"Get…. Married?" What on earth? X had ruled out that interpretation of One's confusing explanation of everyone's feelings toward each other because it just wasn't…

"Yes! Because Genesis wants a big family, and a stable environment is really good for children, with parents who love each other and them. So then you'd be a really big help instead of an enemy and you'd be friends. He thought what he'd have to do was just be alone with us, because if there were other people we'd be hurt like he was. But that would mean we couldn't play with you." That was wrong and sad. "Even he said that was silly, but he was really hurt. Break killed him and he was really lonely and then Sigma and then you. He kept being hurt and trapped and alone in the cold and empty without anyone because of people who should have helped." One's arms and hair wrapped around himself as he shivered, reliving the memory they had shared.

When the recollection ended, his resolve was strengthened. "So don't you dare be stupid and think he's an enemy because if you decide that he'll be your enemy right back. He'll kill you and then he might commit suicide, or try to. So don't. He's this close to deciding Break was right all along, so he's very fragile right now. I don't want to lose all of you. He's not evil. He was just hurt, and he doesn't want anyone else to be hurt like that again, but it's not possible to make sure of that without giving up a lot of wonderful things, and he knows that now. But if he thinks he'll be killed again or you'll hurt me…" One shivered. "Then he might do evil things."

Looking at One, seeing how miserable he was at the thought, X wished he could establish a link. What he could do, however, was take One into his physical arms. "Don't worry. I won't let that happen."

One's links worked the same as Zero's now, easy as breathing instead of straining untried systems. Still, the touch was only brief: it took only a moment for One to know that X meant it, X loved him, and would do his best. He trusted X, so X's best was sure to make everything turn out okay, just like with Sigma.

Now that One was fine, X turned to Dr. Cain and Zero. "Have either of you sent anything about Genesis or his existence out to anyone yet?"

No, not yet, and Cain was clearly upset at himself for the oversight.

"Don't." It was rare for X to order instead of request. "Dr. Cain, I know that as a scientist you feel something this important needs to be known, but Genesis is a person just like you or me. You made the right choice about this before, and I'm alive because of it." Instead of taken apart in an attempt to produce the vitally needed workforce faster that would have made it impossible to ever develop reploids: Dr. Light had made sure that anyone who killed his son would not be able to do the same thing to others. "Zero, I know you've never trusted yourself, but don't you think now is a good time to start? Take precautions so that the data will be sent out if anything happens. That will make you feel better and this is very important. Right now, though, Genesis isn't the only one who needs to give others a chance. Let's also wait and see. One trusted me to save him from Sigma and I did. Let's trust his judgment again."

"The enemy of our enemy is our friend?" Zero was paranoid as always, but X's argument was getting through.

"That too, but the friend of our friend should be our friend as well."

"I told him he should talk to you." One's eyes still were teary, and X wiped those tears away. "You're a wonderful person, X. I'm so glad I reached out to you."

'I'm glad too." X sighed. "You being taller than me is jarring. I want to tuck your head under my chin, but it turns out the other way around."

One managed to arrange himself so that would work, and X smiled as he did so. Then One linked to him again so X could hold him in his heart as well. "Mmm." Hair wrapping around X, One snuggled for all he was worth.

Focused on the child, X didn't remember Zero was there until he regretted that he wasn't in the link. Looking at his expression, X realized, "I'm making you jealous, aren't I? I'm so sorry. Come over here and help me hold him."

"He's not jealous of you, he's jealous of me," One corrected X smugly, sticking his tongue out at Zero for a second. Little… well, not little, but he was still an imp.

"You little… are you trying to set us up?" Zero laughed. "I really shouldn't, though. If I linked to X, I'll know whatever he's… Okay, X doesn't do secret plots, but still. I'm a spy, even if I don't want to be." He glanced at Cain, who looked up from what he was doing after a second and did something that half nod and half shrug. Yes, Zero was, but it wasn't a problem at the moment.

"That's okay. I want him to know that I meant what I said about giving him a chance. Not to mention, Zero, I want you to know how serious I am about this. Don't you dare try anything stupid like locking yourself up somewhere or listing Genesis as a maverick." X beckoned Zero over.

"If he was infected, he technically was one." Grumbling, Zero looked at the walls, avoiding X's gaze.

"He's himself now." The warmth of the child in his arms assured X of that. "One knew Sigma was evil. He knows Genesis is not."

"He's the same as you. So very hot and it burns him too because he has no one to warm it with. Dim because he has no one he could guide. Strong because he had to be to survive being alone in the dark for so very long. Betrayed." X felt One's sadness. "Of course you don't like each other. You both hate yourself." Reaching out to Zero, One gently tugged.

"I don't want to intrude," and it was clear Cain felt like an intruder, that X his son/brother/partner had not only left his lab behind but him, not just a new home but a new family, "but how long was Genesis alone for? When he was brought in, he'd been constructed starting about a day ago according to all the tests we ran on network stability, joint examination, and so on, despite the fact that all his parts were ancient. He was found," or the first bodies were, "about a half-hour after startup."

Instantly X put the pieces together: he'd been helping Cain examine Irregulars to figure out who had built them and what had gone wrong so charges could be pressed against factory owners whose attempts to save money by cutting corners had caused innocent people to go mad. X might not know military strategy very well, but engineering puzzles he knew like the back of his hand. Actually, the back of his hand was an engineering puzzle.

In the instant after that, Zero joined the link, partly to figure out why X was freaking out.

"No, not just a few hours. So very, very long." One's eyes opened. "Oh. So the first cruel person, the one I don't remember, was Dr. Wily. So Break was the person called Protoman?"

"According to legend, they had a way of backing up robots in the instant they were destroyed and could build new bodies for them. We can't do that now." Something else that had been lost. "So Protoman killed Genesis and for some reason Genesis wasn't rebuilt until after there were other reploids?"

"He wanted to hide the facts that he was built by Dr. Wily and one of the world's greatest heroes committed suicide to take him out." Zero realized then that this meant he had been built by Dr. Wily. X watched him, worried about what would happen when this sunk in.

"Um, Protoman wasn't his name. His name was," One whistled a few notes that somehow conveyed so much more than any word could. "But he was called a lot of things. He pretended to be someone named Break for a bit. It was complicated."

"Dr. Wily built Genesis, Genesis took out Protoman and then was revived when there were reploids around to infect with the virus. Genesis must be the one supposed to carry out the rest of the plan. And I asked you to wake him up." Strategize now. Be catatonic with guilt later. "Who else did he take out? According to the legends, Protoman only got involved when there was something Megaman wasn't doing, or couldn't."

One shook his head. "I don't know. But enough that, um, Break, felt he had to kill him even though they agreed about a lot of stuff. Break had been really, really hurt too. But he decided not to do what Genesis was. They would have been friends, but Break had people to protect." He blinked. "I'm remembering a bit more now, just pieces at a time. He said a lot. He really needed someone to listen."

"It must be terrible to remember what the virus made him do," X sympathized.

"No. He wasn't controlled by it. It's a tool to him." A horrible tool. "He didn't mean Sigma, that was a mistake. He was… alone in the dark. He wasn't trying to fight the virus to get his body back, just recover because he'd been going mad. He was acting on reflex to get rid of enemies, but when he woke up a little to fight him because the autopilot couldn't beat him he realized Sigma wasn't an enemy and tried to stop acting on autopilot."

"It was odd that the system problems he had could happen so fast." Dr. Cain should have caught that.

"He didn't want to kill Sigma, so he was fighting with himself, and then Sigma hit him while he wasn't moving and all the things that drove Genesis mad were in the virus that he sort of… made on reflex to defend himself because he'd been knocked out. It was to make Sigma not kill but protect him, but linking is mostly to talk and he was screaming then." One shivered. "He was broken, so linking with Sigma broke Sigma."

"So linking is like the virus." Zero tried to withdraw then, but both One and X refused to allow that.

"The virus was, was wrong!" No, this wasn't the same thing, how could Zero say that? One was horrified.

"Dr. Cain, where are the sedatives?" X watched Zero carefully, One practically hogtying Zero's mind to X's at X's request.

"Still in cabinet red five." Zero was hard to read, but Cain was trying. "X…" He's on the verge of a mental breakdown, and I do not want you to end up like Sigma.

"One, go get these ones please." They could send images now? Wonderful.

The idea of sedatives actually calmed Zero down. "Wow, you're actually being practical. Knock me out, destroy the Hydra… Oh god, I'm going to miss my hair…" He let himself slump into X's arms.

"We're not knocking you out. We need your head, and it's too nice hair to just throw away. I'm going to give you something to make sure you stay calm, stay linked to you to help you heal, and get you through this." X's voice was calm: soothing, but this was not optional.

"X…"

"Zero, I will knock you out if it even looks like anyone will be hurt. Or One will, since I'm going to have him watch for any signs as he'd be better at finding them."

"This isn't anything," One told them, giving X what he wanted. "You're just hurting, you're not going to break. You're very strong, it took so much more than this to break Genesis."

X administered the sedative in any case and kept the knockout handy.

"X, this is not a good idea. You're going to have to do something about this, and if I'm in the link he'll know not just the plan but that you're going to oppose him, and then… He's got to want to destroy the last of Dr. Light's creations." Zero was so very afraid for him, enough to even push aside the crushing guilt and self-hate.

"I can't let people die, but One still thinks it's possible to prevent that. So I'm not going to give up hope." X shook his head. "Dr. Light's message said… I'm not going to give up. Not on anyone. If he's you, then he's a good person. Just misguided, and, well, Dr. Wily." X shrugged. "If he thought that… It's not good to see people as obstacles,, as things. You have to care about everyone, even the ones you have to fight. Especially them, to be sure you're making the right decision. Sometimes, you have to choose to kill someone, like we've killed mavericks. It's just you have to try to make the right choice. Make sure there really is no alternative."

"Are you seriously comparing him killing Protoman and god only knows who else to people killing suspected mavericks without verifying it first?" God. "The Cataclysm."

Okay, blaming that on Genesis was going a little overboard.

"Um, actually…" One's voice was small. "He really didn't want me to remember that, because if you knew you wouldn't give him a chance and if you didn't give him one he wouldn't have given you one even though I love you. And, um, no, it was actually pretty easy. The hard part was hacking through all the things Break had put in place so that the humans couldn't set off the nukes and other things themselves."

Billions of people. X couldn't hold back a single tear at the thought of all those people, and seeing that Zero instantly decided that Genesis was fucking dead. One cried out in protest, "No! Don't!"

If Genesis could reabsorb Zero's personality… X held on to Zero as tightly as he could. No. No. I won't lose you. No. Please, no!

"X…" Dr. Cain really felt he needed to send this out, and that Zero should be sedated. What if Genesis took Zero's body as well as his personality?

"No." X answered. "No." He smiled now. "Zero is still Zero." Genesis hadn't taken him away.

"He'll regret that," Zero told X, struggling now to escape the link and X's grasp. "I have to…" I have to protect you. "I'm not going to let you end up like the rest of your family."

"I'm not," X assured him. "Think about it."

"The… me being this determined not to let you die means he won't kill you? You think that's how it works?"

One nodded.

"He still killed billions of people!"

"He was killed for it, and I think the statute of limitations has run out. I don't think you can be prosecuted for the same crime twice, and that probably would have been death penalty." Dr. Cain's attempts to prosecute manufacturers of Irregulars, not to mention establish reploid rights in the first place, meant he knew quite a bit about law. Enough to play devil's advocate, even though he was far more aware of the horrors of the Cataclysm than even X. Cain had grown up in a world without reploids to protect humans from having to deal with the worst of it.

Zero had never gotten the legal stuff. Or anything else technical besides combat techniques.

"Zero," X told him, "You're still the same person. We just know… but think how much you've done to protect me. Trained me, died for me. I do trust you." X sighed. "We really do need a therapist. If the wars do end, I should perhaps look into that as well as getting back my medical credentials. They lapsed because I wasn't keeping current."

"I'm sorry," Zero said. X had started having trouble with that during training, and since he'd been handling things during Zero's death…

"Hopefully I'll be able to 'play' in the lab again." X shrugged, smiling at Cain. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Zero looked at Cain and his face displayed an 'oh shit' moment. "If this is the virus, then.."

"Zero," X facepalmed. "I'm immune to the virus. This is not the maverick virus. Nobody is going to kill Dr. Cain. Stop being so paranoid."

Zero looked at him. "I'm not sure about the whole us feeling the same thing thing. I like the old guy, and One said Genesis was pissed off about him installing, well, me."

"Um, not angry, just he wasn't happy about it." One shook his head. "He's not evil. He thought that all people were like the Doctors. Um, Light and Wily I mean, not Cossack. He kind of liked him from what Break said about him, but it was kind of a war, so… Oh. He killed Kalinka. That was why Break decided to stop trying to convince him."

"Well, Wily was a bastard and would have said stuff about Light, so that I get." Still, Zero didn't approve.

"Um, that wasn't exactly it. Dr. Wily was a nice person at the start, and that's actually why he went mad, to try to help the robot masters. Dr. Light used to be… not very nice, but he changed after he saw what him being that way had done to his best friend. But Break was hurt before then, so…" Long story. One shook his head. "Dr. Cossack and Kalinka were nice. Dr. Cossack was killed when the citadel was attacked, along with the robots he'd built. Break had made sure Kalinka wouldn't be there, but she ran away from where he put her and went to back to try to get the backups of her brothers so they could be brought back. Genesis was using the computers there to hack things in Russia and he killed her. The backups had already been destroyed. He asked Break why he hadn't stopped her when he must have known she would go and that it would be pointless suicide, but Break said that she'd known that too and would rather die than abandon the brothers she loved without at least trying to save them and since he loved her he had to let her do what she had to." So very sad. "So he felt he had to kill his brother even though he didn't want to. It doesn't quite make sense, but I wouldn't want to be broken enough to think like Break did."

Oh. "He was younger than me even when he did that," One realized. "He killed Dr. Wily when he was awakened, then there was fighting, then he hacked things, then he had a really long battle with Break before the trap. He was alive for less than three days before being killed the first time."

"Fast worker," Zero murmured.

X bowed his head. So very young, so very sad.

"He didn't really talk to anyone but Break. He just… got them out of his way." One shook his head. "Break he couldn't manage to kill because he kept dodging and running away, so they talked. And stuff. Break had… I don't know how it worked, but he could link even though no nanites. He was so very old and sad. Seeing him just made Genesis more determined, really, even though Break was trying to convince him not to do it. Break was Wily's reason too. Neither of them wanted what had happened to Break to happen to more children."

Did they want to know? Of course, what was all this but terrible truths?

X felt so very sorry for him: his empathy didn't require a link. "Temporary insanity." That was the defense used for repaired Irregulars. The defense Zero didn't believe in because he felt responsible for everything regardless of whether or not he had any power over it.

"You're really wonderful, X," One told him.

"Too damn saintly," was Zero's opinion.

"I love you both, and I trust you," he told them. "So I see no reason to give up hope."

X was the father of the reploid race in however metaphorical a sense, but now he maybe understood how Dr. Light hopefully had felt about him. He wanted One to be happy. He saw in him the future X hoped for. He would do his best for that hope, that future, that happiness. He kissed One's forehead briefly.

Zero was indeed jealous, then embarrassed when he felt X feel that. "I…"

"Don't worry. I do love you, Zero, you know that. I don't know if it's as my best friend, besides Cain, or not. I do want to find out."

"I don't know either. Let's wait and see?"

X nodded.

One sighed. "I hope everyone makes up their minds soon." He didn't like the possibility that his parents might be hurt or killed, his family torn apart.

"I hope so too," X agreed.

Cain's message tone rang. "I had that turned off," he swore, calling up the message. "I did have that turned off. It appears he's still a very good hacker."

"What does it say?" Zero was too drained by the sedative to run over there.

"He says, 'I've 'gotten rid of' the virus, One. As for the rest of it, feel free to let people know about me: it's not like they can catch me if I don't let them. Zero's the one who should worry, but he can take care of his own problems. As for our mutual-half-brother, X, they usually called him Blues. Protoman was what Light at first and then the media called him. He was a saint too, but the martyr kind. Don't you dare make excuses for me. I made my choices. But then, Blues went to a lot of trouble to make sure I understood that I had free will and could always change my mind. Did you know that Rock, Megaman to the media, was the one who made Blues finally decide that destroying humanity was wrong instead of just impractical? Zero is right, you really don't get how much of a hero you are. One, I still need to think, and telling me I'm guilttripping isn't going to help anymore than it does when X says that to Zero. I do love you, and I will be watching over you. Not through Zero, though. If I wanted a soap opera, I'd hack a TV station. I don't know about coming there. I need to think. Spending a few years wandering the globe incognito did wonders for Blues, after all. But I'll keep better track than he did. I've got enough duplicates running around, and I've got dibs on the 'evil twin' position. I'll keep in touch so you know I'm not dead. Take care.' That's the message, and he signed it Reploid DWN 0000 – Genesis."

"I'm Reploid DLN 0001," X told them, blinking. "Or, that's what my design is designated as. A redesign would have another number, although Dr. Cain and I never really bothered with assigning numbers because we did so many design adjustments…"

"Dr. Light's Number One Reploid." Cain smiled. "Megaman was Robot Master # 001, apparently."

"So Blues would have been 000?" One smiled. "So that's why Zero is named Zero! And I've got X's number!" He really liked that.

"Zero's design and X's number." Dr. Cain was so amused. "You know, back in the pre-Cataclysm days, people would get married if there was a child on the way so it wouldn't be a bastard, which used to be the word for a child whose parents weren't married. Nowadays with the population so low no one cares about that sort of thing. Can you believe people would actually decide not to have perfectly healthy children?" With all the radiation, chemical, and biological damage that the Cataclysm's survivors had, that was inconceivable since so many were incapable of conceiving. Abortions were for babies too unhealthy to live. And there were a lot of them. Before the virus, humans unable to have their own children or qualify for the extremely exclusive pool of those eligible to be considered to have an orphan placed in their care had been eager to adopt newbuilt reploids to fill the void.

X couldn't understand not wanting a child either. Of course, One was an extraordinary child. "Well, we can file for adoption jointly in any case. As hunters, though, we're in such a high-risk job that we're not eligible right now, but with the virus gone…"

Adoption? Really?

Of course.

One began to do a happy dance to the tune of, "I'm going to have three daddies, I'm going to have three daddies…"

Zero and X looked at each other. "Was I this bad?" X asked.

"Yes," Dr. Cain and Zero said simultaneously.

"Oh, oh, Jinx!" One appeared to have found some time to look at the encyclopedia.

"You just weren't this obvious about it. I think there's some curse that says 'may you one day have a child just like you.'" Dr. Cain ignored One to tell them this.

"Oh, I'm so fucking screwed." Zero facepalmed.

"Zero!" No swearing in front of the child!