Categories > Cartoons > ReBoot

In the Still of the Night

by Morrigan 1 review

"Frozen as he was with terror, Matrix nonetheless almost burst out laughing with the thought that he was about to be killed by someone who didn't even care!" Angst as usual in this Matrix short.

Category: ReBoot - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst - Characters: Matrix - Published: 2005-04-23 - Updated: 2005-04-24 - 2557 words - Complete

Disclaimer: Once upon a time a magical company called Mainframe Entertainment was gifted with a nifty idea that they named ReBoot. Several Wednesdays ago I filched that idea and wrote this story while under the influence of café mocha. As always, constructive criticism is genuinely welcome. Flames are also welcome, as I need the paper to make my adorable little origami animals.

"It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head."
-Sally Kempton

He wasn't going to scream.

As Matrix ripped himself away from the iron grip of the familiar faceless red demon, that thought was first and foremost in his mind. Pain was fleeting, death was a lie, but pride was important. If a man didn't have his pride, he didn't have anything. So no matter what, he wasn't going to give that son of a viral witch the pleasure of knowing how frightened those claws made him.

The demon came after him, a single-minded determination in His steps that only the User seem to have. The fire from the demon's wings burned hot against Matrix's face as he fell back. He tried to close his eyes and remembered too late that he only had one those left to close. A different kind of fire stole through him and he nearly broke his promise to himself. He bit his lip hard enough to draw that strangely colored game energy and winced. This was not going well at all.

He backed up as the demon crept closer, telling himself all the while to stand up, to fight, to do something other than be such a coward trying to hide from the Big Bad. He couldn't win a game this way. And he had to win. Winning was everything.

The demon looked at him directly for the first time and Matrix was suddenly struck by how empty those glowing eyes seemed. Frozen as he was with terror, Matrix nonetheless almost burst out laughing with the thought that he was about to be killed by someone who didn't even care!

That hysterical urge to laugh stayed with him right up until the point when Zaytan crushed his head.

Then Matrix did scream, though the sound more resembled a choking cry, as he woke up. He looked wildly around his surroundings, a small guest room in the Principle Office of yet another basic system, and he shuddered, already struggling to calm his rapid gasps for air.

"User," he murmured, the word more a curse on his lips than a prayer. It had just been a dream. He wasn't in The Game. His head was still very firmly attached to his neck.

"Megabyte?" a soft voice asked from beside him. The lights suddenly flashed on. He glanced down at AndrAIa, her wide eyes both sympathetic and very slightly annoyed at having had to open, and he did swear, quietly. He hadn't meant to wake her up.

"No," he answered shakily, his eyes still flicking back and forth like a caged animal, and he ran a hand unsteadily through his hair. He touched above his right eye briefly, feeling the cold, impersonal metal more keenly than he had in minutes. AndrAIa watched him and shivered unconsciously. He pretended not to notice. "It was about...Zaytan."

She sighed briefly, softly, and he fought back the urge to yell at her, to tell her that he didn't want to dream about demonic Users and maniacal viruses. He didn't know what was wrong with him that he couldn't put it behind him. Didn't she understand that?

Of course she did. AndrAIa knew him better than he did. That's what made her so spammed irritating sometimes. He closed his eyes and banished that thought. AndrAIa was the only thing in his life that still made sense. He shouldn't think about her that way.

"It wasn't your fault," she told him, rising up slowly, gracefully. Watching her warily, he wondered how she always managed to look so spammed good, even when she hadn't slept in cycles. He knew he looked like a wreck.

"I don't want to talk about this now," he muttered darkly and turned away from her. Deep down he knew she wouldn't just leave it at that, but he couldn't resist to trying to get out of yet another discussion about his emotional problems.

"You never do." She sighed and stared down at her nails, waiting patiently. He struggled for a few moments to keep from saying anything, hoping she would give up and knowing she wouldn't. She liked talking. Talking was healthy.

She talked too much.

That wasn't nice. Bad Matrix.

"It was my fault," he said suddenly, sounding almost sulky. "I was the Guardian."

"Pixel-brain," she hissed and he looked over to see her normally calm eyes blazing in a familiar anger. He found he almost liked that better than her compassion. "How the web were you supposed to beat him? You were just a kid!"

"I almost won!" he growled back and there it was, the crunch of the whole thing. The same old point they'd been over a thousand times before and couldn't agree on to save their time. He'd won the first round. He'd gotten flattened in the second one, but that wasn't the point. He had had a good chance at beating the User and he'd blown it.

"You got lucky," she said, perhaps a bit too harshly because her next words were delivered in a gentler tone. "You were in over your head and you know it."

You were in over your head. Bad choice of words. Matrix briefly flashed back to his dream and he flinched, a chill running through him. It was closely followed by anger. Who was she to tell him what he should know? There was an obvious answer to that question at least. She was AndrAIa. His partner, lover, and conscience all rolled into one entirely self-sufficient package.

"What was I supposed to do?" he yelled, startling himself and only irritating her. "Not play the games? Sit around like a useless little brat while Megabyte infected my home?"

His home. Not their home. Never their home when he was angry. He regretted the words as soon as he said them, but that didn't make them go away. They hung there between the couple; hurtful as the virus he couldn't forget.

"I don't know." She closed her eyes, sick of the same old argument and too tired to think up a new one. "I don't know what you should have done."

He watched her for a few moments and felt a sudden stab of guilt. She didn't deserve this. She was too good to put up with his whining all the time. He couldn't let himself forget that Mainframe wasn't her home. She could leave him at any time. He couldn't let that happen.

"Look, I'm...I'm sorry, DrAI." His anger collapsing into fear, he reached out to her and breathed a quiet sigh of relief when she slid back into his arms without hesitation. "I'm just...I don't know, tired or something."

"You're just stubborn and pig-headed," she murmured against his chest, but her tone was lighter, more teasing than mad. AndrAIa was never one to stay angry for long. He envied that.

"That too." He sighed again and pulled her closer. Now he had to let her win the argument or they'd be up all night fighting over it. "Maybe you're right."

"About what?" she asked sleepily, a yawn breaking up her words. Her irritation seemed to have evaporated, changing to exhaustion.

"About Zaytan." User, it felt odd to say that name like that, as though they were talking about an exasperating neighbor instead of the creature that had tormented them both in The Game for over an hour.

"Really?" She looked up, obviously surprised at his change in mood.

"Maybe there wasn't anything I could have done." His voice was distant as he stared at a point behind her head. He turned the idea over and over again in his mind, examining it and eventually rejecting it. A guardian always managed to find a solution to a hopeless situation. He was just a lousy guardian. But if saying it was out of his control was what AndrAIa wanted to hear, then he'd say it. No matter how wrong it was.

"It wasn't your fault," she said, her voice asking him to believe it.

"Maybe," he murmured, unable to keep the doubt out of his voice.

She wasn't buying it. AndrAIa shook her head fiercely, sending her long hair flying wildly, and poked him hard in the chest. Matrix leaned his head to one side, admiring her discretely. She was beautiful when she was angry.

"You listen to me." Her tone was forceful, so similar to a scolding Dot that he paid close attention despite himself. "It. Wasn't. Your. Fault."

"Then whose was it?" He raised an eyebrow, challenging her. She couldn't leave it alone, could she? Of course neither could he.

"It wasn't anybody's fault. Sometimes things just happen." He didn't seem happy with that answer. She pursed her lips and then used her trump card. "What would Bob say about it?"

Bob. Matrix flinched at the name. User, he didn't want to think about Bob now, not with the memory of his biggest failure fresh in his mind. Bob would never have messed up so badly in a game. He glared at her after a few minutes and then shrugged helplessly.

"He'd say it wasn't my fault." Matrix looked down at his hands, frowning heavily. "But he'd have to say that."


"Same reason you do." Matrix met her gaze without hesitation, caught up again in the discussion and certain he had her. "He's my friend."

"That's spam! I'm more than your friend and I always tell you what I think, no matter how you might feel about it." AndrAIa never gave him any ground in an argument. "Besides, if we're going to be blaming somebody...why don't you blame me?"

"What for?" He stared at her in surprise. This was new. As far as he could tell AndrAIa never felt guilt.

AndrAIa swallowed sharply. A shiver ran down her slender frame, a wonderful sight under other circumstances. As it was he felt off-balanced by her distress.

"I just watched, Enzo. I'm the game sprite, the...warrior." AndrAIa chuckled slightly at that last bit, but it wasn't a pleasant sound and Matrix wasn't disappointed to hear it end. "And I just watched as that User sliced you up. I told myself that I was going to protect you and I didn't." She looked away. "You could blame me for that."

Matrix blinked slowly and then clumsily rubbed her back in an attempt at comfort, the scales rough under his hands. She was trembling against him and he found that more disturbing than any nightmare. In addition to being good at everything, AndrAIa was usually steady as a rock. He needed her to be.

" wasn't your fault," Matrix murmured lamely, trying to think of a way to make her feel better and failing. He couldn't remember the last time she'd needed to cry on his shoulder. If there even was a last time.

"I was the game sprite. I should have been the one trying to trick the User into playing against me." She narrowed her eyes. "I know you weren't a Guardian, Enzo, not before the Wars. I think I knew it then. I was just fooling myself into believing you knew what you were doing."

"Well...I didn't." The frustration in her voice touched something in him. For the first time in hours he felt like he was on equal ground with the perfect AndrAIa. "I was completely clueless."

"I was clueless, you were inexperienced," she corrected him quickly.

"Bob always told me what to do in the games. I never listened to him, but...I had some experience. I just didn't know what to do with it." Matrix paused in mild surprise. He had said Bob. Without feeling like a complete loser. He looked down at AndrAIa, only to see one of her elegant eyebrows arched and a mischievous smile creeping up on her face.

"We were kids," she said gently. "A couple of basic kids trying to impress each other in a war zone. And we failed miserably at it. Feeling guilty about it won't change anything. It won't get us home faster and it won't bring Bob back."

"I guess you're right." Matrix paused again, awareness reaching his eyes. "Why do I get the feeling that you tricked me?"

"Because I did. Nothing else I ever said got through that thick skull of yours." She licked her lips, looking impish. A moment later she got serious. "Don't get me wrong, lover, I meant what I said. Sometimes I do feel like that. But I know it's not going to help me any to keep thinking about it."

He thought about that for a few moments. She used his pause as an opportunity to slide back down to the bed and turn off the lights. He joined her shortly, and with a slight smile and closed eyes she snuggled closer. He knew that in her mind the debate was over. He wanted to leave it at that, he really did, but...

"What if I can't stop thinking about it?" he whispered, his voice even clearer in the intimate cover of the night.

She sighed, opening her eyes and letting them slide over his pensive profile.

"Then we'll just have to argue about this later. Look, I can't solve your problems for you, Enzo. That's your job." She kissed him gently on the cheek. "But I will wake up when you need me to. That's my job."

"You've got a lousy job."

"I don't know. There are some perks." She grinned. "I never have to open cans or slay giant monster spiders with you around."

He chuckled quietly. "What else am I good for?"

"Hmmm, I don't know." Her hand, which had been resting quite comfortably at the base of his neck, suddenly decided to misbehave. "Can you think of anything else you're good at?"

"Probably not." He shrugged casually, feeling miraculously better about the world. "You're the one with artificial intelligence. Why don't you tell me?"

"I always have to do everything. Really, I don't know why I put up with you," she murmured huskily as she leaned over him, her grin inviting. For a brief moment her eyes flashed bright in the night and she more resembled an ethereal demon than a sprite. Matrix closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them again the image was gone, leaving a lovely, willing woman in its place. He swallowed thickly and resolutely pushed the dream from his mind. He had better things to think about.

Strangely enough later that night when he finally fell back to sleep he dreamt about Hexadecimal and floating game sprite icons. There was also a penguin disguised as a chicken holding a slice of cheese and walking around on a spaceship in there somewhere. He wondered where the web that came from, but he didn't tell AndrAIa about it. Some things were better left unspoken. She worried enough about him as it was.

The End
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