The statement was simple, but it meant victory. Another precious cycle bought. Mouse heaved a sigh of relief as the Game slipped upwards.
It looked like they had lost. Mainframe was in such bad condition that every sector looked as though it had suffered nullification. Everything was smoking and smoldering; the heat coming from the ground in some places had made minor tears.
Below her, something groaned in pain. She looked down and saw Dot sprawled on the ground in front of her, unmoving. Horror grew within her, and she fell to her knees beside her friend, shaking her shoulders.
"Dot! Dot, can you hear me?"
"Does it hurt much?" asked a gentle voice.
Dot blinked heavily, feeling drowsy. "Yeah..." she muttered, letting her eyes gradually sort through the haze she saw. There was nothing around her but empty white space. And him. Again.
Panic rose in Dot's chest; afraid that she had plunged back into her torturous dream. But as she looked at him, there was no trace of playfulness or happiness on his face. He was looking at her with a sad sort of resigned expression.
"You gave up on me, Dot," he said finally. His eyes twitched and a single tear fell down his cheek.
The words ricocheted through her mind, leaving welts everywhere they hit. Her breath caught in her chest. "Bob...no."
If possible, he looked even sadder. "I haven't given up on you, Dot. I'll always believe you're alive and fighting." There was a forsaken pleading in his voice she had never heard before.
Dot felt a chilled tear hit her own cheek. Her throat closed up and her head throbbed. Ashamed, she hung her head. She wanted to look at him, wanted more than anything else in the net to look at him, because this Bob seemed so much more real than the other one, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. It was true, she had betrayed him.
His hand found her shoulder. "Please don't give up on me. I'll come home. And Dot...don't give up on Enzo either." His voice was taut with emotion.
Dot raised her head, blinking past her tears to see him next to her, eyes begging for her to believe in him again. "Bob...I won't... I'm so sorry..."
Bob shook his head, putting a finger on her lips. "Shhh. I know."
"Is it really you?" she whispered.
"No," he murmured, smiling softly. "But I'm telling you the truth, Dot."
"I miss you," she sobbed quietly, looking at him, trying to remember everything about him again. Even in the few seconds he had been gone, she had forgotten so much.
"I miss you too,"he said, and wrapped her up a warm, healing embrace. Drained of everything, Dot clung to him desperately, letting his presence soothe her troubled mind. The longer she stayed in his arms, the stronger she felt, as if she was feeding off his memory. Energy came flooding back into her long-exhausted body, her mind cleared and focused, and the ever-present headache melted away. At long last, she pulled away from him, smiling.
Bob looked satisfied with her reaction. He smiled, looking down at her affectionately. "Better?" he asked.
"Good. Now go give Megabyte a real taste of Mainframe tradition."
Dot cocked her head, confused.
Bob laughed a bit. "'If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. It's tradition."
Dot felt a tiny bubble of laughter push at her throat. "I remember."
He gave her jaunty, confident look, and winked. "Stay frosty, Dot."
"Dot! Dot, can you hear me?"
Dot groaned and sat up, distant laughter echoing in her ears. "Mouse?" she looked around at the deserted sector. "The Game?"
"We won, Sugah. You got a nasty bump on the head, though. You okay?" Mouse took her arm and helped her up.
"Yes." Dot turned around, taking a good look at Mainframe. After a nano, she looked at Mouse, confident. "You know, Mouse, I really think we can win this."
Mouse raised an eyebrow and regarded Dot. How many cycles had passed since she had seen Dot confident and assertive? Too many. She grinned at Dot. "That's our fearless leader," she said approvingly.
"Thanks," muttered Dot. "Lets get back to the Principle Office. They'll be wondering where we've gone." And she strode off towards the middle of the system.
Mouse watched her go for a moment, shaking her head in admiration. She had no clue what had happened to Dot inside the Game. She had been so depressed, and now... Mouse shrugged and started after her friend.
An angel must be watching over Dot Matrix, she decided. Time and again the stubborn sprite had been shot down, and her future looked no brighter than her past. And yet, she always managed to get up again. Mouse smiled tenderly. Yes, an angel was watching over Dot. A Guardian Angel.