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Sam watched his clothes disappear into the hole next to his feet, wondering idly where they went after the square hatch clicked back into place and became just another indistinguishable part of the platform. Not that it mattered, really, they were already ruined. He stood in the center of the room in his gray flannel boxers, wishing he’d worn something a bit sexier, although the four women who had stripped him seemed less than interested in anything he had to offer. They walked in pairs, perfectly synchronized, each accessing a brightly lit cabinet and picking up what looked to Sam to be pieces of plastic. They turned back toward him and stopped.

The one who seemed to be the leader, or at least the most communicative of the group, paused as though considering something, and then nodded to her companions. They spun on their heels and turned back to the cabinets, replacing the black plastic objects and instead picking up smaller, silvery white pieces that looked too small to do anything important. Sam watched them walk in step back to the platform, and come to a stop close enough that he could feel the warmth radiating from the lights on their bodysuits. He tried not to look at other, more appealing aspects of their clothes. He failed.

“So are you girls gonna give me something else to wear…?” he asked. His answer was a faint tickle along his feet, and he looked down to see his skin disappearing behind tiny white-gray squares as they folded apart from themselves and multiplied across his skin. He tried to jump back, but his feet were still locked firmly in place. The women handed the plastic pieces hand-to-hand, and the two behind him pressed them between his shoulder blades. He heard a series of soft clicks, and then a tingle rose from his toes, up to his knees. Sam looked down again and saw that his own skin-tight suit was lighting up, much like the women around him. “Hey, can’t I get something a little more—you know, modest?” He chanced a look at his crotch, confirming that the suit left absolutely nothing to the imagination. It was a much more embarrassing revelation than he would have thought. Normally Sam didn’t think he had anything to hide. Now he couldn’t hide anything.

Attention program…” a disembodied voice announced. “You will receive an identity disc. Everything you do, or learn, will be imprinted on this disc…

“Seriously I’ll even take a skirt, anything. Maybe something I could drape across one shoulder?” He felt exposed, and suddenly very guilty for staring so unabashedly at the women around him.

They snapped something onto his back—another piece of clothing?—and the blonde said something about synchronizing… it was hard to tell through the distortion in her voice. He tried to ask them another question about possibly getting a pair of shorts, but she nodded to the other three, and they walked away, returning to their strange body-molded alcoves. He was left alone with the blonde.

“So what do I…”

“Come with me,” she ordered. The restraints around his feet retracted, and Sam stumbled back, looking around for an exit. Unfortunately the only one he could find would lead him to follow the woman, and he wasn’t anxious to see what else she had in store for him. Then he remembered looking at the unmistakable outline of his own dick through spandex, and he wondered if maybe she was leading him somewhere he could find a little bit of modesty.

“Wait up!”


Sam had quickly discovered that he was intended to do the same job as the women who had dressed him, and that it included a lot more than just sticking armor on arena combatants and walking around awkwardly. He spent his first week (at least he thought it was a week) just learning the various twists and turns of the tunnels beneath the arena and the ones he wasn’t supposed to take. The latter was harder to remember, and he kept finding himself on the receiving end of zaps from the laser fingers of the other sirens. Gem in particular seemed to enjoy jabbing her finger into his back, his hip, or occasionally more sensitive areas, and giving him a quick jolt that sent him twitching away and cursing. Sometimes he wasn’t sure he’d even done anything to deserve it. He asked her once when he would get his own electric finger, but the response wasn’t encouraging; Gem just looked at him and laughed, then walked away arm-in-arm with another Siren, giggling.

He was pretty sure the other sirens hated him, and he wasn’t sure why that bothered him. Occasionally they would give him some advice or help him with a task that was giving him more difficulty than usual, but most of the time they just brushed past him and went about their business.

Sam was midway through his third week when he received the greatest shock since finding himself on the Grid in the first place—at least one that hadn’t come from a siren’s finger. One of the regular combatants—Dart, Sam thought his name was—had just returned from being rerezzed after one of the more zealous girls got through toying with him for the amusement of the crowd. He was fuming, and pushing everyone out of his way as he stormed into the armory. As he stepped into place to let the sirens replace a faulty source plate on his forearm, one of them sidled up to him, pressing herself against his chest and murmuring something in his ear. The rage drained from him almost immediately, and he wrapped his arms around her in a way that made Sam feel like he shouldn’t be watching. They twined together, and the siren rolled her hips, making Dart’s circuits flare. Sam gaped and shifted awkwardly. With a great deal of reluctance he turned away from the licentious display before him; the last thing he needed was to walk around sporting a hardon in front of everyone. He could hear the sounds of them enjoying one another, though, and it made concentrating on not getting aroused that much more difficult.

“Something wrong?” Gem asked quietly from over his shoulder. Sam jumped a bit and dropped the plate he was picking up. It fell to the floor with a clatter, but the sound still wasn’t enough to drown out the siren and the fighter.

“No, nothing. Not really. What, uh… what are they doing?” he asked, inclining his head toward the couple. “Is that allowed?”

“Allowed? It’s one of our duties, Sam. Combatants often return from battle with excess energy, and their confinement leaves them with very few opportunities to expend it effectively. Those who perform well in the games are… rewarded.

Sam blinked a few times and frowned. “Man you girls got it rough, I guess.”

Gem put her hand on his shoulder and leaned in close. “It’s only rough sometimes,” she said with a sly smile. “You’ll see.”

“I—what? Wait, you don’t mean… no way. No way.” He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. First of all, none of the female combatants had ever so much as glanced his way. And the men… “Wait. Is it—am I? The guys… too?”

Gem nodded.

“Aha, I don’t think so. I mean I’ve got no problem with it, but I haven’t ever, you know. Not with another guy.” He felt like a fool, but he couldn’t stop trying to explain himself. He was cut short by a hand from Gem.

“Don’t worry, Sam. Most of the combatants who have earned the privilege already have preferred companionship. No one has chosen you.”

That stung a little more than he thought it should. “Oh? Well, okay.” Why the hell did he feel a little disappointed?

She continued, “You’ll know when it happens. If you aren’t interested, you may refuse them.” She paused. “Most of them.”

That didn’t leave Sam feeling very relieved. He was about to ask her which he should look out for, but it occurred to him that he probably didn’t want to know. He made a mental note to keep to himself and stay out of the way. The last thing he needed was to become some burly program’s consolation prize.


Time passed—he had been informed of the time system on the Grid, but he'd be damned if he could remember it—and Sam got better at his duties. He was zapped less and less, and some of the other sirens were marginally nicer to him. He’d made friends with one; a male siren named Pin, who seemed to spend most of his time hanging out in clubs and dives that were just shy of legal. They got along fairly well, although Sam was hesitant to follow him anywhere for fear of ending up on another Recognizer. He had almost managed to forget that he was up for grabs if a pushy program decided they liked the cut of his, well, the cut of him, considering there wasn’t really anything else to look at. Everything was going fine until one afternoon, when he and Pin were the only ones in the repair room of the armory. The arena was hosting a tournament, and all the more experienced sirens were engaged around the complex, outfitting the fodder combatants for the filler matches and assisting in disc retrieval and rerezzing procedures. Few of the combatants in the tournament wound up needing repairs, as most were derezzed outright or managed to escape injury. Things had been pretty slow for Sam and Pin.

They were at the halfway point in the primary ladder series when the signal chimed for the platform above, indicating an approaching combatant in need of repairs. They took position next to where the slab would land and waited. Pin’s eyes went wide as soon as the program’s legs were visible, and he looked down, locking his gaze on the floor.

Sam could hear the rumble emanating from their guest before he landed, but it was so much louder once they were next to him. The program wore a helmet; solid black rather than the clear visor sported by all of the other combatants. He looked like the guards around the city, but his dark orange lights were minimal, and he carried no gear strapped to his person that Sam could see. He stared, transfixed, and for a moment he didn’t realize that the program was staring right back. At least, he appeared to be. Pin took advantage of the attention aimed at Sam and ran a visual diagnostic of the combatant. He walked—more like ran—to the cabinet on the far wall and picked up the appropriate replacement plate, carrying it back just as quickly and nearly shoving it into Sam’s hands.

Sam couldn’t understand what was upsetting Pin. Sure, the mysterious black program was kind of intimidating, but he didn’t seem any more threatening than half of the more aggressive combatants that were kept in the arena. He stepped to the side and released the faulty plate on the program’s thigh, snapping the new one into place and confirming that it had engaged properly. He nodded to Pin and stepped back.

The program didn’t leave. He continued staring at Sam. His head was cocked to the side, like he was trying to figure something out, and his low rumble hitched a bit, growing faster and gaining just enough pitch to be noticeable. Sam pointed at his thigh and then up at the primary arena level. “You’re done,” he said. No effect.

Pin looked like he was going to crumble to pieces right where he stood. Sam looked past the program in black and shrugged, trying to figure out what was upsetting his friend so much, and why their guest would leave. He turned back to try explaining again that they were finished replacing his damaged armor, and suddenly a hand closed around his collar.

User,” a voice rasped from behind the helmet. Sam grabbed his wrist and tried to pull himself free, but the program’s grip was like iron.

“Yeah, sort of a secret though, apparently I’m not supposed to let anyone know. You know how it is. Think you could—ow” he winced as he was jerked forward. His forehead pressed against the reflective black helmet. “I guess letting me go is out of the question?”

For a few seconds Sam was sure he was about to be cut down on the spot. The way the program held him, the way his shoulders heaved like he was working up to explode into action, the dangerous pitch of his rumble—Sam was genuinely frightened, and he had no idea what he’d done.

Finally he was released, and he dropped to his knees at the program’s feet. He looked up and found himself still being watched. The rumble had softened to a purr, and for a moment Sam felt like he was being sized up as something other than a target. He stood up and stepped back.

When the platform ascended back to the main level it was all he could do not to run out of the arena. It was Pin’s voice that brought him back down to reality. Or the closest to it he could find on the Grid.

“Well, now you’ve met Rinzler,” he sighed, sounding relieved. “I think he likes you.”


Things got worse after that. Rinzler started coming down to the repair room on a regular basis, whether or not he actually needed repairs—which most of the time it seemed he didn’t. When Sam was assigned elsewhere Rinzler sought him like a cat stalking a very awkward mouse. He would stand in the shadows of the armory, watching Sam as he walked back and forth carrying plates to restock the cabinets. Thankfully he maintained a good distance between them, although every once in a while Sam would turn a corner and find him close enough to touch; the raw heat rolling off his sparse circuits making Sam flinch and stammer out an apology before he ducked down another hall.

It didn’t cross over into the realm of truly disconcerting until Rinzler started showing up outside the arena, as well.

It was a night Sam had let Pin convince him to go out to a club. One of the seedy dives he preferred, where the drinks were just a bit off in color and taste, and Sam was sure he could feel every set of eyes on the parts of him that showed best. Pin didn’t seem to care. In fact, if Sam were to guess, he’d think his companion enjoyed the attention. Sirens seemed to have a bit of a reputation, despite the fact that their more personal services were limited to the arena.

He had settled at the end of the bar, nursing something he didn’t want to examine too closely and trying to ignore the obnoxiously arrhythmic music assaulting his ears. Pin was off carousing with friends, having completely forgotten the one he dragged along in the first place. The music finally stopped and Sam took a moment to enjoy the silence before the next piece of trash started thumping against his skull. He laughed to himself when the beginning of the next song contained the same low-pitched rumble he’d come to expect from Rinzler.

Then a hand came down on his shoulder, and Sam nearly choked on his drink. He didn’t need to turn to figure out who it was; he could feel the heat, and the vibration rattling through the hand that was gripping him. He turned slowly, looking over his shoulder at his own reflection in Rinzler’s helmet. “Hi?”

Rinzler slipped into the chair next to him. He didn’t face the bar, though; instead he turned so that his knees were pressed against Sam, and his hand still gripped his shoulder. Sam could almost sense the Come here often? in the tilt of his head.

“Look, this is really flattering, I mean it. But I’m actually off duty, and I actually—oh, okay. That’s new.” He stared at the hand on his thigh, slowly making its way up toward his hip. The rumble was a purr again, and Sam didn’t have to guess what it meant. He swallowed and reached for his drink. Suddenly it tasted amazing, and he wished he never had to put it down and address what was happening at his hip. Wait, no, his waist. Then— “Hey!” he laughed involuntarily as fingers fluttered across his stomach. “Come on, man, I’m not here for that. Or anywhere, really. For that. Can you just…oh.” He trailed off in a quiet sound as Rinzler’s hand slipped between his legs. The sensation of his gloved palm rubbing against Sam’s cock was enough to toss any reservations right out the window. Sam leaned into the touch, clenching his jaw and squeezing his knees together to force more pressure from Rinzler’s hand. His fingers were wrapped tight around his drink, and distantly he was sure it would shatter any second.

“Hey, take it somewhere else!” someone shouted, and Sam was ripped from his trance by the sound of Rinzler’s purr lowering to a dangerous growl. For a moment he couldn’t remember how he’d even come to be in the bar. Then Rinzler withdrew his hand and Sam was being dragged backwards off the barstool. He tripped over his own feet as he tried to stand, but he couldn’t get himself straight; Rinzler had a death grip on his arm, pulling him toward the door at a speed that left Sam struggling just to keep from falling over. Once they were outside he found himself spun so that Rinzler was at his back. He was hurried around a corner into an unsheltered alley, alone with his would-be abductor, and now drenched in the steady downpour that had blanketed the city all evening. Rinzler used his own body to press Sam against the wall of the building, grinding his hips forward and making it unmistakably clear that he wasn’t just looking for heavy petting. The cold rain dripping down into the collar of Sam’s suit kept sending prickling chills along his skin, constantly reminding him just where he was, and keeping his mind firmly in the reality of what was happening.

“Rinzler,” he chanced. He was cut off by a growl that, despite lacking actual words, left no room for discussion. Insistent hands slid across his waist, down to his stomach, and then met at the junction of his thighs, making Sam moan and buck his hips helplessly. Rinzler rolled his hips against Sam and purred in his ear. Sam licked some of the rain from his lips and momentarily envied that the program got to wear a helmet. He could feel the line of circuits on Rinzler’s abdomen through the back of his suit, tingling and just shy of burning, and making his own circuit lines flare wherever they touched. He was panting now, pushing back against Rinzler with his palms flat against the wall. He turned to watch the entrance to the alley. It didn’t make a lot of sense; he doubted anyone would interrupt them, but old habits died hard. Rinzler was rutting against him like he was trying for penetration through their suits; his helmet knocked against Sam’s head and for one terribly awkward moment they just moved in whatever way felt best.

He could hear Rinzler’s purr looping on itself, each iteration rolling out heavier than the last, until he was stuttering wildly and jerking against Sam. His circuits felt like hot points pressed into Sam’s skin, sending electric jolts through his body each time he moved forward. He made a choked sound over the snap of his stuttered purr, then tensed against Sam for what felt like an agonizingly long time before his arms went slack and he stumbled backwards. He hit the wall of the building behind them and sagged there as his lights dulled to their normal levels.

Sam took a deep breath and made a sound that was part disbelief, part desperation. “You—you’re kidding. That’s it?” He turned and stared at Rinzler. “You got yours, and now you’re gonna leave me with my dick in my hand?” He—what, thought Rinzler would be a generous lover? That sounded ridiculous even in his own head. He wasn’t about to admit it, though. “You follow me around for weeks and then hump me in a dirty alley.” That was stretching it a bit, there wasn’t much in the city that could truly be called dirty. “What am I supposed to do?”

Rinzler stood up straight and rolled his shoulders. He looked at Sam and slowly shrugged, then turned and strode from the alley like he didn’t have a care in the world.

Sam looked down at the erection stretching his suit and then back to Rinzler as he disappeared around the corner. “You son of a bitch!

Chapter Text

Rinzler had the nerve to show up again just a few days later. Sam had lost most of his apprehension after being furiously dry humped by the program, but he still avoided looking at him out of sheer spite. He sure as hell wasn’t going to be caught alone with him any time soon. When he left each day he made sure he was surrounded by the other sirens. If it looked like he would be alone somewhere he made sure to find some reason to leave, returning only when he’d seen someone else make their way back to the room. After a while he developed a good sense of how to avoid Rinzler, and the program appeared to pick up on his studious attempts to minimize the potential for contact between them.

If only that actually mattered. Rinzler didn’t seem to care if Sam was looking at him, something Sam probably should have realized after the first time he made it clear that his own needs were the only ones that mattered. He followed Sam when he was with the other sirens. He followed him out of the various rooms and back in again. It scared the hell out of the others, but Sam just kept trying to find ways to escape the cycle of stalking that had apparently become a part of his daily routine. What was he supposed to do, call the police? When he asked Gem if Rinzler was one of the combatants he could refuse, she just stared at him wide-eyed and walked away. It wasn’t like he hadn’t already known the answer from experience, but she could have been a bit more tactful about it. He was only looking for a little hope.

The worst part was, he knew all his efforts to spurn Rinzler’s advances weren’t doing a damn thing to piss him off. He could read it in the sound of his self-satisfied little purr every time he watched Sam bend over, which—damn it—he seemed to have to do way, way too often for his comfort.

Further complications came one evening in the form of a summons. He’d been running discs from practice matches, bringing them back down to the armory to be rerezzed, when he was called. At first he thought it had something to do with Pin’s incessant need to drag him everywhere that could possibly get him in trouble, but there were no guards to indicate he’d done anything wrong. He stepped onto the platform that would bring him up to the main arena access, following the instructions delivered to him earlier in his shift. He saw the ship before he even neared the access panel to the rarely-used arena floor. His heart skipped a bit, and his mind raced with possibilities. He hadn’t done anything wrong that he was aware of, unless doing a barely passable job as a siren was enough to warrant an audience with the boss. Part of him hoped against all reason that he was going to get his own laser finger. If that was the case his first order of business would be to find Gem.

The spiral steps that led to the ship’s interior were lowered, inviting Sam inside. He’d seen Clu’s personal vessel a few times before, usually perched high above in the dock that overlooked the arena. Only once had it ever landed that Sam could recall, and he repressed a shudder at the memory of what happened after that. He supposed it shouldn’t have surprised him that a culture whose primary form of entertainment was combat sine missione would also find great joy in public executions. He never asked what those three programs had done to earn such an exhibition; he just assumed it was enough that they weren’t welcome to participate in the Disc Wars battles.

The steps lowered a little as he climbed upward, blinking against the bright lights inside the ship. He was used to a much more subdued scheme after so long on the Grid. He had never spoken directly to Clu, but Sam knew who he was, and that it was he who had ordered Sam to be put to work in the arena. He was pointed toward the other end of the ship, to the room where Clu sat ensconced upon his minimalist throne, one leg up over the arm and the other stretched out before him. Sam stood at the top of the ramp and waited to be addressed.

“Come over here, Sam.” The voice sent a shiver down his spine. He knew it, he’d heard it echoing across the arena and bouncing off the walls. It never failed to twist something awkward and confused in his gut. He walked over to the throne and stood obediently before Clu, eyes cast to the side and his back a rigid line. He heard a considerate hmm from the program, and tried not to think of what it could mean. “It really does leave very little to the imagination, doesn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a program wear it quite like you. No wonder he’s so interested.”

That made Sam jump a little. A mantra of please don’t bring Rinzler in here was looping through his head, and he pressed his lips together to avoid actually saying it. Clu was volatile, and he didn’t think it would take much to piss him off.

“Come closer.” Sam looked down and saw Clu had his arms out, leaving no opportunity to mistake what he meant by closer. Sam hesitated, then slowly stepped forward. He stopped when his shins touched the throne. “Sam.” It was spoken as a command. Sam swallowed past the lump in his throat and let his legs slide onto the seat, one between Clu’s own legs, the other pressed between his thigh and the armrest. A hand came down on his back and pushed him forward, and he braced himself with his palms flat against the back of the throne. Clu made a pleased sound and let his hand wander along Sam’s back, stroking him with his fingers and digging them in as they reached the slight curve of his hip. “You’re like a walking ball of energy, aren’t you.” His other hand came down on Sam’s ass, making him jerk away reflexively.

“I don’t—”

“Coy won’t work with me, Sam. I’m not Rinzler. The chase just doesn’t hold any appeal.” Clu reached up and threaded a hand into Sam’s hair, dragging him down into a kiss that left Sam clutching the throne until he thought it would crack. Clu’s tongue wrestled his into submission; a pretty good indicator of things to come, if Sam ever saw one. Felt one. He shivered at the thought and made a sound that could have been a protest, but Clu only seemed to take it as encouragement. He pulled Sam down completely, never breaking the kiss or losing its urgency. The hand on his backside gripped him tight, and Sam found himself being forcibly ground against Clu’s lap.

The bit of his brain that was working didn’t want any part of what was happening, but he had to admit, it felt pretty good. Sam was amazed at how quickly his body gave in to the physical coercion; how his cock twitched behind the tight silver fabric of his suit, and his skin prickled at the sparks that he could feel every time his chest touched the gold circuits traversing Clu’s torso. It was easy for his mind to shut down the argumentative part. Just walling it away and saying you know what, this is fine too. He let go and pressed himself against Clu, letting the program’s arms wind around him and slide over every inch of his body that he could reach. Clu brought his leg down from the arm of the chair and Sam moved to straddle him fully; he sat up and rocked a bit, face flushed and eyes dilated as he pressed himself against the front of Clu’s suit. He could see Clu watching him intently. He didn’t care.

“My, what a pliant little drone you are.” He reached out and slid his hand up Sam’s neck. Still gyrating against him, Sam took hold of Clu’s hand and drew it to his mouth. He closed his eyes and slipped one finger between his lips, wrapping his tongue around the digit and savoring the electric jolt from the circuit as his tongue grazed it. It was hot, but lacked the immediate intensity of Rinzler’s circuits. The heat he could feel from Clu was like putting a hand to a door, knowing the other side held a room full of fire. He bit down just enough to feel the crackle of power transfer to his teeth and snap thought his jaw. Clu hissed and bucked against Sam. His other hand briefly went to his own chest circuits, pushing against them and sliding down until his fingers met Sam’s thigh, and then he traced a line up along the curve of muscle and over to the closest circuit on Sam’s leg. Sam moaned at the pulse of pleasure and something that spread from that touch to the rest of his body.

“That’s right, Sam, just like that. Yes…” The last word was drawn out and dissolved into a sound that made Sam’s pulse quicken. He sucked on the finger in his mouth, dragging his tongue along the underside and pressing his lips together until the circuit line against his skin felt like it would burn him. In one swift motion he pulled it from his mouth and ran his tongue along Clu’s palm, then returned to sucking as though he’d never stopped. “Oh Sam,” Clu moaned, sounding hoarse. His words were tight. “Just a little more…”

Sam wasn’t paying attention. His own arousal had reached such a fevered pitch that all he could do was rock against Clu, inching closer and closer to his own climax. He was scraping his teeth along the circuit on Clu’s finger now, the fiery glow of the gold line extending up his arm blinding him to anything else but the feeling of his cock sliding against Clu’s waist and the thrum of the molten gold in his mouth. He made a needy, desperate sound in his throat and put his palm to Clu’s chest. The contact made his body go tight, like sticking his finger into a socket, and Clu tensed the same. He pulled Sam against him and drove himself upwards, grunting past clenched teeth. A moment later Sam realized that he was slowing down, sighing contentedly and losing some of the stiffness in his body. Was he… no way.

He ripped the hand away from his mouth. “You’re kidding.”

“Hmm?” Clu said lazily. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

“Can I at least—” Sam was cut short by Clu bucking hips in a decidedly un-sexy manner. He had to hold the arms of the throne to keep from toppling backwards.

“You can go.” Clu said with a dismissive wave.

For a brief second Sam entertained the idea of standing up, whipping out his now-painfully aching cock and fucking Clu’s mouth until the program remembered why users were worshipped in the first place, and it seemed like a great idea, except he hadn’t yet learned how to remove any part of his own suit. The other sirens said it was possible, but short of tearing it from his skin he didn’t see how. So rather than exacting incredibly erotic revenge, he let himself slide back off Clu’s lap until he could stand. Sam shrugged and let his hands fall against his sides. “So I just…?” He gestured to the door.

“That’s the idea.”

Son of a bitch. It took a lot of effort to compose himself enough to walk away with even a shred of his dignity. He could feel his erection scraping against the suit with every step. He’d just reached the top of the ramp when he heard a familiar rumble echoing up from below the ship. Clu heard it too. He was on his feet in an instant, apparently finished with his ill-gotten afterglow. Sam wanted to sock him right in the jaw.

Rinzler came up the ramp at a speed Sam would have described as a bit unnecessary, given that there was nowhere to go besides the two rooms on either end of the ship. He stopped when he saw Sam, his rumble gaining in pitch just a little. He looked from Sam to Clu, and Sam followed his gaze; Clu was staring off to the side and repeatedly crossing and uncrossing his arms, as though he was trying to cover something. Sam couldn’t imagine what, but Rinzler was hunched dangerously and staring in a way that made Sam feel like he could see something on the other program that must have been invisible to users. It sure as hell wasn’t anything Sam had wanted to leave on Clu’s suit.

Clu eventually gave up trying to hide whatever it was Rinzler could see when it appeared the masked program wasn’t falling for it. “Is something wrong?” he asked, sounding every bit the self-assured dictator that he was.

A tinny whine threaded its way into Rinzler’s growl, and he grabbed Sam’s arm. He shook it a bit, and Sam felt like he was being indicated as property. Which, in all likelihood, he absolutely was.

Clu laughed. “Calm down, nothing happened.” Rinzler wasn’t buying that, either. He spun Sam around and pointed at the obvious bulge in his suit. Sam laughed nervously and looked around the room, trying to ignore that his dick was the topic of discussion between two computer programs intent on not-fucking him to death. Clu made an annoyed sound and walked to the other side of the throne, closer to the other two. “You seemed so pleased, I wanted to try him for myself. Take it as a compliment—you have excellent taste.”

“I’m still here, you know. Like… standing here listening to you discuss humping me. This is weird.”

“Don’t forget, Rinzler,” Clu snapped. His good humor had disappeared in the blink of an eye. “I’m allowing you to have him. You weren’t supposed to go near him to begin with. Are you forgetting how this works? Hm? You do what I say, not the other way around.” He fixed Rinzler with a vicious stare, and Rinzler’s rumble dropped down again until he sounded almost submissive. He looked down a the floor and let Sam’s arm slip from his hand.

“Yeah,” Sam observed, “this is weird. You guys really never learned to share, huh?”

That was a mistake. Both programs turned to him, and Sam found himself wishing users had the power to turn back time. He put his hands up and started backing away, but Rinzler’s vise-like grip was on him in an instant. Clu was grinning now, and somehow it was even more frightening than his volatile temper. He advanced on Sam and came so close Sam could feel that deep heat just below the surface, barely escaping through the vivid glow of his circuits. Rinzler stepped behind Sam and held his arms. In contrast to Clu’s subtle intensity, Rinzler’s fingers were like hot iron against him. It wasn’t painful, but Sam winced and hissed as the program dug into his arms.

“That’s what I love about users,” Clu said, “you come up with such great ideas.” He nodded to Rinzler and Sam was dragged back, then down, as Rinzler sat himself on the floor and pulled Sam along with him. Clu stood over the pair and watched as Rinzler hooked his legs around Sam’s and spread them apart. “You wanted release, Sam? You’ll get it now, I guarantee it. When we’re done with you.”

His words worried Sam, but also intrigued the hell out of him, because at that moment he was still hard as a titanium rod and mostly ignoring the part of his mind telling him that he probably shouldn’t be so easy. Another part said there was absolutely nothing wrong with being easy and frankly if he had the choice between the two, he’d rather take the option that ended with him coming until he blacked out. Since Clu and Rinzler seemed to feel the same way, he was happy to object just enough to feel like he wasn’t simply spreading his legs and offering himself up to two other men. He could deal with the moral implications later. Sex now.

“I think you like this, don’t you? Being held down, knowing what’s about to happen?” Clu asked. He looked past Sam’s shoulder and inclined his head. “Rinzler.”

At the sound of his name Rinzler raised his hips and started thrusting, making a high pitched noise that Sam took for relief as his cock ground against Sam’s ass. He released Sam’s arms and wrapped his own around Sam's chest instead, toying with the circuits there and making them pulse and buzz in a way that had Sam wriggling and making noises that sounded filthy even to his own ears. He could only imagine what the other two thought—well, he didn’t really have to with Rinzler, who soon had a hand on Sam’s cock and was stroking like he intended to start a fire. Sam pushed down against him and let his head fall back. All he needed now was to lose the damn rubber suit, and he could die happy. Clu seemed to know what he was thinking; he joined Sam and Rinzler on the floor, kneeling between Sam’s legs and running his hands along his thighs. Where he touched the silvery suit broke into pixels that faded just the same as they had appeared, baring his skin for the first time in what felt like forever. Sam cried out and Clu laughed.

“The timestamp on your suit… you’ve never taken this off.” He said it like he expected otherwise. “Poor Sam, you’re pretty worked up, aren’t you? All this time without…” he trailed off as he leaned down and licked a stripe up the underside of Sam’s cock. “Any release,” he finished. Sam was twitching and begging wordlessly. He couldn’t lift his hips any higher with Rinzler pinning him down, but it didn’t stop him from trying.

Please,” he whispered. He tried to pack all of his need into that one word, but there was so much, and he was so anxious. Caught between wanting to lift himself up to Clu’s hot mouth, and the desire to push himself down against Rinzler’s relentless thrusts. “I need—” he started, but Clu’s mouth wrapping around the head of his cock tore the words right out of him. He couldn’t breathe; it felt like someone had dipped him in hot water and the sensation radiated out to his fingertips. Rinzler whined behind him. Clu pulled away and grinned.

“You too, Rinzler,” he said. He reached out and Sam saw his hand disappear below their bodies. The slight tickle of retracting pixels was the only indication that anything had happened at all. There was no mistaking what he felt pressed against his ass, though, and then there was no barrier between them. Rinzler purred and moved against him until Clu ordered him to stop, and then Sam was pulled up along Rinzler’s chest until he could no longer feel the hard length against his backside. With his erection freed from between their bodies, Rinzler pushed Sam back down again. Clu resumed licking his way along Sam’s cock. The wet heat of his tongue would disappear every now and then, and Rinzler would shudder violently against Sam.

Sam was flushed and sweating, and he just wanted release. Clu was keeping him on the edge, expertly toying with his body and working him into a state where he had absolutely no control over himself. The next time Sam looked down at Clu the program was naked, only his circuit lines were still burning bright along his arms and chest, like he’d just removed the black parts of his suit. Then Sam realized that he could still feel Rinzler’s intense heat as well, and he glanced over to find the arms that were now holding his shoulders banded with pencil-thin orange lines that faded to a deep violet where Sam’s skin brushed against them.

“Rinzler, helmet,” Clu breathed from between their legs, and Sam heard the click of retracting plates—something he was well used to after his time in the armory. He turned to see what Rinzler looked like and froze.

“Holy shit, that’s weird,” he said, or tried to. Clu was sucking his cock like it was his only function, and Sam was having difficulty forming actual words. Most of it came out as a garbled mess that included a few recognizable syllables. For his part Rinzler didn’t seem to care that Sam was staring at him. In fact, he took advantage of it, and craned his neck to plant a kiss on Sam’s lips that was surprisingly gentle, given the nature of their relationship so far.

Clu took one last journey to the base of Sam’s erection and back up again, and then moved so that he was on his hands and knees over the other two. Rinzler’s hand came between Sam and himself and probed at his entrance. Sam drew in a sharp breath and willed himself to relax. He felt Rinzler’s fingers slide into him, and then he watched as Clu put his own fore and middle fingers into his mouth, licking them in a fair mimicry of what Sam had done not long before. He reached down and joined Rinzler, winding his two fingers around the other program’s as they fucked Sam open together. Sam tried to express himself in words but that was pretty much a wasted effort once they really got going. He wrapped his arms around Clu’s shoulders and bent his head to watch the program’s cock—lined in thin gold circuits as well, which he noted was probably going to feel amazing—as it brushed against his abdomen. “Please,” he panted, “now.

“You want it, Sam?” Clu asked. He still managed to sound smug past the desire in his voice. “You want us both?”

Yes, please!” Sam was digging his fingers into Clu’s back, scraping them along the gold lines next to his disc. Then Rinzler’s finger retreated, and Sam felt him position himself, his purr so loud it was rattling Sam’s teeth. If he’d had any sort of leverage he would have pushed himself down and taken the entire length in the time it took Rinzler to push past Clu’s fingers.

“There, Rinzler,” Clu murmured, nibbling at Sam’s neck. “You get to have him first.”

Rinzler made a pleased sound and thrust upward, burying himself deeper in Sam and making the circuits that Sam could see flash a vivid purple. Clu withdrew his fingers and leaned back to watch as Rinzler fucked his prize. He stroked himself with one hand and Sam with the other. “Get him ready for me, Rinzler,” he said. Clearly something Rinzler relished, if his surge of movement was any indication. He unwrapped his legs from Sam's—prudent, since Sam wasn’t going to close them any time soon—and braced his feet on the floor to deepen his thrusts. Clu watched and waited, and when Rinzler hit a steady pace, he leaned down over Sam again, still holding his own cock in one hand. Sam looked up at him through heavy lidded eyes and worked his mouth silently.

“I think he’s ready, don’t you?” He said to Rinzler. Sam could feel Rinzler nodding emphatically against him, and hear the hitch in his purr. Now that Clu was close enough to grab again, Sam found it almost impossible to keep his hands off the hot lines traversing his body. He stroked them and turned his head to lick the one that wrapped around Clu’s forearm. The snap of electricity when his tongue touched the circuit was so enticing, Sam thought he might come just from the sensation. He could feel a tingle through his fingers wherever they brushed past the gold on Clu’s back, and from behind Rinzler's circuits burned into him, making him sweat and his own flesh prickle at the contrast. Then Clu’s cock slid into place next to Rinzler’s, stretching Sam and making him cry out, and the heat from the two programs was so intense Sam was sure he would come away scarred. Clu snapped his hips forward and settled himself fully in Sam. He leaned down and where his chest touched Sam’s it was like holding a firecracker. When they moved inside him, alternating which one was pulling and which one was pushing, Sam thought he would black out. It was too much. He had one arm wrapped around Clu’s neck, holding him down, and the other gripping a fistful of Rinzler’s hair. Behind him Rinzler purred and whined, stuttering as he had that night in the alley, and above him Clu panted and moaned and hissed every time he felt Rinzler’s cock drag against his.

It was Rinzler who came first. He lacked Clu’s patience, but he kept thrusting until the other program showed signs of his own impending orgasm. Sam was so close, and he was determined to finish if it meant wrapping himself around Clu and refusing to let go. “Don’t worry, Sam,” Clu assured, but Sam didn’t trust him for a second.

“You bastards,” he panted. Clu arched his back and there was absolutely no question that he was done. He cried out against Sam’s neck and jerked his hips, making Sam groan as his cock was ground between their bodies.

The joke was on them if they thought they were leaving him high and dry a third time. Not a third time. Sam tried to push Clu off him—he was going to mount the man’s face if he had to, Rinzler be damned—but it was like trying to move a brick wall with a fan. Clu barely budged. “I told you not to worry,” he said. He pushed himself to his knees and motioned to Rinzler, who slid out from under Sam, letting him fall to the floor in an ungraceful, naked heap. Sam lifted himself up on his elbows as much as he could, given that his entire body was shaking, and prepared to hurl his most creative insults at the two programs if they didn’t make good on their promises. As he watched, Clu and Rinzler both knelt by his legs; Clu took hold of the base of his shaft, and Rinzler reached up to run a hot hand along Sam's chest. Sam wanted to cry from the relief. He was so close, and if they were going to do what he thought—and they did. Both programs brought their mouths down together, winding their tongues over the tip of Sam’s cock and sliding them against each other until Sam couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended. He let himself fall back against the floor and tensed his back, clawing at the floor. It felt so good, and so overdue. One of them moved down to mouth along the side of his cock, and the other swallowed the head, swirling a slick tongue around the soft flesh and applying just enough suction to make Sam twitch and groan helplessly. He wanted it to last forever, because he had damn well earned it, but the sight and the sound and the sensation of two sets of lips gliding along his cock was too much. Rinzler’s purr and Clu’s heat were enough to send him over the edge, and for a few seconds as he came it was like nothing else even mattered, because holy shit.

When he looked up Clu and Rinzler were dressed again. That seemed strange, because Sam was sure he had only just felt them touching his body a moment before. “Uh…” he began, but he really had no idea what else to say. He looked to Clu, and where the program was absently stroking Rinzler’s arm.

“Don’t tell me you can’t dress yourself, either,” Clu said. Sam shook his head, and Clu laughed. “Well, you’ll have plenty of chances to practice.”

Chapter Text

Sam should have known it would be impossible to simply return to business as usual after leaving Clu and Rinzler. Word spread like wildfire through the arena personnel, and Sam found himself alternately hounded for details or shunned by those who were jealous that he’d been “chosen” not just by Rinzler, but also by Clu himself. Of course Sam couldn’t tell them that he would have gladly traded places; the sirens just didn’t seem to get that he wasn’t overjoyed by the attention. They were happy to hook up with combatants, each other, whatever suited their needs at the moment. Sex was much more casual on the Grid, it seemed, and no one understood why Sam changed color and switched the topic whenever they asked what it felt like to have the most powerful program on the Grid between his legs. How could he explain? It was like trying to explain fire to someone who had never seen it. Words were great,  but there was no way to share the sensation of raw heat that you knew instinctively would burn you terribly if you weren’t careful. Clu was so much more than that anyway.

Rinzler was an entirely different story, and even his fellow workers seemed to understand that. They never asked what it was like to be with him. They seemed to know that he was rough, and that his touch was so close to painful it was hard to tell the difference. The only one who ever asked what it had been like to be shared by both the leader and his right hand was Pin, who was shameless in ways that Sam found embarrassing even without his constant quest for details.

He felt humiliated by the attention, but even that part of himself was so much smaller than the part that remembered the pressure of Clu on top of him, sliding against his sweat-slicked skin and slowly rolling his hips to drive deep into Sam’s body. Or Rinzler’s gentle kiss as he rocked upward and pushed Sam harder against the other program. The remembered warmth of their bodies made him sweat just thinking about it. He could deny it to anyone who asked, but the truth was he had enjoyed every moment of that encounter. As much as he appreciated not feeling self-conscious every time he bent over to pull a plate off someone’s shin, he had to admit that he took notice when Rinzler stopped showing up to shadow him through the halls of the armory.

That was where he found himself one evening when a round of conscripts were brought in. They were fighting the guards, and one even managed to escape for a moment before another, more heavily armored soldier in a suit similar to Rinzler’s came out of nowhere and kneed the fleeing program in the stomach, sending him to the floor like a sack of bricks. Sam asked Pin about the soldier, and learned that he was one of Clu’s personal cadre—the blackguard. Much more valuable and dangerous than the mooks guarding street corners and manning checkpoints.

“How come I haven’t seen them before?” Sam asked. He was spinning some program’s disc on his finger, leaning against a wall with his legs stretched out. Gem wasn’t on duty, so he felt a lot less driven to actually accomplish anything. Task lists were for programs.

Pin was busy sorting through a lightwire crate full of discs from the recent games. He shrugged and pulled out a cracked disc, placing it beside the crate to be marked for demolition. “They’re usually with Clu, or in the barracks.”

“Oh yeah? Where is that?”

“Beta sector, I think,” Pin replied absently.

Sam nodded and watched the blackguard leave after the conscripts were sorted into their cells. The way he moved, he really did look a lot like Rinzler.


After his last experience in an underground dive, Sam decided he would stick to more reputable establishments when he wanted to sit by himself and drink something that tasted like it had been filtered through a nine-volt battery. Unfortunately the popular End of Line Club was out, since that was Gem’s favorite haunt. She wasn’t quite as quick with the laser finger since Sam had become Property of Rinzler, but running into her would mean addressing a few things he didn’t really want to talk about, like his task list, and how much of it he’d managed to complete during his shift. The answer, of course, was none. Not unless leaving a cabinet sliding back and forth along the wall of the staging room counted as progress. Unfortunately he wasn’t familiar with any other bars that didn’t seem like the kind of place he’d get arrested or groped inappropriately, so he decided to take a walk instead. It wasn’t raining, which was about the only other option when it came to weather, and the streets were just empty enough that he could take his time without worrying about navigating crowds. It gave him a chance to think. Something that had eluded him since his experience on the throne ship.

Sam wasn’t like the programs on the grid. Sure, they had homes, in a sense, places they liked to keep for themselves, but they never really slept. They recharged, and entered periods of “down time” that were more like lucid catnaps. He’d watched Pin do it more than once in the armory. On the other hand, Sam actually needed to sleep. Being a user granted him some benefits besides supposedly having the power to shape the system, but it also came with its downsides, and one of those was that his body operated on the same circadian rhythm it had relied on in the real world—just faster. Another was his libido, which seemed to enjoy a similar boost of resilience as his stamina and strength. He could run for hours and never feel tired. He could also jerk off for half a day and still feel unsatisfied. It was a nightmare. The only time he’d ever felt true relief was with Clu and Rinzler. Only they seemed to find it hilarious to deny him, knowing he couldn’t get off any other way. Or maybe they didn’t know, and they were just assholes.

Actually, that seemed much more likely.

He had considered shacking up with another program just to see how it would go, but Rinzler’s claim on him apparently carried a lot of weight, and anyone he attempted to hit on made for the hills before he could drop a single crappy pickup line. Which was a real shame, because he had come up with some great ones during his down time. “Are you recursive code, because you’ve been running through my system all day,” was his personal favorite.

With nothing else to keep him busy, Sam’s time was mostly divided between work and sleep. He slept for what felt like an excessive amount of time every day—or night, rather, since the Grid was always dark. Gem, having been made aware that he was a user, made sure it didn’t conflict with his duties in the armory. He was initially grateful for her help, until he realized it meant waking up with Pin standing over his bed, staring at him, waiting to drag him into work. It was hard not to become friends with someone who was totally unapologetic about watching you sleep like it was some sort of case study. Being one of the few privy to Sam’s super secret user identity helped, too.

As Sam walked he realized that he was confused about a lot of things. He was trapped, but he couldn’t say he hated his new life on the Grid. He was a prisoner, but he actually enjoyed more freedom than most of the programs around him. He just wanted Rinzler to leave him alone, but once he did, Sam felt bereft, and strained to listen for him whenever it was too silent. He kept thinking of the moment he turned and saw Rinzler’s face. Alan Bradley’s face. It stirred a whole host of feelings Sam had tucked away long ago, when he left for college at the end of his short stay with Alan. Feelings that it seemed totally logical to ignore at the time. After all, he was seventeen back then, everything gave him a hardon. The Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottle at the breakfast table had him walking to school with his math book over his crotch. So getting turned on while he watched Alan slip a tie under his collar and shrug into his jacket was pretty much par for the course. Or so he thought until he turned and looked at Rinzler unmasked. Everything came back then, and riding atop all the other conflicted feelings and heady memories creeping around in his mind, was the knowledge that, in a way, he’d had Alan.

Or rather, Alan had him. Then again, it wasn’t Alan, and he wasn’t really fulfilling that suppressed teenage desire at all. Rinzler was aggressive and he took what he wanted, and what he wanted was Sam, whether or not Sam felt the same way. He either lacked the capacity to give a damn about Sam’s needs, or he was just more concerned with getting off than making sure his partner enjoyed the experience as well. Then there was that kiss, the one that was so soft and careful that Sam really felt like he might have been kissing Alan. Rinzler never slowed his pace, not even then. He slammed into Sam with the same intensity as the searing heat pouring from his circuits, but when he kissed it was like that was what he’d been really waiting for.

Clu, on the other hand… Clu was a totally different animal. He had told Sam not to worry, and made good on his promise that Sam wouldn’t be left wanting. That time. There could be no doubt that he was as vicious and careless as Rinzler, but something in him was human enough to appreciate mutual satisfaction and the sensual dance of two bodies wrapped around one another, moving together. He wasn’t like the other programs. He was human and inhuman, strangely familiar and completely alien.

Just thinking about it gave Sam a headache. And he couldn’t stop thinking about it. More contradictions; he felt hunted and coerced, but he craved the touch of the two programs—together or one at a time, it didn’t matter. All the things he hadn’t done raced through his mind whenever he gave them a spare second, and he ached for a chance to try every single one. To drag his tongue along the thin gold lines that ran the length of Clu’s erection. To learn how the current of those circuits tasted compared to the wider bands that started at his fingertips, or the circular redundancies at his hips. Clu was oddly gentle compared to Rinzler, but unstoppable. He had a way of making Sam feel like he didn’t want to refuse, even though the option was never really there to begin with. And the bottled heat that almost dripped from his circuits made Sam shiver with need.

Without meaning to he was reliving the memory of that night on the ship, and for a moment he could almost hear Rinzler purring behind him.

Except he really could hear Rinzler purring behind him. Sam spun around and found himself facing his stray shadow. Rinzler was across the street, leaning against the corner of a building. He made no move toward Sam.

“Hey,” Sam said with a quick wave. He didn’t need this. Not now.

Rinzler straightened himself and stepped forward, slowly, like he was trying not to spook a wild animal. It made Sam think of something Clu had said: “I’m not Rinzler. The chase just doesn’t hold any appeal.” Made sense; Rinzler was a predator. Well, so was Clu in a way, he just used subtle manipulation instead of speed and brute force. Sam backed away slowly, because he was sure Rinzler could cover the distance between them in the time it took him to turn and run. It occurred to him that he was technically giving the program exactly what he wanted, but at the same time, he wasn’t looking to repeat the experience in the alley again any time soon. His hand touched the corner of a building and he slipped around into the shadows. Once out of sight he moved quickly, dodging down another alley and changing direction rapidly, hoping it would give Rinzler a harder time tracking him. The rumble was gone, but for all he knew the program had some kind of silent mode for hunting down prey.

Who the hell designed him to be so ruthless, anyway? It was like they took a sexually frustrated panther and shoved it into the body of a man, then shot it full of adrenaline. Sam crossed a point where two alleys intersected and caught a glimpse of Rinzler to his left. In that brief moment he realized the program was moving parallel to him, so Sam doubled back and ran the opposite way. His blood was pumping and his own lights were flaring—how they interacted with his system without corresponding skin lines was beyond him—and he wished he could change his clothing at will like some of the other programs on the Grid seemed able to do. In the glow of the lights that framed the city, he stood out like a white flag in the middle of a black light party.

He turned down an alley he had passed before. It was really more like a street, lined with doors and crisscrossed by bridges high above that blocked out most of the sky. Sam was looking over his shoulder as he ran, and when he turned back it was only to crash face-first into an immovable object, wrapped in black and gold and smiling down at him where he landed sprawled on the ground.

“Oh, hello,” Clu said. He reached out a hand and offered it to Sam. He was wearing a cloak that covered most of his body, but left a conspicuously long stretch bared, displaying the armored contours of his thigh and groin. The effect was intimidating and arousing at the same time. Sam swallowed and reached out for Clu’s hand. He was hoisted to his feet and pulled against the program’s chest. In his mind he imagined it looked like something from the cover of a romance novel, which was ridiculously humiliating, and yet still a turn-on. He looked down at where his fingers were splayed across Clu’s chest, just barely touching the dashed line over his left pectoral. Would it feel the same through another layer of fabric?

Yes, Sam discovered as he slid his hand to the side, it would feel exactly the same. He had to fight to keep from leaning down and pressing his lips to the fabric. Clu helped by jerking away from Sam and leaving him standing alone, awkwardly hunched in the middle of the street.

“Rinzler,” Clu acknowledged. Sam turned to look for his shadow, but he was nowhere to be seen. He could hear the purr, though, deep and dangerous, picked up by the slick walls of the buildings and echoed until it sounded like it was coming from everywhere. Sam looked to Clu and saw that he was pointing up. Before he could look, Rinzler dropped down behind him, now close enough that Sam had to blink at the vivid orange glow of his circuits and force himself to focus. Rinzler looked tense, but in Sam’s experience that wasn’t anything particularly unusual.

Rinzler in front, Clu in back. Well, it wasn’t like he hadn’t been there before. “Am I at least gonna get off this time?”

The answer was Clu wrapping his arms around his shoulders and molding himself to Sam’s back, one knee gently urging his legs apart until they were a little more than shoulder-width. Sam could feel Clu’s lips grazing over the hair behind his ear, and his hips just barely twitching forward as Sam settled against him. The heat of his circuits felt like lying naked in the sun. “Sam,” he murmured, and Sam could feel his lips form the word as they ghosted over his neck, “Rinzler wants to throw you against that wall and ride you until you scream.” He leaned away from Sam just enough to look at Rinzler. “Don’t you?”

Rinzler’s response was a high rattle that could have been affirmation, or maybe a threat. Really the two were interchangeable most of the time. He stepped forward as if he expected Clu to pass Sam into his arms, but the other program held out his hand to stop him. Rinzler froze with his heel to the ground. Sam was sure he could see him vibrating from the strain of keeping still.

“I think we should teach him how to be generous. How to give. Do you want that, Sam?” Clu ended his question with a gentle thrust of his hips and a warm exhalation that sent a shiver down Sam’s spine. Sam wanted to be stripped, to feel the torrid stripe of circuits against his flesh. In the cold, damp alley, he knew it would feel unlike anything else. Clu tightened his arms and nuzzled at Sam’s neck. “What do you want him to do?”

Sam felt like slapping himself; why was it he could never think of anything to say? When he did open his mouth it was always the wrong thing that came out—or went in. Did he want Rinzler to suck his dick? Yes, probably more than anything he’d ever wanted in his life. Did he trust Rinzler to do it? Not even a little. Still, it was worth a shot. “Mouth—your mouth on my… on me,” he muttered. It was surprisingly embarrassing to say. He heard Clu’s approving Mmm behind him. His gold circuits flared and Sam could feel them pulse against his body.

“You heard him, Rinzler. On your knees.”

The joy that swept through Sam at the idea of not only getting off, but also getting revenge for Rinzler’s bullshit in the alley was only compounded as he watched the change that came over the program; he didn’t seem at all bothered by the command, and that was strangely alright with Sam. Rinzler didn’t even wait for Clu to tell him to remove his helmet. It was off and he was moving in an instant, sliding to his knees almost reverently, and Sam was sure he’d never seen a gridsuit fragment so fast before. Rinzler tore it apart, sending pixels shimmering across the fabric to compensate for the data damage. Sam didn’t have a chance to feel the cold air touch his erection before the program’s mouth was over it. Rinzler bunched the torn suit in his fists and pulled himself down, curling his tongue around the shaft in ways that made Sam buck shamelessly. The sounds that slipped out of Rinzler—sounds Sam had never imagined he could make—were so delicious and filthy that they rivaled the feeling of his tongue as it dragged along the underside of his cock.

“Good idea, Sam,” Clu murmured appreciatively. He reached up and tilted Sam’s head back, claiming his mouth in a hard, slow kiss. Sam moaned into it and slipped one arm out from under Clu’s to wrap it around the program’s neck, pulling him closer. Rinzler started working him quickly, making Sam whine and his chest heave, but it was too much. Sam reached down with his other hand and threaded it through Rinzler’s hair. A gentle tug was all it took to make him slow down, and the three reached a rhythm, with Clu slowly rocking against Sam from behind, Sam arching into Rinzler’s mouth, and Rinzler moving forward to meet him with every thrust. Clu’s free hand found one of Sam’s nipples through his suit, and he turned his finger so that the glowing edge of his circuit caught it, making Sam jump in his arms.

Sam dragged himself away from the kiss and looked down. “Do that again,” he gasped. Clu did, and Sam’s whole body shook.

“Rinzler, look at him,” Clu ordered. Sam watched as Rinzler turned his head up, mouth full, and stared with shadowed blue-gray eyes—Alan’s eyes. Rinzler drew his mouth up slowly, making vulgar noises with his lips as they came together at the tip, and then plunged down again, finally breaking eye contact. Sam found himself wishing Rinzler’s complex skin circuits extended to his tongue. Anything to feel the heat that was just out of reach. Suddenly Rinzler’s tongue was dancing across the tip of his cock, and Sam’s eyes went wide. He trembled against Clu, who held him tight and continued trailing the circuit of his glove over Sam’s chest. Rinzler was stroking him with one tight fist now, sucking on the head of his cock and flicking his tongue over the tip like a cat lapping at a bowl of milk. Sam felt himself tightening, his body tensed, and then in one great rush of energy and ecstasy he was coming, and Rinzler clamped his mouth down like he intended to catch every last drop. Sam had held his breath as his stomach clenched with the last wave, and then he let it go as his body relaxed and everything started settling down to a less frantic pace. Rinzler still had his lips wrapped around Sam, making him twitch. He could feel the program’s tongue working, swallowing everything that he’d been able to hold.

“That’s enough,” Clu said. He motioned to Rinzler to stand. “Come here.” Rinzler stepped forward and flattened himself against Sam, and Sam in turn wrapped his arms around the program’s shoulders. He was shocked when Rinzler kissed him yet again, and the taste of himself on the tongue that slipped in beside his was both exciting and incredibly strange. He curved his leg around one of Rinzler’s and ground against him, relishing the sting of the sparse circuitry against his exposed flesh. Behind them both Clu continued his commentary. “Very nice,” he muttered, “I wonder what else we can teach him…”

Sam felt a hand slide down his back, and then he was bared inch by inch, until his suit was gone and his feet were flat on the cold pavement. Rinzler was next, and then it was only Clu, who only removed some of the armor under his cloak, leaving most of himself covered otherwise. Still wrapped around Rinzler, Sam shivered as Clu slipped one gloved hand into the cleft of his ass, pushing, sliding into him and stretching him with the finger he knew Sam wanted. Sam bucked back onto him and breathed hard against Rinzler’s neck. Clu braced a hand on Sam’s shoulder and pushed deeper. He muttered words Sam could just barely hear; warm, and soft and something that sounded suspiciously like mine, and Rinzler reached around to dig his fingers into Sam’s hips possessively.

Sam’s arms slipped from Rinzler’s shoulders and he fell back against Clu, against the hot circuits on his cloak that thrummed with power. Clu reached up with his other hand and tore open the front of the cloth, exposing his skin to Sam’s and dragging himself against the boy with a satisfied groan. “Let’s teach him patience,” he panted. He turned Sam in his arms, ripping him away from Rinzler, and hoisted him up until Sam could wrap his legs around his waist. Then they were against the wall, and Clu was pushing his cock into Sam, thrusting and grinding against him so hard that his boots slipped on the pavement. Sam tightened his arms around Clu’s shoulders and buried his face against the program’s chest. His mouth hung open, and he could hear the hollow sound of his breath between their bodies. The pulse of Clu’s circuits beat in time to his thrusts. Sam watched and felt his own cock harden again at the flood of sensation that rolled through him.

Behind them Rinzler paced, whining and growling and reaching out, only to drop his hand again and resume pacing. His steely eyes were narrowed and he alternately glared at Clu and stared longingly at Sam.

Clu grunted and turned to the side. “You want him, Rinzler?” The response from Rinzler was an excited step forward that stopped just shy of throwing himself against the other two. “He’s tight, so…” he took a deep breath, “very tight. Aren’t you, Sam?”

Sam threw his head back and groaned. That was the extent of the reply he could form with Clu pounding into him. He slid his gaze to Rinzler; he was stroking himself, eyes fixed on Sam with so much intensity it made something in Sam clench tight. But Clu was moving faster, crashing against Sam like he intended to break him. There was no space between them anymore; Sam could feel the hairs on Clu’s chest and stomach drag over his skin with every thrust, and then Clu was coming—he dragged his hands along Sam’s thighs and shuddered against him. Sam could feel the crackle of energy where his thighs were wrapped around him, where his hands gripped his biceps.

Clu worked his mouth as if he intended to say something. He stared at Sam. It was a strangely open look that Sam couldn’t recall ever seeing on the program’s face before; like he’d surprised himself.

Rinzler wasn’t waiting any longer. He pawed at Sam’s legs and tried to insert himself between them. Clu lowered Sam to the ground and stepped away. He turned his back as Rinzler flipped Sam around to face the wall.

“Really?” he sighed. No romance.

The brutal thrusts from Rinzler had the effect of tapping his complex circuits against Sam’s ass and the back of his thighs, making him gasp and shiver every time. He leaned his face against the wall as Rinzler fucked him. It was so different from Clu, but he couldn’t decide which he liked more: Clu’s power, or Rinzler’s intensity. Sam pushed back as Rinzler moved faster. He wanted the searing heat of his circuits, but it was never enough. It wasn’t enough without every inch of the program wrapped around him.

“More,” Sam breathed. He reached behind him and tried to pull Rinzler closer. It was enough to sense the heat radiating off his skin, but not enough to really feel it. “Closer,” he urged. Rinzler finally got the idea and plastered himself against Sam.

“User,” he heard Rinzler whisper. It was so quiet against the backdrop of his rumble. Sam squeezed tight around him and nodded.

“Again,” he said.


“My name.”

Rinzler was quiet. Sam felt him turn, like he was looking over his shoulder. He turned back and leaned in close. “Sam,” he said carefully.

That was all it took, and Sam was coming again. He felt Rinzler’s hand close around him and stroke him to completion, and then the program was undone. He finished quickly and pulled out, making Sam shiver a little at the sudden chill that settled over his body in the absence of anyone pressed against it. He sank to his knees against the wall, gulping in air like it was the first time he’d really been able to breathe. A warm hand touched his back, and the pixels of his suit fluttered back into place, wrapping him against the cold. He turned around to see Clu standing there with his hand out for the second time that evening. His expression was blank. Sam let himself be pulled to his feet and suddenly everything seemed very awkward.

“Let’s go,” Clu said. He motioned to Rinzler, and the program jumped to attention. Sam watched them go and sighed. No solutions, just more questions.

More uncertainty.

Clu stopped at the end of the street and turned. He snapped his fingers impatiently. “That wasn’t a request, Sam.”

Chapter Text

Sam needed sleep. That was his weakness. Clu and Rinzler never stopped; they would come and go, or come and go, and Sam never seemed to realize what was happening until it was too late, and he was waking up to the sight of Clu bending Rinzler in half, fucking him into the bed. Or rather, the cushioned platform that was apparently meant to serve as a bed. Sam had a feeling it was thrown together in haste to provide him with somewhere to rest, but the other two seemed to get the hang of bed sex fast enough that it was just as often host to all three of them. Sometimes after they were done Rinzler would enter that sort of semi-unconscious state where his eyes were closed and his rumble sounded more like a quiet purr, but then he would get up and walk around again as though he had been moving all along. The first time it happened Sam nearly fell backwards off the bed. The second time he stared until Rinzler ‘woke up’, and then immediately regretted it, as a moment later he was face down on the mattress, being humped. Again.

He couldn’t even figure out how long they’d had him… not captive, really, but detained was definitely close. Apparently his duties at the arena were meaningless when Clu decided he wanted a personal fuck toy on hand at all hours. Sam wasn’t exactly complaining; if it was a choice between getting zapped by bitchy coworkers or nailed by the boss and his number two, he was going to pick the one that came with perks. At least he hoped it came with perks. So far it only came with lots and lots of sex.

It was the day he woke up on his stomach with Clu fucking him from behind and Rinzler sitting on the edge of the bed, absently stroking himself as he watched that Sam finally asked to go home. If he was able to sleep through a dick in his ass, it was time for a break. He put his arms in front of himself and pushed back just a little, and Clu responded by settling his body on top of Sam’s and pressing him down into the bed. His mouth was right against Sam’s ear, and the way he breathed, the heavy feeling of his body as he moved—for a moment Sam wasn’t sure he wanted to leave. But when it was over and Clu had stood and dressed himself, he decided it was time to broach the topic.

“Hey, not that I don’t love the nonstop fucking but do you think I could maybe go back to my place, or just, you know, leave?” He rolled onto his side and put a hand under his head, noting that he was apparently now totally comfortable being stark naked in front of both programs. Rinzler was still jerking off behind him, and Sam had a feeling that was about to become his personal business any moment.

Clu looked at him and frowned. “Leave?”

“Yeah, like… go for a walk. Go somewhere besides this bed, or this room, or whatever.”

Rinzler reached for Sam’s shoulder and tugged, and Sam allowed himself to be guided onto his back. A moment later Rinzler was moving to straddle his head, and then Sam had a warm cock in his mouth and a strong hand holding him in place.

“Why would you want to leave?” Clu asked. He didn’t seem to care that Sam’s mouth was a bit preoccupied at that moment. “Don’t tell me you enjoy being a drone in the arena.”

Sam wrapped his hands around Rinzler’s thighs and lifted his head to take in more, and Rinzler’s satisfied purr lifted accordingly. It didn’t take long to finish him off; Rinzler came and Sam swallowed, actually enjoying the slight tingle of it as it moved down his throat. Then the program was off the bed and walking out the door.

“Yeah you’re welcome,” Sam called after him sarcastically, wiping at the corners of his mouth.

Clu was still standing to the side with a confused and by that point also slightly annoyed expression. He had crossed his arms, obviously waiting for Sam to reply.

“Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate all this,” Sam gestured to the accommodations that he wasn’t entirely sure weren’t also created specifically for him. “But I can’t stay cooped up in here forever. What if I go and come back? I just want to get out, see some friends.” He thought of Pin, and wondered if the little program was worried about him. Probably not. Pin had a very short attention span.

“You would come back?” Clu uncrossed his arms and moved toward the bed.

It was Sam’s turn to look confused. “Sure? I mean, if you want me to.” He laughed. “Don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

That didn’t seem to be the answer Clu wanted. He knelt on the edge of the bed and leaned down over Sam. “What if I said you didn’t have to?” His expression was strangely open and unguarded—it reminded Sam of that night in the alley. Normally Clu was arrogant, and unconcerned with anything around him unless it directly affected his plans, but in that moment he looked almost… worried.

Sam wasn’t sure what to say. He had his own home, his own life, his own friends, but if he were free to come and go as he pleased, like Rinzler, did it really matter where he slept? If they wanted him around so much, and he was going to end up saddled with them—or by them—either way, what was the point of fighting it? When he was being truly honest with himself, Sam could admit that he actually enjoyed the attention. Maybe he’d never thought of being the Chinese finger puzzle between two other guys on a regular-bordering-on-domestic basis before, but if he was anything, it was adaptable. That was how he’d made it through all those shitty years; after his mom died and his dad up and walked out; when he lost his grandmother and grandfather, and ended up living in a spare room at Alan’s; when he couldn’t afford to stay in college on a shit inheritance and the charity of others. Two and a half decades of keeping himself going on will alone had resulted in more than a little cynicism, but also given him the ability to find his way under almost any circumstances. Still, he always seemed to end up in situations that warranted a call to Alan, or Lora, or one of the other family friends who insisted on 'being there' for him.

Was it wrong to enjoy being wanted, for once, instead of just a burden?

He looked up at Clu and nodded. “I’ll come back.”



Gem appeared so suddenly that Sam nearly dropped the crate of discs he was carrying. He managed to catch them just in time, and turned to regard her warily. No sign of a laser finger, but he knew from experience that she was quick on the draw when she wanted to be. “Yeah?”

“What are you doing here?” she asked cautiously. She seemed concerned, like it was absolutely unthinkable that he had shown up again.

Sam wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, but it couldn’t have been that long, right? He shrugged, looking down when a disc slid off the top of the pile and fell with a clatter atop one of the others. “Working?”

“You disappeared,” she said. “We assumed you were… gone.”

He shrugged again, a little more gently this time. “I asked to come back to work. Well, I asked to leave for a while, and decided to come back to work. That alright?”

Gem only nodded, still looking at Sam as though he’d grown another head. She walked away and joined another siren who was also staring like she’d never seen a man in a spandex bodysuit walking around carrying a box made of laser beams. Sam continued toward his destination until he was interrupted again.

“Sam!” This time it was Pin. Sam spun around, not even caring that the discs could collide with the light wires. They just didn’t seem to want to stay in neat stacks, and really what harm would it do? So a few strings of code got damaged—an arm or a leg could be replaced next time they were rezzed up.

Sam smiled and tried to wave a couple of fingers. “Hey,” he said. “Why is everyone acting like I just came back from the dead?”

“No one thought you would be returning after Clu summoned you. I guess he let you go, huh? I was worried you would show up in the games.” Pin was still rather adept at avoiding work, it seemed. He was also wearing heels. That seemed strange. He’d always worn flat shoes, like Sam. The heels themselves weren’t a problem—not after so long on the Grid—just their sudden appearance on his friend’s feet.

“Hey what’s with the shoes?” he asked, gesturing with a nod.

“Upgraded peripherals,” Pin replied. He lifted one foot and swiveled his ankle. “Comes with the promotion. I’m the primary repair technician now. Not an easy thing to accomplish; someone has to get permanently derezzed first.”

Ignoring the dark joke, which probably wasn’t a joke at all, Sam barked an incredulous laugh. “You’re joking, right? You never do any work.”

“Yeah, but they don’t know that.”

“Obviously.” Sam stopped and thought for a moment. “Did you get a laser finger?”

Pin’s reply was to hold up his forefinger. Sam was consumed with an inexplicable jealousy as he watched the tip flare into a pinpoint blaze. “Part of the upgrade,” Pin said. He reached forward and poked Sam’s hip, making him dance to the side to get away. “Hey, Ema was right, that is fun.”

“Damn it!”

Unfortunately Sam didn’t have too long to dwell on his misfortune; the first game of the new cycle would be starting soon, and that meant double duty for the sirens. New combatants meant lots of derezzing, and Sam would be spending most of his time running back and forth ferrying discs down to the repair room to be examined for structural flaws. He knew from the information processed onto his own disc that the inaugural games would include hundreds of programs, ranging in skill from beginners to veterans, all facing off against one another in set matches that would determined their placement for the season. It was a pretty big event, and part of the reason he’d decided to return to the arena.

Sam jogged down the hall, carefully cradling the crate of discs, and dropped them off with the appropriate technician. Once relieved of his cargo he headed up to the arena access; until the first set of matches concluded, he could stop and actually watch the games. It was really the opening ceremonies that he wanted to catch. As he neared the primary level he could hear the voice of Clu’s assistant, or whatever he was—Sam was pretty sure his name started with a J, but it never really came up in conversation. He was booming out an impressive preamble to the opening match, and then the crowd roared like an enormous animal as Clu and Rinzler stepped into place on the arena floor, prepared to be raised to their respective boxes above.

The match was ceremonial, slow, and obviously not the best either program could do. But they weren’t fighting to kill, and Sam could tell both were actually enjoying the exhibition and the way the crowd hung on their every move. It was attention, and Sam knew from experience both Clu and Rinzler loved attention.

Especially Sam’s attention.

About halfway through the match Rinzler took an impressive leap and spun himself to the side to avoid Clu’s disc, landing just shy of the edge and doing a quick flip back to a more secure position. Sam knew Rinzler could see through the bottom of the box, and for one careless second he took his attention from the match. If he had been paying attention Clu never would have touched him—neither of them bore a single scratch yet, though they’d been fighting for a while—but when he looked back up again Clu’s disc collided with his chest, and the entire arena fell silent as he shattered in a cascade of orange and black. Before the last voxel could hit the ground Clu was running for the disc, but it landed and rolled on its edge, dropping over the lip of the box just before he could reach it.

Identity discs were meant to take hits; they could impact one another, other programs, walls, floors, but those were precise strikes, and generally occurred when the outer edge of the disc was active. When inactive they were surprisingly fragile, and even if the shell remained intact there was no way to know if the code had been damaged or sustained memory losses until the program was rerezzed. The more complex the program, the more potential there was for damage. Sam knew all of that as he threw himself forward, desperately scrambling to put himself between Rinzler’s disc and the hard tile floor. All he could think of was the way Rinzler had kissed him, the way he’d whispered his name, and those gray-blue eyes that seemed so incongruous against the bright orange lights of his suit. The moment his hand closed around the disc he clenched his fingers tight, tensing instinctively as he stumbled through his own momentum and slammed into the floor nearly shoulder first, followed by his head, scraping knees and elbows and any other extremity unlucky enough not to be tucked against him. He landed in a heap and stayed there. For a moment he wasn’t sure if the crowd was cheering again or if the rush of sound was all in his head. Someone was talking, then two more voices joined the jumble of noise assaulting him, and finally Clu cut in over the rest, silencing everyone.

“Get him up to my ship,” Sam heard him say. “And get Rinzler rezzed immediately.”


Part of Sam was kind of hoping, as he was walked up to the throne ship, that he would be rewarded or at least praised for saving Rinzler’s life. Apparently that just wasn’t in the cards, as Clu’s fury was clear from the moment Sam first heard him climbing the steps up to the ship. He could hear it over the crowd below, who had quickly forgotten the drama and moved on to the carnage.

“Where is he?” Clu demanded. Then there was a scuffle and he heard someone fall against the weapon cache in the corridor that joined the operations room to Clu’s throne room. It was probably Clu’s assistant; he always stood too close.

Sam was sitting on the throne, nursing a killer headache that branched out from where his skull had collided with the floor of the arena. He had one leg drawn up under him, and he was leaning to the side so that he could rest his cheek on the arm of the throne. “Hey,” he said quietly as Clu stepped in front of him.

All the rage seemed to have disappeared from the program between the ramp and where he now stood. He didn’t look overly concerned, but he certainly wasn’t angry. “Were you injured?” he asked.

“Nah, I’m fine. I mean I might have a concussion for all I know, but I doubt there’re any doctors on the Grid, right?”

Clu put his hand out. “Give me your disc,” he said. Sam obeyed and reached back with no small amount of pain, producing the silver-white ring and handing it over. Clu brought up the interface and poked around for a moment before nodding. “You’re fine. Minor abrasion on your left knee; you’ll bruise, but you won’t suffer any lasting damage.”

Sam lifted his head just a bit and fixed Clu with his best disbelieving stare. “Now I’m curious. How do you know so much about the human body? I know you guys don’t have blood.”

Clu slid his hands around Sam’s disc, examining the outer shell for damage. “My creator was obviously a user,” he said. He looked up at Sam and tossed the disc back over to him. “And accident-prone, much like you.”

“Sounds like we’d get along.”

“I doubt it,” Clu muttered.

Sam could feel his headache fading—probably another bonus of being on the Grid. He sat up a bit more and took a deep breath. “So, what was he like, then?”


“Your creator. Seems like you would share something with him, right?” Sam thought of how Rinzler looked so much like Alan, and wondered if it was the same with every program. Clu’s voice had always struck something familiar in him, but he stumbled at the face.

“I thought so,” Clu said. “He didn’t share my desire to see the Grid prosper. He destroyed with apathy, and nearly threw the system into irreparable chaos.” He had stopped pacing and turned to stare out at the various battles taking place in the arena below.

Sam shrugged. “Seems like things turned out alright anyway. For an oppressive regime,” he added.

Clu didn’t seem to react much to Sam’s comment. “Programs aren’t like users,” he said quietly. “It isn’t as simple as you make it out to be. There is no morality—only what works and what doesn’t; what furthers the stability of the system and what tears it down. I’d think with the mercy I’ve shown you, by now you might have come to see me as something more than a tyrant.” He turned back to the window, and Sam thought he heard a sigh.

Sam wasn’t sure why he was picking that particular moment to be rebellious. Maybe it was the way Clu’s rage had softened when he approached him; it gave Sam a sense of invulnerability that prompted him to release some of the things that had been on his mind. “Mercy? You could’ve sent me back to the portal as soon as you knew I was here.”


“I’m a prisoner,” Sam snapped.

“Is that so?” Clu was moving, slowly crossing the floor to where Sam was leaned back in the seat. “When did you find out about the portal?” he asked.

That was a question Sam wasn’t sure he could answer. It hadn’t been very long ago, and he still wasn’t comfortable enough with the Grid’s time system to make a guess. “Couple weeks,” he said instead, trusting that Clu would know what that meant.

“That seems pretty recent, right? Tell me…” He knelt down and put his hands on Sam’s thighs, tracing the shape of the lights on either side. “Why didn’t you ask sooner? Why didn’t you do everything you could to escape sooner?” He was asking, but Sam had a feeling the questions were redundant; Clu knew the answer.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Sam muttered. He looked away and pressed his thumb against the corner of his lip, worrying at it and trying not to address what was repeating over and over in his head: Because there was nothing to go back to.

In a rare show of tenderness Clu reached up and stroked the side of his face. The gold stripe on his finger left a trail of warmth in its wake. “How are you feeling now?”

Sam wanted to say that he felt fine, but that wasn’t true. He felt like he was going to fly apart into a million pieces, and though it had lessened somewhat, his headache was still there, waiting to strike. Clu continued to slide his hands along Sam’s thighs, making both of their circuits glow just a bit brighter and giving Sam a hell of a time keeping his mind on topic. Clu’s touch was warm, and Sam couldn’t help but spread his legs a little, welcoming what he knew from experience would come next. But Clu didn’t move up to grope him as he usually would have; he only left his hands in place and waited. For a moment Sam wasn’t sure if he really expected a response, and he wasn’t sure he could offer one. Then Clu lowered his head and kissed Sam’s knee, trailing his lips along the inside of his thigh. Sam watched and tried to control the way his breath quickened and his heart pounded, but he was getting harder by the second, and that wasn’t helping matters at all. Clu’s mouth closed around the fabric covering his erection and Sam raised his hips to meet him.

“I’ll make you feel better,” Clu said against him. He flattened his tongue over the swell of Sam’s cock and dragged it up, again and again, sweeping it over the fabric until Sam thought he might just come in his suit. He was trying to speak, trying to ask Clu to strip him bare and take him right on the floor, but they were interrupted by an awkward cough from the top of the ramp. Clu lifted his head and frowned. “What?”

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but there’s a problem with combatant forty.” A pause. “Sir.”

Sam leaned back to look, confirming that yes, it was in fact Clu’s assistant. He still couldn’t remember the program’s name.

“It can wait,” Clu growled. He leaned back down to continue, tonguing his way from tip to base, and at that moment even Sam wanted to hurl some abuse at the pale program if he didn’t go away. He let his head fall back against the throne and made a helpless noise as Clu leaned down and pressed his tongue to the outline of Sam’s balls.

“It—it can’t, sir. There’s something else,” the program stammered. Sam chuckled. J-whatever was really taking his life in his hands.

Clu finally gave up and raised himself to his full height, snapping right back to his earlier temper. “Jarvis, if this isn’t a matter of Grid integrity…”

Sam could almost hear Jarvis swallow back his fear. “It is, sir.”

That got Clu’s attention. He looked down at Sam and nodded to the far end of the ship. “The blackguard will take you to the tower.” He bent down and pressed his mouth to Sam’s, grabbing the back of his head and holding him in a grip that was as possessive as it was passionate. It made Sam’s head throb painfully. “Wait for me there, and don’t leave,” Clu said quietly, only letting go when Sam nodded.

After that Sam waited for the blackguard to come retrieve him. He occupied his time until then wondering just how the hell he’d come to be the heroine in the weirdest sci-fi romance novel ever written.


Sam entered the tower and lost his escort shortly thereafter; apparently they trusted that he knew where to go. When he entered his room—or maybe it was Clu’s room—he found Rinzler draped across the bed. Sam’s heart nearly skipped at the sight of Rinzler’s body; whole and without a scratch to show for his ordeal. His eyes were closed, and he looked to be breathing slowly. Sam lowered himself onto the bed and settled down beside him, closing his eyes and listening to the sound of his purr as he drifted to sleep.

He woke what felt like a short time later to the touch of Rinzler’s fingers on his hip. When he opened his eyes Sam saw that Rinzler was wide awake, watching him and purring low like he had something specific in mind. Sam was used to that sound, but he wasn’t going to just open his legs and take it—not that time. He rose to his knees and pushed Rinzler back against the bed, straddling his hips and gently pinning his wrists down. Rinzler raised an eyebrow curiously but did nothing to stop him. Sam had only just gotten the hang of derezzing his own suit; he had absolutely no idea how to take another program’s off, nor did he think he would have the time to try. Instead he hoped Rinzler would get the idea, and started derezzing his own to get things moving. It seemed to work, and Rinzler slipped his hands out from under Sam’s and reached back, unlocking his disc and setting it aside as his suit fragmented and retracted piece by piece.

“Don’t call me user,” Sam said, leaning down to kiss Rinzler’s neck and shoulder. The skin beneath his lips was hot, made even more so by the burn of the intricate pattern of circuits that wrapped his body from the neck down. “Just Sam, okay?” he added. When Rinzler nodded Sam leaned up and kissed him. For a moment Rinzler’s body tensed, but then he relaxed; wrapping his arms around Sam’s shoulders and opening his mouth to the kiss.

They stayed that way for a while, just touching each other and occasionally kissing; sometimes just a quick touch of lips, other times so deep and needy that Sam thought Rinzler was trying to devour him. After a while Rinzler arched up to him, rubbing his cock against Sam’s stomach and rumbling quietly. Sam took the hint and moved down the bed until he was face-to-face with the program’s erection, taking it in hand and stroking slowly as he watched Rinzler close his eyes and pull at the fabric between his fingers. Sam dipped his head and lapped at the tip, smiling when Rinzler shuddered and his purr spiked.

“Let me show you something,” Sam said. He stroked Rinzler’s cock once, lowering his head again a moment later and swallowing for just a couple of seconds. Then he repeated the sequence, this time pumping his fist twice and bobbing his head along the shaft two times as well. He continued until he had reached a count of seven with each. Rinzler was breathing hard, clenching his jaw and bucking his hips as Sam worked him into a wordless frenzy.

“Stop,” Rinzler ground out. Sam looked up as Rinzler pushed him away with shaking hands.

“What’s wrong?”

Rinzler sat himself up, pulling Sam onto his lap and leaning back on his hands. Sam nodded and reached back to take hold of Rinzler’s cock, guiding it into place and then lowering himself onto it slowly, purposely taking his time with every inch. Rinzler’s chest heaved and he watched Sam like a predator, but he didn’t move; not until Sam was settled. When that was done he fell back again and pulled Sam with him.

This was what Sam had wanted from him. Not a quick jerk in the alley, not rough sex just for the sake of getting off; he wanted to be so intensely desired that the goal was to prolong the experience, to really feel it—not just rush to the end. He leaned down over Rinzler and wrapped his hands around the back of his neck, and Rinzler in turn placed his hands on Sam’s ass, lifting and lowering him in time to meet his thrusts. Sam gasped the first time Rinzler went deep, digging his fingers into the back of Rinzler’s neck just enough to draw a dangerous growl from the program. They moved faster, and soon Sam was just rolling his hips, reveling in the sensation of Rinzler filling him, groaning in thanks as Rinzler reached around and took hold of his aching cock.

Sam,” Rinzler growled. “Sam…”

“Yes, god yes,” Sam replied, grinding down against him in an effort to just get more. The heat of his circuits against Sam’s skin, burning within Sam’s body; watching Rinzler stare up at him with that intense blue gaze—Sam could feel himself getting close. He never wanted to stop. He needed it to go on forever, and through the sound of Rinzler’s aroused rumble and the moans and cries coming from his own mouth Sam was distantly aware that he was saying all of it out loud, over and over.

Rinzler’s purr started to loop into the familiar stutter that told Sam he couldn’t hold back much longer, but this time Sam could tell he was at least trying. His fingers dug into Sam’s hips and he nearly stopped moving, but Sam couldn’t do the same. He was rocking against Rinzler, lifting himself and sliding back down, gasping at the tightness building in him.

“Come inside me,” Sam breathed. He wanted to feel it; Rinzler rarely did it, though it almost always drove Sam over the edge when he did. It was the sheer heat of it, the way he could feel the pressure inside his body and the way it filled him. He begged over and over until Rinzler nodded and scratched out one last gasp of his name. Then he pulled Sam against him and drove up hard. Sam could feel it—like someone had poured liquid fire into the center of his body, and so good it was almost painful. Sam squeezed around him, earning another quick thrust, and then he was coming as well. Rinzler stroked him hard, never letting up until Sam shuddered and reached for his hand to stop him.

When they were done Sam fell back against the bed again next to Rinzler. He frowned and reached back for his disc, setting it on top of the program’s and rolling onto his side to snug himself against Rinzler’s body. He didn’t look to see if Rinzler was entering another recharge cycle; he wasn’t getting up to leave, and that was enough for him.


Sam dreamed vividly while he slept. He was sure he heard Clu, but when he opened his eyes it was only Rinzler beside him, sleeping—or the closest programs came to it. In the distance somewhere Sam heard a flicker of sound, like a bad radio signal on an old FM dial. Then heard Rinzler saying his name over and over, and he heard himself begging for more, telling Rinzler how it felt, how much he wanted him. He heard the muffled sound of boots moving across the floor, and then a door hissed opened and closed. Once everything quieted down again Sam settled his head on Rinzler’s arm again and drifted back to sleep.

When he woke Rinzler was gone. Sam grumbled to himself and swept his hands across the bed, searching through the haze of sleep for his own disc, but it was nowhere to be found. He sat up and looked around the room, surprised to find it sitting haphazardly on a table along the far wall. That was odd. He was sure Rinzler wouldn’t have touched his disc—he had no reason to.

Something seemed off. Details of his dreams tugged at Sam’s mind, but he couldn’t pin them down. He stood and dressed quickly, grabbing his disc and heading out the door in an awkward stumble. Clu had told him to wait, but Sam was sure it had been too long. Something was definitely wrong.

Chapter Text

Sam found Clu in what he liked to think of as the gym, although he was sure it had a different name. Probably something technical and redundant, but he’d grown used to that sort of thing. At first he thought Clu was in his normal suit, but as he drew closer Sam realized the flexible armor plates were missing from his shoulders down to the tops of his thighs, leaving his torso wrapped only in the black bodysuit. It hugged his form and made every muscle and slight curve stand out. The effect was impressive, and left Sam questioning the need for armor plates at all. They didn’t seem to offer any real protection as it was, and he liked the view much better without them. When he stepped up behind Clu he noticed his disc port and the disc itself were gone.

“Hey, have you seen Rinzler?” he asked. When Clu didn’t turn or acknowledge him Sam put a hand on his arm to get his attention, but it was shrugged away. “What’s your problem?” he demanded.

Maybe it had been a mistake to assume that Clu’s recent tenderness would be permanent. He rounded on Sam and crowded him back against the wall next to the door, placing one arm between Sam and the exit before escape was an option. “Haven’t you seen enough of him?” Clu growled. He leaned in close and placed his other hand beside Sam’s head, boxing him in. “I told you to go and wait for me; not to fuck Rinzler.”

“What the hell’s it matter? You two toss me around between you like a rubber ball, do you really care if you’re there to watch?” Sam shook his head and stared back at Clu. He was sick of being jerked around. If it wasn’t Rinzler with his hot and cold affection, then it was Clu with his unpredictable temper. Either way, Sam didn’t feel like he had secure footing to begin with, so why bother being careful? They would do whatever they wanted, like usual. “Are you jealous? Well get over it,” he said. “Why do you even care?”

“I don’t.” Clu spat out the words and pushed himself away from the wall. He walked over to where he’d set his disc on a shelf and picked it up, activating the interface. A holographic image of his own head appeared, spinning slowly. Sam knew about that part, he’d seen Pin replay things he never wanted to know happened in decent society—it was what happened next that hit him like a punch to the gut; a replay of some kind, seen from Clu’s perspective. It flickered through everything that had just happened and then back to whatever occurred before that, finally coming to a stop and playing normally at a point where Clu entered the bedroom. Sam could see himself lying on the bed with Rinzler next to him, and then Clu lifting his disc and replaying everything that had happened between them. He heard Rinzler saying his name; the cries in his own voice begging Rinzler for more; and then words that hollowed his chest and drained him of his rebellious spark: “Nothing matters—nothing but you—just you.”

He didn’t even remember saying it, and there were so many muttered words, so many platitudes, he couldn’t have been sure of anything he thought he did or didn’t say. How could he have known that one just happened to make it out?

It had, though, and Clu heard it. Suddenly his anger made sense.

“It’s not like that,” Sam started to say. He was cut off by a look from Clu that made him flinch. He tried to play it off with humor, instead. “Well,” he laughed, moving a few steps to the side. “He did technically pick me first, you know?” Clu didn’t seem to find it amusing, though, and Sam suddenly felt like he was about to find himself in a situation he wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of. “I should go,” he muttered.

“Yes, you should.” Clu turned away from him again. “I can’t send you from the system, but I can do the next best thing.”

Sam’s eyes widened and he edged closer to the exit. Idle chat during sex couldn’t be grounds for execution, could it? But Clu had programs killed for less, why should Sam be any different? “Oh yeah?” he asked mock-casually.

“You didn’t appreciate my mercy before,” Clu said. “Maybe you’ll appreciate it now. Leave, Sam. Don’t return to the Grid, or I’ll have you hunted down and destroyed. Do you understand me?”

Sam stared at Clu, searching for the right answers to reset everything, but there were none. Clu wouldn’t even look at him. Sam nodded and turned to go, only to stop when he realized just what else Clu’s threat implied. “How am I supposed to live out there?” he asked quietly. He had only ever learned how to live on the Grid with someone guiding him nearly every step of the way, and a tenacity that bordered on ridiculous; he had no chance on his own out in whatever wasteland existed beyond its borders. “What am I supposed to do?”

Clu shrugged. “That’s between you and the grid bugs.”


Sam ran from the tower, heading straight to the arena without so much as a backwards glance. The journey would take him almost half the length of the city, but he’d long since forgotten what it was like to feel winded from running. The looming arena walls reached up into the clouds above, and for a moment Sam almost felt like he was back on the recognizer that had first found him; confused, a little frightened, and yet still consumed by curiosity. It seemed like so long ago. Facing the thought of never seeing any of it again, he was suddenly very aware of how much he had settled into his life on the Grid. He really didn’t want to leave.

There was a recognizer parked outside, filling one of the hundreds—maybe even thousands of parking spaces that stretched back to the city’s main drag from the base of the arena. More nonsensical remnants of a world no programs had ever seen. He wasn’t surprised to see a recognizer there; they carried everything from sentries to conscripts, even gear for the combatants. Every single piece was manufactured in the city’s industrial sectors and flown to its eventual destination, giving purpose to programs and keeping the system running smoothly. It was one hell of a setup, and Sam could see what Clu meant about order, about there being no morality. It was a bee hive, and Clu was… well he certainly wasn’t the queen. He wasn’t even the king—more like the emperor. Sam had been his barely-willing consort, and now he was a useless cog, cast out because he didn’t fit.

Clu would never change his mind. There were no excuses Sam could offer that would put things back the way they had been. Part of him wasn’t even sure why he wanted things back that way, but he did, and it wasn’t until he’d lost it all that he could admit that to himself without feeling like a fool. Clu was right about one thing: he had been kind—for a volatile dictator with no accountability, anyway. Sam felt like kicking himself for everything he had failed to say when he had the chance. Being merciful didn’t make Clu a good person, it didn’t make keeping Sam as a pet any better, and it certainly didn’t make up for having him live under constant threat of reprisal for acts he didn’t necessarily know were against the rules. No, there wouldn’t be any going back. No begging or explaining; Clu would just as likely kill him if he tried. And Sam couldn’t imagine himself begging for anything. Not out of the context of the bedroom, anyway.

Those kinds of thoughts didn’t help his situation at all. The whole mess was confusing and frustrating all at once; Rinzler was Alan, only not, and he was an asshole who still managed to be affectionate and tender whenever the mood struck him. Clu was at times cold and cruel and then suddenly careful and borderline romantic in ways that slipped past every defense Sam had. It was like they were both doing their best to fuck with his head, and the worst part was it was working. He couldn’t even think of a survival plan past the jumble of emotions and regrets rattling around in his head.

As he passed the first gate Sam waved at the sentries standing to either side. He didn’t expect a return wave, and true to form they didn’t give one. The arena sentries never stopped sirens, even though they were probably the most mischievous of the Grid’s residents, and more often than not doing something that was technically against the rules. Nor did the sentries stop him just for being him; obviously Clu hadn’t made Sam’s banishment Grid-wide just yet, though it wouldn’t take long for the news to spread.

His goal at the moment was to find Pin or Gem, but it was just as likely any one of the sirens would be able to help him, if they were willing to risk their own necks. Pin was a sure thing and a good source of information, but Gem was better. Sam knew from the gossip he’d overheard that she was acquainted with a powerful figure in the Grid’s underground. It was said that the program in question was well connected, and often dealt with the various renegade factions that worked to undermine Clu’s control of the city. Sam had never seen or heard of them directly, but if they disliked Clu, they would probably help someone who could give them information in exchange for safety. That was his hope, anyway. He knew there was no chance that he could survive without the Grid, he had learned enough to be sure of that. Even if he found or fashioned some sort of shelter, just sleeping wouldn’t be enough to keep him alive. He’d need energy at some point, just like the programs. Maybe not as much as they did, but that didn’t change the harsh fact, and hoping he stumbled across a natural source—if there was such a thing—would probably end as badly as if he wandered into a desert without food or water.

Clu had also said something about grid bugs. Sam wasn’t sure what those were supposed to be, and he’d sure as hell didn’t like the sound of anything bug-like existing where program’s didn’t dare to tread. All he could think of was a movie Alan had taken him to see when he was in high school. A campy sci-fi flick that left him with nightmares about spiders crawling on his clothes, lurking in dark corners and waiting to drag him down into the earth. Though he was sure if something like that existed on the Grid, he’d have heard about it.

He wandered the lower halls of the armory, calling for just Pin at first, then Gem, and finally any of the other sirens. No one called back. No one even told him to shut up. It was like the place had been emptied out, wiped clean and left to sit empty, but that made no sense. Even when the arena wasn’t hosting a game, someone was always present in the armory. There were practice matches, training exercises for new conscripts, supply drops, maintenance checks—operations never just stopped.

“Anyone here? Pin? Come on, man, I need you,” Sam called. The longer the silence and emptiness persisted, the more unsettled he felt. Something was wrong, and it tugged at him like a hook, sending dread creeping across his mind. His fears were confirmed when he heard a sound like shattering glass echoing from the end of an adjacent hall. He dashed toward it, thinking maybe one of the new conscripts had escaped and decided to take his revenge, but as he rounded the corner into the repair room Sam realized it was actually far, far worse.

Rinzler was there, his customary rumble low and threatening as he stalked around the kneeling form of Pin. The siren was missing an arm and most of one leg, supporting himself on his remaining arm as he stared up at Rinzler.

“Please,” Pin begged. “Just one more chance, please!

But Rinzler wasn’t programmed to be merciful. As Sam watched in stunned horror Rinzler brought his discs down on Pin’s shoulders, cutting a neat V through his chest, right down to his waist. Pin sputtered and convulsed as he crumbled from the center, his silvery pieces spilling onto the floor. Rinzler wasn’t done, though. With one foot he swept at the layer of voxels that had landed on Pin’s disc. Sam felt a rush of anger and adrenaline as he realized what was going on. Pin was being destroyed. Not sent to the games to fight for his life, or rectified, or even reprogrammed, though Sam wasn’t sure he knew the difference. Pin’s disc was going to be decommissioned. Rinzler raised one foot high, and Sam acted without thinking; he launched himself at Rinzler, sending him sprawling forward onto his hands and knees. With Rinzler down Sam scrambled to pull Pin’s disc out of his reach before he could react. Unfortunately he’d never really learned to properly appreciate Rinzler’s speed. He was on Sam in a flash of black and orange, pinning him down atop the jagged pieces of Pin with Sam’s wrists locked in one hand. He knocked Pin’s disc away almost playfully.

“You son of a bitch!” Sam shouted. He kneed Rinzler in the stomach, catching him by surprise and making him dodge to avoid another attack. Sam didn’t waste the chance; he rolled to the side and grabbed Pin’s disc, slipping on the floor as he tried to gain enough traction to run. He’d had ample experience learning to outwit and outrun Rinzler, though it had always been for fun before. He doubled back and kicked Rinzler’s knee out from under him as he tried to stand, sending him down again. Sam hoped whatever existed between them—or had existed before that moment—would give him the advantage until Rinzler came to his senses and simply hurled a disc or two his way. If their roles were reversed he was pretty sure he would have resorted to deadly measures already.

Sam bolted from the room while Rinzler righted himself. He slipped down an access corridor and skipped sideways into one of the tight crawlspaces that, like many aspects of the Grid, seemed to exist for no good reason. As soon as another door presented itself he exited back into the main armory halls, heading for the gate. Once again the sentries didn’t so much as acknowledge his existence, and Sam thanked whatever luck guided his life that they were too stupid to do anything they weren’t directly ordered to do. A program running full-tilt from the arena carrying an extra disc wasn’t really something he would classify as normal, but apparently they saw nothing wrong with it.

It was only when he reached the flat, empty lot beyond the arena that Sam realized the flaw in his plan. Rinzler would run him down with ease out in the open, and it wouldn’t be long before he realized exactly where Sam had gone. He had ways to track programs and users alike; Sam had never been quite clear on how it worked, but he’d known since his early days on the Grid that it was one of the enforcer’s unique skills. It was why Clu knew that Rinzler would see through his lies the night he summoned Sam to his throne ship for the first time, and it was why Sam wouldn’t be able to run anywhere, no matter how good he was at playing hide-and-seek. The only way to go undetected would be to get off the ground.

“Recognizer!” he shouted at himself. It was still there, sitting alone like a monument. It was obviously Rinzler’s, and Sam realized with a bit of glee that taking it wouldn’t just get him away from Rinzler, but also prevent the program from giving chase until he obtained another. It wasn’t exactly how he had envisioned his exit from the city, but his encounter with Rinzler had left him with no other option. The only problem was that he had no idea how to start the recognizer, or pilot it, or even land it—but those were just details. Sam figured if he could learn to drive Alan’s enormous Chrysler at sixteen, he could figure out how to fly a space ship. Maybe.

At least Rinzler had left the carriage down.


As it turned out, flying the recognizer wasn’t the biggest problem—landing it was. Fortunately gravity did most of the work for him; the vessel started to lose altitude the moment Sam left the limits of the Grid. It was almost like it couldn’t fly without the city, and in a horrifying flash of clarity Sam realized that was exactly what was happening. It certainly explained a few things, but he didn’t have a lot of time to consider those as the recognizer began a powerless glide to the jagged cliffs below. He pulled back desperately on the levers, trying to maintain some kind of control, but they jerked out of his hands and the recognizer continued its descending course. Realizing that he wasn’t going to get away with a smooth landing, Sam grabbed Pin’s disc and crouched in the corner of the carriage, readying himself for the moment of impact. Even with the loss of speed, when the legs hit the ground the force of it nearly threw Sam up and over the front console. He grabbed at anything he could reach, trying to hold Pin’s disc but still keep himself alive. The recognizer dragged along the ground for what felt like miles. By some small miracle it didn’t roll, and Sam could only assume that was because the damn thing was still trying to fly.

Stopping was probably the worst part. The top portion of the recognizer pitched forward, and Sam was slammed into the console with so much force he felt like it had landed on top of him, instead. He lay there for a few minutes, letting himself adjust to the change in motion, wondering if anything was broken and letting his body report back as he moved each limb one at a time. When he was satisfied that he probably wasn’t bleeding internally, and certainly hadn’t suffered any broken bones, he sat up. Pin’s disc was on the ground next to him. It didn’t seem damaged, but there was no way to know for sure without bringing it to the armory—which wouldn’t be happening any time soon.

“Just you and me now, buddy,” Sam said to the disc. He ignored how strange he probably looked, talking to what really amounted to a frisbee. With a roll of his shoulders Sam stood and crawled out of the recognizer; it was probably still flyable, but not without power, and it wouldn’t be much use as a shelter. Better to leave it behind and let them think he was dead, he decided.

He wandered for some time, occasionally talking to Pin’s disc, asking pointless questions and then making up responses just to amuse himself. After he made a comment about the movie Castaway, Sam realized Pin had obviously never seen it, and so he began describing it in detail.

“On the plus side, you can’t roll away. So I won’t lose you. Probably.” He had hooked the disc over his arm and onto his shoulder as he walked, wedging it into place so that he could use his hands to climb over the rocks. It slipped repeatedly, but after a quick break to see if he could combine his disc and Pin’s as Rinzler did, Sam gave up and went back to re-positioning it every time he had to raise his arm.

“You’re a pain in the ass, Pin,” he muttered. “What did you do to piss of Rinzler, anyway?”

Now that was a good question. Rinzler didn’t just murder programs—not usually. Even when he did, Sam had never known him to destroy a disc. It seemed unlikely that he would go out of his way to do something so vindictive unless he had been prompted.

“Or ordered,” he said bitterly.

That had to be it. Clu had ordered Rinzler to kill Pin, Sam’s closest friend. A petty act of revenge that he should have seen coming. Of course Clu wasn’t just going to let him wander off into the sunset; he wanted Sam to lose everything, to have no one he could turn to for help. As he muttered curses and colorful insults under his breath, Sam wondered if Clu hadn’t ordered the entire armory slaughtered, just to prove his point. It wasn’t unthinkable, and for Sam that was evidence enough. Rinzler wouldn’t have just killed Pin. Sam refused to believe it.

“So everyone is gone,” he said to the disc. It wasn’t right, and it certainly wasn’t fair. Maybe Pin was terrible at his job; maybe the sirens had a little too much fun with their work and spent a lot of time acting as switchboard operators on the Grid’s gossip channels; none of them deserved death. It was Clu, and his stupid need to control everything. He had forced Sam into his new life, then took it away the first time he felt threatened.

Sam crested a jutting rock face and looked out over the ravine below; it certainly wouldn’t be an easy descent, but he couldn’t see another way down anywhere nearby. He would have to go slowly, watch his footing and keep himself balanced. Just as he started to slide back down, he thought he saw something flicker in the distance, before the sharpest rise of the next cliff. He shimmied back up to the top of the ledge and looked around, but everything was just as dark and foreboding as it had been. Several minutes ticked by, and Sam was just starting to think he’d imagined the flash when he saw another. It wasn’t an actual flash; more like a ripple of light. It was irregular, faint, but definitely there. As his eyes scanned the area around it, he realized it was reflecting off the mouth of a perfectly rectangular cave.

“That’s weird,” he muttered. At the base of the cliff he could see flat ground leading right into the rock. It wasn’t just flat, though—it stretched off into the distance and down around the mountainside, just like a road. He didn’t think programs could survive off the Grid, but he could imagine they might have tried, once. He wondered if it was a secret meeting place for the factions that fought Clu’s regime. Either way, it was better than wandering through an unforgiving landscape, talking to a frisbee.


Getting to the mouth of the cave turned out to be impossible, and Sam ended up back down on the road, staring at the rock face from what he hoped was a safe distance, wondering just how he was expected to get inside—if there even was an inside.

“Could be a password. Probably binary or something, who knows,” he muttered. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas?” The disc didn’t respond. A good thing, since he would have been worried if it had.

He took a few steps forward and then nearly threw himself off to the side of the road when an enormous slab of rock lifted and slid out of sight, opening to a dark passageway beyond. No one came out, and Sam couldn’t hear anything inside; after a moment of staring curiously he stood up and brushed himself off.

“We’ll pretend that didn’t happen,” he said to the disc, feeling embarrassed for absolutely no good reason.

Most spaces on the Grid lit up to welcome programs as they entered, conserving energy when lights weren’t needed, but Sam found that wasn’t true of the tunnel. He walked for a while, keeping a hand to the wall and wishing someone had thought to invent flashlights. Not that he would have had one anyway, but he quickly found that not thinking about ridiculous and useless bullshit left his mind free to think of every horrifying scenario that could possibly involve darkness, tunnels, bugs, and painful dismemberment.

Finally the space opened up into what appeared to be a larger room, dimly lit and empty. In the center was a familiar sight; a four-tile lift, like the kind used in most residential sectors in the city. After a quick look around Sam stepped onto it, making a pleased sound when it lifted from its dock and carried him up into another dark passageway overhead. The tiles buzzed alight as he hit the smooth walls of the access shaft, and then he reached the top, plunging once more into darkness as the tiles blinked off again.

The room was large, from what he could tell, and filled with objects that he couldn’t make out through the shadows. What he had thought to be the mouth of a cave turned out to be an enormous window, opening onto a patio that contained a perfectly square pool of water. As he walked around the room Sam found it contained everything one would expect of a house; a dining table and chairs, a fireplace, couches, books and other random knickknacks, and a hallway that branched off into what he could only assume was a bedroom.

“Anyone here?” he called out. No reply. He tapped a foot on the tiles below his feet, trying to get their attention, but he had no luck there, either. Whoever placed them had intended for the lights to respond to his or her presence alone. Sam was okay with living in darkness for a while, and he was pretty sure he could eventually figure out how to force them on, but he didn’t like the idea of not being able to see what was around him until he was right next to it. Still, it was a place to stay, and it seemed safe enough.

The events of the day caught up to him in full force then, and he decided it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick rest on one of the couches. He fitted himself onto the largest one and crooked one arm under his head. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it would do. He fell asleep to the distant sound of thunder, and the faint buzz of his own lights against his cheek.

Chapter Text

Sam’s dreams were restless. In them he was running down a dark street, surrounded on all sides by creatures he knew to be minions of some evil ruler. They weren’t chasing, and they weren’t attacking, but their presence put him on edge and made him desperate to get away nevertheless. Street lights glared down at him from above, casting wide pools of yellow light across the black pavement, and making the darkness that much harder to see. Whenever he turned it seemed like the lights were shining directly at him. Eventually Sam realized running wasn’t enough, and he couldn’t get away unless he turned around and ran backwards. He stumbled down a hill at a speed that still seemed excruciatingly slow, coming to a stop at the bottom when his feet seemed unwilling to move anymore.

Whatever deeper meaning the dream held for him, it was wiped from his memory and his thoughts the moment he opened his eyes. For a second he thought he’d managed to bring the lights up in his sleep, but the glow in front of him was too long, too high up, and too gold to be anything so simple. He blinked against the glare and raised his head; Clu sat on the couch opposite the one Sam had claimed as his bed, arms arched across the back and one leg hooked over the other. Sam couldn’t see his face, but he’d bet anything the bastard was smiling.

“Right,” he said. “This is your vacation house or something?” Somewhere in his sleep-muddled mind, Sam knew his words were coming out slurred, and much slower than he intended. His tongue felt like it was taking up twice as much room as normal, and worked half as well.

Clu snickered. “Not mine, but I have a feeling I know who it belongs to. Are you alone?”

“Just me and the grid bugs.”

He could see Clu lower his leg and sit up straight. Only his outline was visible, with the rest of his silhouette obscured by the gold lines burning against the darkness. “You wouldn’t be here in that case,” he said.

Great. Sam ran a hand through his hair and tried to shake the cold sweat that prickled across his skin. So he had been in danger. Clu seemed to read his thoughts, and added, “You were safe. I had you followed.”

Sam sat up and wiped a smear of drool from his cheek. Distantly he wondered if programs could see in the dark, and if they could, whether or not they found drool disgusting. He had a feeling they never did anything so crude. Especially Clu—who would have ripped it out of his code the first chance he had, along with all the other inconveniences of having a physical body.

Looking down in the dark, Sam wished he could reach into his own being and write out morning wood.

He managed a frown and pushed himself out of the seat, making sure to take Pin’s disc with him as he walked as casually as possible over to the general location of the dining table. Clu didn’t move, but Sam could sense his gaze following him around the room. “Did you decide it would be easier to just kill me?” he asked.

“It would have been easier back in the city, Sam,” Clu replied.

For some reason that casual arrogance lit a spark in Sam, and he looked for something to hurl at the program. All he could find was a bowl of metal fruit, reflecting the light cast off from Clu and shining in the darkness like tiny ornaments. He gripped an apple tight in his fist, squeezing it a few times and trying to convince himself that it was a good idea to throw it. He would miss, but either way it was likely to end in violence. He set Pin’s disc on the table and turned to the man-shaped outline on the couch.

“What the hell do you want?”

“I’m here to take you back,” Clu said.

Sam laughed bitterly. “Fuck you,” he sneered. “Like I’d go anywhere with you.”

He could see Clu rising from the couch, hear the rustle of his suit as he moved between the chairs and around the coffee table as though he’d been navigating them his entire life. That answered the question about how well they could see in the dark, at least. Sam reached down and nonchalantly tucked his dick a little closer to his body. For some reason it refused to calm down, and that was not helping matters in any way. “You think after all that I’m just gonna go back to the way things were?”

Clu kept coming, and erection-be-damned, Sam stood his ground. “You can go fuck yourself,” he added as an afterthought.

“I like fucking you much more,” Clu replied. His hands came up around Sam’s back, pulling him tight against the contained heat of his circuits. For a moment Sam let himself enjoy the sensation, ignoring just how wrong it felt to be so easily disarmed with something as simple as a hug. Then his mind focused on actually being hugged by Clu, and that snapped him out of his contented daze.

“Get off!” He pushed hard, only managing to make Clu release his arms. “I’m done with this! You and Rinzler had your fun, okay? That’s over now, so kill me or get the hell out.” He turned toward the wall—or what he thought was the wall, it was difficult to tell.

For a tiny, hopeful moment Sam thought Clu would leave. Or maybe he hoped he wouldn’t; he couldn’t seem to decide. Then he felt those damned circuits, burning the air between their bodies as Clu moved closer. Sam saw two gold lines come around either side of him, and Clu placed his hands flat on the wall. Once more Sam found himself boxed in. “You’re coming back with me,” Clu said quietly. It was that same tone he used whenever someone had done something to really piss him off. Which was often. Sam had heard it enough to feel a creeping tendril of dread snake its way up his spine when it was directed at him.

“No.” The cautionary voice in the back of Sam’s mind was outright screaming at him to shut up; to just let Clu have his way and guarantee himself some kind of life, even if it meant being miserable. “Not after what you did,” he said instead.

Clu pulled his hands back and slammed them into the wall. “I’m trying to fix what I did!” He moved forward suddenly, pressing Sam to the wall with his body and wrapping his arms around his shoulders. “I won’t beg, Sam. Ever.”

“Like Pin begged?”

The arms around him went slack, and then Clu’s mouth found Sam’s ear, and he could hear and feel each word as Clu spoke. “I don’t know who that is.” He nipped gently at Sam’s earlobe, and against his will Sam sighed at the tingle of pleasure that it sent skipping down the length of his body. It required an enormous effort to pull himself back to the issue.

“Bullshit,” he said breathlessly. He tried to block Clu’s hands as they made their way down his chest and over his stomach, eventually finding the erection he’d been trying to hide. One strong hand stroked him while the other reached lower, caressing his balls and making him arch into the touch. Sam grasped at Clu’s hands and alternately pulled and pushed at them, mind reeling and unable to decide which way he wanted to go. When Clu rocked against him from behind Sam managed to grasp a moment of clarity. “You ordered Rinzler,” he groaned. “To kill him.”

Clu’s hands stilled, and he went taut against Sam’s back. “I never ordered Rinzler to—”

Sam spun around, still encircled by Clu’s arms. “So he just happened to be there? Just happened to kill the one friend I have here? Right.”

Clu’s circuits flared, and Sam blinked as he tried to find a place to focus that wouldn’t blind him. He ended up turning to the side, finding the rippling reflection of the pool and staring at that, instead. Clu stayed close, but his arms fell away, leaving Sam an opening to slip out if he so chose. Against his better judgement, Sam stayed.

“Don’t ever call me a liar, Sam.” Clu’s voice was low and dangerous. “I’ve never lied to you. If Rinzler derezzed a program, he had a reason for it.”

“Not just derezzed,” Sam snapped. “He tried to destroy his disc. You’re telling me that wasn’t personal? It wasn’t revenge?”

“We’re not users. What good does revenge do in my system? Why do you think programs aren’t destroyed in the games, but derezzed and brought back again? Why do you think they’re rewarded for fighting well, even though the crimes that brought them to the arena in the first place threaten the stability of the Grid? Nothing irrevocable is done out of spite, Sam. I’ll only say this one more time: if Rinzler intended to destroy that program, it was for the good of the system.”

Sam slumped back against the wall with a sigh. “But Pin didn’t do anything wr—”

Pin didn’t do anything.

Pin was a drain on the system, and he gave nothing back. The system which ran on limited resources and absolute order.

Clu leaned in closer; he was less angry, but still agitated enough that Sam had trouble looking directly at him without blinking hard. “What?” Clu asked.

Sam shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “I just realized I was wrong.” As hard as it was to believe, he had more trouble accepting that he had simply been in the right place at the right time; after all, nothing in his life had ever worked out that well. He looked up at Clu. “But so were you,” he added. He waited for the backlash, but none came. A faint buzz filled the air around them, and Sam couldn’t tell if it was his own false circuits or Clu’s real ones.

“I’m never wrong.” Clu said quietly. He didn’t add anything else, and his tone barely read remorse, but Sam supposed it was the best he could hope for given the circumstances.

“Why do you care that I slept with Rinzler? I’ve been bounced around between you two like a ping-pong ball. Why does it suddenly matter now?” Sam shrugged and slapped his palms against his sides, too frustrated to articulate himself any better. Of all the things that had happened since he returned to the tower and found Rinzler in the bed, the overreaction from Clu had been the most perplexing—and the most distressing, even if he felt terrible for admitting that.

Clu’s reply was a stalled sound; a quiet grunt and a sigh that communicated his inability to respond. Instead he leaned forward and kissed Sam; gently at first, and then more forcefully as Sam responded. His arms came up around Sam’s back once again, and he leaned forward just enough to slot his knee between Sam’s thighs, nudging them apart and settling himself in just the right position to apply pressure in all the right places. Sam clutched at his suit and opened his mouth to him.

Mn,” he pushed at Clu and whipped his head to the side to avoid being caught again. “No. I’m not just letting this go.” When he turned back it was to stare at what he thought might be Clu’s eyes. The gold glow around him destroyed any chances he had of adjusting to the darkness. “You kicked me out of the city over nothing.”

This time Clu moved away on his own. He let go of Sam and walked over to the table, first leaning over it, and then reaching out to pluck at the silver apple that Sam had held before. “Do you like him more?” he asked.

Sam snapped his head back like he’d been hit. “What the hell kind of question is that? Are you in fucking fifth grade?”

“I asked you a question.”

Did he? “I don’t know, what does it matter?”

“It matters. I heard what you said, and I saw the way you were with him. You wanted it.”

His words brought a flush to Sam’s cheeks, and he mentally kicked himself for being such a sappy idiot. It wasn’t that he liked Rinzler, or that he liked either of them, really. No, he tolerated them because they were the ones in charge, and he stood a better chance with them than without.

Then again, he’d been with them, and still ended up without. So why was he entertaining going back? “So I enjoyed myself once, and you throw a fit? Man, get over yourself.”

He pushed away from the wall and walked past Clu, ignoring the stare that burned into him as he passed. He jogged up the short flight of steps to the main level of the room and carefully made his way into the corridor on the left; he hadn’t explored it yet, but anywhere was better than being in a room with someone who made him want to do stupid, dangerous things just to express his anger. Clu infuriated him, and aroused him, and Sam was sick of the whole experience. No one should have to live with the amount of stress he’d undergone that cycle. Year.

“Great, now I’m even thinking to myself in your time!” he shouted back down the hall. He slammed the bedroom door after himself, plunging the room into total darkness. “Unless you plan on dragging me b—” He was interrupted by a face-first plummet to the surface of a bed. Panic gripped him and he flipped himself onto his back, looking around in the dark for his attacker. It was only when he realized that he was alone that the rush of adrenaline gave way to a throbbing pain coursing up the length of both legs; he’d hit his shins on the bed frame. He pulled a knee up to his chest and rocked himself back and forth, hissing between his teeth. “Fuck!” It was like someone had clubbed him. “This is your fault!”

“You’re very unaware of the system, for a user,” Clu said from the hall.

“Shut up!”

Clu came into the room and stood at the foot of the bed. Sam was once more reduced to watching his outline. He squinted through the pain and intrusive yellow glow and frowned. “You could always turn on a light, you know.”

“I didn’t know you wanted light. You should have asked.”

“Yeah, well,” Sam laughed bitterly, “I didn’t know you wanted me so much. Maybe you should’ve asked.”

With a faint flicker and a buzz that was almost loud in the silence, the lights came on, and Sam threw a hand over his eyes to block them out. “God, warn me next time!”

“You’re right.”

“Yeah, no shit! I think you just burned out my retinas, holy fuck.”

Sam felt a weight settle on the bed next to him, and he chanced a look past his fingers to see Clu sitting there, leaning back on one hand as he faced Sam. A dark spot floated around in front of Sam’s face, blocking out most of his field of vision. Why the house needed lights on the floor and the ceiling was beyond him. He covered his eyes again and waited for the spot to fade.

“Sam, look at me.”

“I can’t.”

Clu waited a moment. “I dimmed the lights.”

Sam opened his eyes to find that yes, he had actually lowered the lights for him. “Is this a unique condition, or are all users so sensitive?” Clu asked.

“It’s called I’ve been in the dark for a day and a half, and I live in a world that has no sun. Can’t you just leave me alone?” Ignoring how childish it seemed—even to him—Sam rolled away onto his side.

A warm hand came down on his hip and glided across his abdomen. Clu edged over and matched Sam’s position, molding himself to his body and snugging Sam tight against him. “I want you,” he purred.

“Get in line.”

“What does Rinzler mean to you?” Clu asked as he nuzzled the nape of Sam’s neck.

Sam shrugged and sighed. “Well, it doesn’t hurt that he looks like Alan.”

The hand that had been gently massaging lower and lower on his stomach suddenly stopped, and Clu leaned back just enough that Sam could tell he was staring at him. “Alan-one?”

“Alan Bradley. I’m making a huge assumption here but I’m pretty sure he’s Rinzler’s user, given that they look exactly alike. Just a wild guess.”

“So… you are attracted to Rinzler because of his user?”

Sam opened his mouth to respond, but he didn’t know quite what to say. Instead he laughed. “When you say it like that you make me sound like a selfish asshole.”

Clu’s lack of response was not encouraging.

“Oh come on,” Sam said. He worked himself onto his back and looked up at Clu. “Is that really so bad? It’s not exactly like Rinzler is the giving type. So we’re using each other. So what?”

“And what about me?”

“What about you?”

Clu leaned down and mouthed at the corner of Sam’s jaw. Man, he really had a one-track mind. It didn’t help that Sam’s dick had only relented in the face of excruciating pain, and at that it seemed to have been a temporary setback at best. With the warmth of Clu against him, strong hands roaming over his body, and eager lips pressed to his skin, Sam found himself stirring yet again. If possible it was actually worse than the last time, because this time Sam was pretty sure he wanted it.

“Are you using me?” Clu asked. He bit down just enough to make Sam draw in a sharp breath, then relented and licked the spot he’d bruised.

Sam gasped. Yeah, he wanted it.

“I think it’s—mm—the other way around.”

“You think I’m using you?” Clu muttered. He’d reached up to tongue the outline of Sam’s ear. “I could have anyone I wanted.”

Sam closed his eyes and breathed a silent oh as Clu’s hand swept down between his legs, gripping his cock through his suit and stroking just the right way to make Sam shudder and moan. “Not me,” he managed to reply.

“I think we both know that’s not true.” Clu leaned over and caught Sam in a kiss just as he opened his mouth to reply. Sam protested with a muffled complaint and then reached to pull himself closer to Clu. He slipped a leg over Clu’s and rocked against him, forgetting for the moment that he still had points he wanted to address, and things he needed to say before anything could begin to return to normal. It just felt so good to let go. Clu pulled his mouth away from Sam’s and panted as he thrust his hips back in response. “Let me have you,” he said breathlessly.

“Yes,” Sam nodded and arched into his touch. “But then we have to talk.” He had to retain some of his integrity, after all.

Clu reached first for Sam’s disk, then unclipped his own. He set them both down on the floor. “Everything off, even the plates,” he said. His suit derezzed so fast Sam was actually stunned by the change, and then Clu was removing his own source plates from his arms and thighs. They dropped to the floor behind him with a clatter, and Sam looked down to admire the rather impressive erection that had apparently been waiting for him all that time. Clu growled and started derezzing Sam’s suit when it was clear he wouldn’t do it himself. “You never listen,” he said.

“You’re the one who wants me.”

Clu removed the two plates around Sam’s back and shook his head as he threw them over his shoulder. “You want me, too,” he said.

Damn him, he really did.

Finally naked, Sam found himself pressed onto his back again, and Clu settled over him as he nudged Sam’s thighs apart with one hand. “Tell me how you want it.” He kissed a line down Sam’s neck, across his shoulder and to his arm. “Tell me what you like.”

Sam searched for the right words to string together, but Clu’s mouth had left his arm and his tongue flicked over one of Sam’s nipples, making him shudder and groan, and words failed him entirely. He wound a hand in Clu’s hair and nudged his head down, hoping he’d get the hint. Lips ghosted across his stomach and over the curve of muscle at his abdomen, along his thigh and then back up across his stomach to the other leg. Sam spread his thighs and whimpered, begging for contact, but Clu avoided his cock entirely. Even his hands remained fixed on the bed, where he twisted his fingers in the blankets as Sam panted and urged and thrust into the empty air. When Sam looked down at him he smiled and pressed just the tip of his tongue to the head of Sam’s cock, and the contact was electric. Sam was sure he could come just from that; he’d waited long enough. But he wanted more.

“Please,” he whined. “Just take me, no games.”

“I told you to tell me,” Clu said.

It was impossible to think. Sensations and flashes of ideas were all that filled his mind, and he couldn’t remember how to articulate any of them. He needed contact. He needed to feel Clu’s weight on top of him, pressing him into the bed while he filled and stretched him, stroking his aching cock with strong hands and breathing hard against his neck. Sam tried to say it, but distantly he knew he’d only managed a good half of the words.

Luckily that seemed to be enough for Clu. He moved up the bed and lifted Sam’s legs, wrapping them around his waist. With one hand he licked his own fingers, and then he reached down to push into Sam’s tight entrance, making him twitch and wince at the intrusion. He started with two, and Sam pushed back down onto them with each sweep, clenching and unclenching as Clu worked him. It didn’t take much, and Clu was never big on patience; he pulled his fingers away and replaced them almost immediately with the head of his cock, nudging himself into place with shallow thrusts that had Sam biting his lip and fighting to relax. When he was in most of the way, Clu dropped down over Sam, his full weight pressing down just like Sam wanted. He started moving; one hand came up to cradle the back of Sam’s head as the other held his leg. He rocked forward hard, rolling his hips and grunting with each thrust. Sam could feel his own cock trapped between their bodies, and the snap and sting of Clu’s circuits as they burned hot into his skin. Pulses of lavender danced across the gold bands covering his body as he moved in Sam, and the faster he went, the wider each wave became. Sam wrapped a hand around Clu’s shoulder. He could feel the surge of electricity from his circuits, and each time they flashed it went right through his skin and straight to his core.

Clu let go of Sam’s leg and wrapped both of his arms under his shoulders, using the leverage to fuck him harder, and Sam was sure he came close to screaming. It was so good, and he loved it—every second of it. The ache of his own cock as Clu slid back and forth over it was enough to quell any misgivings he had about giving himself over to what he really wanted. The rest would come later; it was enough to just feel good at that moment.

“Harder,” he managed to say. Clu obliged and snapped his hips, jacking himself into Sam and making them both cry out. He did it again and again, until Sam couldn’t find the strength to keep his legs up any longer. They fell to the side and he shut his eyes to listen as Clu breathed hard against him. “I need you,” he groaned. He didn’t care how desperate or pathetic it sounded.

Yes.” Clu surged forward, and Sam threw his head back as teeth came down on the side of his neck. The mix of pain with the thrum of pleasure filling his body was too much; he came hard, jerking his hips and crying out as he shuddered beneath the continued assault from Clu. The teeth were replaced by lips, and Sam whimpered quietly through the last wave of his orgasm, while still Clu pushed into him. He showed no signs of slowing down, and the brush of his circuits deep inside Sam was too much; he dug his fingers into Clu’s arms and squeezed his thighs against his hips.

“P—please, it’s too much,”

Clu growled and moved faster. “Take it,” he commanded through clenched teeth. Sam’s stomach fluttered with each thrust and his cock ached painfully from the aggressive stimulation. Sam whined and writhed beneath him, but Clu only shoved harder. “Keep giving yourself to me, Sam. I need more,” he said.

“I can’t, I—”

“You don’t know how much I need you.”

Sam’s jaw was clenched so tight that he saw flashes of light like lightning behind his eyelids. The mix of pain and pleasure started to give way to just pleasure, and Sam began bucking his hips to meet Clu’s. His cock stirred between them, and Clu moaned loud in his ear as he felt Sam respond again.

“That’s it, just like that,” he panted.

Sam hooked his legs around Clu’s back. “Come for me, please,” he begged. “I want to feel it.”

Clu’s movements became quicker, sharper, and with a last series of stuttered thrusts Sam felt himself filled with that electric warmth that seemed to reach to every cell in his body. Clu made a choked sound and pulled out, collapsing on top of Sam with a long sigh. The bright burn of his circuits dulled slowly, finally coming to rest at their normal level.

Of course, that left Sam hard for the second time. He rocked his hips against the heavy body on top of him, trying to get himself off again, but it wasn’t working.

“Ah—a little help,” he said, a bit more desperately than he’d intended.

Clu had closed his eyes, but at Sam’s request he opened them again. “You need more?”

“Please, please,” Sam whispered. His hands squeezed Clu’s arms and he bucked up against him one more time for emphasis.

Clu pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and looked down at Sam’s cock, slick with his own come and twitching at the sudden loss of contact. Without a word he moved down and wrapped his lips around the head, enveloping Sam in so much pressure and heat that he cried out and dug his fingers into Clu’s hair. It was impossible not to thrust. Clu swallowed him down, and before he knew it Sam was fucking his mouth, holding him in place as he shoved his cock in as far as it would go. Sam couldn’t believe what he was doing, and he couldn’t believe Clu was letting him do it. He lifted his head and looked down; Clu was staring up at him, and with that Sam was undone. He came with a shout, lifting his hips from the bed as Clu continued working him with his tongue.

When it was over he went limp against the bed, and took a deep, shuddering breath. Clu moved up and deposited himself next to Sam.

“You wanted to talk?” he asked.

“Yeah, I was a little overconfident,” Sam said. His heart was still pounding in his chest. “I’m gonna need some time.”

Clu made a self-satisfied sound and folded his arms behind his head. “Take all the time you need.”

Chapter Text

Sam was kicking himself as he boarded the throne ship. He couldn’t even remember agreeing to return to the city, but apparently he had, and Clu was very pleased with himself and his success. In an attempt to stall, Sam had poked around the house, searching for anything that might prove his new theory that the Grid belonged to Alan—after all, Rinzler was practically his twin. Alan didn’t strike Sam as the kind of man who would make a program in his image, but then again, he hadn’t seemed the type to hide a secret world in the basement of an abandoned arcade, either. When asked Clu had been evasive at best, and eventually downright aggressive in his unwillingness to confirm or deny just who had created the Grid. Sam could sense there was something else going on, but he hadn’t yet figured out how to approach the topic without causing another battle.

One thing he wasn’t looking forward to, after finally conceding that there was nothing of value to be found in the abandoned house, was going back and seeing Rinzler. For all he knew, Rinzler was back in the city waiting to kill him. Of course, Sam was pretty sure Clu wouldn’t let that happen. Maybe. He sat on the ship while Clu and his sentries did a sweep of the area; for hazards, or something. Sam wasn’t entirely clear on just what they were doing. He thought it had something to do with grid bugs, but they wouldn’t answer when he asked. Nothing new. Jarvis stayed on the ship, and Sam found himself watching the program, wondering whether or not he could prove useful in the search for further information.

“Hey… Jarvis?”

“I’m busy, user,” Jarvis replied. He had a digital data readout open over one palm, and an actual pad in the other. He was looking back and forth between the two.

“Yeah, I can see that. But you can multitask for a couple minutes,” Sam said. “Who built all of this?” He sat on the arm of the throne and crossed his arms, ready for a long story. Unfortunately the only answer he received was a disapproving glance and total silence.

“Come on, help me out here. I’m trying to ‘understand the system.’ Gimme a clue.” There was a brief pause, and then he snickered at his own joke.

“The system was built by the creator. The Grid was built by Clu. I’m so glad we could have this talk.”

Sam wasn’t about to give up. What Jarvis didn’t know was that sarcasm had become a new language after the advent of the internet, and Sam had no trouble dodging his snappy comebacks. “Who made you?” he asked.

“My user.”

“And that is…?”

Not you.”

Alright, so maybe he didn’t know, but he was certainly fluent enough. Sam decided to try a slightly different approach. “Who is Clu’s user?”

Finally he got more than a moment of vague interest. Jarvis turned toward him fully, and the glowing pane of text hovering over his right hand blinked out. “That is information you are not authorized to know, user. Curiosity is going to cost you more than your undeserved privileges if you keep digging where you’re not welcome.”

Well, clearly he’d struck a nerve. Sam nodded and looked around the room, pretending to heed the veiled threat. He waited for Jarvis to return to his work, then started again. “Not authorized on whose orders? Clu’s? Wait—undeserved privileges?”

Finally giving up on working in silence, Jarvis tossed the data pad down on his work station and turned back to Sam. “You’re an armory siren, and not a very good one at that. Just what makes you think you’ve earned the privilege of a regular, private audience with the administrator?” He asked as though he already knew the answer, and of course, Sam had a pretty strong feeling why that was.

“You’re jealous.”


“No,” Sam laughed, “you are. Look, I didn’t angle for this or anything, so I’m sorry if you think I’m stepping on your toes. Not sure what to tell you, maybe you could do something to get their attention? Change your clothes… Grow some hair.”

“Not their attention,” Jarvis muttered. He snapped his mouth shut before he could say anything else, but the damage was done. Sam had a wide grin plastered across his face as he sat up and walked over to the work station. Jarvis stumbled behind the console, and in the wake of his unintended admission he started pecking away at the keys as though his very existence depended on it.

Sam briefly entertained the idea of blackmailing him, but it was just as likely Clu would take to the idea of expanding his harem into paler territory, and for some reason that just wasn’t okay. Of course, just because he threatened to do it didn’t mean Sam actually had to say anything to Clu.

“Okay, so tell me who his user is, or I’ll share your dirty little secret.” He didn’t want to think about how dirty it might be. Too late, of course, as his mind was already filling in the visual blanks by the time he finished speaking.

“Just like a user to make such base threats. Fine, tell him.”

Sam never was very good at poker. Fortunately he was saved by the sound of boots clapping against the spiral stairs below the ship. Jarvis turned to the sound, and his circuits dulled in fear as he looked rapidly between Sam and the connecting corridor. Sam smiled; negotiating was so much easier with the actual threat looming just out of sight.

“Okay,” he said. He spun on his heels and started walking to meet the returning search party.

Jarvis made a strangled sound and practically threw himself over the console. “Alright, alright!” he hissed. “I can’t tell you—wait stop! I can’t, and not by choice. It’s a coded mandate; I’m compelled to obey.”

Sam shrugged. “So what good does that do me?”

“I…” Jarvis slumped back against his seat and buried his face in his hands. “There are loopholes.”

“I’m listening.”

Defeated, the shield of sarcasm had fled him, and Jarvis seemed a lot less sure of himself. It was what Sam was used to seeing, at least whenever Clu was nearby. He had a much easier time accepting that than the haughty, dismissive version reserved for any time Clu was out of sight. “If you think about it, I’m sure you can make the connection, and figure it out,” Jarvis said. He kept nodding in Sam’s direction.

Sam narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “I guess that made sense to you. Can’t you spell it out or something?”

“I’m sure you can relate to what I’m saying—greetings, sir.” Jarvis interrupted himself and shot to his feet, making a brief salute in Clu’s direction.

“What were you talking about?” Clu asked.

“I—I was—”

“I was asking him about getting my own laser finger. You know, siren gear. Upgraded peripherals. Find anything out there?” Sam cast a furtive glance in Jarvis’ direction, finding what appeared to be either immense gratitude or constipation broadcast across the program’s pale features. Clu didn’t seem to notice, and that was good enough for Sam.

“Nothing. We’re returning to the city now.” Clu had donned his long coat for whatever search they were conducting, and it swirled around his feet as he moved through the room, brushing past Sam and grazing him with the backside of his hand. He deposited himself on the throne with one leg propped up on the edge of the seat, and an arm outstretched over his knee. “The tower, Jarvis,” he ordered.

Jarvis bowed and practically threw himself out of the room behind the sentries. That left Sam and Clu alone, and suddenly Sam remembered that he had a laundry list of complaints and issues that he wanted addressed before they returned to their mundane life of sex and disastrous misunderstandings. The issue of Clu’s user was set aside for the moment as Sam contemplated just how to gain his own advantages.

“So,” he said, walking casually around the back of the throne. “That talk?”

Clu made a noncommittal sound, and his eyes remained fixed on the neon vista ahead. Sam leaned down over the back of the throne and stretched his arms over Clu’s shoulders, sliding his hands over the front of his coat and shivering at the electric tingle that transmitted through his suit. It seemed like everything on the Grid was conductive, even his own skin. He pressed his mouth against the side of Clu’s neck, just above the collar of his suit, and bit down gently. That earned him a soft moan, and emboldened him toward his cause.

“Are you ready to talk?” he asked.

“Mm. Not like this.”

Damn. That was most of his strategy. He pulled back a little and waited.

Clu reached down and patted his lap, lowering his leg to make room. “Come here.”

Sam cheered a little inside. With his plan still in action, he darted around the front of the throne to deposit himself on the indicated lap, making sure to take his time and be as deliberate as possible. Clu pulled him back until they had full contact, and the pulse of his circuits resonated straight through Sam’s suit, skittering across his body like a million tiny, warm fingers. It was so much harder to focus through the pleasure, and he was starting to wonder if Clu was aware of that.

Hands came down on his thighs, and Sam found himself rocked forward just a bit. Clu’s hips rolled up against him, and warm lips found his earlobe, sucking just enough to make his heart start to race. “I want—ah…” He sighed and arched his back as Clu reached down to derez the front of his suit, granting himself access and exposing Sam’s groin to needy, insistent hands.

“You want?” Clu stroked him, squeezing tight at first, then softer as Sam’s cock hardened in his hand. “You can have whatever you want, Sam. As long as you’re mine.”

Sam nodded lazily. His mouth hung open and he started to pant with each long stroke, but damn it, he had things he wanted to say. They were important. Instead he found himself rocking his hips back and forth like a horny teenager. “More.”

He felt a light slap at his hip, and then Clu pushed him up. Sam stood there for a moment, coming out of his sex-addled daze long enough to register that Clu was removing part of his suit. When he pulled Sam down again it was onto his very hard cock. Sam cried out and gripped the arms of the throne, trying to slow his descent, but Clu pulled with that inhuman strength, and Sam found himself filled before he could think. Clu thrust up into him hard, keeping one hand on Sam’s hip while the other reached around to continue stroking him. Sam struggled to hold himself up, and his arms shook with the effort as Clu fucked him from below.

“I want more,” Sam groaned. It wasn’t quite what he meant, but he was getting there.

“More?” Clu removed the hand gripping his hip and slipped one gloved finger in beside his own cock. Sam yelped and leaned forward; the warm circuit on Clu’s finger throbbed inside him, combining with the multitude of tiny, gold lines that seemed to pour heat and electricity straight into his body. Each push just increased the effect, and also had the inconvenient result of leaving Sam totally unable to string a coherent thought together.

“Equal,” he managed to say. “You and me.”

Clu gave a hard upward shove that left Sam breathless, and chuckled at the result. “What was that?”

“I want—oh, godharder.”

The unintentional request ended in Sam being bounced against Clu’s lap so hard that he was unable to keep himself up without a hand on his chest to brace him. Unfortunately, with Clu’s other hand occupied elsewhere, that left Sam’s cock untended, and he whined at the ache—thought it had the mild benefit of helping him focus on his goals. When he tried to speak again Clu started slamming into him harder, and every word ended up coming out as its own sentence.

“Side—by—side,” he ground out between thrusts. “Even.”

Clu let go of Sam’s chest and tangled a fist in his hair, jerking him back until he could plunge his tongue into Sam’s mouth. When he let go he kept his mouth pressed to Sam’s cheek. “You want to be my equal?” he asked. Sam nodded and shut his eyes tight. It was almost impossible to think past the barrage of sensation. Clu growled and nipped at his jaw. “Only my user could be my equal.”

“Then… I’ll be your user,” Sam managed to say.

All movement between them ceased, and Sam blinked as though he’d just regained his own mind. He could feel Clu’s chest heaving against his back, and steady, warm puffs of air against his neck. “What did you say?” Clu asked.

Sam swallowed hard and tried to ignore the pressure of the cock still buried in his ass, and the accompanying fingers that twitched ever-so-slightly whenever Clu spoke. He winced and tried to force the words through the greedy part of his brain that just wanted to move. “Your user—I’ll—fuck!

Clu drove up into him hard, and Sam scrambled to hold onto the throne as he was rocked forward. Clu launched himself into a brutal pace, faster than before, leaving Sam barely able to focus. The fingers inside him pulled out, and strong hands gripped both of his arms; Clu practically lifted them both from the throne as he fucked Sam close to incoherent.

“Say it again,” he demanded. His voice was rough and low, and carried an edge of manic need that only aroused Sam more.

Sam shook his head and nearly went limp from the effort. He couldn’t feel anything but the back and forth slide of heat inside him, and the fingers biting into his arms as Clu slammed into him over and over. All he managed were a few helpless sounds. Distantly he registered that the ship had landed, but Clu showed no signs of stopping. He mumbled his the same words over and over, practically begging Sam to tell him again that he’d be his user, all while thrusting into him at a near-violent pace. “Say it, say it,” he hissed.

I’m your user,” Sam groaned. He clenched his teeth and grunted at the heavy impact that followed. There was a moment that seemed to bring everything to a halt, and then he was coming, his cock jerking against his stomach as Clu continued his assault. He did go limp then; Clu wrapped his arms around Sam’s chest and held him as he followed. Sam could hear his stuttered breath, feel the way he evened each stroke to carry himself over the edge, and then that heat. Like charged fire filling him. Clu ran his hands across Sam’s chest and down over his spent cock as he came, muttering praise, and encouragement, and other things that made Sam want to blush—if he thought his body could spare the effort.

Clu collapsed back against the throne with a heavy sigh. “That was good, Sam,” he said. He assisted in lifting Sam enough to pull out, and then let him drop back down again, snickering at the way Sam whimpered. “I admire your negotiating tactics.”

Shit. “Saw through that, huh?” Sam asked breathlessly. He laughed as much as he could muster. “So, was that just pillow talk?”

Clu shrugged. “Up.” He patted Sam’s thigh and nudged him up out of his lap. “I think Rinzler is waiting for you.”

“Yeah.” Sam winced as he stood up straight. “Waiting to kill me.”


Sam whipped his head around to stare wide-eyed at Clu. “Are you serious?”

“He doesn’t like losing.”

Are you serious?” he repeated.

Clu only shrugged, and Sam wondered just how much of a mistake it had been to return to the city. He could have stayed, demanded time to think things over; Clu wanted Sam to want him, and dragging him back from the Outlands wouldn’t accomplish that. Then again, he might have done it anyway, believing that Sam would get over it in time. The worst part was, it probably would have worked.

“Don’t worry, Sam,” Clu soothed. He came up behind Sam and wrapped his arms around his chest, pulling him in tight and placing a gentle bite to the nape of his neck. “I wouldn’t let him harm you.”

That eased Sam’s fears somewhat, and he breathed a quiet sigh of relief as Clu released him and stepped away to dress himself.

“I might let him toy with you a bit, though.”


Sam had some time to think as they made their way out the ship and into the tower; he almost suggested putting a landing pad on the top of the building, so they didn’t have to take elevators up and down all the time, but held his tongue. He had been serious when he volunteered to take the place of Clu’s user, at least symbolically; he wasn’t sure if Clu had been serious when he accepted. For all he knew that was just the program equivalent of ‘who’s your daddy’ they were playing. His programming knowledge was middling, at best, and that also played a part in his silence. If he did volunteer to make changes, and Clu accepted, only for both of them to find out that Sam could barely build a square table, what would happen then? There wasn’t exactly anyone around to teach him, and he still didn’t feel like his position was secure, even with Clu displaying near-alarming levels of affection. In fact, that almost made it worse. Changes were one thing; Clu’s behavior swung so wildly Sam couldn’t even begin to predict it. Maybe it was the nature of programs, but he wasn’t a program, and he wasn’t sure he could ever truly think like one.

When Clu leaned over and brushed back a bit of Sam’s hair to nibble on his ear, he wondered just what the hell he was doing playing with so much fire.

“I should get a haircut,” he said as Clu leaned away again. “It’s getting kinda long.”

“A what?”

“A haircut. You know.” He made a scissoring gesture with his fingers and ran it across the back of his neck. “Cut it off.”

Clu looked hilariously alarmed, and for a moment Sam could only stare and wonder what the hell he’d said to set him off. “That would kill you, Sam,” he said.

“What? No, it’s just hair! Not my head, Jesus, I’m not suicidal.” He chuckled in the silence that followed, and then it hit him that he had no way to actually cut his hair. That killed the joke pretty fast. “I guess I’ll have to make some scissors,” he said to himself.

Clu looked over at him again. This time he seemed less shocked, and much more suspicious. “You can code?”

“I—yeah, a little. I mean, Alan’s practically family. He’s like that uncle who finds out you liked puzzles for all of a month when you were ten, and winds up buying you one every birthday and Christmas after that. I know you don’t understand what I’m saying. The point is, I’ve had so many computers my whole life, and so many programming lessons…” He let the thought die on its own without completing it. There was no point telling Clu why Alan had insisted on teaching Sam how to use a computer; even if he understood the concept, the significance would be lost on him. He definitely wasn’t going to understand what computer camp was.

“So,” Clu said carefully, “you could build. You could create within the system.”

Sam shrugged. “I guess? I’m not excited about the idea of making scissors from memory but—”

“Forget the sizzles, Sam.”

Scissors,” Sam enunciated.

“If I gave you the resources, would you build for me? A new purpose; you wouldn’t go back to the armory.”

He had to think about that for a moment. It was one thing to be the sole member of Clu’s harem—excluding Rinzler, who seemed to have his own business going on. It would be another entirely to be wanted, needed, and appreciated. There were no downsides. Unless it turned out that his earlier fears were true, and he really wasn’t very good at translating his knowledge of computers into knowledge within a computer. Still, if he wanted to secure his place next to the throne, creating for Clu seemed to be the best way to do it. The man was practically bouncing at the prospect of having his very own pet programmer.

Sam answered with a question of his own. “So, would that really make me your user?”

Clu turned and swept him back against the wall, gripping his wrists tight and pinning them above his head. “I thought we already settled that. You are my user; I’m asking you to act like it, and fulfill the promise my creator couldn’t.”

That was a lot to take in. Sam tested Clu’s hold and found it slack enough to grant him his freedom if he really wanted it. A black-clad knee slipped between his legs to nudge them apart, and then Clu was pressing him to the wall; his body hot and heavy against Sam’s.

“Your answer? I’ll teach you. Everything I can, I’ll teach you.”

Sam let his head fall back against the wall of the elevator as Clu leaned down to kiss the curve of his neck. His teeth scraped over Sam’s skin, making him shiver.

It really wasn’t a very difficult decision to make. “Yes.


Rinzler was waiting for them when they reached the top floor, pacing back and forth in front of the elevator doors like a caged panther. He rattled out an angry growl, and zeroed in on the silver and white disc in Sam’s hand. Pin’s disc. Sam leaned his whole body away and held the disc out, away from Rinzler’s twitching hands. Unfortunately that put it right in front of Clu, who snatched it without a word.


“This will need to be dealt with,” he said. “I can’t have you two bickering over some useless program.”

Sam turned back to glare at Rinzler when he heard the lift in his rumble that amounted to much the same thing as laughter. “He’s not useless,” he snapped. It was meant for both of them, but only Clu responded, naturally.

“You have to put into the system in order to take out of the system, Sam. I’ve explained that. Even you were put to work when you came here.”

There was no arguing that, unfortunately; Pin was doing the next best thing to coasting, and unlike Sam, he didn’t have the safeguard of being the icing in the middle of a program Oreo. Jarvis had been right about one thing—Sam enjoyed privileges he hadn’t earned. Not that he was going to complain, and if Clu was serious about teaching Sam to work the system, then he’d more than earn back everything he had unjustly gained over the cycle. It was just a matter of finding some way to make Pin a part of that.

“Look,” he said. “I know he’s been a drain. I get that. But I will find something for him to do. You want me to build for you? I definitely need to learn more, you know that—you said it yourself in the elevator.”

Clu waited, obviously aware that Sam had a greater point to make. Beside them Rinzler purred curiously and stared down at the disc in Clu’s hand.

“The Grid needs you. Both of you.” He gestured to Rinzler, and actually managed to pull his attention from the disc for all of half a second. “You aren’t going to be able to spend all of your time babysitting me. I’ll use Pin as an assistant when you’re not around, like Jarvis is to you. He’ll be my messenger, and send you reports, because I sure as hell have no idea how any of that shit works.”

Clu looked down at the disc and narrowed his eyes, and Sam could almost see him weighing the cost of keeping a useless program in the system against the cost of his own time being divided between administration and seeing to Sam while he worked. A quick glance and a flicker of a smile told Sam everything he needed to know before Clu even opened his mouth to respond. “You’re persuasive, you know that?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with persuasive programs.”

“Mm.” Clu spun the disc on his finger and tossed it to Sam without bothering to aim. Sam scrambled to catch it, and managed after an embarrassing fumble. “Take it to the arena, command him to reprioritize his functions. He’s yours now.” When Rinzler rattled angrily Clu made a soothing motion. “Problem solved, Rinzler. The disc is no longer your concern.” Almost as though Clu had spoken a magic word, Rinzler snapped back to his normal mode; he stood up straight and his rumble evened out, making him sound less like an angry weed whacker and more like a brewing coffee pot. He turned to Sam and gave him a once-over, and Sam detected there were still some hard feelings. He couldn’t say they weren’t mutual.

“Wait,” he said. “What do you mean by command him?” That sounded like much more than a simple choice of words. Sam had picked up a few tricks living on the Grid, and one of them was sensing when programs meant something related to functions or data, even though the words they used sounded indistinguishable from everything else.

“A command,” Clu repeated. “You’re a user, and I’ve already granted you co-admin status. That should be enough.”

“You can do that?” He hadn’t seen Clu do anything out of the ordinary, and certainly nothing so significant.

“The empty slot was there, I simply moved you up the column, and reclassified your designated function. You were already pretty high, being who you are.” He smiled as though that explained everything. Sam was left staring, brow scrunched in confusion. Clu turned on his heel and headed toward the makeshift bedroom, gesturing over his shoulder for Sam and Rinzler to follow.

It didn’t take two guesses to figure out what he had in mind.

“I don’t think ‘kiss and make up’ is going to help here,” Sam said. He shot a glance at Rinzler, who returned it in kind. Maybe. It was hard to tell with his helmet on, but he had definitely looked at Sam, at least.

Clu shrugged out of his long coat and let it fall to the floor behind him as he walked. His suit derezzed in large pieces, retracting into his disc, and he sat himself on the edge of the bed just as the last of the black fragments disappeared over his shoulders. “I had a lot more in mind than kissing,” he said. Sam rolled his eyes and Rinzler purred delightedly, divesting himself of his own suit twice as fast as Clu had. When he reached the bed they both looked up at Sam. Two sets of blue eyes, and Sam was absolutely powerless to resist either of them.

“Alright,” he sighed, stepping up to the bed. “But I want to call some of the shots this time.”

“You outrank everyone but me, now,” Clu murmured against Rinzler’s shoulder. His hands slid over the other program’s chest and down between his legs. Sam watched, taking in the sight of Rinzler spreading his thighs to grant Clu better access, his mouth hanging open as he looked down to follow the hand that stroked him.

It was like something out of a Renaissance sculptor’s wet dream. Sam had long since forgotten to feel ashamed for staring; Clu and Rinzler were the next best thing to full-on exhibitionists, and Sam was pretty sure they would be more offended if he didn’t look. At least, that was what he told himself as he derezzed his suit and took hold of his very eager erection. Clu had leaned over to wrap his mouth around Rinzler’s cock, and the way he moved, bobbing his head so slowly as he worked Rinzler into a frenzy—Sam could almost feel it. The heat of it. The way his tongue flicked across the tip and around the underside of the head. Clu had skills Sam was pretty sure no one had ever programmed into him. That kind of effort came from practice.

“Rinzler,” he said without even thinking. “Lay back.”

Rinzler obeyed and lowered himself to the bed, and Sam knelt between his legs. He grabbed Clu for a quick kiss, and then urged him back down over Rinzler’s cock again, watching for a moment before claiming his own space. He dragged his tongue up and around the shaft, covering anything Clu hadn’t already swallowed, and then ventured back down. Rinzler purred and whined as Sam rolled his tongue across his balls, and then nearly lifted himself from the bed when Sam pressed a finger to his entrance. Clu shot Sam an approving look and then picked up his pace. They worked Rinzler together, driving his wordless litany to a point where he couldn’t seem to maintain a single pitch. He swiveled his hips under Sam’s touch, and thrust against Clu as he dragged his lips over every hard inch.

Please,” Rinzler grated. Sam felt his heart and his cock jump at the sound.

“You want us, Rinzler?” Sam asked. He noticed Clu arching an eyebrow out of the corner of his eye, but ignored it. They would figure out sooner or later that he wasn’t the protesting little princess they’d started with. It was their fault anyway.

Rinzler nodded against the bed and tensed until Sam could see his thighs shake. Clu released his cock with an obscenely wet sound that Sam could almost feel, and together they crawled onto the bed on either side of him. Rinzler looked back and forth, apparently confused. Sam moved first. He pushed Rinzler toward Clu, onto his side, and edged himself over until they were flush against one another, front to back. He lifted Rinzler’s leg and held it up while Clu positioned himself. Rinzler’s purr hitched uncertainly as Sam reached down with his other hand to grip his own cock; he pushed it against Rinzler, mouthing along the curve of his shoulder while he pressed into him.

It was indescribable. The source of the scalding heat that poured from Rinzler every moment of the day—all wrapped around Sam’s cock so impossibly tight that it nearly hurt. He thrust without thinking, only vaguely aware that he didn’t actually have to be so careful, that Rinzler wasn’t built like a human. Sam could hear himself crying out with each thrust, but the sound was so distant. Then Rinzler went still, and Sam felt Clu slide in next to him, filling the already snug space with the intense burn of his gold circuits—lavender from the point of contact, and radiating out in waves along his body. He moved even faster than Sam, pumping his cock into Rinzler with such force that Sam had to fight to overtake his lead. Rinzler wrapped his arms around Clu and breathed hard against him, and Clu watched Sam, staring at him as they fucked Rinzler in tandem.

Sam didn’t have the stamina programs possessed; he benefited from the boost granted to him by the Grid, but that still paled in comparison to the others. Even so, it seemed as though he had found Rinzler’s true weakness; he bucked and writhed between them, rolling out sounds that fell somewhere between a growl and the grinding of broken glass. Sam threw one arm over his side and took hold of Rinzler’s cock, intent on making him come before either of them. If he could do that, he reasoned, then he could forgive Rinzler for what had happened earlier. If not, he’d probably still forgive him, but he would feel a lot less accomplished about it.

“How does it feel, Sam?” Clu panted. He leaned his head back to let Rinzler bite and suckle at his neck, and Sam watched it all with rapt attention.

“Amazing,” Sam managed to say between grunts. Clu took over holding Rinzler’s leg, and Sam seized the opportunity to jack himself further into the program, overtaking Clu at least in depth, if not speed.

Clu narrowed his eyes and thrust hard, making Sam clench his teeth just as he felt the warm spill of liquid over his hand. Rinzler clenched around them and practically vibrated through the rapid purr that tumbled out of him. That was all it took for Sam, and he rode the waves of Rinzler’s orgasm to his own. Clu kept thrusting through it all, gripping Sam with one hand and cradling Rinzler’s head with the other. When he came it was hard, and Sam could feel every second of it, Clu’s cock pulsating against his own until he had nothing left.

Sam was slow to pull out, but Clu stayed, holding Rinzler against him as the enforcer’s circuits faded slowly from violet to orange, and his rumble evened itself. For a moment things were mostly quiet, except for Rinzler.

Sam rolled over onto his back and looked up at the enormous, wide window that comprised the entire back wall of the room; the sky was dark and angry as usual, and behind the clouds faint and impossibly even lights twinkled in the distance. One bright light stood out, though, and it took Sam a few minutes of bewildered staring before he realized it wasn’t supposed to be there.

“What is that?” he asked quietly.

Clu was on his back as well by that point, with Rinzler curled up next to him. When he heard Sam’s voice he opened his eyes and looked around. “What?”

“That light.”

It was too bright. Clu looked at Sam and then craned his head back to follow his line of sight. His sharp gasp wasn’t reassuring at all.

“The portal.”

Chapter Text

“You gotta let me go.”

Sam tried to seem as authoritative as possible; he wasn’t sure it accurately reflected his new position—hell, he still wasn’t entirely clear on just what his new position was, apart from the title. Clu made it sound like a big deal, but Sam didn’t feel any different. He had said Sam outranked everyone else on the Grid, which was awesome, but there hadn’t been any time to really test that out yet.


“Because?” He couldn’t think of a better answer. It made sense in his own mind, but of course Clu would be operating on those seemingly-random principles that programs clung to so dearly without any awareness of doing it. “Because it’s probably Alan—” He was interrupted by an excited blurt from Rinzler. “And he doesn’t need to go through what I did.”

It had to be Alan. Sam had thought about it during his long trudge through the Outlands; coming to the only sensible conclusion based on the evidence, he felt. Alan had owned the arcade for the better part of twenty-five years, and he alone had access to it that whole time. Except of course when Sam got a little wasted and got a lot angry and decided to wreck shit up in the name of cheap therapy. Alan had also continued paying the electric bill all those years, which wasn’t the kind of thing a thrifty guy like him would do for no reason, in Sam’s opinion. For a man sitting on the kind of money he had access to, he was a damn miser when it came to any sort of pointless spending. Sam could still remember asking Alan for a pack of Juicy Fruit gum at a gas station once when he was about nine, and having to wash all the windows on the car just to earn the quarter it cost. Of course, at the time Sam had still been the inheritor of his father’s stock in Encom. He wasn’t really aware of what that entailed, and had he been, there was no doubt he’d have bought out a candy store and a fucking Toys ‘R’ Us, just because he could. By the time the stock came into his hands he’d developed a not-so-healthy measure of bitterness that tempered every decision; he handed all of it to Alan, washing his hands of the whole damn legacy, and retreating into a life of reckless obscurity. Alan said he would save the money for Sam, hold it in an IRA or a CD or some other bunch of letters, and give it all back when Sam came to his senses. That would happen half-past never. Sam was a breath away from changing his last name, if the memory of his grandparents hadn’t stopped him.

It wouldn’t have taken much of the money he squirreled away for Sam to support his little basement project. Sam knew the kind of equipment that he’d found down in the arcade basement; it was top of the line for its day, but by that time Alan would have had a good chunk of his own money saved up, and with a little here and there from Sam’s share, maintaining things and paying the bills every month would be a drop in the bucket. In a way he admired the kind of secrecy it must have taken, keeping an entire world hidden from everyone else. There was little doubt in Sam’s mind that it was Alan; no one else on the Grid looked like they had just walked in from the past like Rinzler did.

Then again, Clu had said his user created the system. He’d also said his user entered the system and never left, wreaking havoc through neglect, instead of nurturing the programs who worshipped him. Destroying lives, when it had been his job to protect them. Abandoning Clu and everyone else. Everyone else.

Sam felt like the room was spinning. “I need to get out anyway, okay? I just need some air.”

“There’s air in here—”

“I said I need some air!” Sam shouted.

Clu recoiled at the outburst. For a fleeting moment he looked something Sam could have mistaken for hurt, but then he redoubled with anger. “Go,” he said sourly. “If it is Alan-one, get him out of my system. I’ve had enough of users right now.”

They both ignored the excited buzz threaded into Rinzler’s purr.

Sam wasn’t sure what to say, so he said the first thing he could remember that seemed to have ever had a positive effect on Clu, and wasn’t intrinsically sexual: “I’ll come back.”

He couldn’t tell if it worked, but Clu didn’t snarl anything sarcastic back at him, and that was generally a good sign. Sam turned and headed for the door, docking his disc as he went. Just as he reached the threshold a quiet sound from Clu stopped him. He turned and waited. “Yeah?”

“Take Jarvis.”


“Great,” Jarvis whined. “More users.” He had his arms crossed like a kid who didn’t want to eat his vegetables, and for more than a couple of seconds Sam contemplated hitting him or pushing him off the recognizer.

Man, he hated recognizers. There was no good reason for them not to have taken a limousine, or even a couple of light cycles, though he wasn’t at all sure he could drive one. The last time he had even touched a bike was when he helped wheel the rusted pile of junk out of the garage at his grandparents’ estate sale, and into the back of someone’s trailer. Of course, he had never driven an upright aerial craft before, either, but that hadn’t stopped him from stealing one and crashing it into nothing. Not so much his fault, but just being on another recognizer made his stomach do flips. He tried staring at one of the orange light strips—there were plenty to choose from—but Jarvis’ petulant flailing to his right kept dragging him back to the wider view around them. All around them.

It wasn’t even so far away that they needed flying transportation. Hell, Sam was sure he probably could have walked to meet Alan before the man even worked up the nerve to leave the fake arcade.

So many questions. All Sam could think of, aside from his churning stomach and the threat of dropping to his death, was how much he needed Alan to tell him that the system was his project. Even if it didn’t completely add up, he just had to hear it.

Suddenly all he wanted to do was turn back, and send Jarvis on by himself. He could probably handle the task of guiding Alan to the portal and kicking him out. Ah, but Alan would want to see everything; he was a programmer, after all. His entire life revolved around computers. The chance to see one from the inside, to discover the complex and ordered lives of the beings that inhabited it? Sam couldn’t imagine him turning that down.

“We’re here,” Jarvis announced. He stepped over to the edge of the carriage just as the legs touched down, each one blasting blue fire across the pavement below. The carriage dropped down to street level, and Sam exited quickly, leaving Jarvis walking back and forth as though he intended to stay and guard it from thieves.

“You’re coming too,” Sam said. He did a two-finger summon, trying yet again to seem authoritative. Jarvis frowned and dragged himself over.

“I don’t need to come along for this.”

“Well, you are. The sentries can stay out here. Last thing Alan needs is a bunch of armed ravers looking like they want to mug him.” He nodded to the sentries to stand by the recognizer, and then jogged ahead to hold open the door for Jarvis. “Ladies first.”

“Your visual processors need calibration.”

Sam frowned and followed Jarvis into the building. The space inside was pristine; tiled in black glass like so many places on the Grid, and dark. No lights flickered on to herald their presence. Sam could hear a voice coming from the passageway leading down to the basement, but other than that the building was silent as a tomb.

“Alan?” he called out. The voice stopped. “It’s Sam, I’m coming down—we’re coming down.”

Jarvis looked mortified. “I don’t want to go.”

“I don’t care. Follow me.” It was actually kind of nice learning just how much weight his orders carried now that Clu had bumped him up the line. He wondered if he could also get a uniform swap out of it, since he would no longer work in the arena. Maybe something that covered his dick for a change. Of course, that probably meant no laser finger. Nothing said he couldn’t try for both, though.

They made their way down the narrow stairs and into the darkness of the basement. It was lit just enough to make out the shapes of a desk and a person, both against the far wall. There was no doubt the latter was Alan; Sam could see the collar of his favorite trench coat, and the reflection of his own circuits in Alan’s glasses.

“Hey,” Sam said. He waved awkwardly. It had been a very long time since he felt the need to greet anyone like a user.

“Sam?” Alan’s voice was strained, like he’d just finished yelling. Sam assumed it had something to do with the one-sided conversation he heard before. “Where have you been? What is this place?”

Something hopeful inside Sam died listening the string of questions. A glimmer of hope remained that Alan had accidentally created the Grid, but that didn’t fit with any of the limited information the programs had shared about their creator. Sam could feel his heart start to hammer in his chest, and he was distantly aware of the response it generated in his circuits.

“Sam—Sam what are you wearing?”

Jarvis was staring, too. He looked close to a complete breakdown.

“I—god, nothing. Nothing, Alan. It’s a suit, but it’s too hard to explain.” He had to calm himself. He had to stop thinking about all the possible explanations; none of them were making him feel any better. They were all different versions of the same thing, anyway. “Come on, let’s get outside where there’s some light.”

“I think you’re making enough light, both of you. And,” Alan paused and turned to Jarvis. “Who is this?”

“My name is—”

“He doesn’t matter,” Sam interrupted. He could see Jarvis shoot him a deadly glare, but that was the lowest among his many concerns at that moment.

“How do we leave?” Alan asked.

“Just right up the stairs—”

“No, how do we go home?

Sam drew back from him a bit. Alan didn’t seem to care that he was in another world; a world he would probably never have another chance to see. “There’s a portal back out of the computer that opened when you came in. I’ll take you to it. Just… come upstairs, okay?” he said as gently as possible.

Alan hesitated for a moment, but eventually nodded and followed Sam and Jarvis back up into the empty arcade and out to the street. When he caught sight of the massive recognizer towering overhead he nearly darted back inside. Sam had to keep an arm on his coat, and more than once all that stood between Alan and a mad dash was Sam’s tight grip.

“What the hell is this thing?” Alan demanded. He stared up at the machine, completely oblivious to the glittering neon city that towered around him. “It looks like something from Space Paranoids.”

No. No, no, no. “Let’s go,” Sam said quietly. He gestured to the carriage, where the sentries had moved aside to give the other three room.

Alan shook his head. “I’m not getting on this thing! Sam, we need to get out of here. This—this isn’t right.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“We’re in a computer. I know that laser, I know what it does. I spent every night listening to Lora go on and on about it, and what they were trying to accomplish. I never would have stepped in front of it if I knew the damn thing was working!”

Sam almost couldn’t believe it was Alan he was listening to. The man who used to talk about lines of code as though they were stunning vistas into the human soul. Who dedicated his entire life to his work, and fought tooth and nail to make his mark in the industry, despite the constant uphill battles with Encom. He never pulled rank, never used his status as the majority shareholder to force them to his way of thinking. It was only ever on the merits of his work, and his unwavering belief in its importance. Yet he was standing in the middle of a fantasy tailored to everything most important in his life, and all he wanted to do was leave.

“It’s another world, Alan. What are you so afraid of?”

“This,” Alan said, making a sweeping gesture around himself. “This isn’t natural. Human beings aren’t meant to live inside a computer.”

“Says who?”

Jarvis raised his hand and looked between them. “Do I have to be here for this?”

“I’m worried for you, Sam,” Alan said. “I looked everywhere. You’ve been gone for days. I tried calling, I checked your apartment. I figured maybe you broke into the arcade again—damn me for being right, I just didn’t know how right.” He reached out to put an arm on Sam’s shoulder, and his anger faded to something more tolerably concerned.

Sam put up a hand and shook his head. That couldn’t be right. That didn’t make sense. “Wait—days?” It had to have been longer. He’d been on the Grid for nearly a full cycle, and it felt like months, maybe even years already.

“It’s Thursday. I didn’t even start looking until Sunday night. If I’d known… Sam, this is all very beautiful, and it’s as fascinating as it is frightening, but it’s not where you belong.”

That kicked Sam’s anger and frustration into overdrive. He jerked his arm away from Alan and backed up to the recognizer. “Where I belong? You mean I belong in a studio apartment, waiting for my landlord to get around to fixing the hot water? You have no idea what I’ve got here; friends, people who care about me—” They did care, even if they didn’t really know the most appropriate ways to show it. He was sure of that. “I have a purpose. I can do anything now. Create, expand the system, improve the lives of millions of programs. I can actually make a difference. And I got that on my own.”

He neglected to mention that he’d earned a lot of it on his knees, his back, his front, and on one unique occasion, upside-down on his hands.

“But you’re not really living, Sam. It’s not real.”

“I dare you to say that to Clu.”

Alan canted his head and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, as though that struck something he couldn’t quite pin down. Sam had seen the look many times before. “That name sounds so familiar,” Alan said. He shook his head and focused on Sam again. “Look, I don’t want to fight with you. Not now. I’m just happy I found you.” His expression softened, and he flashed the wide grin that had always made Sam go a little weak when he was younger. It had a similar effect now, and he kicked himself for reacting so predictably.

“Can I go?” Jarvis asked quietly.

Sam returned a wary smile. “Believe it or not, Alan, I am glad you’re here. I didn’t want to disappear and leave you wondering.” One experience with that was enough for both of them. “And I wanted to ask if you could take my dog,” he added. “I don’t think he’d do so well here.” Although he had to admit, the idea of a dog running around with a tiny identity disc and his own four-legged grid suit was pretty damn funny.

“Just how long do you think you’ll stay here?” Alan asked. “A month, a year? What about your apartment, all your things?”

“Sell it.” Sam shrugged. “Or hell—I’ll come back for a bit and sell it myself.” He couldn’t take too long, though. If the time difference was so great, just a few hours would be days, even weeks inside the system. How would Clu and Rinzler feel if he didn’t come back fast enough? From everything he’d said about his user, Clu would feel beyond betrayed. Rinzler, on the other hand, might get over him pretty quickly—he had somehow inherited Alan’s face, but he didn’t have a byte in common with the man otherwise.

He really didn’t.

They looked so much alike, but they were two different people. Rinzler was casually selfish, completely open for someone who could barely talk, and lived second to second. Most programs were like that, but Rinzler had it down to an art. Even his anger was short-lived once the source was removed. He had every reason to be pissed at Sam for getting one over on him at the arena, but it had faded into past data, pooled and forgotten the moment they all fell onto the bed together.

Sam glanced over at Jarvis and caught a look that made him curious. “What?” he asked.

“You can’t leave,” Jarvis said. “Clu won’t stand for it.”

“He’ll understand. We—” Sam stopped himself. The last thing he needed Alan to find out was that he’d ended up in the digital equivalent of a gay polygamist commune. Learning about the Grid was enough for one day. For one lifetime. Yeah, Alan didn’t really need to know about the parts that involved Sam being dicked regularly by two other guys, one of which looked exactly like him. “He’ll understand. Just don’t worry about it.”

Jarvis didn’t look convinced, but he kept quiet after that. At least about that issue. Once Sam finally managed to convince Alan to board the recognizer, he complained nonstop about feeling cramped and being stuck chauffeuring users—to which Sam replied that he wasn’t even the one driving. Alan remained skeptical and worried as the recognizer started its ascent, but he protested less and less when they climbed up through the white-lined skyscrapers and broke out into the open sky, giving him an unobstructed view of the entire city. Sam hadn’t seen it that way since his first ride to the arena—and a brief glance over his shoulder as he took his ill-fated escape flight.

“It’s amazing, right?” he asked Alan. The response was a wide-eyed nod.

“How is it all powered?”

Sam shrugged. “I dunno, Jarvis could probably explain that to you.”

“I don’t want to.”


They floated around at Sam’s direction, with Jarvis offering a full rundown of the Grid’s logistical details as they flew. Eventually Alan asked to stop, saying he was overwhelmed, but Sam had a feeling the flood of information wasn’t helping matters. It was one thing to see the Grid in all its glory, and another entirely to learn just what a massive hive of activity lay underneath. The whole thing was alive.

“I’d show you a disc game, but the arena isn’t hosting any today,” Sam said as they swooped down to a sublevel hatch. The massive doors retracted, revealing an opening in the top level of the city. He didn’t mention that the games included slaughtering the losers; the less Alan knew about those unsavory aspects of the Grid, the better he’d feel about Sam living there.

“So where are we going now?” Alan asked curiously. He was leaning as close to the edge as he dared, which wasn’t very far at all.

“The portal, user,” Jarvis replied. “Unwanted hard data is transported across the Sea of Simulation and disposed of where it doesn’t pose a risk of returning to the Grid.” Sam recognized that as a fancy way of saying that they dumped their trash in the deepest part of the ocean. Most things could be derezzed and return to the system’s variable data pool; hard data, what made up the system itself, could never truly be destroyed. “We use a solar sailer for that,” Jarvis added. “It also serves as a transport between the Grid and the portal—for users.”

“I see.”

“If you didn’t, we could probably augment your sensors to compensate for the loss of input.”

Sam let Alan handle that one.


He’d never actually seen the portal up close. It was a solid pillar of light, broken up by floating shapes that seemed made of light themselves. They approached it cautiously, and Jarvis wouldn’t go near it at all; his reaction to the light was something between reverence and stark terror, and it left him frozen in the middle of the stairs. Sam could just barely see the top of his head as they approached the portal itself.

“Tell Clu I’ll be right back,” Sam called to him. Jarvis’ head bobbed a bit, and then he disappeared entirely.

Alan gestured to the portal. “Do we have to do anything special?”

“I don’t think so. When I asked, Pin said I just needed to step into it. I guess that’s why programs avoid it. Maybe only users can go in and out.” That truly was the extent of his knowledge regarding the most vital aspect of the Grid for a human being. Not that he intended to use it often, but the potential for changes he could apply to the Grid from the outside were staggering. He’d have to see what could be done, and he wouldn’t do anything without consulting Clu first, but the idea was there. The very thought of it made him anxious to get out, get his business in order, and get back in.

They stepped through the portal together. The moment they materialized back in the arcade, Sam started counting the minutes.

Chapter Text

Alan had tried everything short of tying Sam to a chair to keep him in their world. It was touching, but Sam was determined. He had people waiting for him, and in the three days it had taken him to clear out his meager possessions and hand everything off to Alan, they must have assumed he was gone for good. Three days translated into a lot of time on the Grid. Sam hoped Rinzler had actually brought Pin’s disc to the armory like he asked, but there wasn’t much he could do about that now; going back and asking Clu if he could leave would have simply resulted in more strife—and frankly Sam didn’t think he should have required permission. Still, he could have hoped for a better messenger than Jarvis. The pasty little weasel was probably celebrating Sam’s departure, waiting for a chance to move in on Clu. Every time Same thought about that possibility a small spark of jealousy struck him, and he pushed harder to get back to the Grid. Not that he thought Clu would go slumming in his absence but… well, it was entirely possible, actually.

“So you’ll turn the laser back on once a week, right?” he asked Alan. They were standing outside the arcade, under the yellow glow of a street light.

“I thought you said once a month,” Alan replied. “Sam, are you absolutely sure? There’s nothing I can say that will convince you to pursue this purpose you’ve found out here, in the real world?”

“Would you stop calling it that? They’re both real, Alan. Maybe programs don’t bleed, but they sure as hell feel like real people.” He let Alan take that however he wanted. It worked on a few different levels. “Let’s not do this now? Come on.”

Alan sighed and reached into the car. He withdrew the box Sam had brought with him; computer parts and some supplies to make the basement more livable for the times he would have to come out to work on the system. He’d also brought some things that he hoped would make the jump from physical to digital space; a small stack of notes detailing upgrades he intended to make, scissors, a couple of books on architecture and mechanical design, and one comprehensive catalog of interior decorating tips, along with a bag to carry it all. The scissors he could live without, but he was really hoping the computer would be able to read the information in the books.

“Start out with once a week,” he said. “Then we’ll move up to once a month. I don’t know how much I’ll need to do from the outside.”

“Alright,” Alan agreed grudgingly. “I’ll bring you something to eat, too. Just in case you want real food. Take care of yourself, Sam. I’ll miss you.”

Sam cocked his head and gave Alan a patient smile. “Come on, it’s not like you’ll never see me again. Just pretend I moved, only it’s a lot easier to visit me.”

“From what you’ve told me, I don’t think that Clu fellow would like me hanging around on a regular basis.”

Sam waved his hand to dismiss Alan’s concerns. “He’ll get over it. I think Rinzler would be excited to meet you, though.” He didn’t mention that he would also make sure Rinzler kept his helmet on the whole time. He didn’t think Alan needed to know about his digital copy. Especially if it ever came to light just what they had been doing together. The whole situation was weird enough already.

Though he almost had to remind himself that he had been thinking of Alan at first. When that had transitioned into only thinking of Rinzler, he couldn’t be sure, but somehow Alan and the teenage crush Sam had harbored for him had shifted to the background, almost invisible beyond the immediate and capricious affection Rinzler beamed his way.

“Maybe some other time,” Alan said. “Go on in, I’ll lock up after you. Don’t lose the spare keys.”

Another quick goodbye and an awkward hug (he’d almost forgotten how to hug without it leading to sex), and then Sam was walking through the arcade, heading for the secret basement access. He heard Alan’s keys working the lock, shutting him in, and then the sound of the game cabinet sliding across its well-worn rut in the floor blocked out everything else. It didn’t take him long to straighten up the cramped space around the computer, and a few quick keystrokes had the laser powering up, ready to send him back in. The process felt different now that he was expecting it; like sinking into ball pit—at least for the split second before everything simply ceased to register on a tactile level he could comprehend in human terms. He appeared inside the Grid analog of the arcade, just as he had before, standing this time rather than sitting. With the real-world comparison fresh in his mind, Sam started to get an idea of just why it was every little touch drove him wild; he was pretty sure he felt with his entire being on the Grid. It was like being hypersensitive, and he was pretty sure his fake circuits had amplified the effect.

Speaking of his suit, it hadn’t rematerialized on his body when he appeared in the fake arcade, much to his relief. He was really hoping never to have to wear it again. Clu liked it—Rinzler definitely liked it, but of all the things he was expected to accept as part of his daily life, that was one that just never really made it to a level of normalcy he could manage. Now, something black and classy like Clu’s suit… that he could do. Maybe lit in blue.

He checked the bag he had slung over his shoulder to carry his books and scissors into the system; it was all gone.

“Damn,” he cursed quietly.

He had intended to start bringing in more leisure-oriented objects if the first test with the books worked out. It was probably for the best, though; when confronted with anything they didn’t understand, programs had a tendency to over-ask to the point of madness. He could imagine they would be the worst sort of audience, who simply couldn’t sit still and wait for things to be revealed—asking question after question and making the experience miserable in the meantime. Still, it would have been nice to have the option of sharing something entertaining with them. If there was one thing the Grid lacked, it was real, old-fashioned fun. No wonder everyone liked to screw so much.

No recognizer swooped down to pick him up this time when he exited the arcade. The streets were empty except for a few programs wandering around in raincoats, carrying glowing, clear umbrellas against the steady drizzle. Sam pulled his hood up and started walking toward the center of the city, and the tallest tower that he could see. He wondered what kind of reception he could expect from Clu and Rinzler. If his conversation with Alan had been correct, then the three days it took him to get everything together would have accounted for a lot more time than “I’ll be right back” could reasonably excuse.

A few blocks into his walk Sam heard the sound of a vehicle approaching. It was a soft sound, like the hum of a magnetic train gliding along its track. He recognized it immediately as a limousine; they were plentiful enough in the more populous parts of town, and usually ferried programs too important to waste their time walking the streets from destination to destination. As it pulled up beside him, Sam noted the bright gold lines arcing over the smooth edges of the vehicle.

“Gotta be the center of attention everywhere you go, huh?” he muttered. The limo stopped, and a previously invisible seam framed a door that slid back to reveal a spacious, dark interior. The only thing he could clearly see inside were a few pinpoint orange lights, tucked into a corner.

“Rinzler?” Sam put one hand on the top of the limo and leaned inside. “Where’s Clu?”

Rinzler lunged forward and grabbed Sam by the collar, pulling him into the limo just as the door slammed shut behind him. For a moment everything was silent, and then the engine hummed to life and they were moving. Sam let himself adjust to the dark surroundings, sight slowly normalizing in the bare light cast by Rinzler and the almost imperceptible glow of pale, honey-gold lights, traceable back to small panels below the seats.

“Hi to you, too,” Sam said. He had landed on his side, cheek-first on the bench seat next to Rinzler. It wasn’t the most comfortable he’d ever been, but it didn’t hurt, and that was pretty good, all things considered. He righted himself and took a deep breath, trying to quell the sudden hammering of his heart, and the pulse of blood that felt like it was doing a drag race through his body. So, Clu knew he was there, but he hadn’t come himself. Sam wondered if he was busy. He couldn’t recall a time Clu had ever put business before pleasure; he even postponed executions if it meant a quickie over the back of the throne. Sam looked over at Rinzler, who had moved to spread himself out on the seat opposite Sam’s, but his blank face betrayed nothing.

Sam turned to look out the window—realizing too late that they were totally opaque. He shrugged out of the straps of his bag and set it aside, sighing and brushing a hand through his hair. The paranoia that accompanied thoughts of what Clu would say, how he would react—Sam suddenly wished he had come a bit better prepared. Maybe brought flowers. Well, that was a ridiculous idea, but he wasn’t sure what kind of apologetic gifts programs would appreciate. Probably a blow job, knowing Clu.

Rinzler, seeming momentarily psychic, suddenly crawled out of the bench seat and onto the floor of the limo, depositing himself between Sam’s legs. Sam could only stare as he watched the program run his hands over the fabric of his jeans, marveling at material and clothing he had probably never seen before. His hands came to a rest on the inside of Sam’s thighs, and for a moment they both froze, with Sam staring down at Rinzler, and Rinzler staring at the increasingly obvious bulge in Sam’s pants.

“Missed me?” Sam ventured, licking his lips. He had a brief mental flash of ripping open his fly and shoving Rinzler’s head down over his cock, holding him in place as he fucked up into his mouth. He’d spent too much time with Clu. “Let me—” he started, but Rinzler quickly shut him down with a swat when he tried to reach for his own zipper. “Okay, okay. Point taken; sit back and enjoy. I got it.”

Good,” Rinzler rumbled. He wrenched the button from its catch and practically tore the teeth of the zipper apart; Sam was pretty sure it wouldn’t work right after that sort of treatment.

A surprisingly gentle touch glided over the head of his cock as Rinzler reached into his pants, and Sam let his head fall back against the seat. He closed his eyes and focused on the careful strokes from Rinzler’s gloved hand, the way his palm rolled over the tip before he reached back down again. When the hand disappeared he opened his eyes a sliver, only to widen them in shock as fingers curled under the waist of his pants and an impossibly strong grip pulled them halfway down his hips. Sam looked around; there had to be some way to raise the lights. He wanted to watch. He wanted to see his whole length disappear into Rinzler’s mouth.

“Lights? Uh, can you—oh.” The lights raised automatically, and Sam narrowed his eyes. There was no way it could be that simple. Nothing on the Grid was that simple. He only had a few seconds to spare for that, though, as Rinzler’s hot tongue dragged over his cock a moment later, ridiculously hot and wet, touching all the right places on its slow journey down the shaft. Sam lifted his hips without thinking, and Rinzler pulled back to compensate. “Come on,” Sam pleaded. “Put it in your mouth. Don’t tease me.”

Rinzler looked up at him with that same dark grin that Sam had seen too many times to mistake its meaning; he was enjoying himself, the impromptu oral sex probably had nothing to do with Sam. Rinzler was just feeling deprived, apparently. Sam could work with that. He watched as Rinzler’s head dipped down further between his legs, and Sam could only grip the back of the seat when he felt warm lips on his balls, mouthing at the soft flesh while he flicked his tongue back and forth.

Shit, god that’s good,” Sam rasped. His fingers clawed at the soft fabric of the seat and his legs pulled back involuntarily, but he managed to maintain enough self control not to just thrust wildly. Finally Rinzler gave up the torment and flattened his tongue against the base of Sam’s cock, sliding it up slowly, agonizingly careful over every inch, following each twitch as Sam whined quietly and panted above him. When he reached the tip he arched his neck and swallowed just over halfway down, earning a brief loss of control from Sam that pushed the rest into his throat. Rinzler took it in stride and followed Sam back down to the seat. He twisted and stroked his tongue all around the shaft, paying particular attention to the sensitive spot just under the head that Sam had always loved. When Rinzler pressed his tongue against it Sam couldn’t help but grab him, holding his head down while he jerked his hips in small, shallow thrusts.

“Not gonna fight me?” Sam panted. He noted that Rinzler was watching him, looking up the way he had in the alley the night he and Clu made their ambush and things went from casual to confusing. It was something he knew Sam enjoyed; okay, so maybe it was a little about him, and not just getting off sucking Sam’s dick. “Did you miss me, Rinzler?” he asked. “Were you thinking about me? About this?” He distantly wished that Rinzler could actually reply, because he really wanted to know, needed to hear that they had spent the time he was away thinking about him. He imagined Clu and Rinzler on the bed, naked, arms and legs wrapped around each other as they acted out everything they would do to Sam when he came back. Before he knew it he was pulling Rinzler’s head down on his cock so hard that Rinzler had started gagging quietly with each thrust. Sam apologized and let go, but the pace on Rinzler’s end didn’t stop. If anything it increased. Sam grunted and rolled his hips, breathing out small ahs and yeahs and wondering if the seat was long enough to stretch out so Rinzler could fuck him.

The attention to his cock suddenly disappeared, and Sam cried out in complaint. “What the hell?”

Rinzler pulled himself up into the seat, and it was only then that Sam noticed he had derezzed the crotch of his suit. He crawled into Sam’s lap, wrapping his arms around Sam’s shoulders and burying his face in the crook of his neck. Sam’s arms hovered around him for a moment, unsure what to do with the overly-affectionate program in his lap. Finally he shrugged and settled on holding him with his arms around his back. He ghosted his fingers across the curve of Rinzler’s disc, earning a shiver in response.

“Like that?” he asked. He did it again, and Rinzler spread his thighs, lowering himself so that his body brushed against Sam’s cock. “Oh, I get it. You want me to—okay. I can definitely do that.” Sam reached down and took hold of his own erection, positioning himself between the cleft of Rinzler’s ass and raising his hips just enough to push against him. “Work with me here.”

Rinzler nodded and spread his thighs apart further, going taut when Sam moved into him. He made a low, garbled sound that could have been a word, but Sam couldn’t tell; his entire range of focus had narrowed to where his dick was sliding into the incredible heat of Rinzler’s body. He let go of himself and pushed the program down, holding his hips to control his movements, and keeping him in place as they both adjusted to the sensation.

“You guys are so fuckin’ hot,” Sam muttered. He gave an experimental thrust, and Rinzler let his head fall against Sam’s shoulder. He purred and curled his fingers against the back of Sam’s neck, rolling his body gently as Sam pulled at his hips, rocking him back and forth. “You’re gonna fuck me after this,” Sam said. “So don’t come. Got it?” Rinzler nodded, and Sam responded with a quick upward jab that made every tiny circuit on Rinzler’s body flash violet at once. He did it again, fascinated by the color change, and Rinzler’s purr hitched and lifted accordingly each time. Whatever unnatural source caused the burning heat inside the program’s body, Sam could barely take it; his cock felt like it had been wrapped in electricity, sparking along his body and hitting the pleasure center of his brain like a jackhammer. He started moving faster, lifting Rinzler and pulling him back down harder and harder as he pushed up into him, drawing himself closer to climax and taking Rinzler with him. He tried to keep it slow, to hold off, but even three days had felt like an eternity; when Rinzler bit down on his shoulder through the material of his jacket, Sam lost it. He pulled down hard, burying himself in the hot, tight body above his.

Fucking—fuck!” he shouted, shuddering and arching against the seat as he came. “I can’t—I forgot how that felt. Shit.” Sam held his breath for a second, letting it out as a long sigh before giving one last, shallow thrust. “Like sticking my finger in a socket. God damn.”

Rinzler lifted himself and pulled off Sam’s cock, setting himself back on the opposite seat. His own erection was still standing tall between his legs, and he looked from it to Sam expectantly. Sam chuckled breathlessly and nodded. “I remember,” he said. “Deal’s a deal.” He made a motion for Rinzler to lay down, noting that no, the seats were not wide enough to really stretch out. It didn’t matter, he could work with the cramped space. He’d fucked in worse. His pants came off, followed by his shoes and socks; Sam noted Rinzler’s rapt fascination each time he revealed a new piece of clothing and dropped it into the growing pile on the floor. He left his shirt and jacket on, simply unconcerned with whether or not they were part of the equation.

“Now,” Sam said, stepping across to join Rinzler on the seat. He straddled his hips and smiled. “Let me show you how much I missed you.”


The limo, after what seemed like a ridiculously long ride, finally pulled up in front of Clu’s tower. Sam nearly tumbled out onto the street, still pulling his pants up as Rinzler stepped around him effortlessly, all cat-like grace and no awkwardness whatsoever. It was unfair.

The anxiety over seeing Clu again came surging back, and Sam swallowed down a hard lump in his throat; he had more than just concerns that Clu would be angry with him, but he didn’t want to think about those just yet. He had time, and he knew what he was going to say, but there was a small matter of disappearing for half a cycle that he would have to handle first. With any luck, Clu would be so happy to see him that he’d forget his own unreasonable temper for just a little while. Sam wasn’t afraid of punishment, not anymore, but he didn’t want strife.

A sentry stepped aside as Sam entered the tower, and the gesture made Sam walk just a bit taller than before—difficult, after the thorough reaming he’d received from Rinzler. Apparently being the one on top, he actually wanted to be on top. Sam had spent the second half of the ride to the tower doubled in half, getting pounded against the wall of the limousine, with a suddenly-aggressive program growling at him from above.

“Clu’s inside?” Sam asked Rinzler as they headed into the lift. Rinzler nodded quickly.

When they entered what had turned into shared living quarters, Sam noted an increase in the pointlessly decorative elements that had adorned only a fraction of the space before he left. It was like Clu had occupied the time he would have spent having sex playing interior decorator, instead. “What happened here?” Sam asked. Rinzler didn’t reply, but he didn’t really expect him to, either.

“Sam?” Clu’s voice called out from another room. He came striding in a moment later, all power and arrogance, rolling off him with every step and drawing Sam’s eyes from head to toe like a magnet. Sam felt his stomach drop just looking at him; the way his broad shoulders pulled at the armor of his suit when he lifted his arms, and the tight fabric underneath, stretching to accommodate his movements as he grabbed Sam’s shoulders. He gave him a little shake, and Sam laughed nervously in response. “You came back,” he said. It was spoken like he had discovered something; the way his eyes locked on Sam’s face and never turned away, it seemed he really had believed Sam was gone for good.

“I said I would,” Sam replied. He tried to keep the tone casual, but he admittedly felt a little hurt by the lack of trust. “Turns out it’s not that easy wrapping up your whole life, you know?”

“I don’t.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think… anyway, uh.” Sam stopped. “So what have you—” he didn’t make it any further before Clu leaned down and closed his mouth over Sam’s, cutting him off as he pulled him into a crushing embrace. His hands pulled at Sam’s jacket, and then slipped up under the fabric of his shirt to slide across his skin, over his stomach, coming to rest on his sides.

“User attire. Not as efficient as your suit,” he said. “But it does look good,” he added quickly.

“About that.”

“I can show you how to bring it up from your disc,” Clu continued. “After we’re done.”

“After—oh. So you’re not mad?” A weight came off his shoulders then, and Sam took an involuntary deep breath. He hadn’t expected things to go so well. It was strange.

Clu shook his head. “I—well, you’re here now.” He leaned back from the embrace and gave Sam a quick look. “You kept your word.”

It felt like the words carried more meaning for Clu than they did for Sam, but he accepted it, and didn’t ask questions. The less he knew about the things that had driven the program into dictatorship, the better. He already knew too much. Later, he thought to himself. Bring it up later.

Clu’s arms came down around his waist, and Sam watched as Rinzler pressed against him from behind. One arm left Sam’s body, reaching up to hold Rinzler’s head as Clu leaned back to plant a quick kiss on his lips. “Soon,” Clu said to him. He released Rinzler and turned back to Sam, leaning down to continue what he had started before. Sam opened his mouth to him, moaning quietly into the kiss, around the tongue probing his mouth and winding around his, lips working against him like he was starved for contact. Sam remembered his brief fantasy of Rinzler and Clu taking care of each other in his absence, and his cock stirred at the thought. He made a mental note to ask later—if they had, he wanted details.

Clu hooked one arm around Sam’s neck and reached down with the other, quickly undoing the button and zipper of his pants; obviously much more familiar with the layout of user clothing than Rinzler. He didn’t reach inside, though. Sam felt the tips of his gloves brush against his stomach before disappearing, and when they returned it was skin-on-skin. He lifted one arm and set it on Clu’s bicep, holding the hot circuit beneath his hand and letting the heat and electricity tingle over his skin. Strong, intent hands glided over his abdomen and up under his shirt a second time, and Clu flicked his thumb over one of Sam’s nipples, chuckling into the kiss when Sam jerked his body to the side. He moved up further, splaying his fingers across the center of Sam’s chest. Sam opened one eye and caught Rinzler on the other side of the room, watching them. There was no jealousy in his eyes, no anger or even discontent; he simply stared, eyes dark and body still as he took in the sight of Clu exploring Sam’s body.

The hand on his chest moved down again, and then it finally reached into his pants. Sam groaned and tilted his hips forward as Clu wrapped his fingers around his shaft, pumping it slowly, drawing more and more arousal for his effort. The gold circuits on his suit pulsed and burned, and Sam was sure he could still feel a faint trace of the static buzz through his own clothing. It was muted, nothing like what he held under the hand he had on Clu’s arm, and nowhere near enough. He suddenly felt smothered by just the few layers of fabric. “Off,” he gasped, pulling his mouth back from Clu’s. “I need them off.”


“My clothes, it’s—they’re too much. Just help me.” Sam started tugging at the hem of his shirt, but a hand on his arm stopped him.

“We waited half a cycle.”

Sam stopped with his arms crossed, gripping both his shirt and jacket as though he could simply lift them both over his head. “The hell are you talking about?” he snapped.

“We were patient,” Clu explained. “You can be patient now.” He tugged Sam’s hands from his clothing and set them down at his sides. “You body, it’s… something else.” He leaned down and pressed his lips to the side of Sam’s neck, bringing his hands back up to continue their earlier exploration.

Sam felt like he was going to expire from need. He bit back on the sarcastic reply he wanted to toss back, losing his hold on it when Clu wound a hand into his hair and let go of a warm, slow sigh against his ear. He felt the tip of Clu’s tongue tracing the edge of his ear, down to his earlobe, and then continuing to his neck again. Sam’s knees shook and his arms went slack at his sides.

Without a word Clu walked him backwards to the makeshift bed—it hadn’t been improved in his absence—and slowly lowered them both down onto it. He sat up and reached back, retracting his suit. Sam drank in the sight of his more complex skin circuits; they formed intricate patterns that covered most of his torso and shoulders, disappearing around his back and running down his legs, over his abdomen and straight to the tip of his cock. Clu caught Sam’s appreciation and smiled. “Like what you see?” he asked. Sam nodded, and Clu lowered himself until he was flush on top of Sam, stretched across him, with his erection pressing into the hollow of Sam’s thigh, hard and impossible to ignore. He gave a quick roll of his hips and sighed, and Sam almost pushed him off when he realized what was happening.

“You’re not gonna get off humping me,” he snapped.

“No, I’m not. But it feels very good.” Clu rolled his hips down a second time, and Sam winced at the jab of his erection. It was ridiculously hard. Maybe they hadn’t kept each other occupied while he was gone.

“If I knew you liked jeans so much, I would’ve brought some for you,” Sam said. “Why are you making me wait? Is this punishment for disappearing?”

“I told you it wasn’t. You came back.”

“Yeah but—”

Clu silenced him with another kiss, and, once he was satisfied Sam wasn’t going to try to talk again, started working his way down over his collar, grazing the white cotton shirt with his lips. He reached the bared skin between the hem of Sam’s shirt and his open pants and stopped. His tongue trailed through the light patch of hair on his abdomen, and Sam hissed in a sharp breath. When Clu started working his pants down over his hips he almost sobbed from sheer joy.

“Yes, finally, please,” he pleaded. “And my shirt t—don’t stop, what are you doing?” Sam tried to reach down and push at his pants, moving them closer to off, but Clu stopped him again. He leaned up and knelt over Sam, knees planted on either side of his hips.

“Get up,” he ordered. “Turn and face Rinzler.”

Things were getting frustrating. Sam stared for a moment, then nodded and inched his way out from under Clu, rolling onto his front—difficult, with his jeans and boxers bunched around his thighs—and turning until he was facing Rinzler. He propped his elbows under his chest and looked back over his shoulder at Clu; curious, but momentarily patient.

Clu’s hands slid between his thighs, roaming over his skin appreciatively, and Sam let himself fall down against the bed; he finally understood what was happening. At least, he thought he did. Why it had to include staying mostly dressed, he didn’t quite comprehend, but apparently Clu had a secret fetish for cotton textiles. Sam exhaled in relief as his thighs were pushed apart, and then bit his lip in anticipation as Clu settled over him, his cock fitting perfectly against Sam’s ass. He moved forward a few times, letting Sam know what he had in mind, and received a firm yes in response.

“Watch, Rinzler,” Clu said. He leaned down to Sam’s ear and whispered, “Ready?

“I’ve been ready,” Sam answered. He tried to spread his thighs apart further, but they barely budged. “Come on. Give it to me.”

“Oh, you’re going to get it, Sam. Then again, and again, until we’re satisfied. You kept us waiting, and now we’re going to make up for all that time.”

The words sent a shiver of anticipation and need rippling over Sam’s body. He dropped his head against the bed and lifted his hips. “Please,”

“Anything for my user,” Clu murmured. He lifted himself up, and a moment later Sam felt the head of his cock against his ass, pushing into him, hot and impossibly hard, filling him until there was no more to give. Clu set his forehead between Sam’s shoulders and rocked himself forward; the heat of his circuits lit every nerve radiating out from the point of contact, and Sam cried out as he seated himself fully. “Look at Rinzler,” Clu said. “Watch him.”

Rinzler was still waiting, unmoving, on the other side of the room. Sam could see that he was hard, but he made no move to touch himself or join in. It was like they had prepared for what was happening.

Maybe they had prepared.

“You planned this?” Sam asked breathlessly.

Mm,” Clu replied. He pulled back and snapped forward, rocking Sam against the bed. His hands found their way under Sam’s body; one hand gripped his cock tight, holding it and letting each thrust from above do the work. The other hand found its way to Sam’s chest again, pinching and rolling his nipples between strong fingers. It was like a carefully planned attack; Sam’s entire body was under assault, and he couldn’t think straight to formulate his own counter-strategy. He wasn’t just going to let them fuck him—he had plans of his own. Unfortunately Clu had the upper hand (and the lower hand), and that left Sam mostly powerless. Powerless, and so turned on he was sure he would come even without the hand gripping his cock.

“Is it good, Sam?” Clu asked. When Sam only nodded furiously in reply he chuckled and picked up the pace. “Did you miss this? The two of us taking you?”

Yes.” Sam couldn’t manage much else; he felt like Rinzler, limited to a few words a day. And much less accomplished at making them count.

Clu’s hand tightened around his cock, and he gave one deep, hard shove into Sam. “Tell me about the ride here. Tell me what you two did. All of it.”

“W—what we…”

“Did he fuck you? Or did you have him?”

Sam shook his head. There was no way he could even try to explain everything that had happened. He could barely remember to breathe, let alone recall the details of having passionate sex in the back of a car. If he could have shown Clu…

“Disc,” he said, gulping down a breath. “Disc.”

Clu made a happy sound and reached between them to remove Sam’s disc. He set it on the bed and quickly tapped up the interface, bringing the memory file to the top and playing everything that had happened since Sam got dragged into the limousine. Sam could hear himself moaning, hear the sounds of Rinzler sucking him off; wet, erotic sounds that went straight to his center and stoked the arousal already threatening to burn him up from the inside. Clu’s hand left his erection, and he leaned up, bracing himself so that he could thrust harder into Sam as they both watched the replay.

“Look at that, Sam,” Clu said. “Look at how much you want it.”

Sam nodded again. He did want it; he wanted all of it, and he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted more at that moment. He listened to Clu marvel at every detail of what the memory file showed—apparently they had just invented porn on the Grid. Sam wasn’t sure how much longer he could listen to Clu, feel him sliding into his body, filling him with such heat, weighing him down while he pounded into him. He felt like someone was winding him up, and any second he would just explode.

“You came back just for this, didn’t you.”

It was too much; Sam dug his fingers into the bed and buried his face in the mattress, crying out and writhing, coming so hard that every second of it felt like half a lifetime. Clu wrapped his arms around him and held him, still thrusting, still talking about the replay, and the way it felt to be inside him. He stopped suddenly in the middle of a word, his entire body going rigid as Sam felt the rush of warmth and energy-like tingle filling him inside. Clu let out a long, ragged groan, pumping his hips a few more time before he let go and went slack against Sam’s back.

After a moment, with the memory replay still going in the background, Clu lifted up and rolled off Sam’s back. He made a gesture to Rinzler and patted the bed next to Sam, behind him. “Your turn.”

“Wait.” Sam could barely breathe, could barely think, but he mustered enough energy to object. “Gimme some time…”

“I told you,” Clu said to him as he stood and traded places with Rinzler. “We gave you half a cycle. That’s a lot of catching up to do.”











“Hey,” Sam said, tapping Clu on the arm to get his attention. “I got a question.”


“Why doesn’t this ever… why aren’t we ever, you know… messy.” He couldn’t think of how to ask why no one ever needed a wet towel after a marathon of sex. “Seems weird.”

Clu rolled onto his side to face Sam, brushing a hand through Rinzler’s hair; the enforcer was “asleep” with his head resting on the side of Sam’s chest, one arm draped possessively over his waist.

“I’m not sure how to explain it in terms you would understand,” Clu said after a moment.

“Try me.”

“Energy. But not—” he smiled at the horrified look Sam shot him. “Not that kind. At least, it’s not in the same form. I said you wouldn’t understand.”

Sam gave a mock-shudder. “I wish I hadn’t asked.” He was silent for a moment, enjoying the sensation of Clu tracing a finger from one side of his collar bone to the other, then back again. “Okay,” he said. “Another question. Don’t you have a Grid to run?”

“You want me to leave?”

“No. It’s just you’re always going on and on about how busy you are, how much work it takes to keep things running. I know you missed me, but shouldn’t you be doing whatever it is you do?” He was still unclear on some of the details, even after a cycle of watching Clu and Rinzler at work. From what he could tell, most of it involved a lot of standing around and watching games.

Clu shifted again so he could prop an arm under his head, looking down on Sam from above; probably meaningful, and likely not lost on either of them. “What makes you think I’m not?” Clu asked. “I am the Grid, I’m the administrator. I thought you understood that.” His expression read confusion, mixed with just the slightest hint of amusement.

“I don’t get it,” Sam began, but a chuckle from Clu cut him off.

“I’m not surprised.”

Sam frowned. “No, I mean—I’m an administrator too, right? Now. So if you’re the Grid…” He let the question ask itself, saving the time it would take to spell out the obvious.

“It’s different; you aren’t a program. I can teach you to touch the system, shape it to your will, but I can’t make it part of you if it isn’t. I thought it might be, but when you first came here and you couldn’t even remove your own suit, well.” He ended on a shrug. His fingertip stopped its expedition across Sam’s collar, and he splayed his entire hand out wide, covering the center of Sam’s chest with his warm palm.

“Your user felt the system that way, didn’t he?” Sam asked. His heart instantly lurched into a manic rhythm, pounding against the wall of his chest as though it intended to beat its way free. He had put off the topic of Clu’s user, waiting for the right time to say something, and finding increasing reasons to make that later and later. The last thing he wanted to do was ruin the moment—or worse, bring the whole thing crashing down around them all. The topic, it seemed, had decided it wouldn’t wait. He licked his lips and took a deep breath, steeling himself for the dive; he’d practiced the speech, repeated the words over and over in his mind, revising even while he sat in the car with Alan.

Clu had obviously noticed the change that came over Sam when he mentioned the system’s creator. He waited, blue eyes boring into Sam’s as the microcycles ticked by. Just as he opened his mouth to answer, Sam spoke.

“I need to say something, and,” he paused, shrugging softly, “I don’t know if I even know how to say it. So just let me try, and don’t interrupt if you can help it. I know that’ll be hard for you.” He flashed Clu a wry half-smirk before turning away. “I thought about this a lot while I was gone, and… I mean, just because a program and a user look alike, doesn’t make them the same person.”

Sam chanced a glance at Clu, and found him staring with narrowed eyes, his mouth a thin, flat line. “Are you talking about—”

“Rinzler,” Sam interrupted quickly. He couldn’t say it, couldn’t even hear it. So instead he deflected, and hoped Clu was smart enough to put it all together. A sudden stirring on his chest drew his attention down; Rinzler had snapped out of his torpor, and lifted his head to look up at Sam. “It’s nothing,” Sam said. He watched Rinzler frown and lay his head back down before continuing. “They’re not the same. I don’t even… remember him like this…” He trailed off, lost in trying to remember his own memories. They were hazy and scattered, but none of them came close to what he had before him.

No, they weren’t anything alike. He knew it.

“You’re still talking about Rinzler and Alan-one, right?” Clu asked. He ignored the lazy chirp from Rinzler in acknowledgment of both names. “Sam?”

“What? Oh, yeah.” Sam took a deep breath and turned to Clu; the peering eyes and flat frown were gone, replaced by a much more friendly, if slightly unwholesome expression. “Or anyone else who happens to bear a resemblance to their user. You know,” Sam added with a shrug. “It doesn’t matter.”

Clu nodded and leaned down, placing his lips against the side of Sam’s mouth. “You never fail to surprise me,” he muttered. “That was bothering you? Here I thought you were going to tell me that you wanted to leave.” He leaned away again and smiled. “After all the complaining you did, I really thought you would jump at the chance to go home.”

Sam looked up at him, returning a self-assured grin of his own. “I did.”