Rockman EXE belongs to Capcom. Dare and My Last Breath belong, respectively, to Stan Bush and Evanscence.

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Never Before, Never Again

~By Shimegami-chan

This fic was written for the Rockman.EXE Online tri-monthly contest. A million thanks to Marisa, Aria and Plague for beta-reading and occasionally stopping me from beating my head against the figurative wall. Best of luck to you too, Marisa-chan! And all the other entrants as well! ^^

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He woke up that morning in a single bed.

Blue sheets. Blue pillows. Blue pajamas.

Pajamas?

It wasn't real.


*~*~*

Sometimes when your hopes have all been shattered
And there's nowhere to turn
You wonder how you keep going
Think of all the things that really mattered
And the chances you've earned
---Dare

*~*~*



Real hands. I stared openmouthed at them, flexing the fingers. They were soft and solid, and when I touched them to my face they felt no different than "my" hands had always felt--but they could not be.

I had woken this morning in a real bed, in a real room. Familiar, but it was not the same as it had always been--this was Netto-kun's room, my best friend and my Operator, and I knew that Netto-kun's room had never had two beds. In fact, everything in this room was in matching twos--two PCs, two dessers, two bookshelves, although the sets of books were far from matching; one held shelves of manga and the other boasted many works of fiction, some famous, some not. Many were in English.

I guess I was so caught up in the room that when my eyes finally locked on the other bed--this one with rumpled orange covers--the sight of the bed's occupant had nearly sent me to the floor in shock. That mop of brown hair and teal pajama sleeve sticking out could not be anyone else...

"Netto-kun..."

He did not stir. I quickly kicked away the sheets tangled around my legs and fell clumsily to the floor, feeling heavier than I had ever been. My body was feeling the drag of gravity, and it never had before.

What was going on?

I felt almost as if I questioned it, it would disappear. I could not be in the real world. It simply was not possible. But I had gone into a rest cycle last night, curled up on my pixelated futon, and awoken in a bed in my brother's room. How could that be?

My brother...he was still sleeping soundly, his breathing deep and even. His arm was hanging over the edge of the bed, with the fingers of right hand relaxed, curling a little as though he were to drop something to the floor. I watched him with interest from where I sat, momentarily forgetting about the abnormality of the situation, and just watched him sleep. The dangling hand twitched slightly, but he did not stir. Maybe he was dreaming?

Dreaming. Something I longed to experience someday--Papa had told me once that when Navis entered their sleep cycles, if their programming allowed it (as mine did) they could dream...but I had never had one that I could remember. He said it was probably just a glitch in my program that he would fix someday, so that I, too, could enjoy the dreams like other Navis did.

To dream like humans did...I glanced down at my hands again. Could I be human somehow? Was this some kind of alternate reality, or maybe just another illusion for some plot created by our enemies? We were in peacetime, and what enemy could possibly do something like this? For what purpose? Perhaps this was just a programming error, making me imagine things that could not be. I could not be human, ever again.

I stumbled to my feet and and turned to the dresser, where an oval mirror hung against the wall. I was almost afraid to look...and with good reason, for the person staring back at me was not whom I'd expected.

Brown hair, brown eyes...it was a face I had known for ten years, but not my own. My partner's face. Netto-kun's face. But he was still there when I turned around, still sleeping like a log, his mouth slightly open and snoring lightly. I touched the mirror; watched my hand rise to meet its reflection. Even as I noticed all the similarities between "my" face and Netto-kun's, the differences began to jump out at me--the hair was a little shorter, with wispy bangs, and though it was neater-looking from the front, the back was sticking up. My expression was unfamiliar on Netto-kun's face, and when I smiled, his cocky grin did not appear. My smile was softer, more genuine...I rarely saw him smile like that, but I knew he could.

Without his usual determined look, I almost dared to believe that this person looking back at me was not Netto-kun, that it could somehow be mine after all.

"This is what I should look like," I said softly out loud, staring into my own eyes. "This is the real--" I almost choked on the word "--Saito..."

Elation washed over me. This was something I had imagined and wished for countless times--to be human, to be with Netto-kun, and here I was! It was almost too amazing to believe. Excitedly, I stepped away from the mirror and stood by my brother's bed, extending a hand to wake him. Then I stopped.

What could I say to him...? In this twisted reality, would he know me for his brother, or his Navi? Did I belong here after all, in this room with sets of two, and would his reaction therefore be no more than a nonchalant "good morning"? I hesitated, my hand an inch from his shoulder. Could it be that I was the only one conscious of my existance as a Navi--or was that even real? My life up until five minutes ago suddenly seemed very far away, as though everything up till now had merely been a dream.

But that wasn't possible either, because I never remembered ever having had a dream...

I stood there for a long time before withdrawing my hand. "This is was I always wanted, isn't it? To be here with you?"

Netto-kun, of course, did not answer. He had stopped snoring, and for a moment he looked so peaceful, so unnaturally calm that I thought he might have stopped breathing altogether. I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding when he finally shifted and turned onto his side, drawing the hanging fingers further from the carpet.

From there, I watched him sleep for what seemed like an eternity before I extended my hand again. It wouldn't hurt to wake him, and I felt a sense of urgency, as though if he did not open his eyes and look at me right now, he would vanish. So I put my hand on his shoulder, as I had longed to be able to do since I first became part of the cyber world, and gently began to shake. He mumbled something softly--I couldn't hear--and rolled back onto his stomach. I withdraw my hand, dismayed. "Netto-kun, wake up. It's me, Rock."

He did not stir.

I reached out for a third time, touching his arm. It was warm to the touch, his skin soft and real against my hand. The sensation sent a tiny thrill through me. My fingers curled around his wrist and I bent down closer to speak into his ear. "Netto-kun...wake up. Netto-kun..."

"Rockman?"

His voice came back to me as if from far away. I looked at his face, startled, but his breathing was still deep and even, his eyelids closed. The feeling of urgency had quickly turned into dread, and I knew somehow that if I did not wake him, it could never be. "Netto-kun?"

"Rock? Helloooo..."

Netto-kun's voice, and yet he still hadn't stirred. I let go of his hand in shock and stepped back, when the brown eyes opened and locked on mine.

~

"Dammit, wake up. Wake up Rockman, we're late! You were supposed to get me up!"

I shot to a sitting position on my futon and looked up into the browser window, finally spotting Netto-kun's face staring down at me. "Wha? Oh no, did I oversleep?"

"Not only that," he replied sourly, "but I kept yelling at you and you wouldn't wake up. Is something wrong?"

"No, of course not." My head felt strange, as though there had been something I had been about to tell Netto-kun, then forgot. "I'm so sorry, there must be something wrong with my internal clock--quick, go, we have to get to school!"

The room flashed by as he yanked the PET from its charger and slung his backpack over his shoulder, and I guiltily began starting up programs, still abashed about my mistake. I always came out of my rest cycle exactly on time. What had happened? I remembered powering down at the usual hour last night, and then awakening this morning, but an hour late.

"We should get that checked out," Netto-kun remarked, his thoughts echoing mine as he headed down the sidewalk. "We'll go see Papa after school, all right?"

"Okay," I agreed. "Maybe it's just a problem with my sleep programming. Papa always thought there was a glitch in it, because I never dream."

"You don't? I never knew that." Netto-kun said, sounding surprised. "I thought all custom Navis dreamt."

"Yes, I should, but it was an error we never got around to repairing."

I couldn't see his face, but he was silent for a few minutes, until he finally said, "I guess we should check that out too. Sorry I didn't get Papa to look into it before."

I smiled, though he couldn't see me either. Netto-kun was so thoughtful sometimes. "It's okay. I can't think of what I would dream about!"

"You don't choose what to dream about..."

"Well, maybe someday..."

Someday...I wanted to dream like a human did--like Netto did.

But that could never be.

Right?


say goodnight, don't be afraid
calling me calling me as you fade to black



...end.

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