A/N: What's this? A repost?
I recently did a MASSIVE amount of editing on this old oneshot, as my headcanons and character interpretations (and writing skills) changed over time. And I know it's January, shut up. I'm posting it anyway.
Everyone was happy at this time of year.
Robot masters ran around Wily's fortress as though they were overly-energized on lithium ions, flinging snowballs at one another and tossing decorations up on the walls. Even the mad scientist himself seemed in a slightly cheerier mood, his eyebrows just a bit more bushy than usual.
Yes, everyone was happy on Christmas Eve.
Everyone except Forte.
In fact, Forte seemed to be less pleasant, if such a thing was possible. He was not happy about the seemingly useless atmosphere of pleasure, he was not happy about his so-called siblings bolting about the fortress like idiots, and he most certainly was not happy about the wreath that Plantman had plunked on his door.
But then, Forte was rarely happy.
"Ugh! For the last time, Snakeman, no, I will not have a snowball fight with you guys!" Forte snapped.
"Always sssuch a nay sayer," Snakeman hissed.
"I hate Christmas. Now leave me alone."
"Bah humbug to you too, Sssscrooge."
Forte went into his room and slammed his door. A moment later, he opened it, chucked a wreath out, and slammed the door shut once more. "What's the point?" he mumbled, flopping down on his bed and closing his eyes. "Nobody'd want me around for Christmas, anyway, even if I did like it . . ."
A knock sounded at his door, followed shortly by his creator's voice. "Forte, come down to my lab. I need to analyze your weaponry."
"Are you working on that stupid blonde-haired robot again?"
"Come, Forte. As a Christmas present."
"If you're so eager to celebrate then wake that red freak up and teach him the meaning of Christmas!"
"For one day out of the year, can't you do something that I ask you to?!"
When Wily didn't say anything else, Forte rolled over and stared at the falling snow outside for the rest of the day.
He couldn't sleep.
The snow kept falling, and the wind blew softly against his window, and he couldn't sleep.
He seriously couldn't sleep.
At first he wondered if it was his subconscious insisting on laying spite to Springman for absolutely insisting that you-know-who wouldn't come to visit unless everybody was asleep. But then, no one listened to Springman anyway.
No . . . it was something else.
"The red freak," Forte sighed aloud. Wily's newest android would never know the meaning of Christmas, or goodwill, or even what it was like to be happy.
Ninety-seven percent of him insisted that he didn't care. But a teeny-tiny three percent kept suggesting that maybe, just maybe, he did. Why exactly he cared was not something it could explain to the other ninety-seven percent, but that three percent held firm that it was true.
Rolling his eyes, Forte dragged himself out of bed, still trying to make himself believe that he was only doing this so he could get to sleep. Gospel lifted his head and wagged his tail hopefully. "C'mon, boy," Forte said. He stalked down to Wily's basement lab, Gospel trotting at his heels.
The lab was a mess, as was to be expected from the aging scientist. Forte stopped in front of the lone active capsule on the far wall.
A red robot lay sleeping inside.
"Huh," Forte snorted. "So you're almost built, are you? Just missing weapons. Wonder if he's programmed your AI yet . . ." He typed in a few codes on the computer and grabbed a small remote off of the lab bench. "Hold this for me, Gos," he said, allowing the wolf to take the device from his hand before turning his attention back to the capsule. "Hey."
"Hey, wake up," Forte said, a little louder.
Yet more silence.
"Hey!" Forte repeated, daring to raise his voice to a yell. "Zero! Wake up, you slacker!"
The red robot stirred, and Forte jumped a mile. He drew a deep breath to calm himself down, glancing down at Gospel for reassurance. The wolf stood just as tense as his master, a small growl rumbling in his throat and the remote clutched tightly between his teeth. "Easy, Gos," Forte murmured. "So Zero. Looks like you're not just a junk-bot after all."
Zero blinked at him, but didn't speak.
"What?" Forte asked. "Are you just a drone? And after all that talk about creating such advanced AI, too."
Zero sat up slightly. "Your name is . . . Forte, isn't it?"
"Why . . . did you wake me up?"
Forte sighed. "I've been asking myself the same question. But I guess as long as you're awake, c'mon. Follow me."
Zero sat up a little farther and eyed Gospel for a long moment. His expression seemed to darken slightly; Forte laid a hand on his companion's head. "Try anything and you're going right back to sleep," the elder robot warned.
"So that's what the remote is for," Zero murmured. Forte's eyes widened, and Gospel let out an audible snarl. "Okay," Zero said. "I get it. I'll follow you."
The elder android didn't dare take his eyes off of Zero for an instant. Zero was far more perceptive than he had ever imagined, his sharp gaze flicking from side to side and taking in every detail of their surroundings. Forte had expected a cold, ruthless killer, not someone so calm and self-aware.
Once they were outside, Forte sat down in the snow, and Gospel circled around for a few moments before curling up at his side. Zero stared down at both of them in confusion. "What?" Forte grunted.
"Isn't that . . .well, kinda cold?"
"Yeah. S'called snow. It's frozen water."
"I know what snow is."
"Good for you."
Zero scowled, and Forte rolled his eyes. "I don't get why he'd build a killing machine with a personality," the older robot sighed. "Seems like a waste of AI."
"Are you referring to me, or to yourself?"
"I see," Zero murmured, sitting down alongside the black-armored robot. "You're right though. It's a waste of AI."
"What would you know?" Forte spat. "You seem to have plenty of self-control. Why haven't you tried to snap my neck yet?"
"Why haven't you tried to snap mine?"
Startled, Forte turned to meet Zero's gaze. Zero stared back at him in patient silence, his eyes calm and clear as he waited for an answer. "You asking for a fight or what?" Forte said at last.
They held one another's gaze for several moments longer before Forte turned away sharply and fixed his eyes on the ground. "There's no point, anyway," he said. "We both know who would win."
"Indeed." Zero shook his head mildly. "What use is a machine of destruction who has such an amount of self-restraint?"
"Tch. Self-restraint? You don't know me very well, do you?"
"Ah." Zero held up a hand. "But if you didn't have the capability to exercise such restraint, you'd have jumped at the chance to fight me. To prove yourself stronger." He sighed softly. "I'm afraid that's a kind of self-control I won't have for much longer."
Forte felt a sudden, unexplained pang of sympathy. "You mean he hasn't programmed you to kill?"
"I . . . I'm not sure. When you woke me up, my first instinct was to attack, but I had the capacity to decide otherwise once I realized you weren't a threat. But I think soon . . . soon I'll just be . . ." Zero's voice trailed off.
For a long moment, Forte debated on whether or not to speak. Then he drew a deep breath and lowered his eyes. "I kinda know what you mean."
"I mean I know what it feels like to be built just to be a death machine. Yeah, sure, I was built with a conscience, the ability to make simple decisions, but . . . my innate choice is to kill." Forte's voice softened. "And I don't always like it."
Zero didn't say anything.
"None of my 'brothers' even speak to me on a regular basis," Forte went on quietly, giving Gospel an idle scratch behind the ears. "I know I'm a jerk to them, and it's kinda my own fault, but still . . ." He looked up at the sky. "And either way, when I finish doing what I was built for . . . what's next? When I kill Rock, what's gonna be left for me? I'll just be . . . a hunk of metal with nothing to do . . ." He sighed. "From what the old man's been yapping about, you're more advanced than that though. Says something about the ability to make decisions completely on your own. When you're not on a mindless rampage, I guess."
He paused when he realized that Zero hadn't said a word. He had just listened and stared, his expression unreadable. "Why . . . are you listening to me?" Forte asked.
"You were talking. Isn't that what you're supposed to do when someone talks to you? Listen?"
Forte turned away, as if embarrassed at having been so open. "So why are you talking to me?" Zero asked.
"I . . . I don't know."
Zero looked up, allowing a snowflake to drift onto his nose. "I envy you, Forte."
"Whoa, whoa, wait. You envy me?"
"Yeah. You have a life. Memories. I don't think I'll have that luxury. I'll just kill people and not think- not even remember the faces of those I've slaughtered. What kind of life is that?" Zero shook his head. "But I suppose I am a robot, after all. A tool meant to be used by my human creator." He scowled.
Forte's hand drifted to rest on Gospel's back, causing the robotic wolf to snap into alertness and lift his head. "Hey, he may be an ass, but he's still a human. You know the first law, right? Robots can't harm humans."
"Of course we can."
"Okay, robots aren't supposed to harm humans."
"Then why do they make us so dangerous? Are they that stupid, trusting something so much more powerful than them just because of a silly law that we could so easily ignore?"
"Sometimes I wonder." Forte stood up. He had never talked with someone so openly before- other than Gospel, of course, but Gospel never answered. "You better get back into your capsule. Wily'll kill me if he finds out I woke you up."
"I suppose." As Zero turned to go inside, Forte reached down and gathered up a handful of snow.
He packed it into a ball and reared back for the throw, but then stopped abruptly. Zero was looking back at him, one eyebrow raised in confusion. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing." Forte slowly crushed the snowball in his hand, allowing the soft slush to fall through his fingers. "Just . . . nothing."
Even after ensuring that the red robot's capsule was secure, Forte still felt as if something was keeping him awake. He had been so wrong about Zero. He hadn't expected them to have much in common, if anything, and yet he couldn't help but feel some kind of connection with the younger android.
Gospel whined softly and nudged Forte's elbow. "Ah, shut up," Forte muttered, rolling onto his stomach. "You know I can't explain it, Gos, even if I wanted to."
With a sigh, he got out of bed one more time and went upstairs to the smallest of Wily's many laboratories. He hadn't used any of the machinery in a long time, not since he had last performed a few tweaks on his companion. His creator never bothered to offer them any upgrades, and even if he had, Forte didn't trust him. He would much rather sneak in at night and take the time to upgrade Gospel himself.
Several hours passed as the black robot moved from computer to workbench and back again. But two scrapped attempts and several smashed fingers later, he sat down to look over his finished product.
"Ugh," he mumbled sleepily. "What's wrong with me? I must be going soft or something . . ." With a yawn, he ambled up to his room and flung his creation into the corner before collapsing in bed with Gospel nestled alongside him.
"Gah!" Forte was jerked into wakefulness by the sound of the snowball against his window. Coldman waved at him cheerily from outside, but when he saw his fellow robot's sour expression, he quickly ducked out of sight. Forte groaned and got out of bed, still far too sleepy to pay much mind to any of the robot masters. In fact, he wasn't in much of a mood to be around them at all. He still felt confused over the previous night's talk.
So he gave Gospel a rough pat on the head to rouse him, pulled on a black jacket and a somewhat tattered pair of gloves, and they both left.
"I don't get it, Gos," Forte said as they made their way along the outskirts of the city. "You wouldn't think it'd be so easy to talk to a psychotic killer. Heck, you wouldn't expect that it'd be so easy for me to talk to anyone."
Gospel nudged his hand and made a dissatisfied noise. "You don't count," Forte sighed. "Dumb dog."
A clump of snow slapped the back of his head.
"What the-?!" Forte swung around, wishing that he hadn't left his helmet and armor at the fortress. He hated the feeling of cold, wet slush sticking in his hair.
At once, he spotted the culprit- a short boy with a smile on his face and a sparkle in his blue eyes, idly tossing a second snowball from one gloved hand to the other. "The hell do you want, Rock?" Forte growled.
"How else do you expect me to get your attention?" Rock laughed.
"Oh, I dunno. Say something, maybe?"
Rock shook his head mildly, the smile never fading from his features. "Merry Christmas, Forte."
Forte flashed him a glare and turned to walk away. "Someone's more peeved than usual," another familiar voice noted.
"Buzz off, Blues," Forte grumbled. "You two come looking for a fight or what?"
Rock rolled his eyes. "No. We were gonna ask if you wanted to come to Dr. Light's lab and have a Christmas party with us."
"He wanted to ask," Blues corrected. "I said he's crazy."
"Dr. Light had to be at a symposium, so he's out of town," Rock went on, ignoring his brother. "It's gotta be rough for him, having to work on a holiday like this. Anyway, what do you say?"
Forte hesitated. "You . . . you'd trust me just like that? Even though I'm a Wily 'bot?"
"Duh. It's Christmas."
Forte glanced down at Gospel, but the robotic wolf wasn't paying attention in the slightest, instead staring cross-eyed at the snowflakes settling on his nose. "Guess I've got nothing better to do. C'mon, Gos."
Forte had never felt more out of place.
He had been greeted cheerily by Roll and the six robot masters who had been reprogrammed by Dr. Light some time ago. Gospel had immediately turned toward Rush with teeth bared, but Forte gave him a light kick to silence him. "Heel, Gos," he had ordered. "Not today."
Even now, he stood a ways away, leaning against a tree and watching the siblings uncomfortably. Gospel paced in front of him, looking equally uncertain.
"Gos," Forte said, "remind me again why we agreed to do this?"
Gospel whined in acknowledgement.
"Come on, Forte!" Rock called. "Get over here! We need even teams!"
After a moment's hesitation, Forte held out a hand for Gospel to stay put and slowly came over to join his fellow robots. "Okay," Rock said. "So we've got me, you, Blues, Roll, and Cutman, on one team, and Gutsman, Iceman, Elecman, Fireman, and Bombman on the other team. No weapons allowed."
"Why not?" Elecman complained.
"Because you'll kill us, Fireman will melt everything, and Iceman is . . . well, Iceman. Anyway, you get hit with a snowball, you're out. Last team standing wins."
The group split up, gathering into two small huddles to strategize. "Blues, you and I will try to gang up on Iceman," Rock said. "Everyone else, keep the others busy. Iceman's gonna kick our butts if we don't take him out first. Let's go!"
The two teams turned to face one another. "Ready?" Rock said. "Go!"
"Split up!" Roll cried, and they scattered.
Forte bent down and gathered up a ball of snow, but then he paused. Gutsman? No, Bombman was closer . . . then again, Gutsman was a lot taller . . .
"Forte, look out behind you!" Rock called.
Forte barely had a moment to turn before Iceman's snowball connected with his face. He stepped aside, spluttering and rubbing clumps of slush from his already damp blonde hair. Now he really wished he hadn't left his helmet behind. He watched in silence as his teammates fell to Iceman's attacks, one by one.
"What's wrong?" Rock asked, seeing Forte's scowl. "Haven't you ever been in a snowball fight before?"
"Uh . . ." Forte scratched his head, faintly embarrassed. "No. I haven't."
"So think of it like any other battle," Blues said. "Only don't shoot anyone."
"Alright, alright," Forte sighed. "Sorry."
"Relax." Rock nudged him lightly. "Just have fun, okay?"
"Have fun?" Forte muttered as the two teams spit apart and moved to opposite sides of the yard again. "Yeah, right."
Rock called the start of the next match, and Forte immediately darted to one side and crushed two handfuls of snow into solid masses. "Just like any other battle, huh?" he mused.
He twisted to one side to dodge Elecman's attack, returning fire with a snowball of his own. Elecman's yelp of surprise made Forte smirk in satisfaction. "Hey, Iceman!" he shouted. "Catch!"
"Wh-what?!" Iceman whirled around, but not in time to avoid the incoming snowball. "Pfft! Hey!"
"Nice shot," Blues called. "Duck!"
Forte rolled to one side; Gutsman had come at him from behind. "Oh, so that's the way you wanna play it?" the black-armored robot taunted, distracting Gutsman long enough for Cutman to catch him off guard.
"Playtime's over!" Bombman leapt over his fallen teammate and planted a snowball in Forte's shoulder.
To his own surprise, Forte found himself laughing. Actually laughing. He had never had this much fun before.
Come to think of it, he couldn't remember the last time he had laughed so hard, either.
Several hours later, all ten robots were curled up inside by the fireplace, relaxing and trading stories. Forte sat a little ways off, still feeling a bit uneasy among the closely-knit family.
Something nuzzled his leg gently, and he looked down to find a green cat staring at him. "Uh . . . hello . . ."
Gospel opened one eye and sniffed lightly before going back to sleep. Forte patted the cat's head cautiously. "Err . . . good boy, cat . . . ?"
Rock laughed softly. "Relax, Forte. It's just Tango. He won't bite."
Tango curled up against Forte's leg with a purr. "Dumb cat," Forte mumbled. "The hell do you want from me, anyway?" With a shake of his head, he turned his attention back to the conversation he had been half-listening to for the past half hour, still rubbing Tango's back with one hand.
"I mean, I don't get it," Rock was saying. "Why's it always Gutsman? He just keeps showing up all over the place! I thought I was hallucinating or something when I saw the hallway lined with Gutsman statues. Forte, explain that one to me!"
"Why's Wily so obsessed with Gutsman? I swear his face shows up everywhere!"
Forte twitched an eyebrow. "You realize you're talking about the same guy who thought it was a good idea to build a Springman."
"Y'know, that's another thing I don't get," Rock added with a laugh. "He builds something as stupid and useless as Springman, and then he builds you."
"Hey . . . what's that supposed to mean?"
"I mean it's hard to believe that the same guy who built something as off the wall as Springman also built someone as competent as you."
Forte blinked, unable to come up with a response.
Rock leaned back and grinned. "You've come close to beating me, y'know. Maybe one day."
"Yeah," Forte murmured, still stroking the green cat that slept against his leg. "One day."
"Hey!" Rock suddenly scrambled to his feet. "I got you guys all presents! Wait here!"
He had a gift for each of his siblings- a new scarf for Blues, snowcone syrup for Iceman, a blade sharpener for Cutman . . .
For a minute, Forte only stared at the festively wrapped package that Rock had placed in his lap. "You . . . you got a present . . . for me?"
"Well, don't just sit there gawking at me, Forte! Open it!"
The black robot slowly tore off the colorful paper and opened the small, flat box, his brow furrowing in confusion at the sight of the brown cloth inside. "A . . . cape?"
"Yeah. I thought it'd make you look cool. All mysterious and evil, with a cape blowing in the cold wind."
Forte merely sat with his mouth open and no words coming out for several long moments, causing Rock to laugh. "It's a gift, dumbass," Blues called with a smirk. "The right answer is 'thank you'."
"Uh . . . I . . . thanks," Forte finally managed to stutter. "I like it."
Forte opened his eyes and sat up with a soft grunt, blinking to adjust his vision to the darkness. Robots slept quietly all around him, some on the floor, some draped over various pieces of furniture. He hadn't intended to doze off.
"Gospel," he hissed, getting to his feet and tucking the cape under his arm. "Gospel, c'mon boy." Taking care not to step on anyone, he and his companion quietly crept out of the room.
Once outside, Forte took a moment to tie the cape around his neck. He really did like it- not just the way it kept some of the chill off of his shoulders, but the way it whipped and snapped out behind him in the wind. "Pretty badass, right Gos?" he said with a soft chuckle. Gospel wagged his tail in agreement.
Forte turned his head, startled to see Rock standing behind him, still blinking sleepily and rubbing at his eyes. "Yeah. I . . . I have something . . . I gotta do tonight."
"Oh. M'kay. Thanks for coming by."
"Tch." Forte turned his back. "Whatever, Rock. I still don't get why you invited me."
"Because everyone deserves to have a little fun on Christmas," Rock answered. "Even you."
"You're an idiot," Forte snapped. "How many times have I tried to kill you in the past, dumbass?"
"You didn't try today."
"I know you're not all bad," Rock whispered. "You're just trying to prove yourself, because no one's ever told you that you're good enough, right?"
Forte clenched his fist, and Gospel nuzzled his arm gently as if to comfort him. "You have no idea," he whispered.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I think you're pretty cool," Rock said. "Even for a Wily 'bot."
Hesitantly, Forte dared to turn around, searching Rock's gaze for any sign of doubt or deception. Rock blinked back at him, his blue eyes sparkling with nothing but sincerity. Forte quickly looked away to hide the emotion in his expression. "No one's . . . ever given me a present before," he mumbled. "Th-thanks, I guess."
"It was nothing," Rock said with a soft laugh. "I'm glad I could make you smile." He paused. "Forte?"
"Do you think . . . maybe we could be friends? With some time?"
"Friends?" Forte echoed. "You really are a dumbass, Rock. C'mon Gos, let's get outta here." He started off with a light wave.
"Merry Christmas," Rock called after him.
"Yeah. Same to you. Later, kid."
"Hey. Zero. Wake up."
The red robot stirred slightly, blinking the haze from the edges of his vision as his systems came online. "Forte?"
"Um . . . well . . . merry Christmas," Forte muttered after a moment's hesitation.
"Merry . . . Christmas?" Zero echoed slowly.
"Yeah. You know what Christmas is, don't you?"
"Hmm . . . I think so." Zero sat up. "Why did you wake me?"
"C'mon outside," Forte replied with a flick of his head.
"You didn't answer my question," Zero said as he stood up and followed the black robot. "Why did you wake me?"
"Because for once in my life I'm not completely pissed off. Unless you want to go back in your capsule."
Zero fell silent until they were outside. "Interesting cape," he said at last.
"Huh." Forte crossed his arms. "It . . . was a gift."
Zero didn't answer; he had become distracted by watching the soft white flakes drift past his nose. "Think fast," Forte called.
"Huh?" Zero turned just in time to be met in the face with a ball of slush. "Wh-what was that for?" he spluttered.
Forte shrugged, tossing another snowball straight up in the air and catching it as it came down. "Just because. Why do you ask?"
"I . . . I don't understand . . ."
"S'called a snowball fight. You chuck clumps of snow at each other. It's a game." Forte flung the snowball at his fellow robot; Zero ducked. "Get it?"
"I'm . . . not sure that I do." Zero scooped up a handful of snow and packed it into a ball. "Just . . . throw it?"
"Yeah, but you gotta catch me first." Forte bolted off across the yard. After a moment's thought, Zero reared back and threw the icy orb as hard as he could.
It whacked Forte square in the back of the head, causing him to stumble in surprise at the force. "Damn, you throw hard! Now you're in for it!" He scooped up two handfuls of snow, hardly taking a moment to pack them together before spinning around and lobbing them at his fellow robot.
Zero avoided one and met the other in midair with a snowball of his own. An odd sensation came over him as he and Forte zigzagged and dodged through the snow, and an even odder sound was coming from his throat. "Forte, I-I don't understand. What's going on? I feel strange . . ."
"Ah!" Forte sat down with a thump. "You're having fun. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that you're laughing." He smiled slightly. "It's strange . . . what a snowball fight can do to you."
"So this is what it means," Zero murmured, sitting down next to him. "To be happy."
"Yeah," Forte whispered. "Takes a lot sometimes, doesn't it?"
Zero shook his head. "I was happy last night. When you brought me outside and talked to me." He sighed. "It gets lonely, living life in a capsule."
"It's about as lonely living life as a villain, sometimes."
"You're not a villain."
"But you're not bad, Forte. I can see it in your eyes. You're just trying to prove yourself."
Forte blinked in surprise, Rock's words echoing in his head. "Just shut up, alright?" he snapped.
Zero fell silent, but only for a moment. "I still envy you."
Forte curled his legs to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. "What's there to envy?" he mumbled. "I'm the strongest robot ever created, and I still haven't beat my arch rival. Instead I went and spent Christmas with him like an idiot." He closed his eyes. "I'll do it someday. I'll show everyone who's stronger."
"So I'm right."
"You're just trying to prove yourself; it's how you were programmed. But it's not a matter of power or strength, or even skill."
"So then what is it a matter of?"
"Well . . . I don't know. But I think once you find the answer, you'll win."
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about, Zero," Forte said. "You're pretty damn philosophical for a death machine."
"Was that supposed to be a compliment or an insult?"
Forte rolled his eyes, grimacing and running his hands through his blonde hair as a particularly large snowflake landed on top of his head. "You'd think I'd learn to wear my helmet once in a while when it's snowing," he muttered. "I hate having wet hair."
Zero began to laugh. "The hell's so funny?" Forte growled.
"Nothing," Zero chortled. "Nothing, it's just- for a death machine, you're pretty fashion-conscious."
Forte appeared startled, but after a moment he found himself unable to fight a grin. "Shut up. Word of advice, Zero, always protect your good looks. You got blonde hair like this, you flaunt it, got that?"
"Got it," Zero laughed.
Forte stood up, shaking his head in amusement. "Guess you oughta go back to sleep before the old man finds you out here."
"Yeah," Zero said. "Guess so." As they turned to go back inside and Gospel trotted past him, he cautiously reached out to touch the robotic wolf's back.
Gospel stopped and wagged his tail, turning his head and giving Zero's hand a friendly lick. "He's a good dog," Forte said quietly. "Closest thing to a friend I have."
Zero scratched Gospel behind the ears for a moment before pulling his hand away. "You keep this idiot safe, alright boy?" he murmured.
Gospel grunted in agreement, earning a less-than-amused scowl from his master. "Come on," Forte said. "Quit stalling and move your ass, Zero."
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Even still, neither Forte nor Zero seemed inclined to hurry, and they both took their time heading back into the lab.
"Hey," Forte called as Zero started to lay down in his capsule. "Hang on a sec."
"Just turn around."
Zero did so, twitching uneasily when he felt Forte pressing something against his back. "What are you doing?"
"Don't tell the old man. I made you a Christmas present. There you go; all set."
Zero reached over his shoulder to touch the foreign object. "What . . . ?" After a moment's examination, he drew out a sword hilt. "What is this?"
A glowing green blade burst from one end, startling him slightly. "Figured you'd be equipped with the typical Buster arm cannon," Forte explained. "I thought I'd give you something different. Like I said, don't tell Wily; he'll rip my circuits out if he finds out I gave a death machine an extra weapon."
"I . . . wow." Zero flicked the sword through the air lightly. "Thank you, Forte."
"Don't mention it. Guess you . . . oughta go back to sleep, huh?"
"I suppose." Zero withdrew his blade and lay down. "Z-saber," he murmured after a moment's pause.
"The sword. I think I'll call it . . . a Z-saber."
Forte shrugged. "Whatever you like, I guess."
"You didn't have to give me a present, you know."
"Yeah, well . . ." Forte scratched the back of his head. "Forget it."
A smile twitched at the corner of Zero's mouth. "Just the simple gift of being shown what happiness is was more than enough. I knew you weren't all bad."
"Yeah, yeah, people keep telling me that and I still think they're all morons. Just go to sleep, alright?"
Forte hesitated, his fingers hovering over the keys of the main computer. "Zero . . . wait."
"I . . ." Forte sighed. "I want you to promise me something. No matter what happens . . . no matter what kind of killer you become once Wily programs that part of you, promise you'll never forget this. That you'll always remember what it means to be happy on Christmas. Just promise me that, okay?"
Then Zero nodded, his blue eyes shining with sincerity. "I understand. I promise."
Forte slowly keyed in the code that would put Zero to sleep. "Merry Christmas, Forte," Zero murmured tiredly.
"Merry Christmas, little brother," Forte whispered.
"Hey, Zero," Axl greeted. "Merry Christmas. What's going on? I've never seen you so happy."
Zero merely smiled and closed his eyes.
"He's always like this on Christmas," X pointed out. "Come to think of it, why is that, Zero?"
"Why so happy?"
"I . . . I'm not sure," Zero murmured. He drew his Z-saber. "I feel like . . . I owe it to somebody. I can't really remember; it was a long time ago." He closed his eyes again. "I can just barely recall his voice. He made me promise . . . never to forget what it means to be happy like this. On Christmas."
X and Axl shared a surprised glance.
"He was . . ." Zero thought for a moment. "I think he was my older brother."
"Oh, that was cold, Axl," X chuckled. "He wasn't even paying attention."
Zero brushed the remains of the snowball from his face. "So that's the way you want to play it, huh Axl?"
"Urk . . ."
"I'd run if I were you," X said.
"Don't laugh," Zero warned. "You're next, buddy. I still haven't gotten you back for getting snow in my hair yesterday."
"Ah . . ." X rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "You still on about that?"
Zero tossed his head, flipping his hair across his back. "Hey. When you've got blonde hair like this, you flaunt it, got that?"
"Ooh, watch out," Axl teased. "We got a badass over here."
"That's it kid, now you're asking for it!" Zero said with a smirk.
X and Axl took off across the training yard, swinging around to pelt Zero with snowballs and duck his return fire. Zero began to laugh, even as he slipped and fell in the snow. His fellow Hunters immediately set upon him and bombarded him with clumps of slush, and still he laughed.
For just one day, nothing else mattered. The Mavericks didn't matter, his past didn't matter. Only the simplest gift of happiness mattered.
After all, he had made a promise.
A/N: I'd really love to see some Forte-Zero interaction in canon. Not that it's ever gonna happen, but it'd be interesting nonetheless. Ah well.
Happy holidays and thanks for reading!