It doesn't hurt. Neo had told himself those very words countless times in the past. Repeated it, like a mantra, until belief became knowledge.
This time, the words came unbidden. He could feel the rain, pouring down on him. Could feel his clothes sticking to him. The mud, cold and clinging to any bits of skin it could reach.
But the pain was gone.
In its place was something intangible. Something that didn't belong, yet was intimately familiar.
He opened his eyes. Smith was looking at him. Smiths were looking at him, their eyes a vast, shared network. He could look in the eyes of one, and see into them all.
“Why do you persist?”
Smith's voice resonated in his ears, even through pouring rain. Drawing him in, willing him to rise.
“Is it because you believe you're fighting for something?” Smith asked. Ice blue drank him in, desperate to understand, to learn, to consume Neo and overwrite him. Unconcerned with rain, mud, sludge. Solely focused on Neo. Always focused on Neo. “Is it love? Hope? Freedom?”
Three words Neo would use to describe Trinity, lost to him forever. There was nothing to hope for without her by his side. No freedom to seek. The only thing left to do was to make sure her death hadn't been in vain. She had gone as far as she could. He had to go as far as he could, too. For her sake.
“All of those are false human constructs, made to assure them- to assure you, Mr. Anderson- that your fragile, vile species has a purpose. But that purpose is just as fabricated as the Matrix.”
Neo realized, with startling clarity, just what was happening. Realized with a clarity he'd never thought possible. Sati's parents, willing to give up anything for the sake of her life. Persephone and her desire to feel loved, above all else. The Oracle, and the care she held for so many orphans.
“It's an illusion,” Smith continued, “meant to convince you of some nonexistent purpose. So why do you-”
“Smith.” Soft, muffled by rain and Smith's own voice. Appealing to a connection beyond verbal communication.
The ex-agent broke off, eyes wide, startled. Entirely derailed, in the middle of yet another grand monologue.
Neo got up, slowly, not wanting to scare Smith away. Smith seemed off-kilter, ready to flee at any moment. Neo cupped the man's cheek, slick with rainwater, yet still warm. Soft.
He had felt Smith's face countless times in the past, whenever he connected a punch with that infuriating smirk. Had felt the man's lips, his teeth, against his fist. They felt entirely different against his fingertips. Parted lips quivered beneath his touch, breath shaky, staccato, against his skin. Neo wrapped an arm around the other man, pulling him close with a hand on his back. Muscle jumped beneath his touch, but Smith stayed paralyzed in Neo's hold.
“What are you doing?” Smith asked.
“Shh.” Neo lowered his fingers, cupping the man's chin and gently tilting his face up. “Close your eyes.”
Smith looked at him for a moment longer before doing as told.
“All of them.”
“Why should I?” he asked, without opening his eyes. He didn't need to. He could see Neo from a hundred different angles.
Neo stroked his thumb over parted lips. Smith shivered.
Neo waited, continuing his gentle touches.
He felt it as soon as it happened. The sudden isolation, as hundreds, if not thousands, of Smiths lost sight of him. Only able to rely on this one Smith's touch-perception as a guide.
Neo lowered his thumb, loosening his grip on the man's chin. He leaned in, pressing his lips to Smith's parted ones.
Smith's gasp was muffled by Neo's lips, but the many other Hims created an echo effect. They could feel Neo, and Neo could feel them, every line of code within Smith vibrating against him as the man surrendered to the mystery of Neo's actions. Fingers dug bruises into Neo's shoulders, Smith scrambling for purchase to keep on his feet. Neo tightened his hold on Smith, holding the ex-agent more firmly against himself. He moved his hand from Smith's chin to the back of his head, tangling his fingers in short hair.
He closed his eyes, focusing on feeling Smith. Neo usually spent so much effort blocking the man out. Now, he let the walls crumble, allowing the hate, the fear, the disgust to flood into him. Licked at Smith's bottom lip as foreign anger washed through him.
Smith let out a pitiful sound, trying to pull away. Neo let him free his lips, keeping the ex-agent in a firm hold. He could feel each tremor like an earthquake, the man's chest heaving against his own. He ran his fingers through Smith's hair, letting his nails catch on the man's scalp.
Still, Smith didn't open his eyes. “Let go of me.”
Not an order, but a desperate plea. Neo leaned forward again, this time pressing his lips to the other's ear. In a low whisper, he said, “I'm inside you, Smith. You told me that yourself. But what you didn't tell me, or didn't fully realize, was that you're inside me, too.”
Smith started. “What?”
“You're wrong, Smith. Love isn't made up, and it isn't limited to humans. I've met programs that love.”
“And you know what?” Neo asked. “You're one of them.”
Smith shook his head, now pushing against Neo's grip, panic flaring in his gaze. “Stop it.”
“You don't know how to process love. You think you need to consume me, make me you. But that's not what you want, and you wouldn't be satisfied if you succeeded.” Neo lowered his lips to the man's jawline.
“Programs don't...” Smith broke off in a low moan when Neo bit down where jaw met neck, the fingers on Neo's shoulders suddenly pulling him closer. “...don't,” he whimpered.
Neo lifted his head. Smith looked torn, eyes suddenly fixed on Neo's lips. “There are other ways to consume someone,” Neo said. He released Smith. Without his support, the program fell to his knees, catching himself on his hands. He looked up at Neo from his supplicating position, eyes wild, scared. Neo held out a hand. “Let me show you.”
Smith's hand was cold and muddy as it grasped onto Neo's.