Where Has My Heart Gone?

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: This is part 2 of my proposed trilogy of .EXE fics, so re-reading Breathe No More is a good idea, even though this fic can stand alone. The characters aren't mine (except for the scientist at the end), and the story is! And a couple of other things to keep in mind: I have discovered that I mostly follow the manga storyline (at least where Bass and his past are concerned), with various elements from the anime and the games thrown in. For instance, Cossack is going to be considered by me to really have thought of Bass as a son, like in the manga, and hence, the incident from Battle Network 3 when he appeared in the cyberworld and he and Bass had a confrontation has not happened in my storyline. On the other hand, Bass losing his memory, as he did in the games, is a key part of the trilogy and its events. And from the anime, which was my first and lasting impression of Bass, I have given him a slightly less "psycho" personality than he has in the games and especially the manga. ;) Also, please excuse my calling the virus beast "Gospel" instead of "Treble." Actually, in .EXE, was he even given a name at all? XD; Or was it always either the Gospel MegaVirus or the Grave Virus Beast? Anyway, he's Gospel here. And on the subject of the cyberworld merging with the real world, I'm following the games' storylines, where such a thing really hasn't happened (yet). Alright! Enough with the notes! Onto the story! I'm sorry about the removal of the song, but with the newly stated policy I had to remove it.

The voices made themselves known to the one slumbering nearby, causing him to slowly awaken from a not so deep sleep. Bleary red eyes opened, looking toward the source of the tones. His straight hair slipped over the side of his face that wasn't pressed into the pillow and he reached up with a hand to brush it aside when he became completely aware of the fact.

"How is he today?"

"Recovering, I hope. He was walking earlier."

"He was! That's great!"

"Yeah, it is, but . . . I don't know. . . . He seems so lost. . . . Like he has no idea where to go or what he should do with himself now. . . ."

Bass rolled over in bed, throwing the quilt up over his dark purple locks. He could hear Megaman and Roll talking just outside his door, but he was tired of listening to them. So he would just tune them out, as he had done so many times before. It hadn't really been that long since he had been brought here, mortally wounded from the Gospel MegaVirus tearing free of him after a harsh battle, but it felt like years. His memories, once lost to him, had now been restored. He knew again of his past and how he had idolized and trusted Dr. Cossack. He knew of how he had thought he had been betrayed by all the humans he had once trusted. And he knew of how he'd been wrong about so much. He knew that his life had been ruled for years by nothing but hatred and revenge. And, despite all the knowledge returning to him, he felt empty. Perhaps more empty even than before. Now he didn't know what he would do with himself.

But he did know one thing: he didn't belong here. He felt so out of place, being cared for and nursed back to health in this way. It had literally been years since any kindness had been shown to him . . . and since he had recognized it as genuine kindness. Usually, if anyone even attempted to shown any goodwill toward Bass, they had ulterior motives in mind. But somehow, this time, it seemed that Megaman and his cronies honestly did want to help him. He wasn't sure why. Megaman had said, during a conversation they had had after Bass had regained consciousness after having been deathly ill for several days, that Bass hadn't deserved to die all alone.

"Then what did I deserve?" Bass had asked, observing the other Navi with still a hint of suspicion.

Megaman had paused to consider his answer. "A second chance . . . and a friend."

Bass made an unintelligible sound as he remembered their conversation. A friend, huh? That sounded preposterous to him. It was true, though, that he would have been deleted if Megaman hadn't come to his aid. He remembered all too well the feeling of immense pain and how he had suddenly not been able to breathe. Then everything had gone dark for him. As far as he had known, he wouldn't be waking up again. But he had.

He looked over the edge of the bed, studying the marble tiles covering the floor. Maybe he could get up. . . . Maybe he could leave. He would have left sooner, actually, but he had been too weak. He had been able to walk across the room earlier today, though, as Megaman had told Roll. If he could gather enough energy to teleport himself out, maybe into one of his old haunts, he could figure out what he should do next. But he would never determine it with all the other NetNavis around. He could barely think, knowing that someone would come in again before long to check on him. He needed complete solitude. Even so, his thoughts still ran rampant anyway, as they had been doing ever since his memories had returned to him.

Was it honestly right, to still try to enact his revenge upon humanity? Yes, he truly had been betrayed, but now that his mind was no longer blinded by the immense hatred, he was able to see that Dr. Cossack most likely had been telling the truth in the holographic message. It was very probable that both Bass and Dr. Cossack had been betrayed. Maybe Bass should still try to get revenge, for the both of them. But no . . . Cossack wouldn't want that.

And now that Bass thought of it, would Cossack even want him? Bass had been such a destructive force in the UnderNet—and everywhere else—that some had started to call him "The Black Shadow" or even "The Messenger of Darkness." If Cossack was still alive, he would have heard of that entity. He wouldn't have known it was Bass (the Navi hoped), but if he ever did find out, he would surely be repulsed and even afraid of the one whom he had said was like his own son. He wouldn't want Bass around any more. And Bass wasn't even certain if it would be possible to pick up the threads of his former life and begin living it again. He was so different now from the trusting, idolizing, and occasionally mischievous Navi he had once been. Everything was different—nightmarishly different. He knew he had actually become like the humans who had betrayed him: ruthless and calculating, his heart black.

He sat up shakily and cautiously started to climb out of the bed. He shouldn't rush this, he knew, for if he did he would most likely be overcome by dizziness. It wouldn't be the first time it had happened. And the last thing he wanted to do was to wake up with the floor greeting him. He ignored his dark hair as it again flew at either side of his face. If he could get up, he'd get his helmet and his clothes and then see if he could teleport out.

The first few steps were accomplished without dizziness and Bass gained confidence—perhaps too much, as he later thought. He picked up his pace a bit more, crossing the room to the window and looking out. Below him was the sprawling NetCity—cars, buildings, and of course Navis. Look at them, Bass thought to himself with a slight shake of his head. They're all going about their normal business. None of them have even the slightest hint that the most destructive force in the entire CyberNet is right here, wounded, in their hospital. I wonder what they'd think if they knew. Idly he wondered if he still had all of his destructive powers. Of course the ones he had possessed during the time when the Gospel MegaVirus had been merged with him were gone, but he had been extremely powerful long before that. He entertained the thought of testing his powers, but then he knew he would not until he had the solitude he desired. Bringing destruction on NetCity didn't appeal to him right now. Whether that was because he honestly didn't want to continue out his plan of revenge or not he didn't know.

He turned away from the window, heading for the closet in the opposite corner. Unfortunately for him, though, the dizziness he had hoped was gone suddenly came upon him again in full force. It was so abrupt that he didn't have any way to ward it off. Then he felt himself falling, pitching forward, and the darkness closing in around him.

When Bass next began to regain consciousness, he realized he was no longer alone. Gentle hands had taken hold of him, attempting to lift him up. As his red eyes opened and focused, the pink-clad Navi known as Roll became visible to him. She smiled at him, perhaps about to speak, but he growled and pulled away from her in an attempt to reclaim the harsh, cold persona he had held for years. He would get up himself. Inwardly he cursed himself for moving too fast a moment earlier (he supposed it was only a moment). Apparently what had happened was exactly what he had not wanted to happen—he had fainted.

Roll didn't seem put off by Bass's sudden frigidity, however. "Oh, come on," she said in a friendly, perky tone. "You're not gonna hurt me, so why pretend? And if you don't want my help getting up, go ahead and do it yourself. I'm warning you, though, you'll probably be dizzy at first." She leaned back, not intending to leave. Roll hadn't ever had much interaction with Bass in the past, but she had been the only one to hear him fall now, so she had come in to help him. And she wasn't planning to go until she had a better idea of who this enigma really was.

Bass had already discovered Roll was correct about the dizziness. So he remained on the floor for the moment, shifting position, and drew his arm back in a threatening way. "What makes you think I won't hurt you?" he hissed, eyes flashing. "I'm known as The Black Shadow. I could destroy you and every other pathetic Navi here with one blast from my hand. Do you think it makes a difference to me that my life was saved because of you and your cronies? Or that it will make me behave in a kinder manner?" As he moved, he felt one of the worst wounds protest loudly. He gritted his teeth. "Do you think my thirst for battle and revenge has yet been quenched?"

Roll looked at him calmly. "I think it made a difference to you," she replied quietly. "You won't hurt me now because you're not sure what's right any more." Perhaps she hadn't been around Bass as much as Megaman had, but she had observed him during the time he had been staying here. Bass didn't know it, but Roll was the main one who had been there when he had been delirious. She had heard him crying out for Cossack, that he wanted revenge because of how he had been betrayed, and that he was alone in the world because he had chosen that path. She knew the secrets he had revealed then, but most of Bass's soul was still a mystery to her and to everyone else. He and Protoman were the two main "unknown" Navis when it came to what they thought about and how their minds worked, though Protoman certainly wasn't a destructive force like Bass was . . . or had been. Roll was hoping that Bass would no longer use his powers for chaos and mayhem.

"Besides," Roll added now, "even if you wanted to, you couldn't blast me away. You're not recovered enough." This fact seemed to have been made quite obvious, since Bass hadn't even been able to make it across the room without blacking out. So either way, Roll was unafraid of him.

Bass's handsome features twisted in annoyance. Roll was right—on both counts—but he wasn't going to admit it. Instead of saying anything in response, he attempted to get up again. This time he succeeded, and he eased himself onto the bed with an inward sigh. What was he going to do? His attempt at getting away had failed. Now he knew he would have to wait a bit longer before he could leave. And this friend of Megaman's didn't look like she was going to go away, either. He hadn't even been able to intimidate her in the slightest. "Why don't you fear me?" he asked finally in a low tone, glaring at her with genuine confusion. "Is it because I'm weak right now?" He wasn't entirely sure he liked the idea of not striking panic into the souls of the other NetNavis. It had always felt good in a way, to have a defensive shield to fall back on. If Roll had seen through that, what else could she have seen?

Roll stood up and sat down in a chair beside the bed. "Not really," she replied slowly, looking into the depths of Bass's bright crimson eyes. She smiled a bit in a melancholy way as she thought about how to phrase what she wanted to. "I think it's more because . . . because I can see you have a troubled heart. There was once a kind NetNavi under all your hatred. What happened to him? Does he still exist?" Roll had an uncanny knack for being able to talk to other Navis (and humans, as well) in a caring, compassionate way. Megaman often thought that Roll would have been an excellent counselor Navi.

Bass snarled. "Of course he doesn't exist," he retorted angrily, his fanged teeth showing quite prominently. "What you see here is what you get. There's only me, the cold-hearted Black Shadow, bent on revenge. If you don't like what you see, too bad for you." He ran his fingers over the visible scar on his chest. "Humans caused this to happen to me," he hissed. "I was nearly killed by them after I trusted them!" Usually he didn't reveal the tale of how his hatred had come to be. But right now he was angry enough that he didn't care what he said.

Or was he angry? Maybe instead he was just being defensive. Maybe he was trying to deter Roll from thinking there was anything more to him. And maybe that was because he was so used to abiding by the law of "Never reveal your weaknesses to anyone." If someone knew he did have weaknesses, and that he was starting to question everything he believed in, he doubted it would have a good result for him. They could use the information for their own little purposes, looking for ways to destroy him one day and. . . .

There I go again, he muttered silently in irritation. There was the old Bass returning, the Bass who didn't and couldn't trust anyone in order to stay alive. Forming relationships only ended in heartache and disaster. What was the point? That was how the old Bass had always believed. But the Bass of the present was simply confused and muddled. Occasionally he felt his trusting side wanting to be let out, as it had been shut up for so long that it was almost completely smothered. But his aloof side always prevailed. He couldn't risk trusting anyone. And he didn't want his weaknesses known. No one could know that sometimes Bass honestly was lonely and truly did want to be able to trust someone again. A part of him wanted to return to Dr. Cossack. But he knew he couldn't, not anymore. Not after what he had done.

Roll looked at the scar as Bass touched it. She had seen it partially when it had shown through the mangled symbol on Bass's clothes, but she had only seen all of it once before, when she had been watching over him during his delirium. It was a nasty mark, stretching from Bass's left shoulder diagonally across his chest, and definitely would have been enough to delete any other NetNavi when it was received. Roll didn't know how Bass had managed to survive. And at that, it seemed that part of him had indeed died when he had received the wound. It seemed almost as if he had no heart or soul anymore, but that he had been consumed by his own hatred. "And that's why you don't trust anyone anymore," she finished softly, tearing her eyes away from the scar to again look Bass in the eyes.

"That's right," Bass agreed coldly. "No one. And you won't be the exception." But he had the feeling that the female Navi still wasn't going to go.

Roll just smiled. "I never thought I would be," she said. "But I think you're wrong about there only being revenge and hatred in your soul." She couldn't forget some of the things Bass had said while he was delirious, and it was generally assumed that what one said in that condition was often the deepest feelings buried in their heart—their fears, their hopes, their dreams; everything that truly existed within them. And Bass had spoken of Cossack frequently and how he wished that he could return to him. He had said that he didn't know what was right or wrong anymore and that he felt so lost. At another point he had talked about drowning in a pool of blood, completely disturbing Roll and Glyde, who had also been there. But Roll had come to decide that such a hallucination had befallen Bass because of his feelings of guilt and confusion over what he had planned to do.

Bass glared at her. "You're starting to get on my nerves," he said flatly.

Roll looked back, ignoring his words. "There's still good inside you, Bass," she told him, "whether you consciously realize it or not. If you were truly all bad, you wouldn't be wondering what the right path was. And you wouldn't feel guilt for what you've done—and were going to do—in the past." She stood up, intending to leave him there to ponder over what she'd said. He would most likely wonder how Roll even knew of those feelings. But she hoped he would at last decide what he should do. And she had found out more of what she wanted. She had the feeling that Bass was both lying to her and to himself. If he could see the same potential for goodness within himself that she had seen, there would still be hope for him yet.

But Bass couldn't see that. He realized that he despised himself. He hated what he had become and what he had done. He hated not knowing where he should go when he was recovered enough. Really, there wasn't any place for him. He didn't want to be around other NetNavis . . . and yet, in another way, he didn't want to be alone, either. If he took to wandering the endless depths of the UnderNet, as he had done before, his life would have even less meaning, for there was no goal he wanted to accomplish. He couldn't go back home, even if Cossack was still alive. I should have died, he thought to himself, clenching his fists. The Black Shadow has been reduced to this! He turned away from Roll now, muttering low under his breath. "Even if I realized it, there's nothing that can be done about it." He didn't expect Roll to hear him, but she did.

"That isn't true," she said, standing in front of him now with arms akimbo. "There's always something that can be done." Now she half-turned away, still watching him out of the corner of her eye. "I know you want to leave here, Bass. When you do, I hope you find what you're looking for." She said this last part in a soft voice, smiling slightly in a kind way. "And I hope you can finally be free."

Bass snarled again. There wasn't anything to find. And he wouldn't ever be free. "Get out," he ordered, again raising his hand as if to blast her but then dropping it again with a resigned mutter. That wouldn't do any good. And where once he had enjoyed blasting Navis and showing them that he couldn't be messed with, now the thought of it didn't give him all that much pleasure. He had changed since the MegaVirus had left him. That much was obvious. He understood barely any of the changes, though again he felt like there was almost another him existing in his body—the kind, trusting part of him that he kept insisting was dead. It seemed that perhaps it wasn't really dead at all, but badly suppressed. And now it wanted to get out and once again merge with Bass's soul. But Bass was too afraid to let it happen. He wasn't sure he liked these changes. He had gotten used to what he had become. Or had he? Truly, had he? Or had there always been some part of him that didn't like it and that wanted for Bass to be set truly free?

What did that even mean, to be set free? Bass didn't know. He had made himself believe that he was free, not being tied down to any Net Operator and not trusting or caring about anyone. But maybe he hadn't been free. He didn't feel free. He felt trapped in his life and in his lies.

Roll nodded, heading for the door. "I'm leaving," she said quietly. Bass needed to be alone now. Whether her words had helped or hindered or had not made any difference at all, she didn't know. But she, like Megaman, realized that she only wanted to save Bass from himself. Bass was fighting right now. And Roll prayed that his inner goodness would win out. His soul wasn't lost. He still had the potential to be something more than he currently was.

The last thing she expected was for Bass to suddenly call out. "Wait!" he growled, leaning forward as if to reach out for her.

She turned back, puzzled and surprised, and looked into his expression-filled red eyes. Now she saw new emotions mixing with the old. There was still a bit of anger, not to mention self-hatred and confusion, but there was also fear and disbelief. He couldn't believe that he was being helped as he had been, nor could he really comprehend Roll's insistence that he was still good. But the fear. . . . What was he afraid of? Change? The past? . . . How he would live the rest of his life? Yes, that must be it. And also . . . fear that his defenses were being torn down. Roll was seeing into his soul and he wasn't sure at all that he liked it.

"How can you think I have goodness within me!" he yelled, his eyes being taken over by an almost wild look. For right before he had called for Roll to wait, he had remembered something: a nightmare he had experienced during his delirium. In it, he had met Cossack since his heart had turned black. Cossack had used the advanced technology to send his spirit into the cyber world. And Cossack had, just as Bass had been afraid in his mind and his heart, been repulsed and alarmed and had said that he shouldn't have ever created a "thing" like Bass. Bass had attacked him in rage and hatred, but . . . not fatally. He hadn't been able to bring himself to do that, he realized now. But still he had attacked. He couldn't have goodness within him, he said firmly to himself. He was a being of darkness. While that event may have only been fictitious, Bass was convinced that it could have really happened. When it came right down to it, now that he knew the truth, he didn't want Cossack to ever see him again. It would be fruitless and most likely painful for them both.

Roll pondered over the answer to Bass's screamed question, her green eyes sorrowed. This was a tortured soul. Was it worse for him now, not knowing what his path in life should be? And yet, it was best for him to realize that he had been doing wrong. So in spite of how much the truth hurt, it would help him heal in the long run. But in the meantime. . . . Roll could feel Bass's anguish, his confusion, and his fear. It pulsated all around him, emanating from him, and Roll, being a Navi with healing abilities, could sense it even more acutely. But she couldn't heal this sort of wound.

And what was the best way to answer Bass? Roll didn't believe that some NetNavis were all bad, only that their hearts could be consumed and hidden under layers of ice. She had seen Bass's true potential shining through every now and then, especially when he had revealed his darkest feelings during his state of delirium, but was that what she wanted to tell him? She wanted to tell him something concrete, something that would perhaps help him to believe in himself once again. But what would that be? "I told you that if you were all bad, you wouldn't be going through this inner struggle right now," she said finally. "Someone who really is completely evil wouldn't have any conscience or regrets about what he was doing. And I know you probably didn't in the past," she added when she saw that Bass was about to say something, "but you do now. If someone can recognize that they were doing wrong, and that maybe there's a better path for them to take, then they can't really not have goodness, can they?" She smiled at the simplicity of her words.

Bass simply growled and turned away from her. By the time he looked back again, she was gone.

For the next several hours Bass remained silent in his room, indeed mulling over the strange conversation he had just had with Roll. What was it about her, and about other Navis like Megaman, that made them continue to trust each other and humans? Why did they even trust Bass to not suddenly decide to destroy the entire hospital? He grunted to himself, staring down at his hand as he idly tried to form a violet burst of energy from within it. All he could manage was a few sparks. Well, that was good enough reason to trust him, just like what had happened with Roll earlier. And yet . . . Roll insisted it wasn't just because he was too weak to attack her that she believed he wouldn't.

Trust . . . it was such an overrated emotion. Where had it gotten him before? His trust had led to betrayal and hatred and that had led him on the path he had followed for so many lonely years—the path of destruction. And yet . . . it could be argued that it was his own fault. He had chosen to let the hatred take him over. But then again, only because he had thought his father had abandoned him. And he knew the others in the lab had betrayed him. Now he realized that he and Cossack had both been the victims of the betrayal. But it was too late to do anything about it now.

He wondered again if the word had gotten out that the infamous Black Shadow was recuperating in the NetCity hospital. If it had, he knew he had plenty of enemies who would like to come get a crack at deleting him while he was weak. Memories flashed through his mind of battles in the UnderNet, most of them struggles over who would be the strongest. Once even one hundred outlaws had all tried to gang up on him. They all had regretted that. He smirked slightly when he recalled it. The Black Shadow wasn't one to be messed with.

The truth was, Bass genuinely had a thirst for battles and action, if the opponent was worthy. Most often, they were not. There were only a handful of Navis that Bass considered worth fighting at all: Serenade, Protoman, and of course, Megaman, his eternal enemy.

Enemy . . . yet savior as well.

Bass slammed a fist into the mattress in frustration. There was that voice again, the one belonging to the other him, the him that wanted to get out. Would Bass release him? He didn't know. He had held him back for years, so was there a point to letting him free now? Even if he did, he had the feeling that he would always remain a loner. He was so used to solitude by now that he just didn't feel comfortable around other Navis unless they were battling. And as for humans . . . the only human Bass would ever possibly want to be around he couldn't go back to now.

He looked out the window again from his position on the bed. Night was falling on NetCity now. If he could manage to get up, it would be a perfect time to make his exit. But he didn't dare try it yet, not after his embarrassing display in front of Roll. He would rest for a while first and then when it was extremely late he would try again. And he would eventually succeed. Then maybe he would be able to sort out his feelings. Slowly he laid back on the bed, falling asleep before he quite knew that he was.

It was past midnight when Bass awoke again. He looked around, his eyes adjusting to the dim lights, and then lay still for a moment as he attempted to determine his condition. He felt alright, but then that was what he had thought earlier right before he had fainted dead away. He would have to proceed with extreme caution. Slowly he began to rise, finding that he didn't feel dizziness coming on. After waiting for a few moments, he got up completely.

Finding that he was able to stand without swaying, he made his way across the room to the portable closet and quietly opened the door. He took out the rest of his clothes, slowly putting them on, and then looked at the tattered cloak. He had acquired it right after the incident with the Elite Corps that had shaped his entire life and personality for the last twenty years. It was as well known a symbol for The Black Shadow as his unusual helmet was. With a soft flutter of the ragged cloth, it was again surrounding the Navi's slender form.

As Bass adjusted his helmet, he took in a sweeping glance of the room. He wasn't the type to leave messages when he left places and he didn't feel that there was any need. If anyone did possibly happen to be concerned about his sudden exit, the female Navi Roll would most likely set them straight as to what he had gone off to do, since she seemed to be so convinced that she knew what he was like. Whether she really did remained to be seen. Bass snorted at the thought that he still possessed some semblance of goodness. That was ridiculous. Anyone who had ever met The Black Shadow in all his ferocity and striking terror would know how ridiculous it was.

But . . . are you still The Black Shadow?

Bass narrowed his eyes in irritation, choosing to ignore the persistent voice in his head. Instead he concentrated on gathering his energy about him to teleport out of the hospital and into the city. At first he wasn't certain it was going to work. As soon as he started the process, he felt himself growing dizzy. But then it passed and he felt himself leaving the hospital room behind. He wasn't sure where he would wind up now, but he hoped that wherever it was, it would enable him to sort out his confused thoughts and heart.

It was much later when Roll passed by the room and saw that it was vacant. At first she blinked in surprise, wondering if Bass had simply passed out on the floor again, but when she ventured deeper into the room she could clearly see that he had left. It wasn't really all that shocking, she knew. From her conversation with Bass earlier, she had gathered that he wanted to leave as soon as he could. And now he had. She leaned on the doorframe reflectively, remembering the things he had said to her and what she had said back. Had any of it made a difference to him?

Megaman, who was coming down the hall, stopped and noticed her. Confused, he came over to the doorway as well and looked in. "What is it?" he asked.

Roll smiled a bit. "Bass is gone," she replied. But where will you go, Bass? Will you wander the cyber network as you once did? Will you go back to your old ways of being The Black Shadow? But somehow, Roll didn't think he would. Whatever he did, she felt certain that he would not return to his previous life.

Megaman bit his lip, looking concerned. "Maybe he wasn't well enough," he remarked. Roll had told him about their encounter earlier, though she hadn't mentioned all the details of their conversation. He wondered if they should go after him, though he doubted they'd actually find him if he didn't want to be found. He voiced these thoughts.

Roll shook her head slowly. "No . . . I don't think we would find him. He probably wants to be alone."

Megaman gave her a sidelong glance. "I know you weren't really that thrilled about having him here, when we first brought him," he remarked. Slightly alarmed was more like it. After all, Bass was indeed quite well-known as The Black Shadow and he had caused Megaman more than his fair share of problems. But when Roll had seen the condition the other Navi was in, she had done her best to offer her healing powers to his wounds.

Roll sighed. "Well, you have to admit . . . he's been one of your worst enemies." She glanced out the window. Her opinion of Bass had changed quite dramatically after the long hours when she had kept watch over him. He wasn't a completely evil maniac, as she had used to wonder. Like any Navi or human, he had real feelings and emotions, though he kept them buried deep. If circumstances had been different for him, who knew but what he might have still been the Ultimate NetNavi, but using his powers for good instead of ill.

"I know," Megaman agreed with a sigh of his own, "but . . . I don't know . . . there's something really sad about him. He's always alone. He never really has anyone to be there for him. Almost all he's ever done for years is just try to get revenge on everyone for what happened to him. I guess maybe he kind of thought that he was an avenging angel and that humanity was entirely evil. And then when he got amnesia, he didn't even remember any of his reasons for fighting. He just thought he was supposed to fight all the time." He crossed his arms, wincing as memories of the two-against-one battle with himself, Bass, and Protoman came to mind. The scene when the Gospel MegaVirus was forcefully separated from Bass's body still played over and over in his head. Bass had given an inhuman scream, undeniably pained beyond comprehension. But he had refused to let Megaman help him. Eventually, though, Megaman had been able to offer help—barely in time, too.

Roll laid a hand on Megaman's shoulder. "He'll be alright," she said firmly.

"How can you be sure?" Megaman wondered, turning to look at her.

"I don't know," Roll admitted. "It's just a feeling." She smiled ruefully. "I don't mind Bass so much anymore."

Megaman nodded, smiling slightly. "I'm glad," he said. "Now if only Bass would decide to let his good side out. . . ." Though Bass had said nothing of the kind, Megaman knew he was confused. It was quite obvious from his behavior. He couldn't understand why he'd been saved, naturally because he hadn't thought anyone was kind, but also most likely because he didn't think he was worth saving. He thought so little of himself that he expected everyone else did as well.

"Maybe he just will," Roll replied softly. "Someday. . . ."

Several weeks went by with no news of the mysterious Bass. Every now and then someone reported having seen a Navi wearing a badly torn cloak and a strange helmet, but he never made a move to cause any trouble. He would merely glare at whoever encountered him—if he acknowledged them at all—and then walk away. Those who saw him said that he seemed world-weary and highly irritated. Megaman, when he heard the news, felt that Bass was still searching for answers. He wouldn't harm anyone now unless he had extreme reason to (such as defending his life), because he had started to feel that maybe it wasn't right.

Megaman was correct in his assumptions. Bass was wandering down the random streets of NetCity on this stormy, dark night, just as he had done every day since leaving the hospital. All of the cyberworld was his home, but no one was his friend. He roamed aimlessly, with no known purpose. His feelings were no less jumbled up. He still despised himself and saw no goodness within his soul. He had spent twenty years seeking revenge and remaining alone with his hatred of everything and everyone. Now that he knew things had not been as they had appeared, he felt that his life had been quite wasted.

But there was nothing for him now. He couldn't go back to what he was, but he didn't know how he could do anything else, either. He still didn't trust humans, even though he currently didn't possess the consuming hatred towards them. But he didn't feel like doing them any favors. Well, for that matter, he didn't feel like doing anyone any favors, including any Navis. He wanted to continue being alone, though he could see it wasn't helping him figure things out any better. Bass had experienced solitude for so long that now he wasn't comfortable with anything else.

He turned a corner and then mentally cursed his poor equilibrium as he almost slipped and fell. As he looked down to see what had caused him to lose his balance, he discovered red rivers trickling over the downhill street and mixing with the falling rain. At that same moment, he became aware that he was being followed. He didn't know how he'd escaped realizing it before. It must have been that he was too preoccupied with his thoughts. But those sorts of mistakes could be fatal if he wasn't careful. Abruptly he whirled around, hoping to catch the culprit in the act. And catch him Bass did—only it wasn't at all what he had expected.

His eyes widened as he took in the badly wounded figure of a strange doglike creature, grayish purple in color with a ruff like a lion's. He knew that dog. It was the remains of the Gospel MegaVirus, the creature that had tried to assist him in the past when he was laying near-death after he had fought to stay alive inside the mass that was Alpha. But this was not a towering, menacing creation. It was the size of a normal dog—and a seriously hurt one at that. It yipped softly, wagging a weak tail, and looked at Bass with almost pleading eyes.

Bass continued to stare at it, a confused frown now gracing his features. "You're alive . . . and you remember me?" he breathed softly. When the MegaVirus had ripped free from him, Bass had assumed it had been destroyed—and, admittedly, he hadn't thought much about it beyond that. But the truth was that the dog had saved his life, even if Bass had lost his memories in the process, and Bass owed the creature for what it had tried to do. And, in some odd way, he realized that he felt connected to the canine. Most likely it's because of the long time during which our spirits were as one, he thought to himself now. But how did he find me?

The dog yipped again and tried to move forward, limping on a very badly bleeding leg. Then he collapsed in exhaustion and pain, still watching Bass with the sad, helpless eyes. Surely, these injuries couldn't have been from the fight in which he had been pulled free from the Navi! He wouldn't have survived that long. Bass himself had barely survived the first few hours after it had happened.

The cold-hearted Navi clenched his fists, exchanging looks with the canine for another long moment. The dog had actually followed him for who knew how long, obviously because he remembered Bass and hoped that he would get help from him. And Bass found that he couldn't deny the creature what was desired. He walked forward slowly until he came to the top of the hill where the dog still was laying. Then he knelt down, examining the wounds and noticing grimly that blood was already pooling under the weary form. "What happened to you?" he growled low, parting some of the tangled and matted fur to check the severity of the most heavily-bleeding laceration.

He admitted to himself that even during his days of thirsting for revenge, he most likely would have come to this dog's aid. He wasn't sure why, as the reason was because of something he didn't recognize within himself, but he knew that he would have. This animal had been his only friend during the long years of hatred and anger. They had shared thoughts and feelings when their spirits had first bonded, before Bass's memories had been lost. The dog knew and understood everything Bass had been through and why he was so full of hatred, and yet he had remained devoted anyway. Bass had never seen such devotion in humans or in other Navis and he doubted he would.

The dog managed to bark softly and raise himself up partially, licking at Bass's face. He thumped his tail on the ground again, feeling consciousness leave him. He had struggled for so long to find Bass—so many days, so many weeks, all spent of nothing but searching for this one Navi whom he cared about and had already decided to pledge his life to serving. Now he had found him at last, but he was so wounded from everything he had been through that he couldn't properly show his relief and joy. But Bass would sense it anyway. The canine crooned, feeling safe as he slipped into oblivion.

Bass growled again, seeing the dog pass out. But what had angered him more was that he had just determined the nature of the majority of the wounds—and they had been deliberately inflicted by someone. It didn't look like the aftermath of a dogfight. No, some Navi had been purposely cruel, perhaps because it had known that this was part of the Gospel MegaVirus.

The Gospel MegaVirus. . . . That was no way to keep referring to the animal. It was much too long of a name. Besides, Bass didn't really think of this normal-sized creature as being the MegaVirus. That was a term reserved only for the larger-than-life beast created by the organization Gospel (or Grave, as they were also known). Perhaps Bass would simply call this dog "Gospel." Yes . . . that sounded good. But right now he needed help. And the middle of the street wasn't where Bass wanted to offer it. Carefully he wrapped Gospel within his cloak and then teleported out, holding the dog in his arms.

The laboratory was in a dark and previously abandoned building near the outskirts of DenTech City. No one had ever dared to enter the reportedly haunted abode, as it was said that late at night odd laughing and the sound of machinery grinding to life could be heard. It didn't help that there was a rumor about a murder having taken place right before the building had been shut down. But while all of the citizens had been frightened away and the city government just didn't bother tearing the structure down, a strange and demented man had decided to move into it and make it his research center. It was he who was heard cackling madly during the latenight hours and it was his machinery that was starting up. And it was he who had started the rumor about the factory murder. The more people wanted to stay away, the better. He couldn't be disturbed, not now, not when he was on the verge of a scientific breakthrough.

He had once been a noted scientist, working with the likes of Dr. Cossack and even Dr. Wily on projects pertaining to the future of the cyberworld. As a matter of fact, Dr. Wily had actually taken this man under his wing a long time before and had attempted to train him as a possible successor to his reign of madness. But once the young scientist had learned what he had needed to know, he had left his mentor behind and started his own research. Why should he be Wily's successor in the future when he could start taking over the cyber network right now? His ultimate plan for world domination was to combine the human world with the cyberworld. Wily had tried in the past and had failed. But this man, Alexander Cain, would not fail. He believed he had the superior knowledge and equipment to make his plans a reality.

A footfall echoed from the doorway and Cain looked up from the dimensional coordinates he was studying. "Lord Cain, sir?"

"What is it?" Cain snapped. "Can't you see I'm busy?" He was a much younger man than Wily, with sharp brown hair and piercing dark eyes. But he was already quite on the path of darkness, his soul being consumed by want of sheer power. Carefully he set his papers down and turned to give his lackey his full attention.

"Forgive me, my lord," the henchman purred, bowing low, "but I was certain you would want to be informed of this development. It seems that the remnants of the Gospel MegaVirus have yet survived, in spite of our best efforts to exterminate the creature. For the last while it's been following the Navi known as Bass." He straightened up, studying his boss's expression for the reaction that he was sure would come.

But Cain merely gave a dark, sickly smile. "It has?" he said in a rhetorical tone, turning back to face his monitor. "How interesting. And what has Bass done about it?"

"He has taken the dog in," came the reply. "Apparently he is going to attempt to nurse it back to health."

"Really." Cain touched the keyboard, bringing the contents of the screen to life. In front of him now was a map of the cyberworld quadrant in which Gospel had last been seen. Cain could pick up faint particle traces at the spot where Bass had teleported, but not the location where he was at now. He tapped his fingers together, highly interested by the information he had been brought, though he seemed calm and indifferent. "I wonder what Bass plans to do with the creature. After all, the Navi infamous as The Black Shadow and The Messenger of Darkness must surely be up to something."

"Perhaps he wishes to merge with its spirit again, my lord," the minion suggested.

"Perhaps," Cain agreed, "but somehow I believe it must be something else, especially after what resulted the last time Bass attempted to merge with it." He leaned back, crossing his arms with a satisfied smirk. "Find out where they are now," he ordered, "and then report back to me. Don't harm either of them . . . yet. If my plan works, and I am able to merge these worlds, then Bass could be of much use to me."

The lackey nodded. "As you wish, Lord Cain," he replied, bowing once more and then leaving.

Several more weeks passed and December began, bringing with it much snow for DenTech City. Bass, who had since taken shelter in one of his notorious hideouts in the depths of NetCity, had continued to tend to Gospel's healing wounds and ponder on what he was going to do with the dog when he recovered completely. But Gospel had made it quite clear, in his own way, that he wanted to remain with Bass—and the Navi supposed that that was what would wind up happening. He didn't see himself turning the dog away if he was foolish enough to want to stay. He tried to tell himself that perhaps Gospel would be useful . . . but for what? It wasn't as if Bass was planning another disastrous attack on humanity and could use Gospel's added strength. Perhaps, he thought dryly to himself, I should admit that I simply want the dog here with me. Gospel is much better company than other Navis or especially pathetic humans. Other Navis, like Roll and Megaman, made Bass end up asking questions about himself that he didn't know the answers to and it frustrated him. And of course, "pathetic humans" weren't trusted or respected by Bass, though he admitted darkly to himself that he wondered what Cossack was doing these days and if the man ever thought about the Navi he had created.

Gospel whined softly, watching Bass stand coldly at the doorway and glare out into NetCity as night fell. The two still could sense each other's thoughts and feelings and Gospel could sense that Bass was on edge tonight. During the first few days after Bass had taken the dog in, he had picked up on some of Gospel's remembrances of how he had gotten hurt. It had been assassin Navis, just like the ones the Elite Corps had sent to kill Bass twenty years ago. Only they hadn't been hired by the Elite Corps. Gospel really didn't know who they were, only that they were Navis created by the scientist Alexander Cain. Gospel had wandered into his servers and Cain hadn't been pleased about it, especially when viruses began to run rampant, so he had ordered the hitmen to go after him. Gospel, no longer the towering, indestructible creature he had once been, had barely managed to escape with his life.

Slowly and painstakingly the wolfdog rose to his feet and walked, limping, over to Bass. He nudged gently at the Navi's gloved hand, hoping for some attention. After a short moment Bass looked down at Gospel and petted his head thoughtfully. "We're alike in a way," he remarked quietly and bitterly. "Neither of us have been wanted and neither of us know what to do with our lives." But Bass was partially wrong there. Gospel had determined, indeed, what he would do. He was bound and determined to stay with Bass and he announced this with a firm bark and another nudge of Bass's hand.

Bass grunted. "If that's the way you want to spend your life, I can't stop you," he said, sitting down on an empty crate as he continued to gaze out the doorway at the deserted streets. Gospel laid his head on Bass's leg, content for the moment. Bass continued to pet the dog as he reviewed his feelings.

Idly he wondered if Megaman and his cronies were looking for him, or if they had been. It was possible, he supposed, but if Roll was so "all-insightful" as she claimed, she would have recognized his need to be alone in his confusion. Those Navis were all so different from him, so trusting and naive. But was it really naivete or simply a hopeful but fruitless wish that all Navis would possess goodness? Either way, Bass wondered if they would ever come to recognize what he was certain was the truth—that some Navis, including him, simply were not good.

And yet, what had prompted him to decide to care for Gospel if it hadn't been goodness? He knew he didn't really have a use for the dog, not right now, except as a loyal, non-judgmental companion who had endless patience and a knowledge of the deepest secrets of Bass's heart. Gospel had given him a certain comfort since he had been with him again. Perhaps it was because Bass had found something to do with himself when he had nursed the wolfdog back to health and he had felt useful instead of being endlessly confused all the time with nothing to do except think about the meaning of his life. He didn't know.

What he did know was that something was going to go wrong, very soon. Bass could sense it in the air. He knew he had been watched by someone for the last few days and he wasn't pleased in the slightest. But whoever it was had made no move to attack, so perhaps they had a different idea in mind. But Bass would find out what was going on. He didn't like being spied on, especially when he didn't know who was doing it. For now, though, there was nothing to do but watch and wait.

And it wouldn't take long. For Bass was correct—something was about to go very wrong, for DenTech City and NetCity alike. And when all grew dark, the residents of both would wonder who would help them when no one could.

But Bass could not see into the future. He hadn't the faintest idea of what was going to happen. As the last glows of twilight faded away he continued to idly pet Gospel, until at last he grew weary and slumped against the wall, falling into a troubled sleep peppered with dreams of his past and the confusion of his present.