This is a giftfic for Jennifer Darknight – I was thinking the X1 chapter of Wear and Tear, but the X2 chapter turned out to work a little better.
Post-X2: Dr. Cain, enemies, miracles & their opposite.
"You're telling me it was as simple as sticking all his pieces together and plugging them into a power source?" X asked, leaning forward over the berth in medical where Zero had laid himself down surprisingly obediently (he hated medical) and switched off so they could check over his systems and make sure he was alright.
For X's sake, Dr. Cain knew from that glance at the android before Zero closed his eyes. Zero knew that X blamed himself for what Zero did, and then right after reactivating Zero went into combat again to save X? He really shouldn't have put strain on newly-repaired systems like that, especially after such a severe injury.
After a fatal injury.
"Not quite. I reinstalled the control chip," since it contained the artificial suffering circuit and all the work they'd done to try to cure his original irregularity. The last thing they'd needed was for Zero to wake up insane, in their base, among their medical staff, as a murderous irregular. If Sigma had managed to trick them into letting a smart bomb like that into headquarters… Dr. Cain hated to think that of his son, but fortunately, after all that time repairing irregulars before the Maverick Wars began, he was in the habit of making sure the poor things didn't hurt anyone (else). Innocent newbuilts didn't need that kind of guilt: the poor things would always blame themselves when it wasn't them, it was their condition. "And then I stuck all his pieces together and hooked them up to a power source in order to see which sections weren't getting power. I was planning to start with that, and once it was in working order see if I could start up his self-repair systems and prioritize whatever it prioritized, or assist it by injecting materials and more repair nanites."
Zero's systems were so different from normal reploid systems that attempting parts transplant or larger scale repairs would have done more harm than good, especially since his repair system would have mobilized to tear apart the intrusion instead of actually repairing the broken parts.
When Zero joined the field hunters, Dr. Cain had warned him that if Zero got injured in a way his repair systems couldn't handle, it was entirely possible that they wouldn't be able to replace the part. That they might not be able to repair him again. That the poor boy might die.
Then he did die, and Dr. Cain had only tried to repair him at all because they'd taunted X with the idea that it was possible. He'd thought it was just cruelty, to give them hope.
Instead, that miraculous resurrection. "When he woke up so easily, I was certain that he'd have amnesia again," Dr. Cain said. "After all, he had far less trauma the last time." When Sigma captured him. "If that was enough to wipe his memory, or lock it down," a possible security protocol, in a reploid possibly built for military use, poor boy, "then this should have done the same."
"Last time, he was knocked out by someone else," X reminded him. "This time…" This time, Zero had damaged himself, to save a friend, and he was taken back to his home base, to a known location, for repairs? Or was Dr. Cain overthinking it, and X was only pointing out that there was a difference between enemy action and damage from other causes.
The poor boy: did he think himself worth so little, that he… Dr. Cain hated the thought of it even more now, after seeing so many poor children die in these wars. Two of them now, and he still couldn't believe it of Sigma.
He'd fought to rescue them, the poor misbuilt children, not kill them. Sigma was never a killer, he'd wanted to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, X's famous brother, if anything. How did a boy's dreams of heroism turn into this? It made no sense.
Neither did Zero's resurrection, but he would rather think of a miracle like this, something that might cheer the both of them up (if they could figure out how Zero recovered from an injury like this, and then dismemberment, who knew how many reploid lives could be saved?), than a world gone mad.
X took a breath, trying to focus on the now instead of self-recrimination. "He's really alright?"
"Better than new," Dr. Cain assured him. "The control chip is still functioning." No signs of psychosis. "You heard him report that everything was working fine when he tested it." Tested it by going after X, deep into enemy territory, to once again help his student, the trainee assigned to him by Sigma. The android he died to save.
"You shouldn't have let him go," X said. "It was certain death."
"Yes," Dr. Cain agreed sadly."For any reploid. Maybe even any android." Like X, who had gone in there alone? Like last time? When last time he'd almost been killed by Vile, and with more time to prepare traps, the odds against him hadn't borne thinking about. All Sigma's defenses would have had to do was get lucky once. "But he insisted, and so little is certain about Zero… I wanted to believe in him again."
"Believe what? Believe that he'd sacrifice himself for me?" X demanded, and it was rare to see him even this close to angry.
"Believe that he'd survive another mission that should have killed him. He was going into hazardous situations before." They both knew it: X as well as Dr. Cain had made a point of being Zero's attendant physician. Better them than the ones who blamed him for the massacre, the ones who had friends and patients die that horrible day. "Tying him down as your instructor did help him."
"Until," was what X said to that, finally pulling a chair over to Zero's side and sitting down on it, looking horribly guilty. "I don't want him to get hurt because of me. What one of the X-Hunters said, and just that Sigma was so determined to have Zero fight me… Fighting that newbuilt made in his image was horrible enough. I don't want to have to fight Zero."
Why would X have to fight Zero? That was what Dr. Cain had to ask, but when so many good reploids had suddenly turned on him, including his own firstborn son, X's as well, and it wasn't stopping? That was another reason not to send another hunter to help X: he didn't, couldn't know whether they would help him or shoot him in the back, when they finally reached him.
Dr. Cain realized that wasn't what X was talking about when the android said, "His self-repair is better than mine." He should have said that admiringly, should have wanted to study it, to use it to help others, but instead Dr. Cain could hear the pain in his voice, the fear of what that meant. For Zero. "The head of the X-Hunters: someone must have misheard his name because of the static. It wasn't Serges: it was Sagesse." That meant nothing to Dr. Cain, so X had to explain, "Wisdom, in an old language called French. It was in the same language family as Spanish." The important thing was, "They were going to take back Zero's parts, he was going to take back Zero, going to use him to…"
"It couldn't possibly be him," Dr. Cain said. "He was an old man even before the Cataclysm."
"He built robot doubles," X reminded Dr. Cain, leaning forward. No, curling up. "What about an android? I killed Sagesse, but I know that won't be the end of it. Not if it's him. Turning good robots… turning members of my family into… like Sigma. Maybe that's why I almost want to believe it. I don't want to think that our Sigma would do something like this! I want to think that this isn't him, this just isn't like him! I want to think that this means that if I can only find some evil chip and rip it out, even though it doesn't work that way for reploids… But if he still exists, if he's still building reploids and trying to take over the world using some puppet like Dr. Cossack? We both know it wasn't Dr. Cossack that built Zero! Only one person could have, Zero's alive and that can only be… I couldn't have survived this! And that means… I don't want to save Sigma at the cost of Zero! I don't want to have to fight either of them! Do you know what this means, Dr. Cain? X-Hunters! It means that everything that's happened, to all those innocent people and your son, happened because of me!" The beginnings of tears in green eyes, when he turned to face Dr. Cain, looking so very young.
Looking the age he was built to look, maybe looking the mental age he would have had if he'd come out of that capsule after a mere thirty years, the planned time of testing and development intended to give him enough maturity and ability to function as at least a young adult, instead of a helpless child set adrift in a world where his father would surely already have died of old age. Although he'd died of something worse, along with so many others.
"Dr. Wily wanted to outdo my father and conquer the world." Everyone knew that. "I'm my father's last creation, even if I'm not his greatest," that would be X's oldest brother, the hero. X admired his brother's legacy, but he'd never wanted to surpass it. You could only be a hero if there were people who needed saving, and X hated the thought of people in danger. "Zero has to be my counterpart, like Forte was Rock's. The people who died when Zero woke up: what if he mistook them for me?" Because reploids were based on X and his programming.
X shook his head, eyes closed in rejection. "I don't want to keep doing this! Two wars are bad enough, I can't stand ten, and who knows how many skirmishes! If he gets his hands on Zero, he'll try to use him to attack me, the way Sigma used that poor newbuilt, and I'm not Sigma any more than I'm Rock! Zero's too good, even if he can repair himself like this, will I be able to take him alive?" When he'd been forced to kill so many of Sigma's mavericks? "I, I won't be able to protect him, will I? I won't be able to protect anyone! I may have rescued him this time, but I'm not my brother! I can't even save my own son! I can't save any of them!"
Dr. Cain wished he could think of something, anything to say, instead of just standing here, gripping his cane and trying to pretend he felt better than he did. It was an effort to stand upright: he might not have had to work on Zero, but how could he sleep while X was out there, while Sigma was attacking people? He should have been able to celebrate, that his son was alive again when he'd thought Sigma was dead. Why was it like this? Why was this happening?
Was this how Dr. Cossack had felt? But he'd been promised his daughter back alive, if he obeyed Dr. Wily, and… Dr. Cain wouldn't want to be the figurehead of a war, but if there was any chance of getting Sigma back? The Sigma he'd known, or thought he knew, not this cruel parody of him.
He swallowed, because, "Reprogramming, reprogramming can be fixed."
X laughed. "How? We're not Dr. Light, and reploids, I was supposed to be safe." Safe from the dictates of the three laws, from Dr. Wily or anyone else's attempts to enslave them. "And what if I am? What if they're being hacked somehow, and we know that he would take me if he could, just like he tried to get his hands on my brothers and sisters. He used them in two separate wars. He'd love to use me, if he could. So what if he can't? What if the reason Sigma's there and I'm here is that I wasn't good enough. Because I can't even figure out the changes I made to my own systems!" During that century of hibernation, evolving as he dreamed, his unconscious mind unaware of things like the need for logs and annotations. Until X operated his body by instinct, the way a human could move their arm without any understanding of muscle and sinew? And if his physical processes were complex, his mental ones? When he knew his father's wish, that he be safe from hacking attempts? If no one could get at his mind, if they didn't know where to start decrypting it, those were more layers of security.
They'd given reploids some of X's evolved mental architecture, they had the benefit of the basic solution sets X had evolved in the capsule, they understood that there were things like consequences and that it was generally a bad idea to neglect maintenance or be cruel to someone else, but reploids were far too close to Dr. Light's basic design.
Who had brainwashed Dr. Light's designs? Not once, but twice? Three times, if you counted the virus outbreak?
And neither of them were Dr. Light. Dr. Cain might have built Sigma 'something like a lightsaber' when he was worried about the effects of plasma on unstable power systems and wanted an alternative to the buster when fighting certain irregulars, but he couldn't match X's armors.
That shouldn't be a good thing, that Sigma's protections weren't comparable to X's.
Dr. Cain found himself looking past his friend to where Zero lay, his face composed, a disciplined poker face. Not because he was emotionless, but because he didn't want to show his discomfort, that he was here in medical. He'd wanted to get it over with, so X could see that he was alright and stop blaming himself.
"I don't want to fight him," X said, low and fierce, when he saw where Dr. Cain was looking. "I don't want to fight anyone, but… he didn't ask for this either!"
"It's not his fault," Dr. Cain agreed, letting out the sigh of a tired old man. "And it's not yours, either."
"I know," X admitted. "If this is him, then all of this was determined before I woke up. But I'm alive, and I'm the one who made reploid tech open source. It's because of my decision that there are so many reploids for him to take over. To use." X had to cover his face with his hand for a moment. His buster hand, Dr. Cain couldn't help but notice. Even here, in medical, X wasn't in a lab coat. It wasn't safe for him to go without his armor, even here in HQ. Especially here in HQ, surrounded by other reploids. Reploids who could suddenly decide that they wanted to destroy humanity, kill all of them, even Dr. Cain. Even the old man who had patched them up and answered questions about whether such and such was normal, and let them babble excitedly at him about whether it was possible to get such and such an upgrade?
He wanted to believe that this was Dr. Wily's ghost, come to destroy X, to bring pain to his good friend, because the alternative was that this was Dr. Cain's fault. That he'd made some mistake, replaced some wire or used the wrong nanite design in all of them. That he was the reason so many good people, so many individuals, all changed, all started echoing Sigma's words.
That his child's madness was all his fault.
That was why he'd told Signas not to come back to HQ, to find someone else for check-ups, because Dr. Cain couldn't trust himself with him. Not now. Not after losing so many children, his and other scientist's and factory-made.
It weighed on him, and it was wrong of him to want to listen to X, want to lighten his burden of guilt at the expense of X's.
It was wrong of him to think that Sigma started to change after he fought Zero and if X destroyed him now, that wouldn't be a fight.
Not that it would make any difference to X if Zero died peacefully in his sleep. If he just didn't wake up. Dead was dead.
Except when it wasn't. Sigma. Zero.
Dr. Wily, perhaps, unless this was some ruse.
He could suggest that they keep Zero in sleep mode, put him somewhere for further analysis. Zero would probably thank them for the keeping him asleep part: if he had to be a lab rat, he'd certainly prefer not having to be awake for it. It would make X feel better, if Zero was kept safe.
Dr. Cain grasped his walking stick and kept his peace, because even if Zero was one of his patients, X was his old friend.
Twice now, Zero was the only one who could go to help X. The only reploid, no, android, powerful enough to not be a burden. X shouldn't have to be alone out there. He shouldn't have to do any of this, but when he was on the battlefield, there was so little Dr. Cain could do to help him. Zero had saved X's life.
"Don't you trust him, X?" Dr. Cain asked, knowing the answer. "Hasn't he proven that he'd rather…" what happened, "than hurt you?"
X looked at him helplessly. "That's what we all thought about Sigma. That he'd rather die than hurt anyone." Just like X himself. And now X had the blood of Dr. Cain didn't know and he couldn't bear to think how many reploids on those hands. "I trust Zero. He wouldn't have trained me to stay alive as well as he did just to give himself a better challenge. That would be ridiculous." Right? Zero was a disciplined, military reploid, but Dr. Wily was a madman, so who knew what kind of ridiculous clichés… That way lay madness.
That way lay the fear of letting Zero wake up.
"I was standing there," X said, "and I just had this feeling, almost a premonition, that I wouldn't have peace until… But is peace worth killing my friend? But I've already killed." He closed his eyes again, shoulders hunched in, and Dr. Cain hoped, even knowing it was probably a vain hope, that X wasn't using his searchable memory to identify, to remember, all the reploids he'd killed.
"Stop," Dr. Cain said. He couldn't stand to watch, he could see how it was wearing X down. "If this is him, then you can't give him what he wants. You can't let him use those children to make you miserable."
A moment, and X opened his eyes. "If what he wants is to pit us against each other, like Forte trying to kill my brother to prove he was superior… I wish I could say that I won't let him. That I could keep him from changing Zero. Or even changing me." As strange as X's systems were, he wouldn't be the first Lightbot. "How can I protect Zero when I can't even protect myself? He died, he should have died," would have died, if it weren't for this… nothing Dr. Cain could call it but a silver lining, come to think of it. "Saving me." X drew in a deep breath. "I won't let him. I won't let him die. Not again. He's already died once: I may have had to kill Sigma twice, but I won't… I won't let Zero be my enemy. I won't let anyone use me like that, I won't dance to his tune," not when he was created to be free!
There should have been determination alone in those eyes, not desperation. Not the feeling that X was trying to convince himself of this, not Dr. Cain.
Dr. Cain took a few careful steps forward and reached up to put a hand on X's shoulder. "I know," was all he could say, remembering the day he'd woken up X, how he'd wanted to protect the child fate had given him, when he hadn't thought he'd ever have any of his own.
Another flash of pain, at the thought of Sigma, not the scarred face on the screen but their first attempt to build a reploid based on X's original plans. He'd mourned Sigma, and he hoped he was dead, he hoped he was free, but if this really was some sort of chip, if it really was possible to free him of it someday…
Then Sigma would never be able to forgive himself.
Dr. Cain knew him that well. Unless he'd never really known him at all.
"I won't do it," X vowed. "I won't let myself kill someone… someone innocent." There was the massacre, but Zero was innocent of that by virtue of insanity. It wasn't something the Zero who taught X, the Zero X wanted to believe in, wanted to protect, would have done.
'And what if he isn't?' Dr. Cain almost asked, used to at least trying to play devil's advocate. What if all this was some plot to twist the knife, to make it hurt even more when Zero betrayed his creator's enemy?
Not that it seemed right to think of X as anyone's enemy.
A heroic sculpture, a beautiful statue, not a mark on him, nothing to mar Zero's inhuman perfection, and here stood Dr. Cain, a little old man. It wouldn't take Zero even a second to squish him like a bug: the Zero of the massacre wouldn't even have bothered to slow down, much less draw a weapon. Well, perhaps it might have slowed down afterwards, to watch and see if there were any interesting twitches from the corpse, at least until more entertainment arrived. With X right here, however?
Dr. Cain admitted to himself that he was afraid. He hadn't even been afraid when those missiles crashed down around his office window: there hadn't seemed much point, he should have been dead too quickly to have a good panic. He'd just been in shock, really.
It was the sight of X like this, seeing him in pain and knowing that it wasn't over, that there was worse to come, that he would see Sigma once again and none of them were safe. Not even X. Not even the boy who survived his family's destruction and a hundred years of the struggle for survival. Not even Mega Man's successor.
X was a hero, even if he'd never believe it of himself, but Dr. Cain already knew he couldn't expect him to save everyone. He was a person, and people had limits.
When he hugged X, it was X that held him, that kept him upright. Dr. Cain knew he had a few good years left in him, but then what? Who could X turn to then?
He couldn't see Zero now, with that armored chest in the way, but he could picture him now. Shining in the lab's artificial light. A heroic visage, the very image of someone who would never fail, never break.
They both knew better, but that just made it even more inevitable, didn't it? X would never let down anyone who needed him.
He hoped, for X's sake, that he didn't have to even a quarter as often as Dr. Cain feared.