Haven't composed a story in an actual Word doc in ages.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the intellectual property Capcom does: this includes Rockman. And Sparda and Eva too, sadly. Though they are not in this. They're too busy helping the rest of my DMC muses get ready for the DMC4 launch party.

Right after X's ending of X4, though I'm keeping the Zero angsty stuff in this because I can and I'm mean.

Divided into chapters for easier reading 6/25/10, as part of me getting back to old projects.

When X came back to Earth, he wasn't sure what to say to Zero. He'd asked Zero to kill him if he ever became a maverick, and he'd expected solemn agreement. They both would rather die: it had been an unspoken pact. Why did saying it out loud force Zero to end the conversation?

Zero was also hesitating: he should have been rushing forward to examine X as soon as he got out of the shuttle, to lecture his former student on every mistake he had made and verify the once-rookie was still in one piece.

Yet he too hung back, ashamed.

Because of Iris? Because of X's request to kill him like he had his love? Oh, Zero.

Forgetting his own pain as he did every time something must be done to help another, X went to him. "Zero, I'm sorry I asked you that."

Zero couldn't find words, sorrow and pity and guilt, other emotions shifted across his face despite the fact he always kept it well-guarded. X knew him too well to be fooled by the stoic mask, sadly. His eyes pierced it, asking what was wrong, and Zero tried to pull away before he caved. "It's not going to happen, so don't worry about it. Come on, we have to be debriefed, and you have to be tested. Stupid paranoia, testing you when we just had Double… they harass us and they can't find the real, the real mavericks." Zero had faltered there. The real mavericks?


Iris and Colonel. "Zero," X put his hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry I reminded you. I wasn't as close to them as you were, but Iris and Colonel, they were almost like you and me, in a way. It's terrible what happened."

"Iris wasn't you." What an odd thing to say, and what an odd tone to say it with. Zero was still turned away, and had walked out from under X's hand as soon as it was placed on his armor. "Come on."

"Of course Iris wasn't me. What happened to… why does that matter so much?" He didn't understand.

Now Zero paused, and X could read hidden pain, shame in every line of his body. The same guilt that had been there before he became the hero, when he was still the ex-Irregular, the murderer who killed so many hunters, the one who might go mad again at any time. A lot of them had wanted him to, needled him in hope for an excuse to get vengeance.

The pain caused by knowledge he'd killed innocents. Like Iris, like Colonel. "Zero," X said more firmly, prepared to insist on this talk, since he hated seeing Zero like this. He gripped Zero's shoulder, or tried to.

Zero darted out of reach, almost flinched away from X's hand, and X pulled it back, shock and pain radiating from his eyes as Zero spun to address him. "Don't tou-" Then Zero seemed to regain control, and the anger died away. "X, just… stay away from me for awhile." He clearly regretted having met X's eyes: if he had avoided them then he could have left after saying that, but seeing the pain he had to ease it. "I know you want to help, but I need some time."

Then Zero read his student as well as X read him. He'd been able to just turn off the com before, but with X right in front of him it was so very hard. Zero just didn't know what to do, clearly, caught on a knife edge between the desire to help X and the desire not to, not to harm him? X took a step forward, puzzled. Zero drew back.

This was odd. If Zero just didn't want to talk, he'd have left. That Zero was staying meant that he really did want to talk, and was hoping that X would help him do so. Yet he was stepping back, he didn't want to be touched. He was afraid of what might happen if X was… too close to him? Touching him?

Oh, no. "Zero," X asked carefully, "have you been tested yet?" That was a ridiculous question, he knew that as soon as he said it.

"Yes, of course." Zero's tone imitated wry puzzlement as to why X would possibly ask something like that. Of course he'd been tested. Of course they hadn't found anything.

Zero was trying far too hard to act normal, act like there wasn't anything wrong, but they knew each other too well for that. "Zero, I know you're hiding something." There, it was out in the open, and the guards on the tarmac would ramp up their alert status. Just in case it was necessary. They, and he, hoped it wouldn't be.

Zero opened his mouth to try to lie, but he was still caught in X's gaze and closed it a breath later knowing he couldn't fool him.

X moved to take a step forward and Zero's body tensed, preparing to draw back. "Why don't you want me near you?" Oh no. "Tell me you don't think," his dawning horror vibrated in his tone.

"No!" Zero cut him off, utter rejection of the very idea. "X, no. It's not you…" He'd meant to say "it's not you, it's me," a common phrase meaning that it wasn't that X was repulsive, it was that Zero was the one with the problem with being close to him. Yet the horror in his eyes when he realized what he was about to say revealed that the choice of phrase was one that was far too true.

Please don't let it be true, X's eyes begged, and Zero wanted to reassure him but could not bring himself to, to lie. "Zero, no." Oh no, this can't be happening, not you!

"X…" Zero was torn between stepping forward to reassure him and back to retreat from the pain of this revelation.

Seeing this, X almost collapsed with relief. "Zero, you're being paranoid. The tests were clear, and a maverick wouldn't feel guilty about being one." X stepped forward, intending to take his arm. "Is it because Iris was declared a maverick but didn't have the virus?" Let me help you, Zero. I need to help someone because I failed all of them. "Let's go get you retested since I'm going there anyway, and then we'll go to debriefing, and then we'll talk."

"I know the tests won't show anything." X opened his mouth and this time was the one to shut it as Zero continued. "I don't know if there's anything still there, since Dr. Cain wiped my systems when I was brought in." Still there? "But there might be. X, I've been having dreams… or that was what I thought they were, normal nanite to system reintegrating, but it wasn't, or… The wipe wasn't complete. I've been having flashbacks. When I fought Sigma today, I remembered fighting him as an Irregular. X, I…" Zero couldn't say it, he so deeply wished it wasn't true.

"Zero, you know Sigma says things, does things to mess with people's heads! So he made you hallucinate! Why on earth are you letting him trick you like this!" X was outraged, not at Zero but at Sigma. Yet even X's reserve could be worn thin, and to see his friend like this was just too much. Now he was angry, and Sigma was not here.

"It's not a trick, X." Such sadness there, as he revealed that, "Sigma didn't remember it either until then. It wasn't even Cain's attempt at a wipe that fried my memories, it was the virus getting screwed up because I was fighting it and Sigma wasn't what it was targeted at."

"How could you have the same flashback at the same time?" It only made sense if it was faked, or true. True was not an option, so it had to be a clumsy fake.

"The virus. It was meant to link to me. I don't remember, so when I did, even for an instant, it worked the way it was supposed to."

So much sorrow, he was so very sorry, and X did not want him to feel this way. He moved forward, this time determined not to let Zero move away or escape this. He would not lose his friend.

"X, don't!" That wasn't Zero: that was Alia. The guards were aiming weapons. "Commander Zero, please disengage your weapons and allow yourself to be secured."

Zero's eyes closed, and X knew that Alia's request (order) would not be obeyed. "Zero!" He moved forward, stopped when he heard busters being charged.

"X, I…" So much sorrow, and Zero wouldn't look at him, wouldn't let X's eyes tether him here.

"Please, Zero." I can't lose you. "I don't care if you were the one that infected Sigma! You didn't know, you didn't want to! It wasn't you, so you shouldn't feel guilty about it! I was the first reploid, it's just as much my fault that, that there are mavericks. Neither of us wanted this! You said yourself that you were fighting the virus! You've been fighting it all along!"

"Not all…" A terrible revelation in those words, and Zero's eyes flew open as he fell to his knees. "Oh god, oh god." He shook, eyes focusing on a scene of horror that played before them.

"Zero!" Now, X let nothing stop him from holding his friend, going to his own knees and gripping his partner's shoulders. "Zero! Stop it!" He'd seen this hysteria before. Never in Zero. Zero was the strong one.

"Stop it," Zero repeated blankly, wide eyes rising to meet X's. He hadn't stopped shaking when X grabbed him: he'd frozen instead. "Oh god, I… you…" So much horror. "It can't be…"

"Zero, please! Snap out of it!" X shook him, shook him hard.

"You begged me, or, you can't be him!" Such horrified denial in that plea.

Zero jerked away and X was unable to hold him in place and unwilling to let go. He ended up on top of his best friend, pinning him down, yelling at the guards who were rushing forward to stand down and back away with the commander's voice he'd copied from Zero. Zero watched, shivering now.

"I'm X, Zero. I'm not whoever you're thinking of." Once the people who didn't know what they were doing were dealt with X's tone became as soothing as he could manage. "Alia, see if you can get someone to pull up Dr. Cain's files on Zero's treatment when he was brought in. Zero, you know the symptoms of the virus. These are not them. I think there's some problem with what Dr. Cain did to cure your insanity, probably caused by something Sigma did. You're just an Irregular, Zero. Not a Maverick. It's going to be okay."

"The color of your eyes is different, the shape is different, your voice is different: you've got so much more pain in it. Similar, but not the same. So why do I look at you and see him?" Zero's hand lifted, and X had to gesture with outstretched palm for the guards to halt their reaction. The exchange went unnoticed as Zero touched X's face in a false calm achieved when things became far too much. "This was how you held your father when you found him, and you reassured him things would be okay and you would save him while he tried to get you to leave him there, told you that it had to be a trap. You knew that, though. It had never stopped you before. Until I stopped you." An empty smile. "I wasn't an Irregular. I was exactly what my creator wanted. Dr. Wily was just too insane by then to be careful what he wished for."

Dr. Wily.

Too in shock, X did nothing to prevent the rush of the guards, even let himself be pulled away without really being aware of it. His eyes didn't leave Zero as they threw a capture net over him, as it overloaded (impossible… with post-Cataclysm technology), and the guards awaited an order to fire, pulling back as Zero slowly rose. X might have been pleading for them not to fire, he didn't know.

Zero smiled at him when he stood up, that terrible lost smile that spoke of more pain that any scream. "You can't scan me anyway, and destroying this body won't kill me. It's been tried. I wish it had worked."

"What are your intentions?" How had Alia ended up in default command? Oh, right, the guards here were all from X and Zero's units, there weren't any officers left, and she had a non-combat commission. Really, she was a good person to be handling this. X really wasn't up to it right now.

"I don't know what to do. I can't destroy the virus unless I can decrypt the command lines, and if I can't do that in less than a century there's no way you can at all, so it really wouldn't have helped anything if I had told you. I was going to just… do what I could to help." Zero clearly meant help X, eyes fixed on him. "I didn't want you to know. I didn't want…" Now Zero was the one to reach out pleadingly and stop when busters were readied. He drew back, drawing into himself. "I'm sorry, X. I'm so sorry." His face was buried in his hands, hair that normally was perfectly arranged flying around wildly, whipping in a wind that couldn't happen in a shuttle pad with the roof hatch sealed the way it was. Looking up after a still moment, he revealed that, "I didn't remember that until now, about who the man was and Rock… You're so much like him. You don't think you measure up but you're the same, you're just as much a hero as he was. As Megaman."

Those had the ring of last words, the words Zero wanted to leave him with, to comfort him, that X cried out, "No! I'm not! I couldn't have done this without you, Zero, I still can't! I don't care what you did when the virus controlled you!"

"I killed you, X. I killed everyone. Your family. Mine. Blues'. Billions of other people. I don't deserve to live, but I can't die or no one will ever be able to destroy the virus." The horror was surpassing the capabilities of even that terrible calm, that last defense against the loss of sanity. "I don't know if it's even possible for me to die."

"Oh god, Zero," and now X had to try to fight loose of the guards that held him back, to go to comfort his friend.

"You still, you still want to help me. How can you? Why can't you just hate me? You weren't even able to kill Dr. Wily. If you had, I never would have been created. I wish I never had been."

"Don't say that!"

"Do you know how many people have died because I was born?" Now Zero was angry. "I'm not worth their lives, how can you say that X!"

"You can't change the past, but you are here now! You can change the future! Stop this, Zero! You've never surrendered, so why won't you fight this?" X's demands turned to pleas in the end. "Please, Zero."

"My name is Omega. Weird that Sigma also is a Greek letter, isn't it?"

"You're Zero. Omega was a maverick controlled by the virus. You are Zero who has spent all his life fighting the virus. How can you think that I'm a hero when I'm only here because of you? Because you sacrificed yourself for me, because you taught me. Helped me, because knowing you were out there gave me the strength to go on. Not wanting to disappoint you helped me do so many things I didn't think I could."

"You wouldn't have had to do them if it weren't for me." It was clear in those eyes that if Zero could have died to atone, he would have.

"For Wily! Damn it, Zero! You're a Maverick Hunter! You know it's not the person's fault, it's the virus'! Why should you be any different? Just because you're Zero and you've carried guilt for something that wasn't your fault around for years already because it was blamed on you by people who wanted a target? The hunters you killed weren't your fault. What the virus made you do isn't either. Get it through your head, Zero! You may be the greatest person I've ever known, but as hard as you try, as often as you succeed in pulling off miracles, you are not God! You're always telling me not to blame myself for people who died when there was nothing I could do, it's just as foolish for you to do it!"

"That same righteous wrath, only this time you want to save me." Zero laughed, not out of amusement but hysteria.

X's attempt to go to him was restrained. "Will someone slap him for me?" Stares from the hunters. "If you're not going to let me do it, one of you has to. Any volunteers? Because I can and will make that a direct order."

They looked at Alia, who was already moving. Normally very kind, Alia could be a bitch when the situation called for it and this was a perfectly executed stop-being-a-moron bitchslap.

Alia was very hard to ignore, and Zero did indeed stop to stare at her, amazed at her daring. So was everyone else. Alia blinked. "What? I've wanted a reason to do that since I met him. Do you know how long I scrimped and saved to afford the perfect hair? And his is better than mine and he takes it for granted!"

That was so amazingly petty by comparison to everything that had been going on here since X arrived that everyone besides Alia and Zero had to make themselves stop laughing when Alia raised her hand to the ready position, making it very clear there were plenty more where that came from. She, however, clearly realized how petty and impulsive it had been, what a bad idea it was to have the person giving orders get this close to the Maverick, and was having to fight down the fear that she was now infected.

It really was a terrible situation if even Alia, with her scientific training, was becoming irrational. Thank goodness for the comic relief, although Alia promised pain to anyone who referred to it as such as she carefully stepped back from Zero instead of scrambling to get away, holding her hand to the side instead of letting it touch her anywhere.

"Don't worry," Zero told her. "You can't catch it from me like that."

"Can it be caught from you?" She had to ask.

"It only does it automatically when my body gets disabled or destroyed after having a few seconds at emergency level stress to prepare. Anyone who can take me out is someone the virus wants. Sigma's been the only one, and the emergency level stress was me trying to keep the virus from making me kill him and frying some systems. It didn't even happen when I blew myself up that time."

"You said automatically." Alia was good at noticing key details.

"I can customize specialized viruses and release them, though I don't have that much control."

Alia considered. "Doppler. His vaccine. He was trying to convert the virus to a harmless form, only he missed the auto-restore coding so the vaccine worked until it turned itself into virus. I think Dr. Wily must have hoped something like that would be attempted. We can't get rid of it, but can you make something without the auto-restore coding?"

"I actually can." Zero's amazement was clear. "It would be unstable, and self-destruct in six months or so when the auto-restore coding is supposed to kick in, because the reason I can do that is for things that are supposed to only work temporarily and not be noticed." Still, it was hope. "I can't make it as harmless as his version, I have only so much parameter control, but I could give you a version without the auto-restore coding and most of the obvious symptoms, at least, and then you could convert that into the vaccine? Would that work?"

"Zero, this is why you should have just told them. I know being a lab rat in the hands of people who really didn't like you didn't give you a very good impression of scientists other than Dr. Cain, and no one's ever been able to do anything about the virus, you're right, but you're not the only person who has good ideas." X's long-suffering tone conveyed how tired he was of Zero trying to do everything himself.

"I know. I just didn't remember any of that until this conversation."

"And you didn't want to think about it, because you knew on some level how terrible what happened to you was. Otherwise you would have wanted to know more. You're always asking Intel for more information." X understood, forgave.

"I really can't bear this, X." The mood granted by Alia's idea evaporated. "I can't stop remembering now. All those people, X, all those people." Pleading in that face, and it was amazing that Zero, the rock that X had leaned on, asked him for help now.

"Let go of me," X told the guards, and now it was clear from his tone that he was thinking clearly, thank you, this was an order from their commanding officer in his right mind, and there would be consequences if it was not obeyed.

No one wanted to have to slap Zero again, so he was obeyed.

This time Zero let X hold him. "I don't know what I can do, Zero, except say that I forgive you." Zero opened his mouth and X held a finger to his lips. "I know that you're going to say that I won't feel that way after I know everything. So tell me everything so you know that it's not ignorance. It's because I know you, and I know you're a good person who would not have done those things of their own free will. It wasn't your fault, and you've been trying to make up for it since before you even knew it was your responsibility. You didn't run away or break down when you remembered, which is probably what Sigma wanted. I'm so proud to be your partner."

Zero's tears had finally started to trickle down, as X's sympathy broke down the barrier so hastily erected against him. "Oh god. Will you kill me?" Please?

"I'll have to think about that. I don't want you to die, but if you can convince me that there really is no other way for you to stop hurting, then maybe." X squeezed him. "Of if you don't stay dead, would it make you feel better if I did?"

"Oh yes, it would." X felt Zero's nod, his mentor-turned-child's head now tucked beneath the shelter of his chin. "But if we find a way for me to stay dead, I want it to be you who frees me. Please. I don't want to outlive you. Wily wanted me to destroy you, and I want to die knowing that you'll be able to be happy despite me."

Zero. X held him tightly: there was nothing he could find to say to that for quite awhile. "It would make me very happy to be with you and know that you could go on without me and be fine too. So we'll see." He kissed the top of Zero's helmet briefly.

"I love you so much. I wanted to love Iris, but in the end she just didn't measure up to you, and I knew all along that I could never be with you even if I didn't know the real reason why." So much sadness.

"Why not?" X realized he had never really thought about that either. How odd. He considered long-standing friendships the best foundation for permanent relationships, and yet he'd never really looked at Zero that way. Zero was beautiful, so very strong, trustworthy beyond doubt, he did love X so very, very much, and X loved him. Yet Zero had never been approachable, never been open to the idea before Iris, and X had been glad she's managed to break through his shell, and then had to try very hard not to think jealous thoughts.

So he was jealous of Iris, not Zero. Oh.

"You're the one who spent all that time studying reploid design. You know how our sex equivalent works. Extreme emotional state followed by knockout caused by someone else: I can't keep that from triggering the virus. Thank god Iris and I decided to take it slow enough we never actually got there."

"But I'm immune," X pointed out. That made it perfect, really.

"Not that immune. The standard virus, sure. But you're Dr. Light's final creation. If you were the target, it'd whip one up special. You're immune because the extra hibernation made your personality so strong the virus can't win against it in a direct fight, like me. So what it would have to do is find ways to work around it. So don't be stupid." Listening, X also heard Zero's system winding down. That was good, that Zero was getting comfortable enough to be able to rest. Hopefully he would feel better in the morning.

"Go to sleep, Zero. I'll keep an eye on you and you need the rest, they're going to be working you hard tomorrow."

"I hate being a lab rat." Zero sighed but closed his eyes and went into sleep mode obediently.

Still, this wasn't a good place to spend the night. "Alia, do you have coordinates for where they want him in Medical?"

"I'll forward them to you." Zero's teleport access must have already been disabled: X would have to bring him along with him the same way they transported prisoners. Not quite fair to Zero, but it was to be expected, really.

Receiving them, X nodded. "I think we can wait for debriefing in the morning, when everyone has had some time to think this over. Units 17 and 00, you're on yet more overtime tonight. I don't want someone attacking him, and I trust you to know better."

"Commander." Salutes from the people who had ended up ranking in the decimated units.

"Unit 00, link your teleport systems to mine, as your Commander's codes are disabled for the moment." The order was quickly obeyed, and when everyone had linked in to use X's authorization codes for the group teleport X slaved Zero's system to his so that X's codes could be used for both of them.

Then there was a blinding flash of light.

X blinked once his vision cleared, his receptors having shut down briefly to avoid being burnt out. "What was that?"

Alia was already moving. "Zero was the origin." Not good. "You were doing final teleport preparations… maybe being…" She didn't want to finish that thought. "Let's teleport in right now."

X nodded.