Note: The description of this in the notebook is Mini-Meverse. That sums it up. Starts from the scenario in X2 where X fights a Zero clone built by Sigma if the player is better than I would be at that game (otherwise it's the actual Zero until he snaps out of it) & wanders off into the middle of nowhere. I let this fic write itself and the bunny had a sucky sense of direction compared to the Feralverse bunny.
Disclaimer: I don't own Rockman, Megaman, or any of the copyrighted people, names, or concepts involved.
I revised the format on 6/24/10.
Zero had always complained about X's 'saintliness,' all throughout training.
X didn't like dirty tricks? Too bad. Dying's worse, and damn it, keep an eye out! They're not going to have your damn morals! X didn't have a suspicious bone in his body.
Watch your back!
It wasn't just that X had a hard time with the concept of someone actually wanting to kill someone else and therefore not giving them a chance to surrender but taking them by surprise. It was what constantly had Zero saying, "Hello? Earth to X!"
It wasn't an issue in training. That was something he wanted to concentrate on, to get good at it and not have Zero thinking that he wasn't doing a good enough trainer and trying to foist X off on someone else yet again. He didn't like having to learn to fight, but he had decided to do it and he would.
It was an issue in combat.
X did not want to be there. He did not want it to be real. He wanted it over with, and he focused on the objective to the exclusion of everything else, even his own safety. He wouldn't gamble with the safety of others, but his own? He kept going no matter how badly he was injured or how bad the odds. It simply did not matter to him.
Zero called it denial, and perhaps it was. X did not want this to be happening, did not want it to be real. So he focused on the task of making it stop being real as soon as possible.
The itch of healing injuries, the ache of accumulated strain on the barrel from so much buster use, the fact that it wasn't just dirt that stained the armor Dr. Light had given him: he hated them. So he would ignore them until they, and the war that caused them, went away.
Zero had always said he would get himself killed, staying in that dream world and ignoring the physical. Zero was the one who died in X's place, in the end. So X would do what he had to in order to bring Zero back.
Zero, his teacher, the person who meant the most to him after Dr. Cain.
Zero, a maverick under Sigma's control? No, X knew, as he met the reploid's eyes. Not Zero. Not a maverick either. He was pretending to be one, but those weren't the eyes of a murderer. There was a newbuilt child there, on the verge of panic, utterly terrified of Sigma's madness and begging for help. X's heart went out to him.
X had always been very empathetic: he cared about other people so their sadness made him sad, their happiness made him smile. This, though, was different. He was literally feeling the child's emotions, and the child knew what X felt. X wasn't frightened, the child didn't want to hurt him despite what Sigma wanted. It's alright, X assured the child. I'll take care of you. Everything's going to be okay.
X enfolded the child with caring as naturally as he would have taken him into his arms if he was in reach and they weren't in deadly danger.
The child was so utterly grateful: joy, relief, trust, love… was this what a human child felt for their mother? He disconnected the link to avoid distracting X and ran to him, letting X push him behind his own body for cover.
By the time Zero arrived, Sigma had retreated to try to figure out what had gone wrong and X was about to collapse from the stress of trying to save the world with someone born yesterday in tow. He had data on how to fight, but no experience, so he could handle basic mechanaloids but if he ran into a real maverick he'd… panic, but it wouldn't make any difference to the outcome anyway.
The long-awaited reunion consisted of Zero charging in, charging his buster, yelling that that wasn't him, it was an evil clone, and that X should get away from it, followed by X telling him he knew, the child wasn't evil, and thank goodness Zero was here! And alive, of course.
The child was dumped on Zero, since he should actually be helpful in handling the generators, and X went to go find Sigma after they managed to calm down the child, who needed a name but didn't have one of his own and there wasn't time.
Zero didn't seem to notice any strange feelings, and again there wasn't time to bring it up. The child did reach out to X for a second, but only after it was clear there wasn't going to be a fight with Zero. He just wanted a little comfort and reassurance.
The child could talk, of course, but with the fate of the world at stake there wasn't really time for conversations either verbal or emotional.
Once it was all over, X kept the child with him until Cain could verify that he didn't have the virus and wasn't a walking bomb or anything. Just an extremely rushed and much lower quality copy of Zero. Zero was a weird reploid in the first place, but a good kind of weird since he was immune.
The like-Zero part reminded everyone of the bad side of Zero's weirdness, and Cain reassured them that the child showed no signs of ever developing the cascading program errors, infinite loops, and other general thought-process-frying things that had caused Zero to turn into the berserk killing machine the hunters had first encountered. This meant, since Sigma had claimed the child had been infected with the virus and the child appeared to have fought it off, that it was possible to duplicate whatever caused Zero's immunity. Not only that, but to do it by accident, since why would Sigma have wanted to build an immune reploid?
This made everyone very excited.
At that point, debriefing the child in detail became an even higher priority than doing so to X and Zero, and since the child became very obviously on the verge of a panic attack when faced with crowds of strangers eyeing it lustfully without X to hide behind, they decided to have just one session and get the three of them at the same time.
When they got up to the part where the two of them had met, X gave his version first. "When I saw him," X nodded to indicate the child and rephrased what he was about to say. Having a dictionary installed didn't compensate for not having any practice with language. Normally he tried to be precise in briefings, but the largest issue here was the child. They needed information from him and confusing him would make that harder, so X would have to not just avoid big words that the child would have to stop to look up but boil the concepts down to the most basic level.
What he would have said if his opponent had actually been a maverick was something alone the lines of, "I looked at the eyes first, since that's where humans look to try to gauge mental state so seeing what he wanted me to see in them, at least, would have given me a lot of information on how much of Zero's personality was still present in the maverick. He was trying to use the 'rar, I eat babies!' psychological warfare expression, and I knew it couldn't be Zero because he always made fun of that and would have known better than to try it on me."
X decided to just leave all of that out, since he didn't know if the child even had the meanings of human facial expressions in his database. The KISS principle clearly applied to this situation, so X kept to the reploid equivalent of baby talk and restrained the urge to be technical or describe the more complex aspects of the psychological level of the situation. "He was so terrified of Sigma, and what Sigma would do if he found out he wasn't a maverick. He knew I was Sigma's enemy and so he was asking for help. I'm," X paused to think of a way to put it. "Rather soft-hearted, so it took me awhile to realize it wasn't me just empathizing with what a horrible situation he was in, it was as if I was feeling exactly what he was. It didn't click until he seemed to have understood that I would help him and I felt how relieved he was. Then I held Sigma off until he left and tried to resume my mission."
"Are you still feeling that now?" Dr. Cain asked, intrigued.
"There was another flash, after we encountered Zero. He wanted to make sure that it was safe to go with him." X turned to the child. "Were there other times that I didn't notice? I'm prone to strong emotions and it would have been easy for me not to tell."
The child shook his head. "Just those two, and Sigma before." He shivered and hid himself against X again.
"You felt what Sigma felt? No wonder you're so scared of him." X held him and tried to calm him down.
"He was there when I woke up, so I thought, but he…" the child gulped, still shivering. "He was broken, and hate, and killing, and sick, and wrong, and he wanted to do that to me and I was so scared!" The last few words came out in a wail.
"So you pretended to be a maverick?" X squeezed him slightly.
"Yes." The child nodded. "And he said you were his enemy, so I thought maybe, I was scared if you were like him. But you weren't." Gripping X hard, the child nuzzled his shoulder.
"And since he scared you you didn't try it with anyone else?" X squeezed him again. Most reploids didn't do so much physical contact in public: humans were fragile and most reploid children tended to go straight to work instead of having a real childhood, something that X found tragic. He and Cain had hoped to have adoption become more widespread than it was now, but then the virus happened. Still, a child was a child, and X would take care of this one: he'd promised.
"It's hard, too. I can't do it and pay attention to other things like moving at the same time, and I didn't want to distract you or be in the way even more than I was. I tried to say hello to Zero, since he said he was your friend and he didn't know if I was like Sigma or not, but he didn't hear me. And you were worried that other people might be afraid if I did it without asking first the second time, so I haven't." Was that right? That question wasn't something X needed the child's ability to understand, so he squeezed him again in answer.
"I didn't hear you?" Zero glanced at X. He was displeased he hadn't been informed of this at the time.
X shrugged, it hadn't been like there was time.
"Um. You're," the child paused to think. "Big, and empty because the you-you part is barricaded in a little part of it. You didn't hear me calling, and I think that if I had tried to touch if would have hurt."
"What am I like?" X wondered a lot.
The child smiled brightly. "Big, and bright, and it's a little scary at first but it's warm instead of hot. Soft and nice. Very strong. You could hurt, but you're really careful not to unless they're like Sigma. He was trying to grab you, but you just burned his hands off."
"Burned his hands?" Notes were being taken throughout the room.
"Sigma… grabs people. It's all dark and grabby. Shadows and broken glass. If he catches you, he'll break you and make you like him," the child warned them. "He only cut me when I reached out. After that I just ran away and since he couldn't find me he thought he'd killed me. It really hurt, but I had to stay away from so him I did." Was X proud of him?
"Could you do what Sigma does?" Zero's paranoia was not helping.
Revulsion at the idea of being anything like Sigma showed clearly on the face that was so like Zero's own, and X was amazed at the desperate and fanatical effort this child to whom emotions were not something hidden must have needed to hide his resistance from Sigma. "No. Sigma isn't a person. The broken glass bits used to be, but it isn't. If a person tried to do that, they would feel what the person they were doing it to felt. If I did what Sigma did to me to someone I'd be really hurt to, and if I broke someone I'd break." And deserve it. Shivering again, the child told X, "It was trying to make me into different glass bits to carve people up with, I think. Only I'm not sure why it wanted me. The person those were from were strong before it broke him. I'm not. So I hid and it thought it had killed me and was really mad at itself for the waste."
"Could you hide again now that Sigma knows you can do that and won't give up?" X wasn't only worried for the child, but also immunity wasn't if the virus could adapt.
The child's brow creased in thought. "I'm small and I have space to dodge in, so unless I got my body caught and he could flood into me, I'll be fine, I think. I'll have to grow strong before I can grow big."
"What do you mean by strong and big?"
"Strong is knowing who you are and not being easy to push into changing. Big is having a lot of things you think about or are. And there is how much space you have, too. You're practically overflowing," X was told. "It looks uncomfortable, but not in a way I can feel."
"So Zero has a lot of space to grow into, but he's very focused, so he's strong in the area he occupies?"
Exactly. "There are walls he stays in. I don't think you put them there, Zero, but you've made them really strong. It's like fire. Really hot, but not very bright."
"The programs I installed?" Dr. Cain asked, but the child clearly had no idea what he was talking about. "That's all right. Do you know if you can do this with humans?"
The child looked at him, tilting his head to see if that would help. "There's, you're there, but I can't figure out how to, maybe the word is translate? There's sort of something like static that I can't get to make any sense."
Dr. Cain blinked. "Next time, please ask first."
"Are you all right?" The various notetakers were worried.
"I felt absolutely nothing, which tallies with Zero not being aware either. It seems 'contact' has to be made for the telempathy to work."
"I can look without connecting now that I've figured out how, but that's just sort of what kind of person they are, not what they're feeling." The child thought something was odd as it looked at the other reploids present.
"What is it?" X was, typically, the first to notice.
"They're all spread out. That's bad," he warned them. "It makes you easy to catch and hurt. If you're looking into what to what to grow into instead of getting strong now, you can't fight him." He shook his head. "It doesn't help that you have less space than me even. You'd better be really careful." The fear of what would happen to them if they weren't was plain.
"How does space work? You think you have a small amount?" More notes were taken.
"Zero has tons. X has a few times more than me. Sigma doesn't have any, it just takes over other people's spaces. These people have about half to two thirds the amount I do. He has the most." The indicated reploid was surprised to be singled out.
"Intelligence? Processing power? Range of abilities? Adaptability?" Dr. Cain made various suggestions as he tried to think of what the child was talking about.
"Maybe processing power? It's how many things you can think of at once. I don't think that's all of it, though."
"I have more processing power than X? That can't be right." Zero shook his head.
"I think it's how many things you can be at once, or, hmm." The child hadn't even been paying attention to Zero's comment.
"I have no idea what most of your systems do, Zero. Apparently telempathic capabilities are among those hidden talents," Cain pointed out dryly.
Zero stared. Apparently he hadn't made the connection. This was his clone, after all.
"He's like me?" The child hadn't realized that either. "He looks like me outside, but he's very different. I can't tell how because he's hiding."
"Could you try touching him now that he knows it will be you?" X looked at them both carefully.
The child gulped. "Okay. Can you help me get better if I get hurt, please? Like you healed me from what Sigma did?"
"I don't know what I did, but I'll try to help you. Don't do it if you think it's dangerous, I don't want you to get hurt."
Smiling brightly, the child assured him, "I'll be okay." Thanks to you.
When X looked at him, Zero shrugged. "I'm ready, for what it's worth since I have no idea what's going to happen."
"Just try not to be paranoid, Zero. Ready? One, two, three."
In the next instant, nothing the onlookers could detect happened. Two more passed as the two mirror images looked at each other.
Then pain, no agony, on the younger's face, before he fell unconscious.
Zero displayed battle readiness, realization, concern. "Damn it!" X, watching Zero's face after he spoke, could see him reach back, it now coming as naturally to him as to the child, who stirred in X's arms. Zero relaxed. "Phew."
"Are you alright?" X held the awakening child gently and let the child climb into his mental arms as well.
"Yes. It hurt less than Sigma did," the child assured Zero. "You didn't mean to tear and break, just to burn away, and I'm not dark like it is so it was just the strength that hurt. I'm fine now." He pulled back from X's mind. "Just really, really tired. I don't think I could do that again today. Thank you though, X!"
"You are welcome. That was very brave." Another squeeze, and X missed him when he went away.
"Can I go to sleep now?" Will you watch over me?
"I'll let you share my room tonight, and we'll find you your own in the morning." Looking up after that, X made it clear the child had done more than enough today, thank you.
Lying against him, the child entered sleep mode easily.
Zero looked around the room, blinking to reset his optics in hopes that would make the input start making sense. "This is really weird. I can see him-man, he's tiny-and X, but no one else. I just can't make myself look at you. Weird." Zero shivered, but not with fear like the child had. "He said I was hot, so why do I feel like I'm freezing? How do you turn this thing off?" Everyone looked at Dr. Cain, who frowned.
"I'll see what I can do. At least I have a baseline for your systems, so I might be able to tell what is different and work from there." As he regarded Zero his worry grew. "How long do you think you can tolerate this?"
"If it gets too bad I'll just sleep until you can get to work on fixing me up. I think I'll need to get a handle on this. It explains a lot." Nodding thoughtfully, Zero continued, "I thought I was being superstitious or something, but maybe I was right about mavericks giving off what Starry called 'wiggy vibes.'"
"What do you mean?" X was puzzled.
"I sometimes have this feeling that something is, I don't know. It's sort of a paranoia? That someone is watching you feeling? Or that feeling when you know there's something you need to be doing and you don't know what it is, that kind of knowing but not knowing. Or when you're angry but not at anything you can point to? Edgy? Wanting a target? It's a weird feeling, but I tend to get it a lot when there are mavericks around. It's subtle, so I don't always notice it, and I had it around Sigma and the rest of them for ages before we found out about the virus so I got in the habit of tuning it out. I rarely get a false positive, though. Just one time, and I'm not sure if that was a miscall or there was a maverick and they chose not to attack." Zero waggled his hand: could go either way.
"Why didn't you mention this before?" The questioner this time was one of the random debriefers.
"I thought I was just developing good instincts, or something. What was I supposed to say? My maverick senses are tingling?" Zero paused. "Okay, I'm turning my internal heaters down. At this rate, I'll set fire to the couch." X had been feeling a little warm. "I am not in an Antarctic blizzard, damn it!"
"Zero?" Are you alright?
"It's just the kid was right. It is cold and empty in here. Not that you would know. Has anyone ever told you that you have a sunny disposition? Understatement. You're a freaking quasar." Zero looked almost hungry, though he was trying to repress the feeling.
"Do you think it would be a good idea for you to see if you can link to me?" It looked like he could use it.
"X, right now I am finding the amount I want to do that right this instant a little worrying. What did Dr. Light make you out of anyway, an alloy of sweetness and nice with an engine powered by pure distilled optimism? If I were human I could get diabetes just looking at you."
"He said that I was healing him." The sleeping child looked so happy now, after all the recent pain.
"More like giving him the energy, though that's maybe not exactly it, to heal himself. He's absorbing it now, but it was a lot more when you were connected. This is just what everyone gets, only he can sense it, which makes it do more. I was not kidding when I said you were like a sun." Scanning the room again, Zero nodded thoughtfully. "I can tell where they are by where it's being soaked up, but I still can't see them any better than before, or anything they're putting out. I do not like this feeling." In the sense of he did not like signs of a possible maverick attack. Seeing the reaction, he waved it off. "It's not you, it's me. I'm not letting myself look. I decide to do it and then it's like I jerk back. The kid I can see fine, and X is hard to miss, but it's like my subconscious-and I know reploids aren't supposed to have one, but I have tons of stuff in my processor I don't know about-is damn sure that it's all going to end badly."
"The fault of the virus?" That was Cain's theory.
"Probably," Zero agreed. "Oh, that's why I'm cold! It's not supposed to be this empty. There's supposed to be a healthy level, like a healthy level of heat, and what I'm letting myself sense is so far below it it's not funny. I'm cold, and out in the open, and it is not nice."
"I'll get to work on it." Tapping on keys joined the background noise as Dr. Cain started calling up Zero's medical records.
"X, do not beam at me." Zero's voice was flat. "I appreciate the thought, but it is like offering death by chocolate to someone on a diet. Stop wishing I would let you help and being so damn willing to and worried about me."
"Why are you sure it's a bad idea?" Restraining the desire to help his friend was a herculean effort, but if it would help…
"Because it seems like such a good one. I do not know if these instincts are trustworthy and I am not experimenting with them on you." Turning resolutely away from X, Zero asked Dr. Cain, "When do you want me in the lab?"
"I'm old, it's been a trying few days, and I need my rest. Let's make it nine thirty."
Zero nodded. "I'll set my alarm for nine fifteen. Anything I should bring?"
"I just put you back together, so I had to get all your records together for that."
"Sorry about the hassle, Doc."
"A useful hassle is not a hassle."
With that, it was clear the session was over. Since they were in a conference room in the medical area, it was a simple matter to get one of the wheeled stands used for transporting unconscious but uninjured reploids. X strapped the child, who really needed a name and a new paintjob, into it and headed for his quarters. In the two minutes that took Zero left.
When he got home X put the child into the recharge capsule and took the bed. The child needed the recharge: X needed a good night's sleep after running on energy refills for so long. The luxury of an inefficient bed was one of the things that told him peace was restored. When every second counted you longed for the freedom to waste time.
X was taking off his armor and putting it into the closet to be stored away later (Dr. Light's armors only lasted a short time: he hadn't wanted X to feel compelled to use them) when he felt it. Not it, Zero. He was so alone, having a nightmare. X felt a little like a human parent whose child had knocked on their bedroom door wanting to climb into bed with them because they were too scared to sleep alone. Although Zero was far better than X at keeping the bad things away. Still, it was Zero, so of course X was fine with letting him in. Zero would probably be angry with himself for imposing if he remembered this when he woke up, but he very clearly needed it right now. So X tucked them both in. Anyone would be feeling bad after coming back to life in the middle of another war, forget having a new and uncomfortable sense to deal with. X owed Zero his life and this was something he would be fine with giving to anyone who needed it. X liked taking care of people.
How was the child, by the way? X wished he could check. Zero felt that and pulled the kid in, which was appreciated, before falling more deeply asleep. Little happy child who felt safe with them.
X slept with a smile on his face.
X was intended to come out of hibernation at the functional level of a human sixteen-year-old after thirty years. Functioning as an adult is hard and requires a lot of skills and life experience. Reploids being able to function on the level of mature adults from the moment they're turned on only works if they're cribbing off a copy of X's tested strategy set.
The Zero clone was built to be a host body for Zero and/or the virus, not an independent individual that would need to deal with problems that weren't solvable via combat programming. What does a kill droid need with valuable life skills and emotional maturity? Therefore, why would the mavericks possibly install Lightbot programming into their replica of Dr. Wily's greatest creation? If Serges was WilyAI, he'd blow a gasket at the very idea.
So you end up with a bright kid (even if less potential IQ than Zero) without much in the way of strategy sets because the virus/Zero was supposed to make his decisions for him (including combat programming), aware that he needs strategy sets/some way to survive after almost dying horribly as soon as he was turned on. Then he encounters X, and it turns out that being cute at Lightbots is a fantastic way to solve your problems, or at least have them blown up. Think about how far Rock and Blues will go to protect their younger siblings, and since Zero is X's best friend, Zero's baby brother is X's baby brother.