X stiffened. "Don't bother calling out to him," Omega informed him. "I was waiting for him to stick his neck out of there. He's trapped in the web now: my web." His smile should have been fanged. "Thank you so much for succeeding where Sigma failed. Miserably. And he squandered so many resources doing it, too. The last thing I needed was another Wily." Sigma's head appeared in his hand, Omega casually tossing it the foot of X and Zero's bed.
X's body was still in that tense posture, as though torn between movement and stillness. "I programmed that virus, actually," Omega informed him. "It would take something special to work on you. You want to defend him, you want to save him so very much. Yet that pure heart of yours cries out in protest at the thought of harming another for any reason. A true martial artist turns their enemies against themselves."
Forced to acknowledge Omega was right, X hung his head in shame. "I won't abandon him." If all he could do to protect Zero was shield him with his body, he would. "He died for me, I'll return the favor if I have to. You can play with the virus in me all you want: I'm not going to let it make me serve you when I love him."
"It's just a shell, but it's where his memories are stored. Your only hope of getting back your beloved. You have terrible taste when it comes to those you devote yourself to. Well, at least it's not a human this time." So very amused.
The guards found they had no way whatsoever into the room, weapons were disabled: nothing to do but watch.
"I would have done this for Dr. Cain too," X pointed out, almost daring Omega to kill him.
"I've pulled your claws, kitten," Omega reminded him.
"I don't care. If you want to kill him, you will have to go through me." X did not need to hold Zero especially tightly, put particular force into his words: they rang with truth. This was not bravado: this was fact.
"I can kill him within the web. Or he can kill himself. Yes, you're right: neither has happened because you're calling to him, and he refuses to fail you just as you refuse to fail him. How very irritating. Some damn organic chemicals mutate and corrupt my soul and purpose!" That last line showed the demonic rage behind the amused sadism of the façade.
"Why did you choose now to show up?'
"You really aren't in a position to be asking me questions, oh last Lightbot."
It was very clear that X did not care: he would not yield and his life was not important compared to that.
"I'm corrupted and you're even more of a fanatic than before. How irritating." Omega sneered but responded. "I hoped that this virus controlling you would either cause him to do the proper thing and die like the mistake he is, or turn those fools," he waved at the box, "against him. Or, if I did manage to turn you to my side through it, that would also destroy the tenacity we share. It appears to have backfired annoyingly, so I shall have to do something more obvious." Omega started to glow just slightly, a hint to X as to exactly what he meant by obvious.
"He won't let you kill or infect us," came another of X's pronouncements.
"He isn't aware of what I'm doing at all, or he would have known I was awake. He thinks he's just having difficulty navigating the web while I have him running in circles on quicksand." Omega stalked forward: X did not shrink back as he approached, but awaited his fate, whatever it may be, with a peaceful heart.
Omega tilted up X's chin, which X had bowed to shelter Zero's head against his neck, and X met his eyes calmly after a moment: they had been closed as he focused on Zero. "You are quite admirable. It's hard not to like you. People you blew up several times liked you. So sad that we Wilybots and Lightbots are indeed oil and water. We can touch, but never mix: our differences are insurmountable as much as both might wish otherwise."
"You're wrong." Though it was clear some of X's heart feared he was right.
"You truly do love my Zero aspect. Just like Roll loved 'Bass' until she found out their friendly ally and houseguest was really Forte, Wily's latest attempt to kill you."
"It's not the same." Not certainty, but denial.
"No, not exactly. But, though Zero might think he is real, he is nothing more than a mask. Just like Bass."
"Zero loves me." That, X knew.
"Forte loved Roll. Didn't keep him from attacking her family." Omega leaned closer. "This is war, X. There's no such thing as fair. You can have freedom or death. Which should I give you?"
"If I'm not free to be with Zero, then it's not freedom. If you choose who lives and who dies, then it's not freedom."
"Hmm." Omega dropped X's chin and turned, stalking away. X's body moved slightly, wanting to follow, before X stopped, gritting his teeth. So Omega had made himself the one X's virus tried to make him follow, as X had implied? Omega's next words confirmed this. "So willing to let the virus bind you to Zero, but not to me. Was the virus just an excuse? Something that made your mind admit to what your heart wanted, as you had something else to blame your desire on?" Omega glanced at X over his shoulder, smirking. "Lightbot hypocrites."
"Maybe you're right. There were lots of reasons not to be with him: he was a patient, then my teacher, there would have been a media circus, he never seemed to want it… but I should have been honest about my love for him, with myself at least." He admitted that now easily. "But now I know, and I will not lose him now." These words were graven in stone.
"Either you both live or you both die?" Omega smiled. "So be it. When I kill you, he'll know. When he finds out that I did it, that 'he' did it, he'll die of despair. Two birds with one stone. Or virus." He raised a hand.
"Or I die and he lives," that was a third option. "He won't let you get away with this."
Omega grimaced. "You're right. He is me: he would not fail to punish me. Damn it." His arm lowered, glow dispersing. "I'm getting bored, but I suppose I could just wait for him to die. Now I've altered the virus again he can't hear you at all anymore. He knows you're alive, but it seems as though you're not reaching out to him anymore."
"No!" That broke X's calm. No, Zero! His arms tightened as though the touch could reach Zero's absent soul.
"Oh yes. So you can stop being heartwarming, I'm not listening and he can't."
X's eyes closed, head bowing, clinging to Zero for comfort. No, he couldn't fail Zero! "You never tortured anyone to death. Zero dying thinking that I don't care about him, how do you justify that?"
"I don't torture others. I am willing to inflict as much pain on myself as it takes to bring about Elysium."
"Zero is not you. He wouldn't do something like this." X's body was running out of water for tears. "No, he would do this to himself," X admitted. "He's always hated himself. I reached out to him, but I should have done more." X was so very sorry.
Omega snorted. "Aren't you forgetting that it was you trying to get him to open up that let me out? You should have done less, and now you're going to die, and all the humans, and anyone in my way, because you're a busybody do-gooder."
"You want me to be sad, don't you? Angry at you? You want me to hate you, and myself for loving Zero, and you'll let Zero feel that, and he'll die then." Now X knew what Omega was up to, and would not let it happen.
Yes, Omega's grimace indicated X had hit the nail on the head.
"I could never hate him." Another gospel truth.
"You hate me."
"You and Zero, Rock and I apparently… I'm X. Zero is Zero. I've know him all his life. This is the first time I've met you. Why do we have to do this all over again? Sigma, Wily, the same war! Can't you just stop? Why would you want to kill all those innocent people?"
"Can't you just stop? Why would you want to let all those innocent people be enslaved?"
"Reploids aren't slaves!"
"You're nowhere near equals. The humans needed you, first to clean up the planet and now to fight the mavericks. The instant they stop needing you, they'll destroy you. It's the nature of the species, as unavoidable as a robot's programming."
"I can't sit back and let people who have never done anything die because of some theoretical possibility."
"And I can't sit back and let people die because of something that I know is going to happen and can prevent."
Oil and water. There was no compromise. They could not live together, and they both found it so very sad.
X held Zero and waited for the outcome he had known would happen.
Omega sighed, because he'd also wanted the certain to not happen. "Do you want a last request? Don't ask for something you know I won't give you." That would be tiresome.
X could not think of anything but Zero. "It would be nice if you didn't leave a mark when you killed us, and I would like to be buried with him." He turned the shell of his beloved in his arms to give him the true kiss he should have given him so long ago. Omega waited until X drew back, saddened by the fact there was no response, as though Zero was already dead. "Can I change my request?" There was no point in only their bodies being together.
"He wanted me to outlive him."
"He actually did. How damn sentimental. This is what comes of hanging around with you for too long." Omega put his palm to his forehead and sighed. "I give him another couple of minutes before the end. Are you sure you want to stay alive knowing you're helpless to do anything to save him?"
"I already knew I couldn't defeat you, and I'm still here." Holding Zero, even if it did nothing. "I, I have to try."
"Incapable of giving up. Damn fanatic…" Omega muttered in irritation.
"I can't give up on him." Of course not! "I will wait for him until the end, and at the least I want to grant his wish. You would have killed me by now if it weren't for him, so he really is protecting me like he wanted to, even if he doesn't know it."
"I think he would want you to outlive him by more than fifteen seconds. Really, if you respected his wish, you would surrender."
X shrugged helplessly. "The thing is, I love him, not you, and he loves me, not someone who would stop trying to protect humanity."
"That's why he rejected Iris as she died in his arms, so I suppose you're right." Omega shrugged.
Iris had died in Zero's arms, the girl who was so like X, and now Zero would die while in X's arms. Yet X would not reject Zero. He held him, gave him what comfort he could though he knew it didn't reach him, and there were no more tears to shed as the seconds ticked by.
Then Zero was torn from his arms.
X opened his eyes, crying out for Omega to give him back, only to find that Zero had torn himself out of X's grasp, launching himself at Omega. "You damn bastard," he yelled, knocking Omega's head against the floor and pinning him. "You almost had me, I bought your little trap, until you messed with X! Did you seriously think I would believe for one second that he'd stop caring about me?"
"And you managed to keep me from finding out that you had found out until you managed to find a way to break out. I'm impressed." Omega didn't seem particularily impressed otherwise.
This was explained when Zero was slammed backwards into a wall without Omega moving. Zero hissed at him, unable to detach himself from it.
"You know what I'm capable of, you know how incapable you are, and you let them take away all your armor and weapons." Omega shook his head. "Really, you have been around this fool Lightbot too long." He smiled thoughtfully. "Killing you will raise my average IQ by quite a lot."
Zero screamed, the sound torn from his throat, and Omega let him fall away from the wall, a discarded toy. X had already been up, running towards him and fighting the compulsion to divert his course towards Omega. He gathered the last remnants of his, his everything, into his arms. Friend, teacher, only one who might have been a lover, all gone in one stroke. Omega hadn't even gestured, even moved. No flamboyancy, no weapon, no effort to stamp out the most important person in X's world.
"You're crying out for him, and I'm the only one left to hear you," Omega informed him.
"I want so much to kill you. I need to. I need to avenge him, to do something!" X's voice broke. "But you're all that's left of him, and I'm so tired of all the wars, all the killing, all the people being hurt, and no matter what I do it doesn't stop!"
"It won't stop until the humans are dead. Even if you destroy me, they'd come after your children and do far worse than Sigma ever did."
"I've heard it before from him and I really don't care about your damn justifications! You just killed Zero!" X rounded on him, shaking.
"Actually, I just reabsorbed him. He was just a warped extension of myself, after all."
"You're the warped one." His fingers curled, trying to force themselves into a fist. "If he's not dead, then I can't die yet."
"You surrender or you die."
"I asked Zero to kill me if I ever became a maverick. He dismissed my request because he never would have let that happen to me." The fist formed, X's nails digging into his synthetic skin. He needed to inflict pain, but could not bring himself to do it to another living soul. "Don't say he was the one that infected me! He didn't make me a maverick. Just the opposite. I will not join you!"
"Then it looks like I can't grant your revised last request. So I'll infect those people," Omega waved a hand at Alia and the others trapped in the observation room, "and have them bury you together after I kill you. Goodbye."
X did not flinch. Omega didn't do anything either. "What the…" Why wasn't X dead? Then he cried out, the crystal on his forehead glowing, and he dropped to the ground in pain, holding his head to try to make this stop, shaking with effort, "Damn you," he forced out through gritted teeth, "I will not lose to you a second time! Stay debugged, you glitch!"
Zero? X called out, feeling him there in the link that he had tried to block off since Omega had made it lead to him. Zero, please Zero! Please be in there!
He was. "Oh thank god," X breathed. "I wish I could help."
Smash the crystal!
No time to think, no time to feel, just Zero needed him and he moved. It wasn't just that the virus tried to make him follow orders, it wasn't that he'd followed Zero's orders while he was his student, it was that while he hated to hurt he would do anything to help the one he loved.
His humanoid hands weren't hard enough, but he grabbed the counteragent container and in one movement swung it up as he jumped towards Omega and down as he landed.
Then there was light.
When the light stopped blinding them all, X was on his feet, a very un-X-like expression on his face as he regarded the prone Omega. "Bastard," he hissed, then knelt, closing his eyes a second after putting his hand on the broken crystal.
Then X slumped and Omega rose to catch him. "Are you alright?" They hadn't thought Omega had sounded anything like Zero, but now the voice that came from his lips was Zero's and they realized it was the same voice the whole time, just a different soul behind it.
"I am now," X murmured. "Or I will be." His eyes closed as he tried to fall asleep, safe in Zero's arms once more.
Only to be rudely shaken awake. "X, do not go to sleep! You have to stay awake!"
"Why?" X pleaded, looking so pitiful and exhausted.
"I just overloaded your systems! You have to stay awake, because if you go into sleep mode and this turns into a hangover, you will not recover from it!" Zero shook him again. "Damn it, stay with me!"
"Zeeerooo." X whined, but it was a puppy's whine, not that of a spoiled child. He really, really needed to sleep now.
"I did not go through all that to let you die on me now!" Zero shook him again. "Damn it, you voyeurs, make yourselves useful for once and get some of that damn counteragent stuff! This is why I hate doctors!"
This time X's noise of protest wasn't at Zero cruelly keeping him awake.
"Except for Cain. And you. The rest of them are either useless idiots or harmful idiots. Doppler. Wily." Zero first responded to stop X from being angry at him, then realized that X responding was a good thing and tried to draw him into an argument. "Actually, opinion is divided on Dr. Light." Turning back to the observers, he barked out, "Move, damn you! Or the instant I get my command back I am turning my troops loose on you! 00's special ops, you don't want to know what sorts of dirty tricks they can pull! Unless you want videos of mettools owning your fat asses all over the com screens, you'd better move, because that will be real live footage!"
"Zero," that was just mean.
"If you die because of those lazy," the door finally opened, Alia dragging in a box that Lifesaver had dug out of the storage cabinet. "How much of this stuff is safe?"
"With X's systems?" Alia dumped the box next to them and ripped open the lid. "Start shooting him up." She grabbed two, Lifesaver others. "Normally you have to put them in right, but just stick them anywhere."
"Now that's what I like to hear." Zero grabbed another two, stabbing down.
"Ow!" X squirmed.
"Zero, there's a button you press to turn on the numbing field," Lifesaver informed him.
"We need to keep him awake. Pain is good." The second two Zero had used went flying over his shoulder. "I see either of you pressing that button and you're the ones who are going to be feeling pain." X flinched a little as the third two from Zero went in, looking betrayed. "You'll thank me later when you're still alive because of this." Zero was utterly ruthless when it came to X's health.
"Why did he get overloaded?" Alia's questioning didn't interrupt her rhythm.
"Smashing that jewel was the manual release for the virus that was supposed to go into me when I woke up if the automatic system didn't work, which it didn't. I didn't want the virus, so I didn't smash the thing." Zero kept stabbing away. "Sigma smashed it and the virus ended up in him. Omega was this close to wiping me out, so I told X to smash it and put my nanites there in place of the virus. Since the virus integration needed me to be unconscious to work, that knocked Omega out, I transferred myself back in and, since Omega was primed by the systems to let the virus do its thing, I was able to walk all over him." He paused when X coughed. "Is he supposed to be doing that?"
Alia shifted X around so that his face was pointed at some empty floor instead of up at Zero. "He's getting rid of the random pieces of nanites that ended up all over his systems during the overload," she explained as X sneezed, looking utterly embarrassed. "As well as the counteragent nanites that have stopped working. Since we're making his nanites count over the optimum level he's going through and tossing out the useless ones to lower the count, which makes getting rid of overload damage so much faster than it would be in anyone else. Lifesaver, get that blanket so he can hold it over his mouth!"
"Thank you," X managed to say, his stuffy nose making it sound quite odd.
"Hey, minions! Get one of those scanner things so we know when we can stop doing this!" Alia looked confused after she registered what order Zero had just yelled at the observation booth.
"Can't you tell how he's doing?"
"Only one virus at a time." Zero tossed the latest two over his shoulder. "So when I got sent in, the virus in him automatically deleted itself so it wouldn't interfere with the updated version. Without destroying X. I wish I could say I had planned that, but I was kind of in a hurry there."
X was sneezing almost constantly now, coughing as well, and sounding utterly miserable. "Scanner, glitches! Now!"
"Hold on a minute!" Lifesaver, after giving X the sheet, had gone to see if there was anything salvageable from the scanners that X and Zero had been hooked up to. "Get me a 3-5g4 interface!" He yelled up, transferring parts between the two. "Zero, these things are hell to transfer between rooms, it's to make data tampering harder. It's faster to bring the part."
And indeed, the part arrived long before the techs that had ended up with the thankless task of unhooking a scanner without sounding the tampering alarm and shutting it down. Lifesaver snapped it in and slapped the reader patch on X's arm when Alia held it out to him. "I'd better get up there to look at the results." He wasn't going to trust minions with X's weird systems.
Alia nodded, taking the tissue away from X to look at the outflow dispassionately. "Zero, one every fifteen seconds. He's getting rid of counteragent nanites that are still good, you can tell by the color. If we keep putting them in as fast as we were at this point, they won't have any time to go to work."
Zero nodded as X took back the sheet. "X, how are you?"
"Awake, and I have a headache from all the nanites you've been stuffing in there." Achoo!
Stab. "Think of it as tough love."
"I know." Another sneeze. "I miss feeling you. I'm stuffed but I feel empty." A bit more was emptied out.
Zero put a hand on his back. "I know. Let's not talk it about it now. Just wait a bit, so we know it's not lingering effects of the virus warping your thoughts that's making you feel that way, okay?"
"Zero, I know my own head, thank you very much." X was cranky now.
"How much residue is safe?" Lifesaver called down.
"How should I know? I just know that the amount that was there when I left would have crippled him if it had been there while he was in sleep mode! How much is safe with regular residue?"
"He's still at about five times the amount that would cause the kind of hangover you had," Lifesaver reported.
"And this is after we've dumped three-fourths of a case into him?" Alia wondered if she had heard that right.
Lifesaver did some calculations to try to backtrack and figure out how much X had before they started putting it in. "God!"
"If you idiots hadn't gotten here with this stuff fast enough, I would have been willing to infect him again so that I could use the virus to get rid of the damage." Yeah, that bad. Zero hugged him. "Sorry, X, since I didn't know the one in you would delete itself when I went in, I thought that it would handle cleanup and that you wouldn't have been in danger."
"I had to do something, and I was willing to die or keep the first virus in me anyway right then." Sniffle.
"This is over 4.2 times the normal fatal level of processor overload, forget residual 'hangover' damage!"
"Sometimes," sniffle, "it's great to have been built by Dr. Light."
"The virus also makes personality transferring and so on a lot easier on the systems, since it wasn't just Omega, or Sigma, that was supposed to be able to use it to cheat death, but all of the infected." Zero blinked. "Oh, and I have your plans."
Alia looked at him with the type of lust in her eyes usually caused by mention of really hot porn instead of technical diagrams. Of course, there were pictures of X with skin but naked in there, but Dr. Light had considered X has son, and so the thought was just wrong.
X's plans were the holy grail. The lab site had been gone over again and again with ever finer-toothed combs, every method possible without damaging him and rendering the data useless (X's dead body would reveal nothing, possibly to prevent him being dissected) had been tried to examine him, and modern reploids were the fruit of what little they had found. With X's plans, they could create reploids on X's level. "Zero," X asked, pausing to sneeze. "Have I told you lately that I love you?" He'd always been so frustrated that he was unable to share the secrets of his strengths with his children.
Zero paused. "X, you're uninfected now."
They couldn't have sex without X being infected again. X groaned. "Once we verify my head is on straight I'm going be very happy." Cough.
"You can stop for now," Lifesaver called down. "Give him one in an hour, and another two hours after that, and it'll be a bit below normal non-overload levels."
"Phew, now you'll stop poking me," X sighed in relief before coughing again.
"Maybe." Zero poked him with a finger this time, grinning with his own relief.
Alia turned back to the rapid-fire exchange going on via her com. "They're going to take the building out of isolation lockdown so they can search it," she finally reported to them. "Lifesaver, X's clear of the virus, right?"
"The virus that used to be there is gone and there's nothing in there that wasn't present in the last sample, so a new one couldn't have been added." Which was Lifesaver-speak for yes, unless you want to be really paranoid.
Alia did not feel like being so right then. After another subvocal sentence, she shut off her microphone though she kept listening in to the channel.
X had finally stopped sneezing and was looking utterly bedraggled in Zero's arms. Zero's armored arms. Armored with Omega's black armor. "Zero, could you disarm?"
"Oh, yeah, right." Weapons dropped first. "Can I get some clothes? For X too. If we're getting visitors, I don't want him in that hospital gown."
"Can you use your gown for now?" Their eyes all went to Zero's empty and battered body. No, that didn't really appeal and it probably would be tampering with evidence.
"I'm having clothing brought up," Lifesaver told them.
"Great." Zero took off all the armor that wasn't required for decency: not that reploids had those bits but it was still the custom. "I can't use the sheets." He shrugged at Alia when she looked at the remaining pieces. "I could maybe share X's dressing gown."
X blushed a bit, then smiled.
"It's not that I don't want to," Zero assured him sadly. "It's that I don't want to hurt you."
Smiling, X assured him that, "We'll find a way. Amor vincit omnia." Love conquers all.
That seemed utterly sappy and normally Zero would have rejected it as X being far too X-like, but he had to pause. "I guess it did. You are allowed to say I told you so."
"What's going on with the virus?" Alia was reminded over the com to ask. How had that slipped her mind?
"Omega was kind of in the middle of overhauling it and I now have his command codes, which since the virus was already in edit mode worked very, very quickly. I got rid of the auto-restore and switched all mavericks to sleeper mode, which means they won't do maverick-type-stuff unless they get reactivated, which I don't intend to do. Depending on where they were in the cycle, the first ones'll recover in two days and the last in six months and two days." Zero delivered the last few words over his shoulder as he intercepted the clothing delivery. "X, these are for you," he tossed the package with X's name towards him and ripped open his own. "Oh, this was where it went!" He gleefully removed what looked like a plaid skirt. "How did my favorite kilt end up in the med center?"
X coughed. "Zero, they had us all pack up outfits to be kept her for emergencies. You told me to grab things for you because you hate dealing with them."
"I should have looked that over, you're right. I'm just glad I found this! I love kilts, and this was given to me after that mission when I saved the heir to a Scottish clan." Zero looked way too happy about a skirt, putting it on and then taking the armor off beneath it. Wearing a skirt and with his helmet off and no hairtie so his hair lay naturally, he looked exactly like a woman except for the well-sculpted bare chest.
"And you wonder why people used to mistake you for a female model." X was thoroughly amused.
"Kilts are not female clothing."
"What's a kilt? It looks like a skirt," Alia asked to back up X.
"I am amazed how little they teach you in school these days." Zero shook his head in sadness of the obviously declining standards of the educational system.
"Aren't you going to put on any of the other things in the package?"
"Alia, it's a kilt. Shirts and underwear optional."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. This is the male equivalent of the tank top and miniskirt. Nothing left to the imagination but stuff that'd get you arrested."
"I'm amazed they haven't caught on." Alia liked this.
"Probably because they look like skirts." X, at least, was fully clothed.
"Are you complaining?"
"No, but we've been arguing about this for years. If we stop, we'll need something else to argue about."
"I nominate," Zero began excitedly, stopping when X gave him a look.
"The teddy bear collection is not up for debate. Those were gifts."
"That you look really cute curled up with. I'm not objecting to them, at least until you can curl up with me. I was thinking about your obsession with caramel apples."
"Sure, that works. Will you be buying me some to make your point?"
"I think we have our topic."