By Eric "Erico" Lawson

February 14th, 2222

Resistance HQ

It had been almost two years since Zero had been resurrected by the sacrifice of Passy and the vigilant, desperate efforts of Ciel Seria. Two years since he had dragged Ciel through hordes of the Pantheon X Drones in those crumbling ruins, rediscovered his skills, and reclaimed his saber. Two years since he had risen from the ashes of the past century and had become more than a Mere Maverick Hunter...
Two years since he became the supposed savior of the reploid race. He had fought everything thrown at him and survived it, injured at points, but in the end, alive. Phantom, Leviathan, Harpuia, and Fefnir. He'd fought them all, their lesser generals...and then in the depths of Neo Arcadia, he had confronted Copy X himself. Copy X, who was but a pale imitation of his former friend. Slowly regaining his memories through those long weeks of struggle, he had emerged with a remembrance of what X had been like. What he'd been like.
And the vivid guilt from all that had occurred long before the people he fought and defended now had ever existed. Some days he felt old...But he tempered that knowledge with the fact that there was one still older than him. X himself.
His former friend was but a ghost of his former self; he'd sacrificed his physical form in a rare combination of guilt over all the lives he'd taken in his long career as a Maverick Hunter and also in a desire to end the Maverick Wars and seal away the Mother Elf...the Dark Elf.
Zero had spent a year wandering the world after crushing Copy X and being rescued by his old blue comrade. At the end of it, he had been rescued by the Resistance forces he had fought so hard to keep safe and been fully restored once again.
He'd defended them. From Elpizo, a crazed lunatic of a reploid who had become obsessed with the power of the Dark Elf and had eventually, with the help of the Baby Elves, pushed into Neo Arcadia's innermost heart and found the living sarcophagus of Mega Man X's interred body. The body which powered the Tree of Eden...and kept the Dark Elf from escaping.
He'd defended them from Weil, a shady figure of a man far too old for Zero's tastes...a man who resurrected an evil known as "Omega", which X had thought long since destroyed. He'd defended them from the renewed presence of Copy X...And with X's help, pushed on into the depths of Weil's distant Southeastern Asian Citadel and crushed Omega completely.
Not even when Weil...Not even when Zero and the spirit of Omega collapsed through the floor of the Citadel and into the same ruins Zero had been resurrected in...And Omega had been reborn in Zero's ancient body...
No, not even then had he lost. Zero had triumphed. He always would. As strong as the body that Dr. Wily, that maniac of a man two centuries old who had made Zero, had given him was, it was no match for the spirit that had once powered it.
Even in a body that was not his own...Even as a spirit who lived in but a clone of his original shell, Zero had perservered.

And now had come a period of silence. Omega X was once again destroyed...this time, for good, and without the ability to cover it up as Harpuia had done two years before to escape public panic in Neo Arcadia. Wherever Weil was, he was biding his time. Losing Omega had been a crushing blow, and he'd underestimated Zero's spirit. Zero felt no loyalty or compulsion for the body he'd once inhabited. Its power, its inherent strength had come at a price; To eternally be a destroyer, the bringer of the plague that had spread to Sigma in the form of a Virus and caused a century of meaningless conflict. Zero had been all too happy to forever destroy it and scatter its atoms.
He was at Fully and totally free of his dark legacy. Of the guilt that he had borne for more than half a century in the darkness of death, and more after he had recovered his memories.
He had many people to thank. X...But He didn't see X much these days. The spirit of his friend, transfigured into the shape of a Cyber Elf had mentioned sadly his power was fading...That made Zero sad. For as much as they had gone through, the two were inseparable. Not having Zero around had only hastened X's depression as the last decades of the Maverick Wars had dragged on. The Crimson Savior only wondered how he would feel...when X passed away. This time, with no hope of resurrection.
I should be dead...Really, I should. Zero thought to himself.

And he might have stayed that way.
Had it not been for a world gone astray...
And the woman who had put all of her faith into a dream, into a notion and a myth.
The woman whose room he was going to go visit today.
Ciel Seria.

The Resistance base was its own small community; in that regard, Zero felt a sense of comfort that always returned to him when he daydreamed about the past, about his days as a Maverick Hunter. The best days had been his first 13 years...From 2118 to 2131, when Cain was in charge. Despite all the ups and downs, old man James T. Cain had always watched their back, and covered their asses from the political fallout that inevitably followed from the Hunter's unorthodox methods. Maverick Hunter Headquarters...the name was all too potent nowadays. But the building itself...From the heart of the MHHQ and New Tokyo, that was where Neo Arcadia had risen from. Out of the ashes of the old world had risen the new, and no longer could he walk those corridors, despite the uneasy temporary alliances that Harpuia and Zero had sometimes undergone.
The Resistance Headquarters...the RHQ, as Zero affectionately called it, made up for his lost home in some regard. It was different, though, that much was for sure.
At the MHHQ, it had been X and Zero and all the other cowboys running off and fighting an enemy just as dangerous and ruthless as they were. Some never came back...but those who did always remembered those who fell. And then they drank. They partied. They had limbos and luaus(Cain had loved luaus) and all sorts of other precocious pranks to alleviate the stress. Then they woke up the next morning from the hangovers, went to train some more, scouted out, dug up dirt, and ran out and did it all again. The MHHQ had been a warrior's paradise; go out and fight for a good cause. Decent pay, a full pension plan, room and board...And if you were lucky, you lived long enough to reap the real benefits. Wisdom, experience, and guile that helped you to survive, even if you did leave the Hunters. Nonetheless...Zero had fought Hunters before. And that was the damnable part...when old allies became Mavericks themselves.
At the RHQ...they weren't fighting to balance out the rebellious forces that threatened world peace. They WERE the rebellious faction. When Copy X had led Neo Arcadia, the last true metropolis left in the world, the reploid race had been labeled as entirely Maverick...and in need of extinction. Zero had found himself fighting, as strange as it sounded...on the wrong side of the law.
And yet, it was the noblest thing he'd ever done. Everyone he knew here...Andrew, the old reploid who was full of stories when he wasn't dozing off, Alouette, the young reploid girl who captured the heart of every trooper on the base...Then there was Cerveau, the weapons mechanic and medical operative who would forever remind Zero of Hazil, especially after he got his legs instead of his goofy tank treads.
But most importantly, of everyone he knew, of everyone at the RHQ, there was only one person who he found he could never stop thinking about.
"I hope you've worked up the nerve for this..." Zero muttered softly, trying desperately to ignore the giggles and grins that everyone in the halls threw his way as he wandered from his room up towards hers.
No, one thing hadn't changed about the RHQ from the old MHHQ. Everyone still knew everybody elses' business. And right now, blushing like an idiot, Zero wished that it had been one thing that would have changed.
This is crazy. Zero, you're nuts. Screw it all, just turn around. TURN AROUND, DAMNIT. You don't need to do this. It could never work out. Didn't you listen to old Andrew when he blabbed on and on about his life story? IT DIDN'T WORK.
His mind argued one thing. Argued for him to turn around and leave.
His legs pushed on, walking with a mind of their own.

It was wrong. He remembered how things had been a century before. How things like this had gone over. As for Andrew...he was an exception, wasn't he? He was a crazy nut of a reploid who had lived in a different time. A time after Sigma's last great stand, and before the rise of Neo Arcadia and the genocidal intentions of Omega X. He had considered the pain, the sacrifice, all worth it. He had grown old to do had cost him everything. And in the end, it had died.
"Hey Zero, when's the wedding?" One of the Resistance troopers guffawed as he passed by.
Zero's face turned redder still, and he tried to hide the box of chocolates behind him. It didn't quite work, despite the best intentions of his ragged mop of yellow hair.
I've ended Wars. I've killed creeps who could have annihilated cities on a whim. I've saved the world God knows how often...And NOW I decide to become afraid...
At long last, the straight corridors came to a halt at the end of the hall. To a door he'd walked through many a time before. But now it was different.

Taking one last breath to calm himself, he knocked for a moment, waiting for a response.
Seconds later, hearing none, he sighed in relief.
Good...I can just drop it off and get back to training.

The door slid open when he pushed the entry button beside it; Ciel always left her door unlocked when she wasn't indisposed with sleep or anything else. It looked the same as it always did, too. Ciel was brilliant, intelligent, and gifted in so many ways that some said she rivaled the genius of the entire Second Rainbow. Despite that, she was also always busy on a project, and a little haphazard. Her bed was left unmade, old and discarded cups of instant noodles lay strewn about an overfilling garbage can, and stacks of old documents and file disks were cluttered around her desk. Zero peered around the room, making sure that she really wasn't there.
And she wasn't.
Quickly, he strode in and looked about. Where to put the chocolates...Her bed? No, that was stupid. Her desk? Lord, she'd never find it. He became so distracted in his search to find just the right spot he didn't hear the footsteps outside in the corridor march closer and stop in front of the door...
But he did hear the door hiss wide open, and he swiveled about, hand halfway to his pistol Buster before he stopped himself. Christ, Zero...Simmer, fella. This isn't a warzone, this is your home!
Still, the arm holding the chocolates quickly disappeared behind his back when he recognized with flaring eyebrows the person who had just walked in.
Ciel Selia herself...
She was half staring at another pile of documents as she strolled into the room, peering through digitally enhanced reading glasses. It took her a moment to realize, as she stepped five feet into the room, that she wasn't alone. She didn't jump in surprise, nor look startled...
Still, she seemed confused. "Zero??"
"Uhh, yeah." Zero muttered. "I came looking for you."
"Oh." Ciel said quickly, blinking a few times as she wandered towards her desk and plopped the documents onto an ever more precariously tall stack. "What about?"
Zero's brain froze. "Uhh...well, I thought I might...Talk...about the...about the 4th Unit. Yeah, the 4th Unit, that was it..."
Ciel's face wrinkled up into a half smile at that. "Oh? What about the 4th Unit?" She turned to look at him, and her stare made Zero slowly inch back towards the door.
"...Just that they're beginning to make some real progress, is all...I forget the rest now, so I'll get back to you later." Zero scrambled nervously, beginning to step a little faster.
If Ciel was curious about his presence before, she was suspicious now. Her piercing blue eyes peered at him, and she folded her arms. "Hold on a second, mister." She began, lifting an eyebrow. "What's that behind your back?"
Zero's mind hit an ice patch and froze on contact.
Ciel started walking towards him. "What, you have a package of some sort? Is it for me?"
"Well, yes, I MEAN, no, but..." Zero stammered, blushing furiously now.
Ciel came up next to him, grinning now with an impish look as she tried to reach behind him. "C'mon, gimme!" She said insistently, snatching on open air as Zero tried to block her attempts. In frustration, she feinted him out and snatched it before he could recover from the ploy. Triumphantly, she backpedaled away from him, then stared in curiousity at the object in her hand.
Zero wanted to be anywhere but there at that moment. Hell, he'd face a roomful of Sigmas to escape this, she'd reject him flat out. "Well, I've gotta get going then..."
"STAY." Ciel said forcefully, but calmly as she rotated the object in her hand. Marvelling at the heart shaped red box in her hands, she cracked it open and lifted the lid. Her eyes widened and began to sparkle soon after. "...Are these...Bon bons?!"
"...Yeah, I think they might be." Zero mumbled, turning away slightly, still bright red.
"But they only make these in Neo Arcadia anymore!" She began, pausing and glancing at him. "...You didn't kill anyone trying to reach these, did you?"
"N...No!" Zero stammered quickly, shaking his head. "Actually, I had Harpuia get them for me!"
Ciel clucked her tongue at that. "The Wind Warrior, huh...Well, he was always the brightest of that bunch, in my opinion. The most like X...Well, like X used to be." She finished quietly. "But...You got these for me?"
Zero nodded slowly, wanting to head towards the door again, but knowing she'd only stop him.
And she did have that much power over him to begin with.
"It's...Valentine's Day." He said quietly. "I was surprised to find that you guys still celebrated it, but...I suppose there are some things world revolutions don't change."
Ciel smiled at that, gently running a fingertip around the box's edge. "You're too sweet, Zero. Thank you."
Zero exhaled. She'd accepted it...the pressure was off.

"So. Happy Valentine's Day." Zero concluded, cracking a weak smile. "If there's anything..."
"Wait a second." Ciel said, interrupting him. She looked at the underside of the box lid, finding a note taped to it.
Zero's mouth ran dry.
Aah, Christ...Why did I ever write that thing...

She plucked it out, unfolded it, and began to read.
"It's a poem." She said quietly, marveling at it. "...You wrote this, didn't you?"
"Well, I couldn't ask Harpuia to do that. We're still not exactly working on the same team yet."
Ciel scanned over it a few more times, her free hand absentmindedly rising up to clasp just below her neck as she smiled, an honest and tender smile as the message sank in.
"...Zero." She finally concluded, shaking her head in a quiet, but tender voice. "That long?"
Zero closed his eyes. "Yes." He replied, barely a whisper.

He could hear her put the letter down on the table and walk over to him.
And then he felt her fingers insistently push his eyelids up, and he found himself staring into her eyes, only two inches below his own.
A gentle radiance shone in her, and she smiled at him. "You're so silly some days. You could have just said it."
"No, I couldn't have." Zero began shamefully. "It''s wrong. It's not supposed to happen, but..."
"Zero?" Ciel interrupted again, stopping his self-debasing commentary with a question.
In response, she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulled his head down, leaned up against him, and kissed him deeply. After a few moments, when the shock had worn off in his face and he began to enjoy it, she broke the kiss and shook her head. "It's not wrong. A lot of things changed after you and X stopped Eurasia from causing Doomsday in the last century...and one of those things was that humans and reploids finally could have relationships. The only thing that's interfered with that was Copy X...and he's gone. So no. It's not wrong. And you're not wrong for loving me. Because I love you too."

Stunned, amazed, euphoric, Zero swept her up into another kiss, picking her up off of the floor and cradling her in his arms, drawing her mouth to his with an insistent hunger.
When at last they broke, Zero almost purred, and tried to speak. "I could have wandered forever out there in that desert...but I had to come back. I had to come back for you."
"Zero?" Ciel asked sweetly, still holding her arms around his neck, leaning against his shoulder.
"Shut up." She finished with a chuckle, pulling him back in for another fiery embrace.
Zero felt that everything was perfect then.
For it really was.

You brought me from the darkness deep and gave me back my soul
You soothed the beast that I was once was and gave me back control
You made me want to live again, you made me care and smile
I love you Ciel, all days, all ways. In every trudging mile.