Disclaimer: This story is based on the Megaman Cartoons, which belong to Capcom, not me. Considering the sheer number of plot holes and inconsistencies the cartoons themselves contained, I naturally had to take some liberties with some of the facts and details, but for the most part I tried to stick as close to canon as possible.

At All Costs

"Everyone, allow me to introduce our newest Maverick Hunter: Mega Man X!"

Cheers erupted from the gathered repliroids and humans as a tall, blue armored repliroid was pushed to the front of the stage. He might have seemed imposing, given his stature and the way his armor exaggerated his muscle structure, but the effect was ruined by the shy smile on his face. Camera flashes from around the room reflected from his green eyes and the red jewel that crested his helmet, and he couldn't help but blink a few times before speaking.

"Thank you," he said, bending his head slightly so that the microphone on the podium could pick up his voice. "It is an honor to be accepted into your ranks. I know that some of you regard me as something of a legend, the first repliroid ever created, but let me be the first to say that that makes no difference here. Who I am or where I came from means nothing when you are fighting Mavericks. All that matters is that you know how to use your head and the resources available to defeat the Mavericks. Every one of you has been a Hunter for longer than me, which means every one of you has something you can teach me. I want to learn from all of you. I want to be part of you. I want to do everything in my power to destroy every last Maverick there is and bring peace to humanity!"

Another round of cheers and scattered applause echoed through the room and, still smiling, Mega Man X stepped down from the podium and returned to his position next to Dr. Cain. The middle-aged scientist beamed with pride and clapped the repliroid on the back before they both sat down. They each had seats of honor on the stage, Dr. Cain as the founder of the Maverick Hunters and X as the newest member, placed so that they could easily watch either the crowd or the speaker. Commander Zero, resplendent in his red and white armor, was speaking now, telling the Hunters how important it was that they be on their guard and take their duties seriously.

"That was a nice speech, X," Dr. Cain murmured. He kept his voice low to avoid attracting attention. They were supposed to be paying attention to Zero right now, after all.

"Thank you, sir," X said politely. "I practiced it all last night to make sure it would be perfect. I wanted to make a good impression."

Dr. Cain chuckled. "You needn't have worried about that, my boy. Simply having you here is impression enough. Can't you see it? Morale is through the roof! Right now, every Hunter in here feels invincible because we have Mega Man X on our side. Yes, we all know that you're the greenest rookie, but you won't always be that way. We are all quite confident that you will rise through the ranks to become one of the greatest Maverick Hunters in history.

X could feel a slight temperature increase in his face and knew that he was blushing, but he said nothing. It was good to know that he was wanted, but a part of him wondered if he could live up to those expectations. He would try, of course, but... would he succeed?

"...further more, I want you all to avoid Sector D except when on duty. There have been reports of anti-repliroid hostility there and I don't want any of you aggravating the situation further, even by accident. Should you be placed on the Sector D patrol, you are to have another Hunter with you at all times. No exceptions. Now, as for the training schedule this week..."

-o-

"So, X, how do you like being a Maverick Hunter so far?" Zero pulled off his training helmet and placed it inside the equipment locker. The helmet was specifically designed to disrupt targeting mechanisms, forcing the trainees to aim at him manually. Only a few trainees had come anywhere close to hitting him today, but some of them had definitely improved from the last training exercise. This could only be a good thing, as the Hunters were hardly the only people out there who had access to a device like this.

X looked up from the computer console he was sitting at, where he had been busy cataloging the results of today's training to turn in with the weekly report. "I find it to be a challenging and rewarding experience, sir. I'm looking forward to being able to serve in the field." He had, of course, had his turn in the combat exercises. Considering how short a time he had been with the Maverick Hunters and how little training he'd received, he'd done quite well.

"That sounds like an answer straight out of your speech notes," Zero teased. He took his normal helmet out of the locker and closed the door. "Word of advice, X. Life isn't about appearances, especially here in the Maverick Hunters." He shook his head, making sure that his blond ponytail was hanging straight, then tugged the red and white helmet onto his head. "I don't know what anyone else has told you, but you're here to be a Hunter, not a poster boy."

"I don't understand, sir," X said, confused. He had thought he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, learning to the best of his ability and being respectful of his fellow Hunters, especially his superiors. "Am I doing something wrong?"

Zero turned and fixed X with a flat look. "No. The problem is that you're doing things too damn well." He raised a hand to cut off X off before he could say anything. "Let me rephrase that. Doing well is good, X, but when you do every single thing perfectly from the precision of your aim to the polish of your boots, and you don't balance that with a relaxed personality, people will resent you. You're trying to come off as polite and eager to learn, but you're really just making yourself look cold and impersonal. You have the potential to be one of the best Hunters we've ever had, but if you don't loosen up a little, people will think that all you're interested in is being better than them."

"But that's not true," X protested. "I don't want to be better than anyone else. I just want to be the best I can be. I thought we were all supposed to do our best."

Zero sighed and shook his head. X could be so dense sometimes. "Yes, but this isn't about your performance, it's about how you treat people." He held up a hand to forestall any interruptions. "I know you're polite to everyone, X, but being polite isn't all there is to having good relations with people. People don't like being around someone who's as stiff and formal as you are all of the time. There's supposed to be a difference between how you act on duty and off." The blond repliroid stepped away from the lockers and moved over to where X was sitting. Calmly, and without any sign of remorse, he reached out and turned the computer off.

"Hey!" X's face fell in dismay as all the data he'd been working on disappeared. "Commander Zero, I wasn't-"

"You're off duty, X," Zero scolded. "This is exactly part of your problem. You need to learn to have some fun every once in a while. And for goodness' sake, spend some of your off duty time off base, will ya?"

The blue repliroid slumped in resignation. "Yes, sir," he said dolefully.

If ever there was need of a desk to bash your head against, that need was now. "Oh for- X! That wasn't an order!" Scratch that. He didn't need to hit his head on anything. X was the one who needed to be hit. Repeatedly. Preferably with something large and blunt. "I'm not just your commander. I'm allowed to give you advice as a friend, too, you know."

"But-"

Zero lifted a finger in warning. "No buts, X, and that is an order. While I'm at it, here's another order: Lighten up and stop taking things so seriously. You and everyone around you will be much happier if you do. Now. Go on. Get outta here." He waved his hand at the door in a shooing motion. "Or do you not know what the words 'off duty' mean?"

The expression on X's face was distinctly disgruntled, but he stood up anyway and nodded to Zero. "Yes, sir," he said before walking out of the room.

Zero nearly threw something at him.

-o-

Friendly advice or not, X had a feeling that Zero would be rather annoyed if he didn't do as suggested and find something to do off base tonight. The rest of what Zero had said still baffled him, but Zero had made it clear that the conversation was over. He'd just have to think about it and try to puzzle out the meaning on his own, or wait until he had another chance to talk to his commander. In the mean time...

"Perhaps it would be a good idea to mingle with the civilians," X mused to himself as he entered his rooms. "It wouldn't hurt to know where the Hunters stand in the public's opinion, and I might hear something important about Maverick activity." It would probably be best if he took off his armor, then, and tried to pass for human. Many humans felt reluctant to speak freely when there were repliroids present, and with good reason. They could never be certain that one of those repliroids wasn't a Maverick.

Phasing out of his armor, he walked over to his mirror to examine his appearance. Dr. Light had done a good job when he had created X, making him so human-like that no one would be able to tell at a glance that he wasn't human. People could look at him and all they would see was a tall young man with green eyes and unruly black hair. He was currently dressed in a light blue button-up shirt, black dress pants, and shiny black shoes that wouldn't have looked out of place at any formal function. X nodded to himself. Yes, he was dressed quite adequately for a visit to the city.

Because humans couldn't use teleporters, X opted to take a hover car. He made sure to sign it out properly, giving the mechanics the car's registration number, his license number, and his intended destination. There was a restaurant in the C sector where people tended to gather to eat and discuss everything from current events to philosophy to politics and more. It would be an excellent place for X to put his ear to the ground, so to speak.

The ride there was uneventful, and for once it seemed that the general populace was willing to obey the traffic laws. There was only one incident where someone had failed to signal properly before merging into one of the hover lanes, but it was a minor thing and not within X's authority to do anything about. He was a Maverick Hunter, after all, not a police officer. He was also a good enough driver that he was able to avoid crashing into the offender. A few minutes later, he pulled into a parking place and put the incident behind him entirely. He got out of the car and headed into the building, which was amusingly named 'Function of Pie' - and was immediately assaulted by the shouts of an angry crowd.

"No more Mavericks!"

"No more Maverick Hunters!"

"This is all their fault! This is what happens when you put power in the hands of repliroids!"

"You there!" Before X could fully comprehend what he'd just walked into, a hand reached out and grabbed him by the wrist, pulling him forward. X stumbled, caught by surprise, and he suddenly found himself under the scrutiny of over a hundred people. The man who had latched onto him threw an arm around his shoulders. "What do you think, young fellow? Shouldn't we humans be the ones fighting to protect ourselves? Wouldn't you be proud to serve mankind by ridding the world of Mavericks?"

The irony of the question was not lost on X, but considering what he had just heard, he knew it would be a very bad idea to admit that he was a Maverick Hunter. "I would, sir," he said politely, hoping that the answer would satisfy the older man enough to let him go. He hoped that none of the mild panic he was feeling showed on his face. He didn't know what had riled these people up, but he recognized the volatile situation for what it was. One wrong word, and there could very well be a riot.

Unfortunately, X's response only seemed to spur the crowd on. Several people raised their fists and cheered, and the man holding onto X tightened his grip in an enthusiastic half-hug.

"There, you see!" he shouted. "We humans are tough and brave enough to take on any Maverick scum! What do we need the Maverick Hunters for?"

"Nothing!" the crowd roared in response.

"Are we going to put up with their botched job of 'protecting' us?"

"NO!"

"What are we going to do about it?"

"FIGHT!"

X could see where this was going, and he didn't like it one bit. If these humans thought they could fight the Mavericks on their own, they'd end up getting slaughtered. Yes, there were human Maverick Hunters, but they'd received months of training before they were let anywhere near a Maverick attack. Someone had to reason with these people, but there was no one there but him. They thought he was a human, though. Maybe they would listen...

"Wait!" he shouted, trying to cut through the din of the crowd. Surprisingly, the noise level dropped. "If you try to fight the Mavericks without any preparation, you'll only get yourselves killed."

"Smart lad," said the man who was obviously the crowd's spokesman. "That's why we need to-"

"You need to let the Maverick Hunters fight the Mavericks," X cut in. He didn't want to give the man any chance to use his words to galvanize the crowd to irrational action. "Think about it," he urged. "Who better to fight than those already trained? Who better to fight repliroids than those who have repliroids on their side? If you truly wish to make a difference, support the Maverick Hunters, or even join them." Angry murmurs filled the air even before X had finished speaking.

"You're one of them, aren't you?" one woman accused. "One of those people who think repliroids are the same as humans!"

"We can't trust repliroids to fight repliroids!" another person shouted. "Why would they want to kill their own kind?"

"That's not how it works!" X said, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. This wasn't going the way he'd hoped it would. Everything was falling to pieces. If the crowd detected even a hint of fear in him, what little credibility he had would vanish like so much smoke. "Humans are capable of fighting humans despite the fact that they are of the same race. The same is true with repliroids, too! The Maverick Hunters-"

The spokesman of the group glared and planted himself right in front of the repliroid. He wasn't as tall as X, but at that moment he was by far the more intimidating of the two. "The Maverick Hunters aren't doing their job well enough!" he growled. "Time and again, Mavericks have escaped from them and gone on to kill even more innocent people. Obviously, something is wrong with how the organization is run. Either the Hunters are incompetent or something is holding them back from finishing off their opponents. Either way, this has got to stop! There will be no more tragedies like the Oasis Incident!"

X blinked in confusion, not understanding the reference. "What Oasis In-"

"You!" An aging woman pushed her way through the crowd and latched onto X's arm, squeezing tightly. A moment later, she nodded with grim satisfaction and spoke up for everyone to hear. "You're no human!" Startled gasps met this declaration, but the woman wasn't done yet. Still holding onto X, as though to make sure he didn't try to run away, she said, "You think just because you're not wearing your armor, people won't recognize you for what you are - or who you are. But I do. I was in the group of scientists Dr. Cain first showed you to, and you weren't wearing your armor then. Don't think you can hide who you are, Mega Man X!"

-o-

Despite the orders he'd given the rest of the Hunters, as soon as X left, Zero headed for his room to get ready for a trip to the D sector of the city. With as volatile as the situation was, someone needed to keep an eye on it. He would have asked someone to come with him, following his own orders not to be unaccompanied while in the D sector, but he didn't trust any of the available Hunters to be able to keep a low enough profile. Still, he should be safe enough. He was one of the few repliroids who could convincingly pass himself off as a human. If he took his hair out of his trademark ponytail and wore something gender-neutral, he shouldn't attract any more attention than what a good looking man or woman would get. Hell, he might even play up the whole 'metrosexual' act just because no one expected a repliroid to be into that sort of thing.

Zero's vehicle of preference was, of course, a sky cycle. Speed, agility, and flight all rolled into one. What more could you ask for? "Hey, Cable, I'm going out for a while," he called out to the mechanic on duty as he slid a helmet onto his head. He didn't need the helmet, not for a simple bike ride, but if he was going to pass for human, he had to play the part to the hilt, and the simple fact of the matter was that humans wore helmets when flying unless they were cocky or insane. Tempting, but... Low profile, Zero. Low profile.

"You take care of yourself, commander!" the young human yelled back, not bothering to pull himself out from under the hover car he was working on. "You hear me? And if you put so much as a scratch on that cycle while you're off duty, I'll have your head for a paperweight!"

"What, don't you trust me?" Zero asked with mock hurt.

Finally, Cable slid out from under the car and shook his wrench at the repliroid. "You take a look at your track record for keeping sky cycles in one piece, then ask me that question."

Zero laughed. "Don't worry, Cable. I'll be careful. See? I'm even wearing my helmet."

"A human helmet," Cable pointed out. "And human clothes. You're going incognito. No, no." He waved his hand dismissively before Zero could say anything. "No need to answer that. I don't want to know what you're up to, Zero. I just want you - and the bike - back in one piece."

"Do I ever try to get hurt?" Zero asked wryly.

"Sometimes I wonder," Cable answered with a straight face. "Like I said, look at your record."

"Point." Zero mounted the sky cycle and waved at Cable. "I'll be careful," he assured the mechanic again before flipping the visor down over his face and starting the cycle's engine.

Cable watched as the repliroid sped away, blond hair streaming behind him like a banner. "Yeah, sure, Zero," he murmured. "That's what you always say." He sighed, then shook his head and got back to work. Admonishments of safety or not, Zero would always be Zero. Cable just hoped he didn't damage the bike too badly this time.

-o-

Gasps of shock rose from the crowd and everyone started craning their necks to get a look at X. Was it really...? He wasn't wearing armor, how could they tell...? No, wait, his eyes and face did look like Mega Man X's... But he looked human! How many other repliroids might there be hiding in the crowd or in the city, pretending to be something they were not? What might they be preparing to do to the unsuspecting humans even as they spoke? What had they already done?

"You're the one who started all of this!" someone shouted in outrage. "If you'd never existed, there wouldn't even be such a thing as a repliroid!"

"I fail to see how I can be responsible for my own existence," X said, trying to meet the human's irrational anger with level-headed logic. "Nor is it my fault that others chose to replicate my systems. Humans were the ones who made repliroids, not repliroids." The moment the words were out of his mouth, he knew that had been the wrong thing to say. But by then, it was too late.

"Oh, so now you're trying to lay all the blame on us!"

"Humans are not the ones who made repliroids slaughter innocent people!"

"Why don't you do us all a favor an kill yourself before you go Maverick, too!"

"How do we know you're not all going to go Maverick?"

"We should destroy all repliroids before they kill us!"

"Death to the Mavericks, present and future!"

"Death to the repliroids!"

"Death to the repliroids!"

Someone grabbed X from behind, but he shook them off. Another pair of hands landed on him, then another, two for every one that he tried to pull away from. He was stronger than all of them, but there were too many and he didn't want to hurt them. They were humans, not Mavericks. Even without his armor and buster, they would be helpless against his superior strength. "Would everyone please just calm down!" he shouted desperately. "This isn't the way to solve the problem!"

"On the contrary," a voice said from behind him, and X was suddenly aware of the cold nozzle of a gun pressed against the back of his head. "I think it's the perfect solution."

-o-

Zero was passing through the C sector on his way to the D sector when the roar of a crowd caught his attention. "What the..." He slowed the sky cycle down and turned it in the direction of where the noise was coming from. None of the news stations had mentioned any rallies or parades happening today, so what in the world would humans be gathering and yelling their lungs out for? He strained his audio receptors, trying to hear what they were saying.

"...all repliroids!"

"...start with this one then... all of them!"

"Death to the repliroids!"

Zero brought the bike to a screeching halt - and yes, it was possible to make a sky cycle screech. Damn it, it's spread to the C sector! he swore. There had been no mistaking that last epithet. I need to call this into the base, let them know to keep the Hunters away. Need to notify the police, too... His train of thought trailed off as the humans dragged someone out of the building and into the middle of the street. Oh no...

He wasn't wearing his armor and hair and clothing were in a state of disarray the likes of which Zero had never seen on him before, but there was no mistaking that face. "X..." he whispered. What was X doing here? More importantly, why wasn't he fighting back? Why was he just letting these people push him around like this?

Then the humans dropped him face down in the street and it became obvious why X wasn't doing anything.

"Mega Man X!" One of the men who had helped bring X out jumped onto the hood of a car and raised his hands to gain the crowd's attention. There was a gun in his hand, very likely the same weapon that had blasted the hole in the back of X's head. "The first repliroid, the source of all repliroids, and therefore the source of all Mavericks, IS DEAD!"

"NO!" Without thinking, Zero kicked the sky cycle into action and dove straight toward the center of the crowd. Regulations be damned, he was not going to leave a fellow Hunter in the hands of a riot! A few of the humans screamed and scrambled to get out of the way when they realized what he was doing, which was fine by him. He needed a place to land anyway. The bike had hardly come to a stop before Zero leapt off, heading straight for the unconscious repliroid. He had to hope that X was only unconscious and that whoever had shot him didn't know enough about repliroid construction to know where to shoot to kill.

"What do you think you're doing!" the man on the car shouted down at Zero. "You could have killed someone!"

"I could have," Zero growled as he bent down to pick the fallen Hunter up. "But I didn't. I didn't even try. Unlike you." He stood up with X in his arms and turned to face the man. The words he spoke, though, were for the whole crowd to hear. "If you humans think that killing and destroying is the only answer, then you are no better than the Mavericks! Think on that before you attack another innocent repliroid!" He didn't wait to hear their responses before teleporting away.

-o-

"How is he, doc?" Zero looked through the observation window to where he could see X sitting on the edge of his bed. X's back was to him, but the slump of his shoulders was all too telling. Zero feared that more had been broken inside the rookie than just his neck.

"Better," the medical technician admitted. He moved to join Zero at the window, gazing at X sadly. "He's following simple commands now, but he hasn't spoken yet. We're not certain if that's because of undetected damage or if he is simply choosing not to speak. We still have hopes for a full recovery, though."

Zero shook his head and turned away from the window. "I have to go back on duty. Let me know if there's any change."

"I will," the tech promised. "Don't worry, Commander. We're taking good care of him." Zero nodded in response before disappearing through the door.

Inside his recovery room, X sat and stared at the floor, unmoving. His thoughts were still sluggish as his body adjusted to the repairs, but he was far from broken. He was just... preoccupied.

A human had shot him. He acknowledged that as fact. It had not been the human's fault, however. Not in X's mind. Yes, a human finger had pulled the trigger, but the reason the human had felt the need to shoot him was because of the Mavericks. The Mavericks were the ones who were killing innocent people, fanning the flames of fear and hate. If it had not been for the Mavericks, humans would not have been so afraid of repliroids that the only solution they saw was to get rid of them all. The Mavericks were the ones to blame, not the humans.

"I must destroy the Mavericks," he whispered, speaking for the first time since the riot. His jaw firmed with determination and he looked up. "At all costs."

The End

Author Note: X's personality in the "Mega X" episode has always bothered me. Why did he act like that when he's nothing like that in the games? There is, of course, the normal excuse that the people in charge of the Mega Man cartoons were all a bunch of idiots, but that's taking the easy way out. Instead, I chose to believe that there had to be a reason for X's behavior. This story is my idea for what might have happened to make X the way he is.

Working with the technology of the "Mega X" universe was a little challenging. I had to do a lot of guess work, as we really don't see much of what X is capable of in the cartoon other than to see that it is different from the games, and, of course, I had to use the word "repliroid" instead of "reploid," which really threw me for a loop. All in all, I think it turned out reasonably well.

Now, dear readers, if you would please review, I would love to hear what you think.