And we're done. This chapter just has the ending and a thingy that's borderline omake.
It was very easy to remodel one of Zero's spare bodies, actually. All it took was changing the shape of the face a bit, getting rid of the armor, and applying some hair dye. X did the work himself, careful and methodical so the sculpting would stay that way, and when he was finally satisfied he undid the lock holding her into her current body, setting the jewelry aside.
Aurora didn't immediately escape the body she'd been sealed into, looking between them until X nodded. "It's alright, Aurora. Go on."
Zero would have thought she'd enjoy her freedom, but she dived into the new body the instant after she finished emerging from the old. Was she still too ashamed to show her true face?
She was willing to take X's hands when he offered them to help her stand up. "How do you feel?"
"Everything's sharper, clearer. And it feels a lot better suited to me." Than even a model X had designed just for her.
Zero nodded, unsurprised. These bodies had been designed for him, not a normal android, by a master who knew exactly what he was doing. X was a good engineer with a lot of experience and the occasional insight, but he wasn't Dr. Wily. "Why don't you go test it out? You should have some time to get used to it before we start practice."
She looked surprised, glancing at the drawer the jewelry was in. They weren't going to reseal her?
"Your daughters are having a good time with Alouette, but they haven't seen you in awhile. You could visit them," X suggested.
Apparently they weren't. "I'm sorry, Father." She'd wanted to spend time with him: she hadn't thought that her daughters would want to spend time with her.
"There's no need to apologize." X continued putting the tools and other miscellany away. "Would you mind taking your old body to a factory?" It was subpar, but there were still people waiting for bodies who would be happy even with one like this. Even though he'd deliberately crippled its physical strength and combat potential, it was still superior to an old Neo Arcadian model in every other way.
"Of course Father," she said, picking it up. "Goodbye?"
"See you later."
When she teleported out all Zero could say was, "Finally," as he came up behind X. Wrapping his arms around him, he lowered his head to nibble at his neck.
X tilted his neck obligingly, and Zero had to wonder if it was an aftereffect of the virus or a sign of his brokenness that X was still so willing to submit to whatever Zero wanted. Maybe X hadn't been able to get rid of all the effects the obedience programming had on his mind, maybe he wanted someone to direct him and tell him what was right after he lost sight of it - If that was the case, he was out of luck: that was what Zero needed X for. He couldn't be X's moral compass when he couldn't even be his own – and couldn't trust himself to fight anymore, maybe he'd just missed Zero for so long that he was too happy Zero was here to get upset about anything Zero did to him, maybe it was because X had lost the ability to care for so many people that now almost all his heart's compassion for others and desire to help them was centered on Zero, or maybe it was all of the above.
It made him handle him like centuries-old porcelain, and X was literally a centuries-old work of art, so that was just what he deserved. Worn down, broken, and Zero's to piece back together.
"I want all of your attention," he told X, as he turned him around and watched those eyes focus entirely on him, instead of X splitting his attention between this world and the virus' web.
Zero was still connected to the web. In a sense, he was that web, but now that people were starting to adjust to this peace they had stopped coming to up to him with questions that they certainly didn't need his help with because they wanted to know that he was there and that he cared. Now, most of the time it's enough to respond to anyone who pings him with a distant brush of affection. He couldn't stop having part of his mind taken up by the web, but he could tune it out, or rather tune all but one strand of it out.
"Are you happy?" He asked, remembering the last time he'd asked that question.
"Yes. You're here."
At first Zero didn't like that response. X had listed more reasons the last time he'd asked. Yet, once he thought about it, he realized that it was a good sign that that was all it took. Maybe X had needed to justify the fact he felt happy before because he'd known that everything was very wrong on some level.
There was true peace (even if details were still being worked out and concerns allayed), people were being taken care of (even if it would take a long time for all reploids to have proper bodies and humans to be self-sufficient), his family was alright (even if Aurora was only slowly reconciling with Zero and the guardians were going to have to stand trial as soon as anything like an unbiased jury existed), and Zero was happy.
"What about you?"
"Me?" Why was X asking? "Of course I am."
He could tell that Zero had been thinking about him. "You were worrying about me again. I'm trying not to worry you."
"X, you… of course I'm worried." After what had happened to X, of course Zero was worried about him. "That's inevitable, not something to feel guilty about."
"I'm sorry," X said, and Zero wondered who he was saying it to. The world he'd left behind when that became the only way to protect it?
"Look, I'm not going to expect you to be okay overnight." He could see what had happened to X's mind. "You looked after everyone, and me too, for a century, right? So I'll look after you for a century. That's fair, isn't it?" X should be okay by then. Hopefully.
No, this was X. Of course he would be.
It was obvious that X was trying not to cry. At first, the thought almost panicked Zero, because what was he supposed to do if X cried? How could he make him feel better?
And X would be crying, X had gone through all of that, because of him. How could he handle the guilt? This wasn't something else to blame on the virus. He had made the decision to seal himself away.
But X was X, and X probably needed to cry, to let it out, and Zero didn't know how to make him let go and start crying any more than he would know how to make him stop once he started. So he just held him, and tried not to think about the tears that fell silently on his breastplate.
Someday, they would stop. For now, that knowledge was enough.
"What are you laughing about?" Harpuia snapped at Fefnir.
"I just realized something. It's traditional for humans to hate mothers-in-law, right?"
"That woman is not my mother," Copy-X said, low and dangerous, wishing he wasn't still prohibited from performing violent actions. X might have fixed that demeaning stutter when he was infected, but Zero had thought keeping the booby trap Weil had put in place to destroy him if he fought was a fantastic idea. He couldn't even use his buster.
"I have already spent years trying to kill her," Harpuia agreed. Even when he hadn't admitted to himself that he knew that Ciel was Master X's builder and he was suffering this because of her. What was the point of getting infected by the maverick virus if he didn't get to kill either of the two humans he really, really wanted to? X had given Aurora the honor of assuring Weil's demise.
"Well, you'd better be civil at the wedding," Phantom pointed out.
"We are not inviting her to the wedding."
"Like you'll have a choice."