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What You Mean to Me
by Trisana McGraw

Enzo Matrix hated when he couldn’t fight, and the User knew it. That was why for seven hours of this life in the Games, he had been forced to relive, in stark reality, the Game that had sealed his fate. He could recount every moment, from his initial arrogance and triumph at beating the User, only to be defeated in two out of three rounds by the fiery demon. He remembered the feeling of lying helpless on his back, knowing he was about to lose everything he loved, all because of his stupid Game-playing.

He had suffered this memory countless times, but the pain was as fresh as the moment Zaytan had ripped out his right eye. Blood blinded Enzo, and he curled up in a shivering little ball, a tiny boy who had no place in this hellish arena. The ground shook as the User slowly advanced on him, and a large, bony hand tightened around his head. Enzo sobbed and trembled. He heard a horrible crack, and a wave of pain and nausea washed over him. It was only then that he realized that it was his head that was being crushed. His skull seemed to cave in, and fire surrounded his head, scorching his skin. He let out a high-pitched scream and felt his life-energy slipping away.

AndrAIa’s keen ears picked up Enzo’s cry. She lifted her head when she heard him gasp, and she saw his massive form turn on one side. She slowly rose from her small cot and soundlessly made her way over to where Matrix lay. AndrAIa carefully settled herself on the edge of the cot. As the blanket shifted under her weight, Matrix turned toward her, still muttering in his sleep.

The 17-hour-old sprite tossed and turned in his restless sleep, his face and bare chest shining with sweat. His eyes were squeezed shut, but tears seeped out from under the tightly shut eyelids.

Enzo’s face softened, and AndrAIa studied his handsome features with a smile. Her forehead creased in a frown as Matrix’s face darkened again and his features writhed in pain. He let out a cry, and his chest convulsed sharply. "No!" he cried out hoarsely, twisting his head to the side. "Please — no —"

AndrAIa couldn’t bear to watch her friend — and present boyfriend — suffer from horrible memories of experiences she herself had witnessed. AndrAIa passed a hand through his sweat-soaked hair, and Matrix leaned his head against her hand. AndrAIa cradled his head before she moved over so that she sat fully on the cot. She gently lifted Matrix’s head and set it on her lap. He sniffed quietly and buried his face against her knee.

"Shh, Enzo, it’s okay," AndrAIa whispered. She parted his spiky black hair and twined it between her fingers. "Calm down, `Zo. It’s just a dream." Enzo gasped quietly, but then he was quiet. AndrAIa continued to speak softly as she tenderly stroked his hair.

Matrix began to relax as AndrAIa spoke. Her whispered words pierced through the fog of pain and horror that wove the stuff of his dreams. The sweet, musical sound of her voice rested lightly on his senses, bringing with it a temporary solace to his fears.

The sound of AndrAIa’s voice was incredibly soothing. Enzo had little memories of his father before the Twin City’s explosion. But from what he could remember, Welman Matrix’s voice was always filled with comfort and care; it always made Enzo feel protected. He felt all those same things now.

"I know it’s hard," AndrAIa whispered. "All these hours, and he still haunts you." She sighed sadly, feeling her core-com constrict with their shared pain.

"But we will get home," AndrAIa continued, and her voice grew stronger — she was always filled with strength, like Mouse, Enzo thought faintly. They had been Game-hopping for seven hours, and never once had he seen AndrAIa cry, or fall apart, when it was he who had proved to act unstable.

"You can’t let your nightmares rule you." Matrix smiled; AndrAIa was sounding as practical as Dot. He knew without a doubt that what she said was true. She always found the clear-cut truth of the situation, without sugarcoating the facts.

"These things will all pass, and though we bear scars, we will have survived the Games." Now, she spoke as clearly as Phong, carrying calm wisdom in her assurances. Matrix felt his breathing slow, and cool relief washed over his hot face.

AndrAIa looked down into his face and continued to run her finger across the faint stubble that traced its way along his cheek. "My Guardian, I have faith that you’ll carry us through whatever it takes to get home." Matrix could hear the wry smile in her voice. He realized that she was humoring him and his claim to be a Guardian, as Bob always had. Yet, true faith rang clear in her voice, and Enzo knew that she was speaking the truth when she said she believed in him.

AndrAIa bent her head to Matrix’s and breathed, "I love you." She kissed him softly on the lips, then pulled back and smiled, feeling completely at peace.

Enzo’s chest was now rising and falling in a tranquil rhythm. AndrAIa’s words had chased away the demons plaguing his dreams, and he knew he would spend the rest of the night in untroubled sleep. He slowly pushed himself up on one elbow, causing AndrAIa to shift her position.

Matrix stared at her, trying to comprehend why he had been blessed with the companionship and love of this beautiful Game sprite. She was every good virtue he could name: comfort, strength, knowledge, wisdom, humor, and undying love. AndrAIa was past, present, and future, all combined into one goddess who made his life worth living.

Matrix gathered AndrAIa in his arms and kissed her deeply. She buried her hands in his hair and returned the kiss with fiery intensity. When they reluctantly broke away, Matrix lay back down and pulled AndrAIa with him. Without words, she settled down beside his warm, muscled body and hugged him tightly. They lay without words, fully aware that they had only each other to rely on, but also knowing that they would someday live through this, together.

And Matrix knew: He loved AndrAIa.


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