the long flat desktop that served as a computer monitor.
"Here we go," Kevin murmured, and activated the digital transfer.
His own first trip via laser had been jarring. But as they materialized inside the system, he looked down at where his son stood beside him. Sam wore an awed expression, and Kevin could find no sign of disorientation on his face.
"Pretty neat, huh?"
Sam didn't even nod. He was too busy staring at the cityscape that spread up and out around them.
Kevin had materialized them in Sigma Sector, not far from the stadium. There were programs milling about, and impossibly tall edifices arching high above. Everything was light and movement and a ceaseless murmur of sound. Sam reached for Kevin's hand, and Kevin watched his son. In a short span of days, he had almost forgotten what it felt like to smile. But the tiniest hint tugged now at one corner of his mouth.
"Glad you like it," Kevin said. "Come on. I'll show you around."
He showed Sam the city and tried not to be disappointed when excitement still didn't break through the boy's hurting, stubborn silence. Strangely enough, the very act of showing Sam his work helped settle Kevin, distracting him for minutes at a time from his own fresh grief. There was so much to see, so much to show, and he wanted to give Sam all of it.
At the base of the central security tower in Epsilon Sector, Kevin paused and drew Sam to a stop.
"Come on, kiddo," he said softly. "There's someone I want you to meet."
They rode a light-limned elevator to the top floor of the tower, making the trip in total silence. Kevin didn't try to fill the quiet with chatter, though the shifting lines of the city were a spectacle to behold. Sam stood at the outer wall as the lift carried them higher. His chubby palms pressed to the clear surface of the capsule, his wide eyes ravenous as he took in the view.
When the lift stopped, Sam returned to his father's side and reached again for his hand.
The halls of the security tower were always busy. In truth, this terminal was as much an informational hub as a security checkpoint. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of programs zipped through the crowded corridor, hurrying to countless nodes and destinations and tasks. Sam clung closer to Kevin through the throng, pressed anxiously to his side.
Eventually they reached the door of their true destination. It slid noiselessly open at Kevin's approach, and he pulled Sam gently inside by the hand. The emptiness of the expansive room was a jarring contrast to the chaos of the corridor. Sam clung stubbornly to Kevin's hand, clearly with no intention of letting go.
Only one program currently occupied the enormous space of this room—this primary security nexus—and he emerged quickly from a bank of screens and consoles with a surprised smile on his face.
Kevin tried to summon a smile, but could only manage a nod of acknowledgment as Tron approached.
At the first sign of someone new, Sam had ducked behind Kevin's legs. Kevin fully expected he would have to coax Sam out to make introductions—he was well acquainted with the little boy shyness that made Sam hesitant around new faces.
But already Sam was leaning out from behind Kevin's knees, peering at Tron with a wide, curious stare. To Kevin's shock, before he could decide how to go about luring the boy from hiding, Sam emerged all on his own. A glint of recognition sparked in his eyes, and Kevin gaped as Sam's short legs carried him forward. Sam didn't stop until he stood immediately before Tron, staring up and not the slightest bit bothered by Tron's intimidating height. Tron, for his part, stared down at Sam in obvious confusion, a slight crease between his brows, an expression of startled curiosity on his face.
Boy and program made for a surreal sight, standing barely a foot apart. Sam looked tiny next to Tron's tall presence.
"Tron," Kevin broke into the assessing silence. "This is my son, Sam."
Tron's gaze shifted momentarily to Kevin, and comprehension crossed his face. A pause, brief but significant, elapsed in the quiet room. Then Tron looked again to Sam, and slowly knelt before him. Even on his knees Tron was the taller, but their eyes met squarely and Kevin held his breath watching them.
"Hello, Sam Flynn," Tron said softly. "I'm glad to meet you."
Sam didn't respond, but Tron seemed unruffled by the child's silence. He waited a long moment, patient beneath Sam's regard. Eventually, Tron tilted his head to one side and spoke.
"Would you like to see the stadium, Sam Flynn?"
Sam nodded, and when Tron stood, Sam reached to take the program's hand.
In the days, weeks, months that followed, Kevin rarely returned to the Grid without Sam in tow. The more time he spent working with Clu, stabilizing and developing the system they were perfecting, the more often he left Sam in Tron's care. Sam still wasn't speaking, but Kevin didn't think he was imagining the way each visit to the Grid seemed to calm and reassure him. Sam was inching back towards the warm, active little boy he was before Jordan's death.
When the ISO's began to emerge from the Sea of Simulation, Kevin couldn't even process the impossibility of it all. He let his duties at Encom slip in favor of spending even more time on the Grid, bringing Sam with him as often as not. Kevin needed Tron sometimes, but Sam always stayed close. Watchful. Obvious hero worship flashed in his eyes.
Kevin sort of knew the feeling. No one could move, fight, maneuver quite like Tron.
Clu never had the time or patience for the small human child who had become Kevin's constant shadow, but Tron more than made up for the fact. He rarely let Sam out of his sight, and Kevin would've had to be blind to miss the protective glint in the program's eyes.
Sometimes Kevin and Clu had business in less stable sectors of the city. Kevin refused to put his boy in harm's way, and so he would ask Tron to care for Sam in his absence. Tron never refused, and Kevin knew his son was the safest he could possibly be.
The ISO sector took several visits to construct, and Kevin knew it would be a challenge to maintain. The Isometric Algorithms introduced a certain amount of inevitable chaos into the otherwise orderly system of the Grid. Clu expressed concern, but Kevin refused to worry. They could stay on top of this. They would make it work. The ISOs were going to change everything, and Kevin knew any challenge was worth it.
Leaving the ISO sector after an intensive restructuring of the central bypass, Kevin bid Clu goodbye at the Gamma Sector relay tower. He went in search of Sam, following the tug of instinct that he knew would lead him straight to his son. The Grid was more than just the tangible streets and buildings of Tron City. It was a subtler network of data, a constant input and output of information that Kevin could feel beneath his own skin. The more time he spent here, the surer his control, the more complete his awareness. He knew with certainty that he was moving the right direction.
He found Sam and Tron sitting side-by-side atop Gamma Sector's tallest bridge. Their legs dangled over the edge, perched as they were atop the low, brightly lit bounding wall that ran the entire length of the byway.
In the real world, Kevin would've been terrified to see his young son in such a precarious position. Here on the Grid he wasn't afraid, especially with Tron so close. He knew Sam was safe.
Kevin didn't speak as he approached with quiet steps. Tron was murmuring too low for Kevin to make out. He didn't strain to hear, though his steps carried him silently closer. He was just near enough to decipher actual words now, Tron ending a soft question with, "—do you?"
"I guess," Sam answered in a tiny, quiet voice. Kevin's legs froze in place.
Three months since the funeral, and Kevin hadn't heard Sam speak a single syllable to anyone. But there sat his son now, hesitant and quiet, but talking to Tron.
Sam didn't say anything else, and eventually Kevin coughed and announced his presence. He didn't press. He didn't ask what they were talking about. But later, just before leaving the Grid, he took Tron aside and set a grateful hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Thanks," he said, not sure how to coherently express his gratitude.
Tron wordlessly inclined his head, and seemed to understand anyway.
It wasn't the last time he found Sam talking to Tron, and thank god for that. As months crept inexorably forward towards the first full year, Kevin overheard more conversations, and longer ones. He heard Sam admit to Tron, in the heartbreaking confession of a small, scared boy, how much he missed his mom. He heard fragmented stories, told from Sam's four-year-old perspective. He listened in awe as Tron's quiet, reassuring presence gradually drew Sam from his protective shell.
Even in the world outside, Sam was getting better. Warming, playing with other children again—still quiet, but at least present now—and even smiling sometimes. He was gradually finding his way back to the energetic boy he should be.
Kevin didn't know Tron was teaching Sam about the games until he interrupted them in the middle of a mock battle. Sam moved with surprising grace, considering the awkward chubbiness of his small limbs. He mimicked Tron's movements with fierce focus, and Kevin smiled despite himself at the sight of the little boy disarming Tron. The unvarnished gleam of victory and the wide grin on Sam's face showed that he had no concept Tron had let him win.
Then Sam turned and saw Kevin, and dropped the light staff in his rush to cross the wide-lit practice arena.
"Daddy!" Sam called in his excitement, jumping as high as he could and trusting Kevin to catch him. "Daddy, I won, did you see?"
"I sure did, kiddo." Kevin's smile felt like it might split his face. Sam's exuberance filled him with warmth and relief. In that moment Kevin wasn't thinking of the fractured code endangering the ISO sector, or of Encom neglected in the outside world, or even of the dull ache still hollowing out his own insides. All he knew was that Sam was smiling, and talking, and clinging tightly to him.
Tron was smiling, too. Watching from a short distance away, giving them space.
That year, for Sam's fifth birthday, Kevin made sure to set up the party event of the century. Nearly fifty children attended, friends and classmates and relatives, and the pyramid of presents towered taller than the birthday boy himself.
Sam refused to open a single present, and the party ended early. All he wanted for his birthday, it seemed, was the Grid.
When they set down on a familiar, bright-lined section of street, Tron was already waiting for them. Sam let go of Kevin's hand and dashed forward, calling Tron's name. Tron leaned down to catch him as Sam barreled in, sweeping him up into a hug. Sam laughed, then wrapped his arms tightly around Tron's neck and burrowed close.
"Happy birthday, Sam Flynn," Tron said, and Kevin could hear the smile in his voice.
Kevin's own chest felt tight, but he couldn't help smiling, too. In that moment, he could very nearly believe that he and Sam would both be okay.
When Clu's betrayal came, it was pure chance that Sam wasn't at Kevin's side. The boy had to attend school, and even with Kevin's real world responsibilities at Encom, he couldn't always wait on Sam to see to the needs of the Grid.
It was sheer, stupid luck that Kevin came alone to the Grid that day. But there his luck ended. The attack came out of nowhere, and even Tron could only hold Clu's forces for so long.
Kevin ran. What choice did he have?
Later, from the wrong side of Tron City, Flynn watched with despair as the portal flickered closed.