Because I have no control over what I write.

At least there's actually an unconscious blond(e) this time?

X Command Mission: Axl, mavericks, precious things & holding on to them.

This relies a bit on knowledge of game details, especially Command Mission, which a lot of people seem to ignore. I originally had notes on that and some artbook info in the ANs here, for people who hadn't played Command Mission or read the Megaman Zero Complete Works (published in the US by UDON Comics, which also publishes the Megaman Megamix manga, read it), but a reviewer commented that providing context for certain things revealed that those things would come up in the fic and ruined some of the impact, so I moved them to the end.

X was here because his unit was currently off-duty, except for the officers. After all the casualties the Seventeenth had suffered in the confusion surrounding Redips' defection, they'd been taken off the patrol and garrison rotation until all the paperwork for the new members got done and X got them trained up.

Or another war happened, whichever.

X had commented three days ago, more than a little wryly, that at least this time he didn't have to spend this downtime discovering which half of the survivors had gone maverick: he could be relatively sure of how many positions he had to fill, and the damage had been done.

It was kind of sad that what worked out to friendly fire was so much less bad than a real maverick war, but X and Zero had seen this before, like practically everything else.

He'd had to get X to tell him about Repliforce. He'd done that not long after he joined, because it was… Well, Red. He'd asked Zero first, of course, because Zero's explanations of things were generally a lot shorter and easier to understand than X's, but Zero had told him to go ask X. He'd realized pretty quick, even back then, that that was weird, 'cause X didn't like to talk about the wars. He would, if Axl needed to know something, but he didn't like to. So normally Zero did that for him, the way X was generally the one to explain the whys of stuff like manners, and, well, everything else. Zero was fast enough to tell him what to do, or to stop doing something, but unless the reason was, 'because it gets people killed,' if he wanted to know why some rule was there (so he could decide whether to obey it or not when Zero wasn't looking), he had to ask X.

He'd found out that Zero didn't like to talk about Repliforce because he'd had to kill his girlfriend.

To be honest, Axl had ended up with the impression that Iris was kind of a waste of space to begin with. For one thing, X was nice-with-a-capital-n, so Axl knew that whenever he got his description of someone from X, he had to compensate for the fact that X wouldn't say the bad things about them unless they were important, and even then he'd just kind of indicate that maybe someone wasn't all that good in a particular area when the truth was they sucked. X would always find something nice to say, so it was a matter of what he'd found nice to say.

If Iris was sweet and kind, then why had she made Zero kill her? And why hadn't she been willing to fight mavericks? X had said she didn't want to hurt people, but X didn't want to hurt people, and he'd still fought. So she'd probably just been a coward that tricked Zero into looking after her, and then she'd repaid him like that? What a jerk.

Red hadn't talked about it much, but they'd all known that he used to be a member of Repliforce. Since that was why Red Alert was as good as it was, since Red had training that wasn't hunter standard, but it also meant that joining up was kind of dangerous, in case the Hunters got suspicious that Red was gathering an army to get revenge or something.

Red had left Repliforce because it had been obvious that something was very, very wrong. Everybody had gone nuts, so he'd thought it had to be the virus and headed for Hunter HQ before he got infected, which was why he hadn't been up on Final Weapon. After everything got sorted out, he'd been honorably discharged and stuff, since even if he'd totally made the right call, a soldier just up and leaving like that if they thought the orders were insane was bad for discipline.

So if Red had left, then why hadn't Iris left? Obviously she couldn't have been anywhere near as great as Red had been. That was what he'd thought then. Now?

Everybody knew that the virus went after organized reploids with weaponry, so…

It was kind of, if they fought the virus, they were in danger of getting infected, or dying, but if they didn't fight, they were in danger anyway, so the way that maybe eventually led to not being in danger, someday, was obviously better. That was what everyone in Red Alert had thought.

Everyone had known that the organization could end up infected someday. That they had to watch each other, and leave and tell the Hunters if it came to it. They'd all known that. They hadn't wanted to go maverick, and they'd wanted to stop the others if that happened.

But Axl was the only one who'd been able to do that. Able to get out of there. Able to see that something was wrong with Red and leave them behind. Everyone else hadn't wanted to see it because they'd cared about each other.

He'd wondered, afterwards. If maybe he'd never cared about Red, or anyone else, at all. If he deserved to live when everyone else was dead, when he'd only survived because he hadn't cared about them. Hadn't been attached. Hadn't cared enough to want to believe in them, even Red.

Like Iris hadn't cared enough about Zero to trust that he wouldn't have killed them if he hadn't had to.

X was here because he could do not-really-classified paperwork on his tablet from any secured area, and this was a secured area. He was really here specifically just to be here.

Zero was here to kill Marino and Cinnamon.

He hadn't said that, but he wasn't even pretending to be here for any other reason, leaning against the wall like that. X had looked up at him a few times, with that specific look that was X-and-Zero-language for, "Can't you at least pretend to be doing something?" The one Zero got when he leaned against the wall and replied to people in monosyllables until they went away at official functions.

Zero generally ignored it then, too, until X resolved the situation by getting a plate of food and a drink or nudging Zero to get it for him and forcing Zero to hold them for him, so it looked like he was eating, at least. Zero didn't really see the point of human food, especially when there were humans that actually needed it, but he'd do it without complaint.

Right now, though, the only thing on hand was X's paperwork tablet, and if X forced Zero to do his paperwork for him, then X wouldn't have had anything to do, which would have ended up with X talking to break the silence again, or trying to be reassuring, and he'd already said everything that he could say.

Not to mention that Axl didn't want to talk about it.

So X had to put up with doing his own paperwork while Zero stood there not helping.

Axl didn't mind that, really, because Zero was here for one reason and one reason only, and he'd really rather Zero didn't do anything, thanks.

Because Zero was here to kill Marino, or Cinnamon, or both, if they went maverick, so that Axl didn't have to. He hadn't said he'd make it quick, but this was Zero: that went without saying.

Actually, if it weren't for the fact X didn't have any games installed on his tablet at all, Axl would have offered to do X's paperwork, just to have something to do besides look at the various lights and listen to beeping things and worry every time any of them changed that this was the change.

He couldn't talk to Marino or Cinnamon because they were asleep. That was supposed to make it go faster. He wanted to protest that he didn't want it to go faster, but…

He couldn't leave the room, the way he'd left Red, both because he wanted to stay this time, for them, and because the last time he'd left, because Zero had ordered him to go do some second-in-command stuff, X and Zero had been arguing when he got back. He thought Zero had ordered him to go not to give him a break, but because Zero hadn't been able to keep it in anymore and he hadn't wanted to say that stuff in front of Axl.

They disagreed lots, but this was the second time he'd seen Zero… It wasn't even that he was angry. Axl thought he'd gotten to understand What Zero's Problem Was a lot better now that he had Marino and Cinnamon, but he still didn't get everything that was up with Zero, and X, and when Zero was like this it kind of scared him. That same kind of 'this isn't right' sinking feeling he'd gotten when Red and everyone started acting wrong. The same kind of 'I might lose everything' he'd felt when Marino had made her report.

The last time Zero had gotten like this, he'd left. Just left X behind in Giga City, even though X was in danger. Because Zero knew X had put himself in danger, and Zero couldn't deal with it.

"I knew this would happen," Axl had heard when he got back to Medical. The intercom was open between the waiting room and the main area, just in case. Even though X and Zero were there. Surprised by the tone, he'd stopped to listen, leaning forward over the monitoring Lifesaver drone's shoulder.

"Zero," X had said, in that way that meant, "We've had this conversation before and I don't want to have it again."

"I knew it," Zero repeated.

"Zero, you're not going to convince me that you knew 'this' would happen when 'this' hasn't even happened yet. Marino turned the two of them in and Cinnamon is resistant."

"Turning yourself in isn't a good sign anymore and you know it, X." Zero was pacing. "First some idiot added it to the list of good signs, so mavericks did it to be tricky, and now the virus has degraded to the point there's a window before the immediate priorities, like not getting themselves killed or killing themselves, get put in place."

Axl had seen that window firsthand just last week, actually. One of the older reploids in the unit had run into a clump, and… Zero had been really unsurprised. "He was waiting for an excuse," he told Axl, later, when Axl wondered why Zero had already gotten a memorial notice typed up. "Some of them, they lose too many people."

"If you thought he was going to kill himself, shouldn't you have put him on leave or something?" Axl had asked. X had explained how that worked to him. It wasn't good to have someone who might snap on active duty, they'd get mistaken for mavericks and cause a panic in the field.

Zero had just looked at him in that 'you're an idiot' way that was much, much less annoying than the way X would sigh, and look sad that something X thought everyone should know wasn't general knowledge, and try to find small words. "I'm not that cruel."

"We shouldn't have let him keep them," Zero said as Axl watched the screen, and Axl started to get a little angry. Who did Zero think he was?

Well, alright, he was Zero, which meant a hell of a lot to most people, but still.

"They volunteered." At least X wasn't impressed by that.

"And we could have put them in a different unit at a satellite HQ," Zero said, as though he had any authority over who was posted where. Well, with Redips gone now, for all practical purposes he probably did, unless X put his foot down.

"Their skills…"

"I know, I know. They were good reploids." That belonged in Unit Zero.

"Are," X corrected him, still working.

"For now." Zero shook his head, hair wagging like a dog's tail, except Zero wasn't happy. Were there any animals that moved their tails when they were angry? Axl had only seen a dog because of X.

"…For now," X had acknowledged. "And, maybe... The virus is decaying."

"And that's only making it more dangerous." Mavericks weren't as obvious anymore. The latency period, the time between when they were infectious and when it became obvious they were mavericks, was longer.

"In some ways." Once again, X had to concede Zero's point. "The damage it's done to human and reploid relations is almost more dangerous right now."

"And the…" Zero searched for a word.

There was Redips, but the one Axl really hated was Lumine. How could anyone spread the virus, knowing what it did? That it… The virus was disgusting. Anyone who could keep it in his systems, knowing what it was, was just sick.

"Mavericks," X said, and there was a cold, hard note in his voice Axl had rarely heard before.

"Redips wasn't infected," Zero pointed out, also surprised. "Why did you call him that, anyway?"

When Redips had revealed himself, X had been so angry he'd almost been struck dumb for the first time since Axl had known him. Anyone else would have gone right to curse words, but X thought they were overused and juvenile: he'd never use them for something this serious. "You, you…" he'd said, trying to find a word vile enough to put a name to what Redips was, before settling on, "Maverick." Since X killed mavericks, he might as well have said, "You are dead," but this was X.

"He was insane. He wanted to kill innocent people to bring about his mad vision of the world. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his systems, at least not when he put this in motion. Dynamo, Dynamo might have been irregular," X said thoughtfully, looking up at the ceiling. "or at least irrational, but even if Redips didn't become like that because of the virus, he was still as, as evil as any maverick ever was." X had looked directly at Zero then. "The virus isn't the root of all evil."

There was enough of a slightly out of place feeling to that sentence, a bit of extra significance, that Axl knew it meant something in X-and-Zero-language, but he didn't know what.

The way Zero sort of turned away a bit was Zero-and-X-language for, "I don't want to have this conversation now, or ever." He quipped, "I've heard it's either zenny or female models," before hurrying back to the original topic. "If they're clean, we're reassigning them."

"Zero," X said evenly as Axl clenched his fists.

"They're targets!"

"Zero," X said, with a bit of a bite. Axl had never heard him use that tone before, with anyone, but he knew it was the X-and-Zero-language version of Zero's "Do not attempt to feed me this bullshit or I will bite your arm off," glare.

"I know they'll be targets anywhere they go, since everyone knows he's cares about them, but, if we send them away…"

"Then if Axl ever sees them again, it will be Red Alert all over again." Dead or maverick.

"But he won't care as much!"

X didn't have enough time to compose a reply to that (Axl wondered if he had started counting backwards from ten) before Zero spoke again: "Don't you dare tell me I'm overreacting because this reminds me of Iris. I'm the one that's been through this, I'm the one that knows what he's talking about…" Zero was facing the camera: that 'Oh crap,' look on his face cooled Axl's temper a little.

"And you think I didn't care about Sigma?" X asked, almost sweetly.


"I could go on," X continued. "After all, I get attached to people much more easily than you do, don't I? That's why you didn't like that either of us was working with those people in Giga City: you were worried about me getting attached, getting hurt, not you." Wait, was X being sarcastic?

Zero, who almost never got attached to people, had… decided that Spider was someone worth respecting, that was how X had put it. Because of how Spider had felt about his dead partner, as well as what he'd said about why he took that shot for Zero, who didn't want anything to do with him. And they didn't have any idea at what point Redips had overwhelmed Spider's personality. Or perhaps it was Spider that was the original, that had been the evil one all along, and Redips had been a good person, a good commander, until his personality was overwritten. Signas was so effective because he'd spent some time as a private investigator, after all. Maybe whoever had sent them Redips & created Spider had wanted the immune commander to be equally capable.

Axl didn't know if he was capable of that or not. He was the 'flawed prototype,' anyway. He didn't want to know, and if it weren't for X's help he wouldn't have been able to keep them from experimenting with that. For all he knew, there was a copy with his data in whatever lab he'd been created in, and he'd get shot someday and wake up there.

If he could have nightmares the way Zero did, that'd give him some.

Maybe Redips was even the copy, and he'd had them grab Spider after he'd almost gotten killed that time and used that opportunity to destroy the original personality, since if that was the only way to save himself?

It was creepy, and Axl didn't want to think about it, in case he started thinking that Redips had a point when Redips had been a crazy, psycho… Yeah, like a maverick, except the virus wasn't someone's fault. This was.

Thinking that maybe calling Redips a maverick was an insult to mavericks made his head hurt.

"I care about people, and that's why I get attached to them. You don't care the way most do: you get attached if you respect them. Axl cares, deeply, and he respects, even if he doesn't place much stock in formality, but he doesn't get attached," X said, and Axl had almost had to take a step back in shock. "That's why he was able to do what Red asked him to, and run. That's why he'll be able to do what Marino and Cinnamon would want, and go on."

"I'm just… Axl doesn't have a lot of… You shouldn't have kept him with them!" Zero tried to get his mental feet back under him. "Two female models, one his mental age and one with a thing for…"

"Zero, keep implying that Marino is into children, and I'll make sure you're properly punished." X tapped something on the screen. "We can't have them getting in trouble for shooting at their commanding officer, after all."

"You know what I mean, you look like jailbait too," Zero grumbled. "And stop changing the subject, dammit!"

"If you stopped making ridiculous arguments, I wouldn't have to counter them."

"They're going to die and he's going to…"

"Zero, stop projecting." X tilted his head, wondering something. "Is this reminding you of yourself? First Sigma, than Iris: first Red Alert, and someday these two?"

Zero clearly wanted to tell X to stop psychoanalyzing him when he was trying to make a point, but he knew X too well to try. Especially since he'd get bogged down in that argument when he was trying to make a point, dammit. "…You're the one that said that if Axl stopped wanting to live, he might just fall apart."

"Zero, not everyone is as suicidal you are." X added, "Thank goodness."

"He loves them, and..."

"He's only known them a few weeks, Zero. He likes them a lot, but love?" X looked back up at Zero. "Of course, you fall in love that fast." X had his poor Zero expression on.

"Stop acting like it doesn't hurt you!" Zero loomed over X, finally angry. "Do you think I like watching you do this to yourself? You keep doing it! You gathered up a bunch of people that were all going to snap or go maverick, you think I wanted to watch that train wreck? You think I wanted to watch you pretend to be okay afterwards? You keep doing this to me! And now he's doing it too, and I don't like it, alright, there are you happy? Don't get attached, I tell him…"

"He needs a chance to make friends, Zero…"

"No, he doesn't, he needs to make it through this alive!" Zero grabbed X's tablet and threw it at the observation window so that X didn't have any choice but to look at him. "He doesn't get attached," he quoted X mockingly. "He thinks about Red, and he blames himself, so much for not getting attached."

"And you don't want the two of us to be hurt, even though we both know Dr. Cain's attempt to install a suffering circuit to enable you to possess empathy…" X had looked up at the camera. "Lifesaver? Shut down the non-medical monitors."

"Shutting them down," the drone had acknowledged, sounding almost as frustrated as Axl felt under the discipline.

Axl had tried to get into the room, but X must have locked it. The soundproofing was good, of course.

He'd had to wait there, not knowing what was happening to any of them, until X had finally opened the door, smiled, apologized, claimed that he'd had classified work to discuss with Zero but he should have done it elsewhere and let him in.

X had returned to sitting on his chair with his tablet, and Zero acted as though he'd never moved from the wall, watching the two in their capsules, waiting to kill them so that Axl wouldn't have to.

Zero really didn't have to. Axl could kill Marino and Cinnamon. He'd, he'd even taken Red Alert's copy data, hadn't he? To stop Sigma, to…

Cinnamon and Marino were right there, but he didn't know if he'd ever get them back. They felt so far away, and it felt like Zero was far away, somehow. Like he might leave, the way he had in Giga City. Axl didn't want any of them to leave. He liked them. They might have to leave him someday, or he might have to leave them, but he didn't want them to.

Marino might wander off at any time, and she'd let him be in this sort of relationship with her, and ended up joining the hunters, meaning she sort of had to stick around, because he was honestly okay with that. He didn't get attached, that was part of what made his kind immune, and maybe that was why the others had all gone maverick. They didn't have any people that were precious to them. They didn't understand what it was like to lose somebody. That a world with Red in it was much better than the world he'd had before he'd found Red, and X and Zero made things better too, and Marino and Cinnamon made him happier than he was without them. Inferior, superior? All of that was bullshit, X was right, there were just people, and…

He leaned his forehead against the glass, and all of a sudden X's hand was on his shoulder. "It won't be long."

"In the old days, they would have had to be killed right away. Things have gotten better," Zero said, and it might have been more of a comfort if he wasn't pretty sure that Zero actually hoped that he'd get to kill them now, on some level. Kill them now and get them over with.

He was actually almost certain that something was wrong with Zero. Actually wrong-wrong, not what X had said, about how all of them were immune because they were weird, with atypical designs, and Zero was an irregular but he'd been fixed. He wondered if X would find out he'd heard that about the circuit? He certainly would if Axl tried to ask someone in medical what that meant. There wasn't anything in the encyclopedia in medical, he'd checked while he was waiting for them to open up. That meant it was something old and classified, the way X's systems were. Well, so were his details. They were immune and that was important.

It wasn't just Zero, X had also sounded him out to make sure that he knew Marino and Cinnamon could die, although he'd just thought it was X being way overprotective at the time. He knew that people he loved could die. They just had to kill all the mavericks before that could happen.

Cinnamon looked peaceful, but so did Marino, even though Marino wasn't peaceful at all. He wanted her to wake up, so that he could see her again.

He wanted to see them again, not some sick thing like Redips and Spider, like Lumine, like Red.

He wondered how many times X and Zero had sat or stood here like this. The next time, Axl would bring a tablet.

He hoped there would be a next time, because the alternative?

If he thought it would help, he would clasp his hands together and say, "Please," like Cinnamon did. If he thought it would help, he would say that he loved them, but they wouldn't even hear him. Being in capsules was supposed to speed up the incubation period, so they would know sooner, but couldn't they have stayed awake? Couldn't he have sat with them? He couldn't catch it, he was immune, and there was no way they could have talked him into helping them escape if they were maverick. If they were maverick, they wouldn't be the people he liked anymore.

Like Red hadn't been Red anymore.

He felt X gently pull him away, and he might have pulled away, pulled back to the window, if X hadn't wrapped his arms around him.

He closed his eyes, tucked his head under X's chin, and wanted the rest of the world and its viruses and its mavericks to go away. Everything except X, and Zero who put his hand on Axl's shoulder, and Marino and Cinnamon. And he'd like Red back, too, if he was dreaming of impossible things.

The good news: Cinnamon and Marino aren't going to go maverick. The bad news: this is because I've decided that The Definition of a Reploid takes place after this. The ugly news: Death-by-Zero would have been much quicker. But at least they'll be happy for awhile more.

If you think this view of Iris is unfair, you're right: Sadly, this is what inevitably happens to every historical person ever. People only remember the details that they care about, the next generation only remembers what gets talked about and the context is lost. By the time Axl joined the hunters, most people probably do think of Iris as, 'that hussy who broke Zero's heart and forced him to kill her.' It's unfair, but that's how history works. Knowledge is lost over time, and pieces of things being lost over time is a theme of this fic. By the time of Zero series, most likely no one but X remembers that Iris ever existed, not even Zero. Just like Axl himself. In fact, there's more evidence of Axl's existance than Iris' in Zero series, even though supposedly Iris is Zero series canon and Axl isn't. It's unfair, but that's history for you.

Interesting tidbit about Zero, although Capcom has said that it may or may not be canon - he was designed not to have empathy. Fixing his irregularity involved installing a 'suffering circuit' that would make him feel pain when others do. Or at least that's what Dr. Cain tried: even if it worked at first, I bet Zero's system would have evolved in order to render it useless after this long. 'Suffering circuit' is actually a good term for how empathy/sympathy works. It's "I feel your pain:" feeling someone else's pain as though it is as important to you as your own. Like any circuit, it's all about the connection. And, as always, understanding how and why this works, aka enlightened self-interest, is the best.

In humans, there's a difference between automatic empathy, which we can only feel for 20-30 people max due to being a tribal species, and 'imagining we care,' which is what allows us to feel sad when Old Yeller dies or there's a disaster on the other side of the world. We're basically using our sentience/imagination/rationality to hack our feelings by forcing them to recognize that other people are people worthy of caring about, because our feelings are selfish, xenophobic bastards. This is why it makes me LOL when people say 'listen to your heart' as though our hearts are nicer than our heads. Um, no. When we donate to Japan, that's our heads, not our hearts.

The moment in Command Mission when Spider manages to impress Zero and the way Zero had no tact about Iris' dreams in X4, plus how he reacts to Sigma, X and Ciel are my framework for how this works for him.

Axl not possessing attachment and the other newgen stuff is a combination of my spec on X8 plus why newtypes are immune if they can be carriers without any problem, the moment in Command Mission that was my first impression of Axl and defined him for me plus a bit of the Buddhist philosophy stuff that creeps into my analysis of this universe's non-human psychology and laws of physics. I can't really go into a lot of technobabble to explain stuff when I'm dealing with Axl's POV. Everyone else I've used so far has been some variety of scientist, but Axl is, well, Axl. He's even more 'screw the philosophical ramifications and who is in the right, I'd rather skip to the part where my enemies die' than Zero is.

Axl/Marino/Cinnamon is a crack pairing, or technically threesome, of mine, because Axl/Cinnamon is a cute toy ship and the great theif Marino seems to like her booty regardless of model type. It also amuses me, and my Zero muse, that X is the oldest person on the planet and still looks like jailbait, since that's the age he was built to look. I think Dr. Light wanted to make sure X could pull off the innocent look, given how well Badass Adorable worked for Rock...