The Maverick Hunter HQ was in a panic when X and Zero walked in, X carrying a comatose Axl. The blue bomber immediately shouted for medical assistance for Axl, who was barely holding on and moaning in pain with a broken helmet crystal. Alia went to X's side and followed him to the repair bay to try and calm him down. Palette was still busy with her job, but Layer had just finished her analysis and submitted it to Signas. She noticed Zero head off to his room and blinked curiously.
"Where is he going? Why isn't he going with X to see if Axl's okay?" she wondered.
She knew she should probably let Zero be - that he must have been exhausted after the fight on the moon, first against Sigma and then against signal to the Sigma Palace had gotten jammed but the navigators had been able to get bits and pieces of the conversations between the hunters and Sigma and Lumine. Layer knew, from the conversation she had with X about the Eurasia Colony accident, that Zero must have been feeling extremely bitter towards Vile and Sigma for being used and having his design used for Sigma's "children" must have had Zero questioning his worth. But against her better judgment, she decided to go after him. He looked like he could use someone to talk to and everyone else was busy.
Besides, as cold as he was, she had earned a degree of his trust, right? He asked her to be his navigator. That had to account for something.
Layer hurried after Zero and gently tapped his shoulder. "Zero? Are you alright?"
Zero tensed up. He wasn't in any mood for company right now. Seeing Vile and Sigma brought back too many memories he would have rather forgotten, especially the memories of Iris and what he had to do to her.
"Iris is waiting for you!" Sigma's taunt still haunted him.
"Layer, I'm sorry but I'm not in the mood. Leave me alone," he said harshly.
Layer stepped back, hurt by the remark. She tried again. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to tell you that it was a good job done and-"
"Layer!" This time Zero's voice was harsher. "Save your praises for X and Axl when he wakes up. I didn't do a damn thing, so you're wasting your breath." And he stomped off, leaving Layer frozen on the spot. She turned around and fled to her room in the opposite direction, just as X and Alia were coming down the hall.
"The repair bay said Axl will be better by morning and he should function fine. There's no need to keep worrying, X," Alia said soothingly.
"I suppose..." X said apprehensively. He and Alia shrieked in surprise as Layer ran into them. "Whoa! Layer, what's wrong?"
"Is she crying?" Alia thought in alarm. "Layer, are you upset?"
"No, I'm just...on my way back to the navigation room to..." Layer broke off with a sob. Alia motioned for X to help her and they led Layer to her room, where she completely broke down. Alia rubbed her back and X took her hand.
"Layer, tell us what's wrong," he said gently.
"I-It's Zero..." Layer said softly. She explained what happened before she ran into them. As she talked, she saw Alia and X exchange glances. Neither of them looked too surprised.
"I'm sorry, Layer. I should have warned you about Zero," Alia said. "He's gone through some bad experiences he'd rather not talk about."
"And some you don't even know about, Alia," X said. "Layer, Zero lost someone important to him a long time ago. She used to be his navigator, but she and her brother were a part of a mad military force called Repliforce. Zero was forced to kill them both and Sigma never let him forget it."
"Oh..." Layer went wide eyed. Her gaze went to a picture on her side table and fresh tears fell from her eyes. She picked up the picture and studied it before saying, "I know how he feels."
"What's that, Layer?" Alia asked.
Layer showed both of them the picture. It was of her beside a male reploid in silver armor and a heavy looking sword beside him. The reploid had his arm around Layer and they were smiling.
"That's me with my former lover," Layer revealed. "His name is...was...Nickel. The two of us were friends and partners. I was his navigator and he was training to become a hunter. Our dream was to work for this facility together as a team."
"What happened to him?" Alia asked. X nodded as if he already knew.
"Did he fall in action?" he asked.
"No...worse..." Layer said. She set the picture back on the table and sighed deeply. "He had a bitter rivalry with one of the human instructors and killed him. He was labeled a maverick and we were ordered to destroy him. I wasn't exempted from that order," Layer added sadly.
Both X and Alia looked shocked, but Layer went on. "They wrote the incident off as part of the training. The instructors said that reploids were always at risk of becoming a maverick and even your best friend or the one you love could become your enemy. The best hunters and navigators don't hesitate when a maverick appears in front of them...they called it a worthy exercise for only those wanting to become the best. But the look he gave me before he was destroyed...I can't forget it. He looked betrayed and I really did feel that I was betraying him. I've felt guilty about it ever since. I can't help wondering what would have happened if I disobeyed orders and escaped with him instead of..."
"Layer..." Alia interrupted softly. "You had no choice. If you had disobeyed orders, they probably would have labeled you a maverick as well. And once you're labeled, this facility wouldn't stop looking for you until you were destroyed as well."
"She's right, Layer," X added. "Zero is my best friend, but I had to fight him one time. I felt awful about it, but there was no choice. We all live in fear of becoming a maverick or fighting against the ones we really care about, but that's why I fight. I'm fighting for a future in which we will finally have peace...a future where fighting doesn't have to happen at all."
"Me too," Alia added. "And so are you. It's why you're here, Layer."
Layer nodded in agreement, but she still had had a troubled look on her face. X realized that her bad experience must be the reason why Layer was so shy and eager to please. He often caught her looking at Zero with a worried expression and was always eager to give a report, no matter how small it was. She seemed easily embarrassed (Palette wasn't exactly helpful in that, since she seemed to like teasing Layer), but X knew she was only trying her hardest to keep a second incident from happening.
"Layer, why don't you take some rest?" Alia suggested. "The crisis is over now, so there's no more work that needs to be done until the next maverick comes along."
"Sure..." Layer nodded in agreement and settled into her recharge pod. She plugged herself in and went into hibernation mode as X and Alia exited her room.
"X, I've got to get back to the navigation room and finish up my analysis of the new generation reploids. If there's something happening, I'll send for you," Alia said.
"What's going to happen to the new generation reploids?" X asked.
Alia sighed. "We may have to stop production of them. Sigma said that they all carry his DNA, correct? And Lumine himself said they possess the power to go maverick at will. It's too dangerous to let such power exist. The copy ability is very useful, but it's a double edged sword."
"What about Axl?" X questioned. "He never showed any signs of becoming Sigma, even though you found traces of Sigma in his DNA."
"I don't know, X," Alia said. "I care about Axl a lot and I don't think he could be dangerous since he's a prototype, but if he shows signs of maverick activity, you know what will happen. Still, he's earned a lot of trust and respect in this facility. And his copy ability isn't perfected, so that may be what keeps him from becmong a full new generation reploid. If he could tell us more about his origins, we can determine what happens with him, but even he doesn't know..." Alia broke off worriedly. "I suppose I can just continue with my research for now. I'll keep you updated."
"Thank you," X said. He smiled at Alia and she smiled back.
"What will you do now, X?"
"I'm going to see Zero," X answered.
Zero sat at his windowsill and gazed out. He had a faraway look on his face, but his mind was overheating with images of the past. The old professor who claimed Zero was his masterpiece, blood and oil on his hands, Sigma and other reploids screaming, the virus pulsing through his circuitry, fighting the Colonel, Iris pleading for them both to stop, Iris dying, being used by Gate to make a new virus...what was his worth? Was he just too dangerous to exist? As long as he was around, some evil dumbass would try to use his DNA again and another catastrophe would happen. He could put a stop to it, like usual...until the next time.
And what of his friends? Zero didn't let others in so easily, but X was, without a doubt, his best friend. Alia had been their fateful comrade and navigator for a long time and she had earned his trust, which was rare. Axl had somehow wormed his way into that circle as well. Zero valued them, but he dreaded the possibility of any of them turning on him like Iris did. All it took was her brother's death. His friends seemed to have lost just as much as she did. Alia had lost Gate, a man she was close to (and Zero suspected she may have even loved him). Axl lost his whole 'family' at Red Alert and a father figure who meant a lot to him. Zero was also the one to draw his sabre on their ends...what was stopping them from turning on him?
He thought about Layer, the beautiful new navigator who helped him, X and Axl through this new crisis. She seemed to generally care for him and always anxious to get the job done while still worrying about his welfare. He had asked her to be his navigator, but the words had slipped out of his mouth before he could stop them. He wasn't sure if he actually had meant it or not. She was a good person, even if she did seem a little annoying.
However, Zero couldn't take the pain and paranoia of letting someone else into his life. The thought bothered him, but he would have to get Layer reassigned. It would be for the better.
His bedroom door opened and X entered. Zero glanced up with an annoyed look at his best friend. "You know, just because I gave you the access code, doesn't mean you can barge in whenever you want."
"Sorry. Next time I'll knock before I open the door," X said.
"Very funny. What do you want, X?"
"I wanted to talk to you." X took a seat on a chair next to the window. "Zero, listen. We've been best friends for pretty much a century now, haven't we? I know you well enough to know you're troubled. And I don't have to guess that it's what Sigma said to you that's causing it."
"Damn, you're annoying..." Zero groaned. X smiled in response. "So what is it you want to say that will change everything, X?"
"Zero, despite everything that's happened, you're still our friend. You're one of the best hunters here. We know you're not really dangerous, even though we know what you've been through. And you're not the only one who's dealing with guilt and feeling worthless," X added.
Zero rolled his eyes. "X, that's frigging cheesy. And I don't know who you're talking about."
"I'm talking about your new navigator," X retorted. That got Zero's attention and he gave X a confused look. "You seem surprised. You really didn't think you were the only one in the world who lost someone they were emotionally close to, were you?"
Zero didn't reply, but the look in his eyes showed curiosity. X decide to bite the bullet and give Zero the whole story. "I know you're not over Iris and what happened. But here's something else I know that you don't. Layer's been through the same thing. She lost someone she was in love with after he was labeled a maverick during their training days. What's more, she was also directly involved with his destruction. Now she harbours intense guilt from it. That's why she wants to work hard for you. She's scared of losing anyone else she gets close to. Sound familiar?"
"Maybe..." Zero admitted.
"All I'm saying is don't push Layer away just because she's a new face, Zero," X said. "She's got the same pain you do and she can probably understand what you're going through better than I can. Talk to her. And maybe learn to let go of what happened. Too many have died and there's still no end in sight to this fighting. But we have to learn to live with who we have now and hope we don't lose them tomorrow."
Zero sighed. "Layer told you what happened a few minutes ago, didn't she?"
"What difference does it make?" X countered. "So she was upset because you were rude to her and Alia and I happened to see her. Zero, she still doesn't know you all that well, so obviously she's going to get upset when you get rude. You might as well apologize to her. She's your navigator now. You'll have to get along if you want to work well."
"Not for long," Zero said. "I'm going to ask Signas to reassign her. I can't take the risk of letting someone else in and losing them."
"Zero!" X was shocked to hear that. "You think that's going to solve your problem? When you don't even have one and it's just you getting paranoid? How do you think Layer's going to feel about that?"
Zero didn't answer. X got up and frowned at the red reploid. "I'll tell you how she'll feel. She's going to feel even worse than now. She'll think you hate her and she'll even be questioning her own worth. Stop letting your pigheadedness get in the way of making new friends."
Zero seemed stunned at the last remark, but X had already turned heel and was heading out. "Oh yes...just in case you were curious, Axl's in intensive care, but he should be better by the morning. Unless you decided to shut him out, too."
Zero never felt more like an asshole his entire life. He watched X leave and his door closed, leaving him alone and secluded again.
An hour later, Layer emerged from hibernation and stretched. It was close to evening now and the hunter base was quieter than before. Some hunters and navigators continued to work around the clock to finish compiling the data of the new generation reploids and the Jakob Elevator. Layer sighed, thinking of all the hardship ahead. At least her role as a route navigator wasn't too in demand for what was left.
Unfortunately, this left her with nothing to do. She decided, after brushing out her hair, that she would go out to the arena and get some practice with her rapier done. If she wasn't needed to navigate, she could at least be useful in case there was another attack. Her thoughts drifted to Nickel and she felt a bit melancholy as she recalled his face, his smile and the promise he always made her when she had doubts of herself.
"No matter what, Layer, we'll always be together. We'll become the best team to have ever joined the Maverick Hunter Headquarters. Keep believing in us, Layer, even if nothing else makes sense."
But she had. And now he was gone and she was left to believe in...what? Layer shook thoughts of Nickel out of her mind and tried to focus on something else.
Zero...in a way, he reminded Layer a lot of Nickel. They both fought using a sword and they both dreamed of making it big. The only difference was Zero was already there - he was what most reploids aspired to be like. Layer never dared to believe she would actually work with the famous Zero, but when the Maverick Hunter HQ sent a request for two new navigators for their top hunters, her old boss had immediately signed her up.
She wanted to get close to Zero...even if it was only for work purposes. But the more she thought about him, the more she wanted to just get close to him as a friend. If only he would let her, anyway. She set her hairbrush down and left her room, taking her Layer Rapier along the way.
Down on the ground level, she met with X again, who was showing Alia samples of the Mavericks he had defeated. After X gave the chips to Alia for analyzing, he turned to Layer with a friendly smile. "Hi Layer. Feeling any better?"
"A bit," Layer answered. That was partly the truth. "How's the analysis on new generation reploids going? Should I stay and help out?"
"No, it's alright," Alia said. "I'm just running the chips X gave me through the system and that should be all for the night. Isn't it amazing how X can use the ability of a maverick he defeats without actually becoming maverick himself? His creator was a genius."
"Ah..." X blushed. "Well, I owe it to my predecessor as well. The old age robots had been the base of my blueprints."
"I wonder what happened to them..." Alia mused. "It would be interesting to know what the difference between the old robots and reploids today are."
"I heard they had to be deactivated," Layer said. "They couldn't function properly without their creators and human partners, so they were deactivated and their parts were scrapped and later discovered by inventors and reused for reploids. In a way, they live on in us."
"Amazing...what an interesting theory," Alia said. "Anyway, I better finish this up. Where are you off to, Layer?"
"I'm going to the training grounds to practice a bit," Layer answered. "I don't want to get a rusty sword arm in case of an emergency."
"Good thinking," X said. Layer smiled and nodded. "Then I'll see you later."
"Take care, Layer. You did great today," Alia said. Layer nodded again and left the computer room.
Out at the arena, Layer began her routine by practicing the moves she had picked up from Zero during the crisis. Some of the practice reploids set out fake mavericks for target practice and Layer demolished them. She was so into her routine that she didn't notice Zero come into the arena and start a routine beside her. By this point, her harddrive had started to run memories of her and Nickel again and her focus was starting to waver. Layer knew these memories would not go away unless she deleted them, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. It seemed like such a betrayal...another one.
Layer pressed on, but Zero noticed her focus was shaky. He called for a break and stopped Layer's swing with his Z-Sabre. Layer was so surprised that she stumbled into her swing and quickly caught her balance.
"Layer, you don't look well." It was the least Zero could say, but it was also the most.
"I'm sorry..." Layer mumbled. She looked up at Zero with a slight blush. "My hard drive...it keeps overheating with things I'd rather not see."
"Yep, sounds familiar. X was right...damn, I hate when he's right," Zero thought. Aloud, he said, "Why not take a quick break? You're doing pretty well already." Praise did not come easily out of Zero's mouth and he mentally cringed. Layer, on the other hand, didn't seem convinced.
"No, I still have this part to master...I've got to stay sharp..."
"Layer..." Zero's tone was softer this time. "What's really upsetting you?"
Layer looked down. "It's nothing..."
"Is it that guy you once loved? X told me about what happened to you," Zero informed her. Layer froze and Zero's lips curved into a slight smirk. He knew he was right. He checked the time and noticed the training arena was close to closing, so he added, "C'mon. Let's head outside for a bit. Training's over for today anyway."
"Alright..." Layer sheathed her rapier and Zero did the same with his Z-sabre. "Why outside?"
"It's nice outside," Zero replied.
Layer couldn't argue with that. She followed Zero outside to the rest area, which was empty. There were a bunch of benches surrounded by the scenery of the city at twilight. Zero sat down at one of the benches and Layer sat next to him. They were quiet for a few moments until Zero spoke up.
"I don't know if X told you about me and my past, Layer, but that's pretty much what makes me the hardass I am nowadays. I've been used for destruction, jeered at by the enemy and lost someone important to me. I'm constantly on guard of anyone becoming a maverick, even the ones I'm friends with," Zero admitted.
"X actually did tell me about you..." Layer said. "I...know what it is to feel suspicious of everyone. After I had lost Nickel, I even began to wonder if the whole world was out to get me. It was the hardest thing to fight him, but even worse when it was called a part of training. It was as if he had become a tool...or a stepping stone for rookies," she added with a touch of bitterness. "But Zero...are you so afraid of anyone becoming maverick that you won't be friendly with anyone?"
"Yeah..." Zero replied. Layer's shoulders visibly slumped. "What Iris did to me left me with a numbing paranoia that I started to believe anyone who loses what she lost...in her case, her brother...would become maverick."
"Zero, that's not always the case. Look at you. You aren't a maverick, are you? And neither am I, despite both our losses," Layer said. "It's true some reploids become so lost in the pain that they turn to the evil side, but some continue on with the pain and end up finding something better. And that's what I'm looking for."
Zero raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Hm. Maybe you're a lot tougher than you look. I never thought of that before."
"It's what I keep telling myself," Layer revealed. "And now I'm here working at the Maverick Hunter HQ with two of the most famous reploids and new friends. I can only hope it gets better. It would help if my hard drive stopped giving me images of Nickel, though."
"I know," Zero said. "We'll just have to fill our hard drive with new images and memories. That can make the old ones easier to bear." He turned to Layer and regarded her intensely, enough to make Layer's blush return. "Layer, I told you up on the moon to be my navigator. When I said that, it was out of a moment of desperation to find Sigma fast enough. But now I'd like to ask you...would you be my permanent navigator? We made a great team before and Alia wants to be X's own navigator now."
"Zero..." Layer said, surprised. "Of course I will. And let me tell you now," she added with strength in her voice. "I won't become a maverick. I would rather get sent to the scrap heap than become the thing I hate. We won't ever fight, unless it's a friendly spar. Is that okay?"
"You got a deal," Zero said and surprised them both by slipping his hand into Layer's.
FINALLY. YES. DONE.
Why isn't there more of this pairing? This pairing ROCKS! It's got so much potential that writers and artists seem to refuse to use! ;O;
I know I repeated myself a lot here...blah. I just wanted it all to make sense. I may have overdid it, but I'm quite pleased with the oneshot. ZEROXLAYER NEEDS MOAR LAV.
ZeroxIris fantards can bite me. In every fandom, there's always a pairing that gets done to death and put up on the high point of overrated to the point where some fans defend it to the death and refuse to open their minds to other things. I've seen a lot of hate for Layer and I hate that hate. Okay, so she was only in one game. She didn't have a lot of screen time or development, but we can clearly see she is shy and with an eager to please tendency and also a bit of a worry wart. If you ask me, she's just begging for a backstory to explain her current personality. Alia got hers in X6...why not Layer? And yes, Layer has a crush on Zero. Get over it. It's not like Layer's moving in on a claimed man because Iris is DEAD and I don't recall either Iris or Zero telling each other they loved one another.
Also, Iris kind of annoys me.
Don't get me wrong. I don't HATE ZeroxIris. What I hate is what fans do to that pairing. It's not the only pairing of its kind, where fans do it to death and lash out on those who prefer pairings involving one person with someone else.
But at the same time, everytime I try looking for ZeroxLayer, I find it as a side in other stories or not done well enough. How many times have I seen the old "Layer comforting Zero and helping him overcome Iris's death" scenario? Too many times now. Come ON, a little originality! That's why I gave Layer her backstory here. Capcom didn't give her one (and the way things are looking, we'll never get a Megaman X9, FUCK YOU CAPCOM), so it's up to writers and artists to formulate something new and original.
P.S: If you happen to be one of the named ZeroxIris fantards (NO I DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYONE WHO LIKES ZEROXIRIS IS A FANTARD) that is prepared to flame me, I got two words for you: EAT ME. I didn't write this for you, I wrote it for ZeroxLayer fans.
Dedicated to Lady Midnight Sage, who also loves this pairing. Also because she established the Primrose stage (Gravity Antonium) music as a good ZeroxLayer theme and it helped me finish this. LAV YA, BESTIE.