A/N: In order for some elements of this tale to make sense, one must remove from canon Zero's nonsensical, unexplained hibernation at the end of Mega Man X6. Likewise, the entire plot of Mega Man Zero must be considered elseworlds. Unfortunately, I do not own Mega Man X or any related characters. All feedback, including constructive criticism, is welcome. Let me know what you think. The more you tell me, the better the next one will be. I'd like to thank Classic Cowboy and FusionBlaster for beta-reading this story for me and helping me iron out the ending.
Heavy. Emerging from his quarters, X decided that was the simplest way to describe how he felt. Of course, his weight without armor was exactly what it had always been, and the components that served as his artificial muscles were functioning normally. It was not a physical fatigue he felt as he began to wander down the hall leading to Unit Seventeen's recreation room – after a trip to the infirmary and a marathon thirty-six hours in stasis mode, his systems were at peak efficiency.
What troubled the last son of Light, what made him feel as though he were being forced to experience every detail of the world around him in excruciating slow motion, was purely mental, and it was a feeling he knew well. A little more than seventy-eight hours ago, the conflict the world would remember as the Sixth Maverick Uprising came to an end in one of the most violent military operations in recent history. While most good people, reploid and human alike, had spent the time between then and now reveling in the fact that they weren't going to be brutally wiped from the face of the Earth, X, Zero, and the dozens of other Hunters involved in the action underwent medical treatment and endless debriefings. With the shooting over and the smoke starting to clear, it was time to count the bodies and regroup. For now, his part in all that was over.
That was the problem. With no more debriefings to go to or reports to file, he was left with nothing but his thoughts. In the middle of an uprising, when he was sent on mission after mission as fast as Lifesaver and his own willpower would allow, there was no time to consider what was going on around him beyond the simplest of facts. Well organized, heavily armed Mavericks have mounted a large scale offensive. Innocents are at risk. They must be stopped. Failure is unacceptable. That was it. Motivation and emotion aside, that was the mental directive that kept him going, that all but consumed his thoughts during any conflict.
Now, another war was over. The unyielding drive that kept his head attached to his shoulders had crept back into the ether, where it would slumber until he was once again called to arms. Which, as it always did, left X's mind free, forcing him to stop and think about exactly what he had done. He didn't doubt the necessity or validity of his actions – he'd ceased to do that years ago. Still, nothing had changed his absolute abhorrence of violence. Yet he once again found himself the soldier who led the charge, the man in blue armor the rookies liked to say could single-handedly flatten an entire platoon of enemy troops with nothing more than the busters built into his forearms and his wits. And the worst part of that dark flattery was the simple fact that he had no way to dispute it. Entire detachments of Maverick armies – scores of sentient beings hellbent on the destruction of humanity – routinely fell to his unyielding assaults. Whether he liked it or not, at some point between now and the first time he loosed plasma blast in combat more than two decades ago, X had become the best of the best in a society of trained killers. A distinction for which he held no pride.
And so, with thoughts of all the deaths and destruction he had engineered in his life weighing on his mind, X pushed on in an effort to find some friendly faces and begin to force himself out of his latest bout of post-war depression. His eyes glided from one side of the hall to the other as he walked, and it occurred to him that it was practically deserted. He'd gone five-hundred feet and seen only one other Hunter, a reploid fashioned after a lion whom he recognized as a new recruit attached to Unit Four. The animaloid cast a respectful nod at the Blue Bomber as he continued on his way. X returned the gesture, noticing for the first time that the white lighting rods in the ceiling were set to their dimmest mode. Night watch? What time is it? He pulled up his internal chronometer, something he'd neglected to do since he woke up. 0233. Wonderful. How is it that long term stasis cycles always manage to mangle my sleep patterns? He thought about going back to bed, but he was now wide awake, and staring at the ceiling for five hours didn't sound at all appealing. As for mingling with his fellows, it was becoming increasingly obvious as he roamed the halls that everyone in his unit that wasn't still subject to Lifesaver's oh-so-joyous bedside manner was asleep.
There was no way he was going to attempt waking up Zero. He was about as engaging as a dirt clod when his sleep cycle was interrupted. That not withstanding, it was still unreal to him that there was a Zero to wake up. Four weeks ago, he'd been considered all but dead. It still seems so surreal. As wonderful as it is, I can't believe he managed to cheat certain death ... again. Then again, it's not like I haven't pulled my own miraculous retreat from the abyss. He sighed. He still couldn't figure out why he wasn't dead. He should have died from the injuries he received in the last battle of the Fifth Uprising. Half his body was laying in pieces around him – including a number of critical components that no one understood well enough to replace. For all her effort, not even Alia had a grasp of exactly how the father of all reploids worked. The mystery was only compounded by the fact that the last thing he remembered was pulling up his internal diagnostic and being bluntly informed that he was mere minutes away from complete system failure and generator overload. After that, he heard Alia's voice, remembered it growing dimmer and dimmer as his auditory system failed. She had given up trying to raise him, instead yelling at someone, telling them "X's transponder telemetry indicates he's nearing total system failure. His generator's minutes from going critical! Damn it, get someone to get him out of there! What do you mean all teleportation activity in the area's being jammed? By what? Everything's been blown to atoms... " He blacked out after that, the Huntress's stern, yet soft voice faintly buzzing in his ear, like a comforting angel easing him into the final night.
X's next clear memory was waking up on a diagnostic bed with Alia staring at him – softly smiling face filled with a mixture of joy and concern. Only minutes later, the spotter informed him that he'd been found three days after the battle in a church, as good as new. She trusted him enough to believe his story and not press him on it, and certainly seemed happy enough to have him back alive. Still, she made no secret of how much his seemingly miraculous recovery aggravated her logic.
With his thoughts careening away from his latest round of inglorious killing, if not necessarily towards more pleasant musings, he rounded a corner – and strolled face-first into Lifesaver. Healer and hero stumbled away from each other, the former's uncoordinated motion betraying his fatigue.
"Sorry," X offered, straightening himself up. "You alright?"
"You didn't hit me that hard," Lifesaver quipped dryly, squaring his shoulders and giving his former patient a quick glance-over. He smirked, weariness muting the gesture. "Nice pants."
X gazed down at his jeans. They were of the light blue denim variety, a pair he'd been given by Doctor Cain only twelve hours after being activated, shortly following their discovery that his armor was removable. Taking in their current state, he couldn't help but agree with the implication that they looked like they were about to fall apart at the seams. The knees had been patched (again) with white polyester, admittedly not the best choice he could have made. Not that it mattered – they were his favorite pair and happened to be the most comfortable pants he owned. Still, he found himself enjoying the banter and feigned indignation as he shot back, "I happen to think they've only improved with age."
One side of the doctor's mouth curled up. "You should know, being the resident expert on aged things."
"I've aged gracefully enough," X replied, grinning for the first time in almost three days. Apparently, he was considered by several female rookies to be a "dreamboat." He didn't bring this up, just in case his friend didn't know. Such information could lead to a great deal of trouble in the able hands of either Lifesaver or Zero. Aside from that, he found it more than a little creepy. "So, what's up?"
"Actually, I was coming to check on you. It makes me a little nervous when my patients sleep for almost two days. I tried to page you a few hours ago, but it would seem you turned off your communication system. It looks like you're up now, though. How do you feel?"
"Fine, aside from my sleep cycle being completely shot." Lifesaver shrugged. "Generator efficiency's at one-hundred percent, and diagnostics show all systems are in perfect shape."
The chief medic nodded. It wasn't the answer he wanted – he knew the Commander's systems were functioning as they should be, otherwise he would never have let him out of the infirmary. He wanted to know what was going on inside X's head – he was notorious for his post-war doldrums. Then again, I guess that look in his eyes completes the answer. He reluctantly forced himself to give up the inquiry. If X didn't want to open up to him, there wasn't a thing he could do about it. He was X's friend, yes, but they weren't that close. The good doctor had only joined the Hunters a few weeks before the Fifth Uprising. If it weren't for his position in the command structure, they probably would have yet to meet in a situation where X wasn't on an exam table.
The Blue Bomber leaned against the wall and absently ran a hand through his hair. It occurred to him that Lifesaver looked more haggard and worn than usual. "What about you, doc? How's it going over there?" he asked, motioning in the direction of the infirmary.
Lifesaver's face grew solemn. "This one was bad, X. Things are starting to calm down; the stats are shaping up. Out of everyone that was mobilized since this damned thing started, we suffered a sixty percent causality rate. A good number of people are done; they won't be doing any more fighting." X lowered his head and closed his eyes, but otherwise didn't interrupt. "Out of that group, we had an approximately thirty-nine percent fatality rate."
X paled, feeling a knot form somewhere deep in his abdomen. If he'd been human, he would have likely been overcome by nausea. Odds were he knew a lot of the humans and reploids that gave their lives in battle or died from their wounds. He wouldn't know for sure until he saw the full causality list, diligently compiled while the Blue Bomber slept off his latest brush with the Reaper and waiting at his desk. He searched for something meaningful to say, but all he managed was, "I know you've been doing your best. That's all any of us can do." After a pause, "How are my guys?"
To a passerby, it might have sounded crude, but X was a rare kind of Unit Commander. He saw command as a special kind of responsibility; a sacred trust. He never doubted his soldiers' abilities, but always did his best to assure their well-being on and off the field. He made a point to be approachable and always open to suggestions, never confusing his rank for a sign of personal superiority. It was said that you never fought under the Azure Hunter – you fought with him. Dr. Cain once told him he was a good leader because he had what humans liked to call paternal instinct – he cared for his people, and they gave their all in return. Perhaps that was the reason the five injured members of Unit Seventeen he'd left in the infirmary had not once left his thoughts.
Lifesaver smiled slightly, inwardly pleased. "I released Ajax and Canyon eight hours ago, and I'm planning to get rid of Mark in about forty-five minutes, just as soon as I'm sure his systems aren't having any problems with his new generator."
X nodded, feeling some pressure eased from his shoulders. He stayed a smile, though. The doctor had yet to mention his human officers. "Stacy and Brent?"
Lifesaver's face darkened almost imperceptibly, but it was enough for X to pick up. "I'm not ready to release them yet. Stacy's still recovering from the transfusion and has yet to regain full consciousness. All scans show no neural injury, so she should make a full recovery. It'll be a couple months before I certify her for active duty again. She's going to need intensive rehab and treatment to make sure her abdominal muscles regrow properly."
X shuddered, the memory of the young human bleeding out of a massive hole in her stomach at the staging area as medics danced around her still vivid. Then again, he reminded himself, even fifty years ago her injuries would have been fatal ... there would have been no way to replace that much lost tissue. Now she'll be as good as new in less than twenty weeks. Small miracles...
"Brent will be discharged Sunday, after I'm positive his body isn't going to reject the artificial ribs. It doesn't look like infection will be a problem, and his other injuries are relatively minor. He should be ready for active duty in about a week."
"Great," he said sincerely. It wasn't the perfect report he was hoping for, but everyone was going to live. "If you don't mind, I'd like to stop later and check on them."
"No problem. Come in around lunchtime. Things should be a little bit less hectic by then."
"Noted. Anything else gone on that I should know about?"
"There's not much I can tell you that you won't find out about when you get down to looking at the reports on your desk." He looked thoughtful for a moment, deciding whether or not to add something. "Gate's gone."
X's head jerked up, an almost alarmed look plastered on his face. "What? What do you mean, 'gone?'"
Lifesaver was only slightly surprised at X's reaction. "I helped Alia repair the physical damage shortly after you handed him over. I noticed how much trouble you'd gone to to keep from blowing him to pieces. When I left, she was attempting to cleanse the virus from his systems. She called me in and we declared him unrecoverable about twenty-four hours ago. He's dead, X."
X tried his best to keep his face unreadable, but Lifesaver swore he saw something akin to guilt cross his features. "I ... How's Alia taking it?"
The doctor's eyes flashed with aggravation. "Not well, but I can't tell you more than that. Signas gave her time off. She's been avoiding everyone, and I'm pretty sure she hasn't slept since you gave her Gate's body. I don't even know where she is, only that she hasn't left the compound."
X didn't say anything, but a grave expression settled over his features. He had a pretty good idea what was going on in her head, and if he was right, it wouldn't get any better if she sealed herself off. After all, it didn't work for me. With a renewed since of purpose, he bid Lifesaver adieu, and turned on his heels.
Lifesaver watched the champion go, letting his smile brighten a few notches. Sometimes, my friend, the best way to deal with your own problems is to immerse yourself in someone else's. He turned and headed back for the infirmary – he had another surgery to perform.
With a hiss, an armored security gate slid open. Humanity's greatest defender emerged on the roof of Maverick Hunter Headquarters' tallest building: the home of the intelligence department. Almost immediately, frigid wind assaulted his synthetic skin. Instinctively hugging his thick black trench coat around himself, X combed the roof. His eyes picked out Alia's form on the far side, her head tilted to the heavens, apparently wearing nothing more than jeans and a thick pullover. X found himself frowning again. She must be freezing. His race might be all but invulnerable to the cold, but that didn't mean they couldn't feel it. It was easily twenty below zero, if not lower. He watched her silently for a few moments.
Alia stood so deeply lost in her thoughts she almost didn't feel the biting wind. She was completely oblivious to X's presence until his soft voice cut though the darkness. "Hey."
The spotter jumped. She turned her head towards the sound, and found X gazing into the night, face blank, patiently awaiting her response. Any other time, she would have been glad to see him – more than glad, perhaps – but at the moment she felt far from sociable. How did he sneak up on me? She almost asked him, before a little voice in the back of her mind reminded her it was probably because she hadn't slept in days and was getting more than a little bleary. Like every other member of her race, she could go for days without sleep, yet just like the rest of them, it wasn't impossible for her to experience mental exhaustion. I wonder what he wants. "Hi. Its good to see you up," she said sincerely. "When did you come out of stasis?"
X regarded her carefully. Most of her face was hidden in shadows; discretely judging her emotions was proving to be a real pain. Then again, I doubt you'd let me see much more than you wanted, anyway. "About twenty minutes ago." He paused, considering how best to approach what he thought was the problem. After too many seconds of uncomfortable silence, he finally gave up on anything remotely close to subtlety. "I ran into Lifesaver earlier. He ... told me about Gate."
Alia managed not to wince. She knew X well enough to guess where this was going, and part of her dreaded it. Despite that, there was another piece of her deeply touched by his concern. She'd been around long enough to have heard of (and seen) his infamous post-war behavior, and was sure he was trying very hard to get over them enough to attempt to help with hers. If for no other reason than that, she choose to listen. Not that he could possibly understand. She waited, expecting him to give her a line about duty and how Gate's death wasn't her fault.
That caught her off guard. Why would Mega Man X, sworn defender of the innocent, apologize for killing a Maverick overlord? "You don't have to apologize to me for doing what was right. We were all doing what had to be done. The fact that Gate and I used friends is ... immaterial." She scolded herself. That could have sounded more sincere. Believing it might have helped. No way he's buying that.
And he didn't. His voice remained gentle and calm, but the tone made it clear he wasn't going to be easily brushed off. "Right. That's why you've been avoiding everyone and haven't slept in more than three days." Alia blinked, but before she could respond, he continued. "I think you misunderstood me. I'm painfully aware that we did the right thing." We have the privilege of always doing the right thing, no matter how many people we kill in the process, he thought bitterly, We're the Hunters. He turned to her. "I'm sorry you couldn't save him. I know you did everything you could."
Alia found her mouth moving under its own power, her eyes launching a tearful insurrection. "You have no idea. I tried everything I could think of. Every anti-virus program we had, every sort of non-destructive cleansing procedure I could think of. I even wrote a few new algorithms from scratch. But nothing worked ... the virus had taken too much of his brain. It had taken over ... everything. I don't have to tell you what I had to do at that point: complete reinitialization – returning him to his factory state. He was my teacher and my friend, almost like a brother," she paused, but was unable to stop the words from coming out of her mouth, "and I killed him." That's it, then. I said it.
Surprise overwhelmed X's face. He hadn't been expecting that. "You know better than to think like that. Besides, I killed him," he finished quietly.
Alia felt a spark of anger growing within her, but tried to hold it in check. The last thing she wanted was to unleash her fiery temper on X, of all people. "I know ... but I helped. If it weren't for me, it would have been a lot more difficult for Intelligence to build an accurate personality profile. And it would have probably been impossible to break his communication system's encryption scheme."
The Blue Bomber nodded. Intelligence hadn't been able to do a thing with Gate's transmissions. His security algorithms were a testament to his brilliance; even with their best supercomputers, it was going to take the Hunter spooks weeks to break them. Weeks they didn't have if they expected to find him and his generals in time to win the war. That is, until Alia stepped in. Apparently, in the throes of insanity, the scientist had forgotten he'd once taught the blond analyst exactly how that particular code set worked. She would be remembered as the Sixth Uprisng's Enigma Machine.
"I won't argue with you, that's the truth. Without your help, we'd have almost certainly failed. As it is, we barely pulled it off. But ... that's not the issue here. You've acknowledged that you did what you thought was best. You can't tear yourself up like this. The pain you're feeling will only get worse if you stew ... it'll consume you if you let it."
Alia nearly groaned. She couldn't help but feel patronized. How could he presume to understand this? He never had to kill Zero, despite how close he sometimes came. Somehow, the great X always found a way to cheat fate of its desired death match. She said as much, not able to keep a twinge of anger from her voice. "I know you think you can help me with this X, and I'm glad you're trying, but you can't understand this. What if Zero went Maverick one day, and you had to kill him? How would it feel if I came up to you and told you did the right thing? Would it make you feel any better as you held his lifeless body in your arms?" Alia's face went pale. She hadn't meant to say it like that, for it to come out so hateful. She knew she'd gone over the line and jerked her head back towards the blackness, tears streaming down her face, listening for he sound of his retreating footsteps or an angry retort.
X didn't move, his calm, concerned face didn't so much as twitch. "Sigma was my friend," he whispered, just loud enough for his companion to hear.
Alia suddenly found herself watching him again; now she was frustrated by the lack of light. That wasn't in any of the mainstream history files. Most records, if they mentioned it at all, simply said that X and Sigma "had met" before the latter began his first campaign to eradicate humanity. "What?" she asked, not at all caring her voice sounded small and childlike.
The Azure Hunter continued. "When Dr. Cain built Sigma, he was doing something never attempted before. He was trying to improve on my design. Even though he still didn't understand completely how my systems worked, and never would, he felt he'd learned enough make some optimizations, for lack of a better term. Back then, before the Maverick Hunters existed, I was considering going into robotics research, so when Cain asked me if I wanted to help, I agreed almost instantly. It was going to be just like when we built the first reploid." He smiled at the stunned look she now wore. "What's the matter? Can't see me in a lab coat?
"So, in the first December after I was activated, we began working on Sigma. Since he didn't follow current reploid specifications, using factory parts was out of the question, for the most part. We built him by hand, in one of Cain's labs. He was brought online three weeks later.
"Cain was ecstatic, and I was certainly pleased. Unfortunately, the good doctor was too swamped with work to be there with Sigma for those first, critical few weeks. It really ate him up, but he couldn't help it ... the man was expected to be in three places at once nearly twenty-four hours a day. Since we were the only two involved in his creation, Sigma was left in my care. We were feeding him information as fast as we could, but he was still pretty nubile at that point." Alia listened, remembering how lost she'd felt when she was first activated. "I remember realizing, in those first few hours I was actually alone with him, that he was viewing me as an example of how to act. That was new. I was mortified for all of three minutes, a long time for one of us. Then it occurred to me, like it was the most logical thing in the world, that I had an amazing opportunity. I could help shape someone who was at the time arguably the most powerful reploid in existence. I could teach him about my father's dream for a society where human and robot lived together in harmony. And all I had to do was talk to him – not preach, just talk. And so I did.
"We became fast friends, Sigma and I." X chuckled derisively at himself. "I even taught him how to play chess so we could spend afternoons trying to show each other up. It was fun. We discussed books, debated politics, all kinds of stuff. Even when the Council formed the Hunters, and Sigma volunteered to lead them, we didn't clash too hard. He saw himself as able and willing to do the job, and even though I was still committed to pacifism, I recognized the necessity. I just didn't plan to have anything to do with the fighting. I wished him luck."
"X ..." Alia attempted to break in, finally developing some inkling of where he was going. He kept talking, though it became obvious it was getting more and more difficult for him to continue.
"After that, we didn't talk nearly as much ... we completely lost touch, to be more precise. As I would learn, keeping the world from blowing itself to hell is a full-time job that doesn't leave you with much time for anything else. The rest, you'll find in the history files. Zero doesn't even know about those first few months."
Alia was stunned. That was the farthest from what she was expecting he could have gone. How was it that she ... that no one knew any of this? She found her mind flooding with a new kind of guilt. What's wrong with me? How could I have thought to accuse him of hypocrisy? "X, I'm sorry. I didn't realize ... that's how it started."
"Of course you didn't," X said, making no attempt at disguising his bitterness. "The world sees Sigma as a monster. It's a lot easier to despise and hate someone if no one remembers a time when they weren't quite so evil. But now you see why it was so hard for me to fight in the beginning. I wouldn't just be forsaking my pacifist ideals, wouldn't just be killing other sentients, I'd be going after my friend. Someone I nurtured, helped to grow. Someone I helped create."
"Then ... how did you decide to join the Hunters?"
"I wanted to help, but I couldn't bring myself to fight. But then I saw a security video from a hospital he destroyed, saw him cut down orderlies and doctors, patients that couldn't defend themselves, and I realized something. I didn't have to fight my friend. The Sigma I knew would never have done such horrible things. He defended and protected the innocent. No, I didn't have to fight him; he was already dead. That's what pushed me over the edge." He paused. This was it. She'd either understand what he was trying to say or try to throw him off the building. "Just like Gate, the kind, gentle man you knew, was dead long before either of us came into the picture. It was the virus that killed him."
Alia looked at X with bleary eyes, dimly aware that they were now somehow all but shoulder-to-shoulder. "You really believe that?"
"I do, but when I killed Sigma and ended the first uprising, I remember feeling like you do now. I couldn't help but think, that, in order to slay a demon, I'd been forced to murder what was left of my friend."
"How did you move past on?"
"I didn't. In addition to all of that, I had to deal with the fact that Zero killed himself to keep me alive. I was a complete wreck. I avoided everyone. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't move beyond what I saw as my own wretched acts. Sound familiar?"
He was rewarded with a reluctant nod. "But, then what happened?"
"The Second Uprising. Sigma came back, only this time there was no trace of my old friend. He had his memories, yes, and a physical likeness, but the similarity ended there. I was forced back into battle, and I had to shirk off my depression if I expected to survive. I got Zero back, killed the demon again, and forced myself to realize I had nothing to be guilty about. You never loose the pain, but it will get better, if you let it."
"How am I supposed to do that?" she asked, honestly curious.
"Force yourself out of the shell your mind wants to retreat into. Make yourself part of the world again, no matter how hard it feels, or how much it hurts. Perhaps most importantly, don't be afraid to talk to someone about what you're feeling. I've made the mistake of bottling it up, and I can tell you, it's something to be avoided."
"That might be difficult. I think I intimidate a lot of people."
X found himself smiling at her. "I'll always be willing to listen. All you ever have to do is come find me."
There was silence as the two of them gazed into the night. They looked like a pair of human teenagers, given away only by the absence of warm, steamy breath issuing from their mouths and the fact that they wore such thin clothes in subzero weather. Alia watched the master Hunter, mesmerized by the way the wind played with his hair. "Thanks for coming after me. I know you've got lots of things on your mind right now. I was wondering, how did you manage to find me so fast?"
The contented smile hadn't left his face. "Simple. I remembered you telling me once that you liked to gaze at the stars when you were feeling down. Without leaving Headquarters, this is the best place to do it."
Alia looked up. "It is. I'm surprised you remember that. You were kind of ..." she trailed off, not sure how to breech the subject of X's reaction to Zero's apparent death after the Fifth Uprising.
"Anti-social and completely intolerable?"
"Well, um, that's not quite how I'd put it."
X gave her a look. "Why not? I was awful: snappy, rude, short with pretty much everyone. Half my unit was terrified of me. I swear, this one girl, she practically shook when she had to be in the same room with me. It was like they thought I was going to eat them. If I remember correctly, you were the only one that even tried to be around me.
But yeah, I remember. I may not have been the most talkative person at that point, but I was listening to you. I never did thank you for trying to deal with me. It meant a lot. A word of advice though – if I ever get like that again, just save us a bunch of time and smack me in the head with something, repeatedly." The spotter actually giggled at that point. Score.
"I hope you don't plan on doing that to me."
"Nah. You're not nearly as hardheaded as I. So, are you thinking you might want to come in soon? You really should try to get some sleep."
She looked thoughtful. "... Not quite yet."
"Would you mind some company, then?"
Part of her wanted to say that she would be delighted by his company, but she just smiled and said, "Sure."
"Okay, then. I'll be right back. I think I'm going to need another coat." Alia felt something soft and warm draped across her back, and looked behind her in time to see X disappear into the shadows, sans trenchcoat. She eased herself into the thick garment and returned to her vigil, smiling, just a little. "Thank you."