A 'sleeper' is a spy or some other sort of agent who does absolutely nothing: no spying, no disloyal actions, no nothing until they are called on to go active for some major action. If they're not doing anything 'ooc' for the cover story, then they're incredibly difficult to ID: there aren't any 'plot holes' for counterintelligence officers (people whose job it is to find spies) to use to identify them. If they were actively spying, then they would have to do things to get the information out and what information their true side had access to would give the people they were spying on clues to who was spying: who had access to that information?

A sleeper's protection is that they aren't breaking character.

The best sleeper agent would be someone who didn't know they were one.

Disclaimer: I own none of the many trademarked, copyrighted, and totally owned by Capcom things in here, such as X and Zero. This would make me emo if I weren't being allowed to play with them. I could play with them more if I was making money from this to buy games with, but sadly I am not.

Hunters would rather die than be maverick. Zero is a hunter. Reploids and androids can control their own minds, for better or worse. What would you do if you suddenly remembered killing billions of people… and enjoying it? And knew that you would do it again if you weren't stopped?

Zero already knew, of course. If it were just the flashback with Sigma during the fourth war he might have thought it was some sort of evil plot. That didn't explain the dreams, like the one he'd had when he woke up to that war. That didn't explain how it sang in his metaphorical veins. He purged it from his systems after the wars, before going home, before going anywhere near someone who could be infected. He did, and it ached more every time, to be empty again. It wasn't a disease to him. It was something that belonged in his systems.

He was almost sure there was some of it still there, buried deeply enough no one could find it. He was almost sure this was something he couldn't live without. But it didn't stir and it didn't infect, so he'd take what he could get, what he had to get in order to keep fighting.

Lack of trust for doctors had kept him from spilling the beans before he figured out how much there was to spill. They'd been bad enough when he was just an irregular instead of a maverick. The maverick, in fact.

They couldn't afford not to have him fighting. X doing it all by himself even more than he already was? They were trying to do the work of an army, and X was already just… He couldn't double, no, triple the pressure on him. That might be just an excuse, though. The more he learned, the less of his mind he thought was his own. He'd dismissed it as just his weird systems plus Dr. Cain's patch, but the drives, the urges, the instincts? Reploids (androids) weren't supposed to have those.

Be important, be key. Were his desires to atone, to save lives, to hold the hunters together nothing but a product of that?

Keep a close watch on X. He'd trained him (Sigma had assigned him to that, Sigma who had been a maverick from the instant he brought Zero in), he'd saved him… Surely it hadn't wanted him to save him. Surely.

He hoped it hadn't. There were fates worse than death, especially to X who would rather Zero kill him than become a maverick. Was this what it had been like for robot masters? Not knowing what was them and what was the compulsions? The programming?

He could understand the anger at humanity in those terms, but why would Dr. Wily who had reprogrammed robot masters be angry at the idea of taking away free will, of enslavement? It didn't make any sense, and he should turn himself in, but he could make the decision and yet when it came time to talk to someone he just, he just wouldn't. He didn't want to see the betrayal, the fear when they realized that they now had only one immune person, he didn't want to see X's sadness (they would need to dissect him, imprison him, he almost wanted them to).

He should turn himself in.

He didn't.

He didn't know to what extent his reasons were just the excuses his mind came up with to justify following the compulsions.

If he… who would protect X? But was his friendship nothing but a way of obeying the compulsion?

Zero, the one installed by Dr. Cain, the blank slate, the one who could build a new life, write his own future? That person had never existed. He had never been free of his guilt over those he'd murdered. He would never be free of the chains of the ancient past.

Sometimes he just wanted it over with. X did too, they fought and killed and it didn't do anything but win them another day of fighting. Only Zero's true enemy was himself.

And it felt so good here, alive, singing… He'd almost died in the kamikaze he'd hoped to die in. He hadn't. He'd just come here, because in the end he didn't die. He wanted to keep X alive, the other hunters too. He wasn't too surprised to note that humanity didn't make that list. They were something that X wanted but sadly couldn't have to his feelings. The only regret he could muster in the face of this was for X's broken heart.

X, his perfect… enemy.

He should be trying to hold on to Zero, tell himself that he was a hunter, he had to do his duty, but now he knew Zero was a lie, that he couldn't, that it was better to just stop lying to everyone and let them know who the true enemy was he couldn't resist the siren song for long.

Wake up, the virus sang, anticipation and excitement and hunger. It was Zero's lullaby.

He should fight, he could at least, at least try to hold it back, but he'd been doing that all his life and why would he stop being a failure at it now, when it had become this strong?

He should just give in, but that would be the final defeat, the one he could never redeem, and he couldn't do that.

He could just do nothing about this. Except when it came to fighting (to protect X/to maintain his cover), he was good at doing nothing about this. Caught between the desire to tell them and the desire to sabotage them (two ways of getting it over with), he'd just stood there, just done his best to pretend nothing was up.

Zero wanted that because he wanted this to not be happening. The virus was okay with it because that preserved its sleeper agent.

He just needed to not wake up, to never stop being a sleeper agent and become an agent.

He was walking towards X, which was good for him and for the virus. It was just an issue of what would happen, and he wasn't sure what he wanted to happen.

When he found someplace that X would soon get to, someplace big enough for a fight, he let himself collapse against a wall. So very tired.

When he saw X there was a thrill of excitement, a rush of anticipation, and he felt himself almost shoved down into sleep as his true self tried to spring awake. He resisted with his lack of resistance. If he'd let himself be excited along with it, let himself be relieved that X was here and it would soon be over one way or another he would have been swept along with the wave, swept up. Thrown in a trashbin somewhere, or closet maybe. To be forgotten and ignored and powerless. He shut his eyes, wished that stuffing his fingers in his ears would help.

"Zero?" His friend, and he wanted to… but any action would serve the virus' purpose. "Are you injured?"

"X, please be quiet and listen. Don't say anything until I move: when I do, it's probably too late and you have to know what's going on. Don't even say yes. When I hear your voice, see you, I want to do something, and I can't let it have that handhold."

X was silent.

"Thank you. I don't know where to start. Maybe with that there was never an I. And don't you interrupt to tell me things aren't true and that I should stop saying things like that, X. I can't afford your help right now, because I want to return it and that means what it considers help. The virus."

"The virus?"

"Shut up too, you damn idiot doctors. This is stuff you should know. I couldn't tell you, so damn it, I wish you had done your jobs and figured it out. I hate doctors… Thank goodness it's just resignation. If I still had the innocence to think I could beat some sense into you it would use that. Yay for cynicism." But there was no exclamation there. "If you attack I will move, it will move, it will wake up, and then I won't be awake anymore. So sit down, shut up, and let me do what I can like I've always done. You don't have a chance, but let me try to give you one, at least. Consider it my last request."

He could sense the movement of X shutting off the speaker so he wouldn't hear them, and had to smile. "Too damn nice… It uses what I care about against me. I didn't know at first. I didn't remember what I was, I thought I just wanted to atone, and that you didn't deserve all this, but it wasn't me. It was that it wanted me to become essential and it wanted me close to you. Learning your weaknesses and becoming one of them. I don't know if the self-destruct was me or not, even. It's very possible that it wants you alive, X. The virus. Dr. Wily programmed it, built me.

"The more I figured out, the more I felt like they must have felt, our older brothers, knowing there were compulsions in their heads but not being able to get rid of them, not knowing what was them and what was the programming. No wonder he hated his own kind, doing that to Blues… oh, I remember that now. Why all this. It's a good thing it's drained me too much for me to get outraged, or that emotion would have pushed me over the edge. All I can care about right now is you… Killing this body and then Sigma should buy you some time. Until the next war. Just like always. I'm trying to think if there's anything you could use… Turn the speakers on, X. If I'm thinking about them I'm not thinking about you."

X obeyed as Zero mused, "It might even have had me kill Iris and Colonel because they were distracting me from you. I'm just a puppet, and the strings are being pulled back. The puppeteer wants to take center stage."


Zero talked over them. "I admitted it during the fight with Sigma last war. I knew before then, I'd just been in denial. I thought about killing myself, but my body wouldn't show you anything. Keep talking, you morons. I'm not going to answer your stupid questions, because you're stupid, but I need the distraction. Otherwise I don't have anything to focus on but X and the virus. It's singing to me, it wants me to wake up, it's a freaking alarm clock and I need to stay dreaming a little longer!"

Still the com was silent as he forced himself to calm down. "Look, just say something, what doesn't matter. Put the radio on, even. Idiot scientists… I tried to turn myself in, but the words wouldn't come out. I tried seven times, before I realized that if I turned myself in I ceased to be useful to it. It wouldn't let you learn anything from me, so all that would accomplish was halving your immune, ha! Halving your immune field hunters. And if I couldn't do anything else, at least I could buy you time. That's all these wars have been, buying time. And every time I tried to go against it, it woke up a little more. So I stamped it down hard, tried to forget, not to think about it, so that I could stay a hunter and try to keep you alive until you found some way to have a chance. That's not going to work anymore. Know what a sleeper agent is? They pretend to be perfectly loyal until the key moment. Well, it's the key moment. Not the final battle, unless you lose, but things have progressed to the point where 'Commander Zero' is less useful than 'Master Omega.' But the mask is refusing to come off quite yet. When it does, X, consider it smashed. It wants to use that mask, use me against you. It won't be me. It will be what killed me. Don't hesitate. I don't want to be a maverick anymore than you do."

Zero laughed humorlessly. "And that just rendered all the time it invested in me utterly worthless, unless you're a sap like you so often are and don't listen to my final request. I finally found a way to spoke its wheels, huh? I feel like I could die content now, but I have to try, just a little longer. There has to be something else, there has to be some way to give you a chance…" They finally put the general hunter communications channel on, to provide background chatter but, "No, turn that off, hurry, please. I care about them, I want this to end for them, and that gives it an opening. It will end this, end their suffering. By making them all mavericks and ending the human race." It snapped off, and in the silence X's tears were almost a physical force.

"I can't think of anything," Zero focused determinedly on the words. "Maybe I should just try to hold still: it will take it about six months to replace the body, like Sigma, and that will buy you time. But an attack in general, forget X, my friend and Dr. Light's creation attacking will wake it up, period. That's something important, that's what a human would have an adrenaline rush about. So there's not much point to even trying to keep control long enough for you to get a killing blow in. Just, just buy time," Zero told himself.

"X, this armor will restore your energy slowly, right? Don't answer, just get ready." He shook his head. "I can't think of anything that will kill me. Kill it. Protoman couldn't, and he had Dr. Wily's plans and the greatest mind in history. Except for its mind. All he could do was delay X being found until he became immune. The virus could have taken you with the planned thirty years, it was meant to get you and androids that were improvements on you. A century's too much for it. A century… I could fight the virus alone, but I can't fight myself, not forever. Damn it, I want more time." He sighed, head tilting back, banging against the wall. "And it has eternity, so that's not a good thing for me to want. What I want, an end to the war… same goals as it, only its methods are insane, and I can't find a method that will work, so it wants me to give up and let it get started, stop prolonging the agony. But life is pain, and anyone who says differently is selling something. Not going to buy into the damn virus… That was why my father made it, he'd been trying for so long and there was no other way… Has to be one."

The despair there, the despairing effort to fight it even through the hopelessness, just for some time, just for X and for them all left the listeners forced to shut down their tear production, or else they would have broken down sobbing until they ran out of fluid. They had to listen, these were the hero's last words, last request. They couldn't miss anything he was fighting to try to give them.

"It's not nanites, not fundamentally. It's something called 'evil energy' that came from outer space. I'm not kidding. Alien called Duo came to pick it up. Dr. Wily found some first, tried to use it like the stuff he'd found earlier, Forte's power source and Shadowman's matter conversion thing… he was a bitch to kill, the others I could instafry with nanites, and I mostly did, but he could actually defend his systems against them with that thing and he'd been trained by Blues. Or, no, it was it that killed Shadowman. I wasn't installed yet. Have to keep separate. Signaling an alien to come by and get the stuff wouldn't do any good even if you could do it: they'll kill the humans while they're at it. Null-sum game. Duo only spared 'em because Blues hacked stuff to make them look less… and Rock was a saint." He cut that explanation off. Bad idea to think of the practical reasons to do all this. "You're a saint too, X, but even if you got Duo he couldn't justify making another exception."

Zero shook his head, just knowing X was thinking. "And don't you even think that you're not as good as Rock, I… that was the other reason for me. Besides to make you hesitate, which I'll beg you again not to do. It will have my memories. It will know how you tick, better than I do. It's smarter, a hell of a lot smarter. But even with that, X, the thing about a puppet or mask is that they may hide what's pulling the stings, but… we think the same way. Not about genocide, hell no, but the same approaches to things… you know how my mind works, you know my weaknesses, my blind spots, so see if you can use that. You should be able to. Just don't think it's me. Don't think you can get me back. Some people say that masks reveal a hidden side of the wearer? If I am part of it, and I hope I'm not, I'm the part that wants to die for what it's done. The freaking conscience of the Cataclysm!" Zero just had to laugh, and it left him even more exhausted.

"You know how you tried to get me to promise, X. To kill you if you ever became a maverick. Please." When he calmed down, that was his solemn plea. "It hesitated to kill Rock, just a bit, and it didn't even know the guy. I've known you, been by your side for years, been your friend for years, or I would have been if I didn't know on whatever level that letting myself be your friend would be fucking you over… Whatever's left of what we've been through, those memories might give you an opening. God damn I hope so. Use it.

"Don't be the one to hesitate, X. He who hesitates is lost. That's what Forte told Rock after he didn't kill Dr. Wily before Forte could get there to rescue him. Don't quote the Three Laws at me, X, they didn't work they way people think they do. 'Too late, Megaman: he who hesitates is lost. We shall return!' Even if you kill it, it will be back. Around six months. Use that time, X. Forte pretended to be a good guy for a bit, you know the stories, but Forte was Forte all along, that was why he told Rock that. Legends aside, he was… he was one of my, its, main targets, because he tried very hard to prevent humanity and the Light family getting wiped out… But that was because Bass was Forte, same personality even if he was acting. I'm not Omega. I was born from Dr. Cain's replacement system for the body and warped into, or… you're the one who gets how it works."

X was, and X was silent as Zero had told him to be, but Zero knew he was choking down something. "And I'm really just rambling now until I think of something, because if I'm not thinking of something to say I'll be listening, and be careful X. I'm slipping faster and there's not much more time I can buy for you, I'm almost used up. Almost nothing left... If Megaman hadn't hesitated, if he had just killed my… Dr. Wily then, none of this would have happened. The compulsions, really. They're acting a lot like a robot master's programming. I wish I had Blues' skill at finding loopholes, but at least their programming didn't evolve to block the paths they took to evolve around it. Forte had it easy."

He sighed, and tried to continue. "I'm… you're the last thing I can hold onto, X. That's the compulsions. It's me, too, please believe me. Maybe I can believe myself then. If there ever was a me… You're Dr. Light's last legacy. You're its perfect enemy and you're a symbol. It's obsessed with you. Bait, something! Think of something, please. Because all I can do is tell you to fight me." On the last word his eyes opened, and that smile of anticipation was not Zero's.