A/N: This was inspired by a "deleted scene" listing on IMDB, where it explained that Disney cut a sequence from the film because it was "way too dark". Since my subconscious reacts with "EXPAND NAO PLZ" whenever I read something like that, I decided to write my own version.
Disclaimer: Bolt, and technically this scene, belong to Disney. No infringement is intended. Please don't sue. Please?
There was still a small chance.
On the whole, Bolt thought to himself, he was taking this whole "no superpowers" thing pretty well. Sure, he'd almost knocked himself unconscious a couple of times (okay, a lot of times), and sure, he'd almost broken something on more than one occasion, and sure, he'd stared at so many locks for so long that his eyes had been streaming tears off and on for days. (At least, that's what he maintained the tears were from, and not ... realizations of any sort.)
But largely, Bolt thought as he walked slowly through the alleyways of Las Vegas alone, he'd been doing all right. He'd managed to rescue Mittens from the pound without any heat vision, or super strength, or who knows what else; that was something. He'd also managed to get closer and closer to Penny, and he was confident that their remaining waffle would be traveled without trouble. And he'd made some good friends along the way (friends currently digging through the dumpsters several alleys behind him), and had seen more beautiful sights than he'd ever expected to see.
And yet ... for some reason he just couldn't believe that he was totally and completely, as Mittens put it, a "normal" dog. He'd been enjoying the life of one on the road; that went without saying. And he'd been consciously accepting the fact that this was slowly becoming his life. But there was still that part of him, that one, small part of him, that maintained that everything he'd known before wasn't a lie.
Maybe the styrofoam had affected his bad-guy-defeating, Penny-saving, superdog life.
It wasn't that he didn't believe Mittens when she constantly reminded him that said styrofoam was just something that humans stuffed into boxes to keep things from breaking. (Bolt had been trying, unsuccessfully, to follow this logic for quite some time.) At the same time, it wasn't that he believed Rhino, who was constantly reminding Bolt of his exploits as a superhero. It seemed, really, that that one part of him just couldn't accept the fact that this was his life now, and he'd never again know the feeling of saving his beloved Penny from Dr. Calico's twisted schemes — the overwhelming rush of having done something good, of having rescued the girl he loved, of knowing that together, they were unstoppable and would stay that way forever.
He just couldn't get past that.
Bolt's ears perked up and he looked around frantically, rushing towards the down. "Penny?" he shouted instinctively, wondering what on Earth she was doing here, barely even realizing that something was wrong with her voice. Bolt rounded the nearest corner, and suddenly found himself staring upward at a large billboard; unlike the other ones he'd seen, this one moved, and the pictures seemed very familiar...
Bolt felt a horrible sinking sensation in his stomach. He was watching himself dart through the sands of Egypt, Penny hot on his heels.
The on-screen Bolt shot a ray of light from his eyes, and the motorcycle that Calico's henchman was riding exploded underneath him, sending him flying.
Penny hit a button on her scooter, and the wheels rose into it, to be replaced by spinning fans; gliding over the sand, she extended a leash to the onscreen Bolt and he grabbed it in his teeth, disappearing in a millisecond as he kicked into super-speed.
Doctor Calico was laughing from his place atop the head of the great Sphinx, the familiar black cat lounging on his shoulder; and the onscreen Bolt jumped, making the great leap in mere milliseconds ... he was bearing down on Calico, his teeth bared, Penny lunging for the cat and the both of them sharing a quick, encouraging glance before the battle began...
"NO!" Bolt shouted, tearing his eyes away and running down another alley, refusing to look back at the loud, blaring billboard. He remembered all of it; all of what he'd seen on the screen, he'd gone through, believing it to be the truth, and he couldn't accept this final, undeniable shred of evidence that all of it had been fake, that none of it had been even the slightest bit real ... Penny had been real, though, hadn't she?
Bolt skidded to a stop in front of a brick wall, panting heavily as the final thought struck him.
What if she hadn't been?
Had she been fake too?
Bolt shook his head as if to dislodge the thought. He'd gone on this walk to clear his head, not to confuse it further. What if Penny ... what if everything they'd gone through together ... what if it had been a lie too?
He spoke it out loud, one last time. He knew Penny better than he knew himself. She had been real. He was sure of that. And he was also sure that Penny would no love him no matter what kind of dog he was and that she'd be fine with any life they chose. But he wasn't sure that he'd be fine with it.
And now it seemed that he had to accept that he was just a dog. A normal dog.
"Well, well, well, lookit what the cat dragged in."
Bolt's ears twitched and he turned around cautiously, staring down the length of the alley. At the end, something was peering around the corner, its grin glinting in the dark. The thing came forward, and Bolt realized that the shadow was in fact two Doberman Pinschers.
"Brothers," Bolt said stiffly, hoping he wouldn't have to deal with any more reminders of his 'new' life. What could these thugs want?
"Didja hear that, Rojan?" the other Doberman said. "Bolt called us brothers. Well, don't we just feel honored?"
The first Doberman glanced behind him, to the still-playing video of Bolt's other life, before turning around to grin sinisterly at Bolt. "Absolutely honored."
"What do you two want?" Bolt said shortly, trying to disguise his growing unease.
"Well..." the dog called Rojan said, drawing out the word unnecessarily, "since ya asked, that collar of yours is lookin' mighty fine there. Ain't it, Charles?"
"Sure is," said the one named Charles. "Be a mighty fine tragedy if somethin' should happen to The Amazing Bolt's collar. Mighty fine."
"So if you'll just hand it over, we'll be on our way," drawled Rojan; all the while, he and Charles had been slowly advancing on Bolt, backing him against the brick wall of the alley. Bolt felt his tail brush the bricks and he tucked it between his legs unconsciously. "We promise not to let anything happen to it," added Rojan, faking sincerity.
Bolt's eyes darted from one Doberman to the other. "Sorry," he said, hoping he was sounding brave and confident, "but that's simply not possible." Inside, Bolt was panicking. This collar was his last link to Penny; she had picked it out herself. She had put it on his neck when they'd first met. He was not giving it up for anything.
"Beg pardon, Boltie?" said Charles, flicking one of his ears as if he'd misheard, wearing a mocking smile.
"I said no!" Bolt shouted, his hackles raising as he snarled at the dogs. "You can't have it!"
The two Dobermans paused for a second as they surveyed Bolt's defensive position, looking only mildly interested. "Oh, well, that's a shame," said Rojan smoothly.
Suddenly the two of them rushed forward, growling and barking, and before Bolt knew it his back had slammed into the wall, knocking the wind out of him. He could feel Rojan's teeth on his neck; the Doberman was drooling. Beside him, Charles pinned Bolt's arms to the wall, leaning in, snarling mightily.
"Get off!" Bolt shouted, bringing one of his legs up and kicking Rojan in the neck; the dog bristled and his grip slackened. Bolt then wrestled one of his arms free and jabbed Charles in the eye, and the Doberman stumbled back, howling in pain. As they were distracted, Bolt fell back down to all fours and hastily felt his collar with his front paw. Finding no damage, he turned back to Rojan and Charles, who were both wincing in pain and readying themselves for another attack.
Come on, superpowers, Bolt thought desperately, still clinging to that one last shred of hope; it was all he had left if he hoped to survive this. If you're ever going to show up, now's the time.
On the video billboard, still visible behind Charles and Rojan, the battle raged on as well. Calico had thrown the onscreen Bolt away from him, causing him to crash into Penny; the two of them fell. Both were unhurt, and as Penny stood up and the onscreen Bolt ran towards Calico again, the evil cat that accompanied Calico threw himself at them. "You can take him, Bolt!" Penny yelled.
"Get him!" Charles shouted, and he and Rojan rushed forward again. Bolt, in turn, rushed forward as well, surprising his attackers and giving them no time to react as he jumped up to their necks, brought both of his paws up and swiftly karate chopped the two of them.
Rojan and Charles both made strange gurgling sounds and skidded to a halt, managing to turn around before they slammed into the wall. Bolt turned around as well, his heart sinking. Back when he was with Penny, that karate chop would have incapacitated the both of them.
No matter. He'd been away from the styrofoam for weeks now; maybe some of his other abilities had started to come back? They have to, Bolt thought desperately as Rojan and Charles were bearing down on him. They just have to. He shut his eyes and tried to concentrate.
Rojan and Charles halted momentarily, apparently unable to believe what they were seeing. "Would you look at that, Rojan!" said Charles with biting sarcasm. "Bolt's tryin' to use his heat-vision on us!"
"Oh, no, I'm really scared," Rojan growled, and Bolt shut his eyes. That hadn't worked either! He opened them again just in time to see Rojan and Charles in midair, leaping in for the kill.
"Look out, Bolt!"
Bolt's world was a blur of spinning bricks, sharp teeth and vicious snarls. He was trying to run away, but he had no super-speed. He was barking madly, but his Superbark was gone. He was jumping to avoid Rojan and Charles, dodging their blows, but he couldn't go any higher. He was elbowing the Doberman Pinschers, biting them, clawing them — but he had no super-strength. And Rojan and Charles were biting him too, with everything they had; pain exploded across Bolt's back, in his legs, in one of his ears — and, he realized with a heart-stopping jolt, in his neck. Charles had grabbed his collar and was pulling on the fabric, shaking his head madly as he tried to dislodge it.
"STOP!" Bolt shouted, unable to hide his fear now. "LET GO!"
"Curse you, you infernal canine!"
Rojan head-butted Bolt, shoving him against the wall again, and Charles gave an almighty tug.
Bolt's head and neck snapped backward, slamming into the bricks. Stars exploded in front of his eyes. And through them he saw, as if in slow motion, Penny's collar flying upward, its medallion glinting in the light of the video billboard ... and then the collar fell, smashing into the dirt, directly between Charles and Rojan.
The two of them stared at it, both of them panting heavily, as in front of them, Bolt collapsed. Blood was running into his eyes from a gash above his head. Blood was everywhere — across his legs, down his back ... and along his side. The lighting-bolt was completely gone now, to be replaced with a long, red, dripping stripe.
"You saved the day again, Bolt."
"Well, lookit the big, powerful Bolt now," said Charles through heavy pants, glancing at Rojan before approaching Bolt, eyes heavy with disdain.
"Doesn't seem so tough to me," added Rojan matter-of-factly, also coming forward. "In fact, seems downright pathetic."
"Leave the collar," Charles spat, turning around; Rojan followed his lead. "If it belongs to this sorry excuse for a dog, then it's not even worth having."
The two Doberman Pinschers jogged briskly down the alleyway, turned a corner, and disappeared into the streets of Vegas. Behind them, Bolt remained where he was, ears twitching feebly. His breathing came in short gasps, accompanied by soft whimpers.
None of it was real...
He knew now, beyond a shadow of a doubt. On the video billboard, the credits started to roll.
All of it was a lie... every single moment... all of it...
Bolt tried to struggle to his feet. His legs wobbled like jelly for a moment before he collapsed again with a harsh grunt. When he tried again, this time his legs wouldn't even respond.
What would happen if I just gave up?
Charles and Rojan had left him for dead anyway.
Slowly, Bolt opened his eyes. In front of him was the dirty collar, scratched and torn. The name "BOLT" winked at him, seeming to mock him. To laugh at him.
But it was still Penny's collar.
Bolt gave a grunt, dragging himself forward. Every breath lit a fire in his side; every inch he moved sent knives and daggers through his spine. But he shut it out, ignoring the overwhelming pain, concentrating on the thing that had kept him going for so long. "You're a good boy..." That was what she had said to him. "You're my good boy..."
At last he reached it, and laid his head back down. Bolt, whimpering slightly, nudged the golden medallion halfheartedly with his nose; he knew there was no way to put it back on. Not when the both of them were in such bad shape. But he had it. And that was what counted. That's what counts...
"BOLT!" came a panicked voice, and the tip of one of Bolt's ears twitched disinterestedly. Mittens. She had found him. What if she saw him like this? What she must think of him now...
There was a gasp, then another, angrier voice reached him. "What evildoer dares to try to take down the mighty Bolt?! He's indestructible! Undefeated! Never-ceas—"
There was a small muffling sound. Mittens must have covered Rhino's mouth. "Rhino, shut up and help me! Bolt! BOLT!"
Bolt's vision was getting blurry. He tried to lift his head to see Mittens, to show her that he was okay, but for some reason, he couldn't. Through half-closed eyes he looked upward, down the alley in front of him, and noted a small, black shape hurtling forward. Mittens came into clearer focus as she skidded to a halt right in front of Bolt, bending down to look at him, expression full of concern. Her eyes filled Bolt's vision. Those pretty green eyes. Such beautiful eyes...
"Oh, geez, oh, shoot, oh geez," Mittens was saying in a panic. "Bolt, come on, stay awake. Stay with us, Bolt! Stay awake!"
"I'll live, Mittens," Bolt tried to say, "I'm all right." But his mouth didn't even move. All that came out was a strangled whimper.
"He's got red stuff everywhere," came Rhino's voice from beside him; for the first time, the hamster sounded scared. "The red stuff that's not supposed to come out of you..."
"That's blood," Mittens said, more to herself than Rhino, "that's blood! Bolt! Stay awake, please!"
Bolt wished that they weren't getting all worked up. He wished he could just go to sleep and not have to worry about any of his problems anymore. Maybe he'd even sleep forever. He wished for a lot of things...
In his haze of thought, Bolt didn't even notice that his eyelids had slowly closed and he had rolled over onto his side. He didn't notice his hearing getting muffled, didn't notice the various scents of Las Vegas slowly disappear, along with the taste of blood in his mouth. And soon, Bolt was unconscious, and there was nothing left to notice...
Bolt groaned and wished he could fall unconscious again. There was not a single part of him that did not hurt. Blearily, he opened his eyes. It was daybreak; apparently he was back in the alley where he, Mittens and Rhino had been staying. He struggled to move and found his legs, back, and even his tail, bandaged with what looked like strips from a napkin.
"Don't get up." Mittens came out from behind a garbage can next to him, where clearly she had been keeping watch. "Jeez, Bolt, what on Earth do ya think you were doin', scaring us like that?"
Bolt looked down at the ground as his ears folded back. "Sorry," he mumbled, and his voice came out in a harsh whisper. The Doberman Pinschers had gotten to his throat too.
"Sorry?" Mittens repeated, looking incredulous. "You're not the one who should be apologizing here." She paused. "You were banged up pretty bad, but it doesn't look like anything's broken. I thought we might stay here for a while ... maybe a long while. Until you get better." She looked up at Bolt, who was watching her blankly. "Just ... next time you end up goin' out for a walk to clear your head, tell us where you're headin', ok?"
"Believe me," Bolt whispered bitterly, "I've learned my lesson."
He had shut his eyes again; they were stinging. Bolt turned away from Mittens, unable to look at her. He covered his face with a paw, willing himself not to start sobbing. Don't cry, he tried to command himself. Don't look weaker than you already are...
"Hey," Mittens said, gently. "Hey." Slowly she approached Bolt and cupped a paw under his chin. Reluctantly, Bolt opened his glistening eyes and turned toward her. "Listen," Mittens said softly. "You're going to be fine. All right? Those nasty Dobermen had no business bum-rushing you. The odds wouldn't have been fair to anyone. Don't feel like you have to beat yourself up over this, because you don't. You survived, you'll recover, and you'll be with us. The three of us can look out for each other."
"I shouldn't need to be looked out for in the first place," Bolt mumbled. "That's what's so disappointing. Mittens, I don't have anything. I kept ... I kept trying to convince myself that somehow, I'd still managed to hang on to ... to that Bolt that Rhino keeps talking about, the Bolt on the moving pictures." He shut his eyes again. "But that Bolt doesn't exist. There's just me, and I'm nothing like him. I'm ... weak."
Mittens lowered her paw and didn't say anything else for a moment, and then, to Bolt's utter surprise, she scoffed. "You think you're weak? Please. Or have you forgotten that you've basically made a trek across the entire country? Do you know how many waffles that is? Thousands, Bolt, thousands."
Her expression softened; Bolt was shocked to see her smiling. "You've been on your own journey, Bolt, and this time it hasn't been staged. It hasn't been made up for the cameras or the mindless humans watching at home. It's you, Bolt. Just you. And the fact that you've made it this far, here, to Las Vegas, of all places ... well, I may be wrong," she added wryly, "but that doesn't seem weak to me."
Bolt's ears had slowly perked back up as he listened to her words. Maybe, just maybe, Mittens was right. That is, if the warm glow inside his gut that made him feel like he could take on the world, injuries or not, was any indication. Bolt figured it probably was.
"Yeah..." he said, slowly. "I guess ... I guess it isn't." Bolt was smiling, feeling actual happiness, neither of which he'd expected to do ever again. "There is one thing, though..."
"What's that?" Mittens asked.
Bolt slowly reached out a paw and placed it on top of hers. "It ... it wasn't just me. It was you guys, too. And ... and I couldn't have gotten nearly this far without your help." A pause, but not an awkward one. "Thank you."
Mittens smiled again. "Oh, hang on! That reminds me." She turned around and called down the alley. "Rhino! He's up!"
There was a loud and prolonged "YEAH!" from the other end of the alley, followed by a rapid skittering sound. Soon Rhino's little hamster ball came into view, approaching the two of them quickly as he scurried along inside it. "Ha ha, I knew it! No evildoer can dare keep the great BOLT down! As long as his intrepid team of Mittens, the mild-mannered cat, and RHINO, the supercharged hamster, stick through his side thick and thin, evildoers shall QUAKE in their boots and..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Mittens said, rolling her eyes, though not unkindly. "Rhino, didn't you have something to show Bolt?"
"I sure did!" Rhino said eagerly, scooting his ball behind another dumpster. There was a popping sound, then some rustling, and then Rhino came out from behind it without his plastic ball, holding something in his paws.
"Mittens and I found it," he said, "and I decided to make it all better!"
"Rhino ..." Bolt said slowly, hardly daring to believe it, "did you...?"
Laying in Rhino's outstretched hands was Bolt's collar — in one piece. The tear in the fabric had been sewn back together clumsily, but lovingly, with some loose thread that had been tied off into a knot. "I've seen a lot of moving pictures about household remedies, or whatever they're called," Rhino said cheerfully. "It's as good as new; check it!"
He tugged on both ends of the collar, and the thread held firm, proving that it was much stronger than it looked. Bolt couldn't seem to find any words, and just kept staring at the collar, eyes wide. Mittens, from beside him, placed a paw on his shoulder. "This may be just a guess, Rhino," she said, "but I think he likes it."
"...I..." Bolt started. Rhino looked up at him, eyes hopeful, and finally, Bolt smiled widely. "It's better than before, Rhino. Thank you."
"Yay!" Rhino exclaimed, doing a little dance in place. "He likes it! He likes it! Oh, who's awesome? Rhino's awesome! Who's awesome? Rhino's awesome!"
"Okay, okay, let's not get too modest," Mittens laughed, gently taking the collar from Rhino. "Here." She draped it around Bolt's neck and fastened it, and as she did, she locked eyes with Bolt. Time seemed to stand still for a second as the two of them stared at each other, Mittens with one paw around Bolt's shoulder and the other on his newly fastened collar. Rhino, oblivious to the frozen tableau, continued his little song and dance, stopping only when he remembered that he had to get his little hamster ball, and scurried off to do so.
Finally, Mittens and Bolt broke the gaze, but again, it wasn't awkward. It was just natural — Mittens gave another slight smile, finished fastening the collar, then stood back to check her handiwork.
"It looks good on you," she said finally, tilting her head and smiling that lopsided smile.
Bolt smiled too. "Thank you, Mittens. For everything."
Mittens chuckled. "Anytime, Bolt." She started to turn away, but paused to look at Bolt again. "Now, I'm gonna head off to get some food, but don't you think of goin' anywhere on those legs of yours. We are gonna stay right here until you get all better. Can't have you hurting yourself by gettin' up."
Bolt laughed. "Duly noted." He rested his head on his paws again, turning over onto his side. "I think I'm gonna try to get some more sleep."
"Alright then. Sleep well," Mittens said quietly, before heading back down the alley. She turned one last time to catch a final glance of the sleeping Bolt, then walked on.
Presently, Rhino came back, rolling along in his little hamster ball again. He stopped next to Bolt, considered his options, then laid down too, stretching out into a sleeping position. Bolt snuggled next to the hamster ball in his sleep, wrapping a paw around it, and that would be how Mittens found them later (prompting a reaction of "Awww", but she would never tell them that).
Maybe, Bolt mused as he drifted off to sleep, he wasn't a real superdog. But he'd done some pretty super things and met some pretty super friends, and he'd take that over fighting fake supervillains any day.