Disclaimer: Mega Man does not belong to me, he belongs to Capcom. So be it. This fanfic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, language, and some disturbing scenes. This story is set in the universe of the cartoon series, and is a sequel to my story "Trinity." If you haven't read that one, this story may not make a lot of sense

Flip Side
by : Ellen Brand

Four in the morning is not a popular hour. It's the time when sane people are asleep in bed, when the work on the graveyard shift starts to drag and you begin counting minutes until you're done. It's the time when all the good stuff on TV is long over, and all that's left is infomercials that aren't even funny. Four in the morning is long past sunset, and too far from dawn. Some people call it "the hour of the wolf."

To put it bluntly, being awake at four AM really sucks. So why was Thomas Xavier Light, scientist, inventor, and fifty-year-old man, shambling out of his room, wrapped in a bathrobe and blinking against the light?

The answer was standing at one end of the large living room, staring out the picture window at the lights of the city. With his helmet resting on a nearby table, and his arms folded over his chest, Mega Man was demonstrating a rare moment of vulnerability. Taking a moment to absorb the scene, Dr. Light knocked gently on the wall beside him. It didn't do to sneak up on Mega Man, if it could possibly be avoided.

"Shouldn't you be recharging?" the scientist asked quietly, coming to stand beside his creation. Normally, Mega Man spent the night in a recharge state, drawing energy from a low-level feed to replenish whatever he expended during the day, and whatever hadn't been replenished by his "meals."

"Systems glitch," Mega Man replied, his eyes never leaving the view through the window. "I got… booted out of recharge mode about fifteen minutes ago. I feel pretty charged, so I just decided to stay up."

"At four in the morning? Mega, if something is bothering you, or if there's a problem with your systems, I need to know about it. Otherwise, I won't be able to help you."

Mega Man sighed, running one hand through short brown hair. "It… it was weird, Dr. Light. It was like I was coming out of my recharge state, only I wasn't in my bed. I was in this weird place, like an empty city. Or maybe it was a maze… Anyway, Protoman was there. We were working together, and it was great! There were all these little robots– kind of like the things Wily sends against me, only these were all gray. No color to them anywhere. We ripped through those things like they were nothing. Then everything spun, and we were fighting each other. But– I don't think he wanted to. His expression was, I don't know, scared. I wanted to stop, but I couldn't. And then we both fired, and bam, I was lying on my recharge bed, wondering what had just happened."

"Hmm." Dr. Light considered the problem. "If you were human, I'd call what just happened a nightmare."

"But I'm NOT human," Mega Man protested, folding his arms tighter across his chest. "And robots don't dream, Doc."

Holding up one finger, Dr. Light corrected the blue robot. "Ordinary robots, perhaps, Mega. But you are far from ordinary. There's something in your degree of free will that heightens your emotional capacity. We've already seen that it can override programming, as in Protoman's saving your life last month."

Mega Man winced, and dropped his gaze to the floor. Dr. Light wasn't surprised that his creation was still a little touchy on that subject. Thanks to Wily's newest robot, Bass, Mega had been shot with a weapon that burned out the systems in his body, one by one. The effect was excruciatingly painful, and it had been a very near thing. The only reason Mega Man had survived was that Protoman, his brother, had finally left Wily, and had brought Mega Man back to the lab to be repaired.

The experience had raised a number of questions, most of which Dr. Light had no answers to. First and foremost, whose side was Protoman on, anyway? Protoman himself had advised against trusting him, and it wouldn't be the first time that he'd attempted to gain their trust, only to betray them. Still, Mega Man wanted desperately to believe in his brother, and just as desperately hoped he wasn't setting himself up for another fall.

Almost as confusing was the red robot's almost casual revelation that he had simply ignored the information coming from his programming, telling him to destroy Mega Man and have done with it. His emotional connection to his brother apparently was strong enough to override instructions that Wily had practically hardwired in. That had many ramifications, ones that Dr. Light was not particularly looking forward to examining.

Last were the questions raised about Mega Man's systems, and their behavior in ways Dr. Light had never expected. Mega Man had spent most of the trip back to the lab unconscious, according to Protoman. Not from damage rendered, either by the Circuit Burner or the fall he had taken, but simply to avoid the crippling agony burning through his system. Protoman had simply assumed that the reaction was a defense mechanism installed by Dr. Light, but the scientist had made no such modification to Mega's system. In fact, he wasn't even sure why his robots felt pain at all. He'd created them to realize when they were damaged, of course, but he was at a loss to understand why their minds interpreted the information as pain. When it came to Mega's physical systems, Dr. Light knew exactly what was what. But his programming, his mind… Dr. Light had a feeling that the systems he had created and installed no longer bore a great deal of resemblance to what ticked inside Mega Man's head. And that simultaneously frightened and enthralled him.

"So you're saying that this could be another weird interaction in my systems? Some type of… subconscious hiccup?" Mega Man wanted to know, pulling the scientist back to the present.

"It's possible. Your systems are running while you recharge, even though it's at a low level. It's possible that your mind served up some images compounded of imagination and memory."

Mega Man frowned. "But why now? Why not any time in the past two years?"

Shrugging, Dr. Light sighed. "Mega, I'm sorry. You're not a computer. I have no idea what goes on inside your head anymore. Perhaps it's an aftereffect of the Circuit Burner. Perhaps it has to do with Protoman's defection. Perhaps it's a stress reaction caused by a near-death experience. I'm afraid I have no answers to give you."

"I understand, Dr. Light. I'm just a little confused." He grinned weakly. "I guess we always knew I wasn't normal."

Dr. Light placed a hand on Mega Man's shoulder. "Normality is highly overrated," he replied lightly. "Now, since it's almost five o'clock, I might as well get dressed. Do you think you can handle breakfast, or shall we wait for Roll?" There was no question of Dr. Light doing the cooking. While a whiz with microchips and computers, the scientist was dangerous with food.

"Go on," Mega waved, a real smile crossing his face. "I think I can whip you up something partially edible, at least."

"Well, now, this is interesting," Dr. Light mused. Mega Man looked up from the book he was reading to see the scientist scrutinizing a set of energy readouts. Setting his book aside, Mega Man rose and moved to stand beside his creator.

"What's going on, Dr. Light?"

"I'm getting a set of very strange energy readings, from an area just outside the city. These readings aren't like anything I've ever seen." The scientist indicated the wave patterns.

Mega Man frowned at the screen. "Weird energy outside the city? One way or another, that means Dr. Wily. I'd better check it out, Doc."

Dr. Light nodded. "Indeed. Take this tracker with you. It will allow you to home in on the energy, and to take close-range readings so that I can compare. And do be careful. You're still not completely recovered from your last battle with Bass."

"Don't worry about it," the blue robot assured him. "I'll have Rush to watch my back. Right boy?"

"Right!" the robot dog barked. Flipping into jet-mode, Rush hovered a few feet off the ground.

Mega Man leapt onto the floating dog, riding him as if he were a surfboard. "Don't worry, Dr. Light! I'll be back soon!" With that, he and Rush flew out of the lab's roof hatch, leaving a somewhat perturbed scientist behind.

Following the coordinates that Dr. Light had given him, Mega Man found the energy source pretty quickly. It appeared to be a hole in space, a perfectly circular region of uninterrupted gray. Mega Man thought it looked dead, and found he couldn't look at it too closely before his balance systems started protesting.

"What do you make of this, Dr. Light?" he asked, activating the viewer on his helmet.

The scientist made a noise. "I think it makes me sick to my stomach. What an unpleasant color!"

"Tell me about it. Actually, this is the same color the robots were in my dream." Activating the tracker, Mega Man aimed the device at the hole.

"Hmm… the readings appear stronger here, but I'm still unable to correlate them to any known energy source. If I had to take a guess, however, I would theorize that the fabric of space-time has somehow been… decomposed in this area, creating a hole."

Mega Man made a face. "But into what? And more importantly, what might come out of it?"

"If it's only a hole, nothing. It doesn't lead anywhere, just opens onto pure chaos. The primal stuff from which the universe is formed, matter and energy. It's a decay state, and would most likely decompose anything that goes into it."

Tilting his head, Mega Man moved a little closer. "Hate to burst your bubble, Doc, but I think I can poke a few holes in that theory. The big one being, if this thing is a hole, an area of decay, why isn't it getting any bigger? Besides, that border's pretty regular. It looks more like a gate to me."

"You may be right, although the regular border could be a function of some type of surface tension. However, such a hole would make a very efficient gateway between distant points of space."

"I'm going to take a closer look at this thing," Mega announced. "Rush, stay back here and get ready to move if anything happens."

Dr. Light's voice clearly conveyed his frown. "Mega, I'm not sure that's a very good idea."

The robot snorted. "I'm not either, Doc, but we've got to determine what in the world this thing IS, before Dr. Wily does. With this kind of power in his hands–"

"I get the idea," Dr. Light agreed. "Just please, Mega, be careful."

"Trust me, Doc, I wouldn't have it any other way." Slowly, Mega Man began to advance on the portal, tracker held out before him. He had only gone a few steps when a tendril of gray light lashed out of the gate and coiled around his waist.

For Mega, it was as if someone had pumped twenty thousand volts into his system. His head snapped back as electric pain coursed through his systems. Dimly, he could hear Dr. Light calling to him, but he couldn't summon the presence of mind to answer. Then the gray expanse of the gate came up to meet him, and everything went black.

"Oww…" Mega Man's eyes slid open as his systems slowly began to come back online. "What the hell was that?"

"Search me, bro," a voice in his ear replied dryly. An arm around his shoulders slowly eased Mega Man into a sitting position. As his balance systems reasserted themselves, the world stopped spinning, and Mega Man turned to see Protoman kneeling beside him, supporting him as he sat up.

"What are you doing here?" Mega Man asked, pulling away gently. He wavered slightly, but managed to remain sitting upright. "You weren't anywhere around when I went through that gate, were you?"

Protoman shook his head. "I don't think so. I was just relaxing on a nice rock outcropping when all of a sudden, this thing opens right behind me. I blacked out, and woke up in this place." His gesture took in the high gray walls around them, making the narrow corridor they occupied seem almost like an alley.

Rubbing his head, Mega Man looked around with a disgusted expression. "Not exactly Club Med. You done any looking around."

"A little. Not much, though. I'd only checked out a couple streets before stumbling across you. Looks kind of like a city, but everything is gray, and it's completely empty."

"Wonderful. Just where I wanted to end up." Mega Man extended a hand to his brother. "Gimme a hand up, will ya?"

Protoman stood, brushing himself off. "You sure you're ready to get up? That transit does a number on your balance systems, bro."

"Tell me about it. But I'm not willing to take the chance that this city is going to STAY empty. I want to keep moving, otherwise we'll never find the way out, and we'll be sitting ducks for any enemies besides."

"Guess you know best," Protoman conceded, grabbing his brother's hand and hauling him to his feet. Mega swayed, but remained standing. Raising a hand to his head, he seemed to shake off his disorientation.

"Now… the question is, where do we go?" the blue robot asked.

Protoman pointed out towards the main street. "I noticed some larger buildings that way, including one BIG one. I'd image that's the center of the city. If there's a way out of this place, it'd be there."

Mega Man nodded. "Good enough. Besides, Dr. Light was watching when I went through the gate. I know he's working on a way to get us back right now. We'll be all right."

"When you say it, little brother, I've gotta believe it," Protoman replied quietly. The two of them headed out of the alley, scanning the empty street warily.

"This place gives me the creeps," Mega Man announced, some time later. "I'm not sure if it's the fact that the whole thing's gray, or that it's completely empty."

"My money's on the empty," Protoman replied. "Wily's lab wasn't exactly

colorful, but it never bugged me like this. What do you suppose this place is, anyway?"

Mega Man shook his head. "I couldn't tell you, bro. Dr. Light said something about the gate being a type of decomposition space, a hole in reality, so maybe we're in some type of… parallel dimension or something."

"Or maybe a buffer space," Protoman theorized. "That would explain why we perceive it as a city. We're both city "'bots, it's what we're used to." While neither robot had a great deal of training in the hard sciences, they did have computer-type memories and had spent a lot of time around experts in the subject. It was more than enough to allow them to make a few guesses.

"Not that it helps us much," Mega Man sighed. "We've got no tools, or equipment, and I don't think either of us really has the knowledge to build dimensional gateways from scratch anyway."

"Hey, any information helps," replied his brother. "We don't know what we'll find ahead."

Sighing, Mega Man nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're– look out!"

Protoman didn't bother to turn and see what had caught Mega Man's attention. Instead, he dropped flat onto his face as a bolt of plasma whizzed through the air where he'd been. Mega Man returned fire, and Protoman looked up just in time to see a small gray robot explode into a thousand pieces.

"Thanks, bro, that was close," Protoman puffed, getting to his feet.

"It's not over yet," Mega Man replied. "Look!"

A swarm of the small flying machines was boiling out of one of the side streets ahead. Protoman and Mega Man instantly opened fire, knocking the colorless robots out of the sky.

"These are kinda like Dr. Wily's security system!" Protoman exclaimed.

"Yeah, except his usually come in color," corrected Mega Man. "Whatever they are, they're going to overwhelm us if we just stand here!"

Protoman's visor flashed. "I have an idea. Follow me!" The red robot led the way to where a fire escape climbed the side of a building. Half-way up, he stopped and opened fire. Caught by surprise by the new angle, the swarm of aerial robots was quickly obliterated.

"Quick thinking, bro," Mega Man congratulated him.

"Thanks. Now if it can just keep us intact; because I have a feeling that we are NOT alone here."

Mega Man nodded. "Not anymore."

The brothers were far more cautious as they continued to make their way through the empty city. Their caution was justified, as several times they were attacked by swarms of small robots. Teamwork and positioning always allowed Mega Man and Protoman to avoid being overwhelmed, however.

After dispatching another swarm, Mega Man shot his brother a sideways glance. "You think that was a little too easy?" he asked, not demorphing his arm cannon.

"Yeah, definitely not as hard as the last batch," Protoman replied, keeping his weapon ready as well. "I think there's something else– Holy SHIT!"

That was in response to the much LARGER flying robot that was tearing down the street, spitting a stream of fire ahead of it. As the fire-thrower strafed towards them, the two robots threw themselves in opposite directions, barely avoiding being char-broiled. Unfortunately, the flames did not die away, but instead settled into a wall of fire that separated the two.

"Mega! Mega, are you okay!" Protoman yelled, trying to be heard above the roaring of the fire.

"Yeah, I'm okay, bro. A few seconds later, and that thing would have char-broiled me, though."

Protoman snorted. "Yeah, extra crispy. You see any way around this wall?"

"Nuh-uh. We've just gotta keep heading for that building in the center of the city. It's a single point, hopefully we can meet up there."

"Good idea. Take care of yourself, little brother."

"Yeah. Same for you, bro." Reluctantly, the brothers parted ways.

Mega Man had no idea how long he'd been walking. His internal chronometer wasn't broken, but for some reason, it didn't seem to work in this strange place. And since there was no sun in the gray sky, and the light level seemed to be at a perpetual twilight, he had no way of judging the passage of time. The unrelenting sameness of his surroundings didn't help much either. He was getting very sick of the color gray, and now that he and Protoman were separated, he was the only spot of color anywhere. It didn't make him feel any more secure.

Suddenly Mega Man stopped dead, blinking in surprise. The street ahead of him was blocked off with a wall set with a metal door, a door bearing a very familiar symbol. It was the skull symbol of–

"Dr. Wily!" Mega Man was incredulous. What was a door bearing the evil scientist's mark doing here? Was it possible that this was one of Wily's elaborate traps? Mega Man wasn't taking any chances. Charging up his cannon, he laid a hand on the door. He was not surprised when it slid smoothly upwards, revealing a darkened room.

Cautiously, Mega Man made his way into the shadowy chamber, arm cannon held at the ready. "Hello?" he called, his eyes scanning the room warily.

"Welcome, Mega Fool," a familiar, German-accented voice replied, from somewhere to his left. "We've been waiting for you."

Mega Man didn't even have time to cry out as a forest of metallic tentacles enveloped him from behind. The cables quickly ensnared his hands and legs, pulling him backwards to pin him spread-eagled against the wall. Mega Man struggled, but to no avail. His strength was simply not sufficient to extricate him from their grasp.

"Wily," the blue robot spat, ceasing to squirm for the moment. "I should have known you were behind this."

The scientist smiled. "Of course. Who else gives you this much trouble? I admit, I'm a little surprised that you made it this far. Protoman must be slipping."

"What are you talking about, Wily? Protoman doesn't work for you any more."

"Ah, Mega Man!" Wily let out a bark of laughter. "Always the optimist! Do you honestly believe that Protoman would defect, after everything he's done until this point? I find your faith fascinating, if somewhat pathetic. How many times does he have to lead you into a trap before you finally see him for what he is– evil. Just as I am."

Mega Man shook his head desperately. "You're wrong. You're LYING, just like always!"

"Why don't you accept it, Mega Man? He led you into this trap, just as he's led you into so many others. He's betrayed you so many times, why do you keep trusting him?

~ Good question,~ Mega Man thought miserably. ~ Why DO I? He's proven he can't be trusted, even when he acts like he wants to be my friend. What made this time any different? This isn't the first time he saved your life, even!~

Mega Man's head snapped up as that registered. ~ He saved my life,~ he repeated slowly. ~ I would have died if he hadn't gotten me to Dr. Light. That couldn't have been part of Wily's plan– he's not that elaborate. He'd NEVER take the risk of healing me just to take me out later.~

~ And why is he so insistent about my believing that Protoman betrayed me, anyway? Wily's never been into crushing my spirit, just my carcass. For that matter, why hasn't he destroyed me already?~

"You're not Dr. Wily," Mega Man said slowly, conviction creeping into the words as he spoke. "I don't know who or what you ARE, but you've made too many mistakes to convince me that you're him. And if I don't believe you about who you ARE, I'm sure not going to believe you about my brother."

Mega took a deep breath. "I trust my brother. You're not going to get me to change that now. So whatever you're planning, you can just call it quits, because I'm not playing along!"

The fake Wily stared at him for a long moment, then slowly evaporated, leaving nothing but mist behind. The tentacles holding Mega Man evaporated as well, dropping the blue robot to the floor. He shook his head in disbelief.

"That was weird," he announced. "Of course, this whole place is weird. I'd better find Protoman, and fast. Who knows what he'll see." Picking a direction that should lead him to intersect his brother's path, Mega Man ran off through the empty streets.

Protoman eased around a corner, arm cannon poised to blast anything that might attack him. He didn't like fighting alone– he had very little experience with it. For most of his life, he'd had a squad of Robot Masters at his command, ready to do what he told them. More recently, he'd had Mega Man to back him up. Being alone was fine; he'd been wandering on his own ever since he'd left Wily. But in a fight, being without backup was worrying.

A metallic footstep off to his left made Protoman throw himself into a forward roll, narrowly avoiding the plasma blast that would have removed his head. Rolling, Protoman aimed his arm cannon at his attacker– and stopped in shock.

"Mega Man?" The red robot stared in astonishment, his jaw hanging open. Above him, his brother stood with a smoking cannon, face expressionless.

"What's going on here, bro?" Protoman demanded, cautiously rising to his feet.

Mega Man raised his arm cannon, aiming it at his older brother. "Taking care of business," the blue robot replied coldly. "I can't get out of here while I'm watching my back, waiting for you to put a shot into it. So I'm going to cut my liabilities now."

Backing off slightly, Protoman shook his head. "What? Mega, I'm on YOUR side, remember?" Was this place playing tricks with his brother's mind?

"Sure you are, ~ bro.~ " Mega Man's sneering tone made the word an insult. "Like I'm going to believe that? After all the times you've said it before?" He snapped off a second shot, which Protoman barely dodged. Reflexively, the red robot aimed his cannon at his brother, then caught himself. No way could he shoot Mega Man.

Protoman deliberately demorphed his cannon, raising both hands in surrender. "Mega, I'm not going to fight you. I don't know what's going on, but you're not thinking straight. I know I haven't been honest with you in the past, but I'm trying! You're my brother, I don't want to fight you anymore."

He was answered with a cannon shot. "No more lies!" Mega Man snarled. "I'm not believing in you any more. It hurts too much when you let me down." The next shot missed as well, but the explosion hurled Protoman to the ground, dazing him.

~ He's out of his mind,~ Protoman realized, laboriously pushing himself to his hands and knees. ~ This isn't him– he's never this cold, and he wouldn't attack without provocation. Not even me. This place has done something do him… and I can't fight back.~

Looking up, Protoman saw that Mega Man's cannon was pointed directly at his head. The blue robot's expression could have been carved from solid granite. Sighing, Protoman gave his brother a small smile. "You do what you have to do, little brother," he said quietly. Then he closed his eyes.

At the sound of a plasma shot, he winced, but the expected pain never came. Opening his eyes, Protoman saw Mega Man sprawled on the ground in front of him, and beyond him was– another Mega Man? The new arrival's expression was one of shock and horror. Had he been human, his face would no doubt have been white.

The new Mega Man rushed to Protoman's side, barely sparing his fallen double a glance. "Bro! Are you okay?" the blue robot asked, helping his brother to his feet.

"I… guess so," Protoman managed, looking from the motionless form on the floor to the concerned blue eyes of the robot supporting him.

"I heard what he was saying," Mega Man explained. "It's how I found you two. Protoman, I wouldn't–"

Raising a hand, Protoman cut his brother off. "It's okay, Mega. I know you wouldn't attack me like that. It's not you."

"But you were going to let him kill you." It wasn't a question.

"I thought…" Protoman let out a breath. "I thought this place might be… affecting you. I haven't given you much reason to trust me in the past, and considering how weird this place is… I thought it might have… changed your mind."

Mega Man gave his brother a gentle shake. "What's past is past, bro. I trust you now, and that isn't going to change."

Protoman smiled. "I know that. Now."

An undetermined length of time later, Mega Man's sharp eyes spotted a familiar silhouette on the skyline. "Hey- that looks like Dr. Light's lab!" he announced, breaking into a run.

"Mega, wait!" Protoman quickly followed his brother, muttering imprecations under his breath.

The building was, indeed, a dead ringer for Dr. Light's lab, except for the utter lack of color. But it had obviously seen better days. The lawn was covered with scorch marks, and the main lab building was missing large chunks of the wall. There had obviously been a battle here at some point in the past.

"This was made by a Crash Bomber," Mega Man announced, placing his hand on one piece of crumbled masonry. "And this looks like Guts Man made his own door. Wily did this."

"Looks like it," Protoman agreed. "But this place is weird, Mega. Who's to say that this is any more real than the illusions we faced before?"

Mega Man wasn't listening, however. Gingerly, he picked his way through the rubble, into the shell of the main lab. Protoman scurried to keep up with him, increasing his speed when he heard Mega Man's groan.

It wasn't hard to see what had caught Mega Man's attention. The framework of a humanoid robot lay on the ground, badly charred. Here and there, some scraps of cloth remained, their red and white color contrasting with the blackened metal. Protoman recognized the colors, and looked away.

"Roll," Mega Man whispered, his eyes blank. Then his gaze wandered, and he bolted for a pile of debris that lay by one of the destroyed walls.

"No, no, no, no, no…" the blue robot chanted, digging furiously. If robots could cry, he would have been sobbing. Coming up behind him, Protoman saw what had triggered this reaction in his brother. The tail of a white lab coat protruded from beneath the mound, only the corner visible.

"Mega," Protoman began. His brother ignored him. "Mega!"

In desperation, the red robot reached out and grabbed his brother's shoulder, spinning him around and slamming him up against a wall. "Mega Man, it's just an illusion! It's not REAL!" Seeing Mega Man's eyes drift towards the carbonized robot in the corner, Protoman moved to block his view. "It's a fake, a lie, just like everything else is here! Dr. Light and Roll are back in the real world, they're not here! This is just a mock-up, a set, it's not real! Damn it, Rock, will you listen to me?"

The use of his real name seemed to snap Mega Man out of his trance. His blue eyes met his brother's visor, and the tension seemed to flow out of him. "I'm listening, bro. I'm sorry, it's just–"

"It's just this place is pushing some major buttons," Protoman finished, understandingly. "It's all just… one big nightmare."

"Nightmare." Mega Man's tone was thoughtful. "That's exactly what this place is! I had a nightmare the other night, in a place like this… A gray and empty city! And since we've been here, we've been facing the things that we're afraid of… our worst nightmares."

"So this place is some sort of giant nightmare come to life?" Protoman examined the devastation around him. "That would explain a lot."

Mega Man nodded. "Ever since Wily first attacked, I've had this image in the back of my mind. The Doc's smart, and Roll can hold her own in a fight, but I'm the one they pretty much depend on in battle. I'm always afraid that if I'm not there… like now…" Mega Man's eyes were beginning to regain their haunted expression.

Protoman quickly cut him off. "You're only one robot, Mega. You can't be everywhere, or do everything. Although so far, you've done a pretty good job of it." The red robot grinned. "But you can't take all the responsibility for this. Have faith in Roll and Dr. Light. They can take care of themselves. Right now, we gotta concentrate on finding a way out of this place."

"Right." His jaw set, Mega Man turned and walked out of the lab, Protoman close behind. Neither of them looked back.

Mega Man had volunteered to take point, a gesture that had won a smile from his brother. It wasn't that long ago that Mega Man would never have trusted Protoman to watch his back. The fact that he now did so without complaint was more evidence of his trust in his brother.

~ He's not even watching you,~ a voice in the back of his mind whispered. ~ You could easily blow him away.~

But he wouldn't, of course. They were on the same side at last, and besides, even during his time working for Wily, he would never have shot his brother in the back.

~ No challenge in it. But it would be easy.~

Protoman shook his head, stumbling slightly. What was he thinking? He'd chosen Mega Man over Wily, and he had no regrets. He wouldn't go back even if he could. So why did he keep thinking about how simple it would be to take Mega Man out with one shot?

~ It's what you've always wanted to do. Prove who's better. You don't need him to get out of here. Finish this rivalry for good.~

Protoman found his arm in cannon mode, drifting slowly upward, almost as if it didn't belong to him. One shot, that's all it would take…

"NO!" The red robot yelled, causing his brother to turn around to investigate. Seeing the cannon aimed at him, Mega took a hasty step backwards.

"Is this getting back at me for before?" Mega Man asked, his eyes never leaving his brother's weapon.

Protoman gritted his teeth. "Something's– wrong with me, bro. I can't stop myself!"

~ Finish it!~ hissed the voice in his head.

"Fight it!" Mega Man urged. "Come on, bro, you're stronger than this. You wouldn't shoot me when you thought I was going to kill you, and you won't do it now!"

Protoman's arm began to tremble. "Wish I– had as much– faith in me as you do," he gasped.

"Maybe that's the problem," Mega Man said quietly. "This place is about fear, remember? You've gotta have faith in yourself, bro, to conquer your fear. You have to believe in yourself, TRUST yourself. I do."

~ This is what you were programmed for. It's your purpose, your reason for existing,~ the voice nagged. ~ Destroy him.~

"No." Protoman's voice was flat, a hint of steel in his tone. "I'm not just a machine. I'm more than my programming, and I'm the only one who determines my purpose." Slowly, deliberately, he moved his arm cannon until it rested under his chin.

The look of horror on Mega Man's face caused the red robot to flash him a quick, apologetic smile. "Sorry, bro," he managed. Then his tone went flat again.

"I will not shoot my brother. I will not be manipulated into something I don't want, or being someone I don't want to be. So clear out, or I end this for both of us."

There was a rushing sound, and a sense of silence in the back of his head. The driving compulsion faded, and Protoman slowly lowered his arm cannon. For a long moment, both robots were silent.

"Come on," Mega Man said finally. "Let's go."

The central skyscraper of the city was a somewhat darker gray than the rest, the color of a thundercloud, as opposed to the neutral tones that surrounded it. Looking up at the looming building, Protoman let out a low whistle. "That's a lot of stairs," he remarked.

"Good thing we're robots," Mega Man replied. Carefully, the two robots went through the front doors of the building, finding themselves in a featureless gray lobby. Protoman shivered.

"Y'know, a few throw rugs would do wonders for this place," he quipped, trying to hide how the lack of color disturbed him. "Elevators, or stairs?"

Mega Man frowned. "Stairs," he decided. "Elevators drop." So saying, he headed for the stairwell.

"Gee, bro, thanks SO much for reminding me. I may not go any higher than stepstools when we get home. You're sure what we're looking for will be on the top floor?"

A shrug was his answer. "It's the most logical place for it. Everything else has been set up like a defense system, to keep us from getting here. Top floor's the easiest place in the building to defend."

"Yeah, your enemies are all too exhausted to put up a fight.

At the fifth floor, Mega Man suddenly stopped short, raising a hand. Cutting off his stream of complaints, Protoman listened, and almost instantly heard the buzzing noise that signified approaching robot defenses.

"Oh, SHIT," the red robot sighed. "Mega? I suggest we run."

Looking down the stairwell, Mega Man saw a swarm of approaching flying robots. "I second the motion, bro! Let's move!"

For the next twenty stories, the brothers dashed up the stairs, blasting at anything in their path. Back to back, they were cutting a swath of destruction through the stairwell of the building. Finally, at the thirtieth floor, Protoman took advantage of a quiet moment.

"Bro, even WE can't keep this up forever! We're beginning to run low on energy, and these things keep coming! We need a new strategy."

Mega Man nodded. "You're right. And I think I have one. Follow me!" Throwing open the door that lead into the building proper, Mega Man dashed down the corridor, followed by his somewhat confused brother. The blue robot blasted open the first door he came to, revealing an office. It was fully stocked with supplies and free from dust, but it felt empty, as if no one was using it… or ever had. With a sharp nod, Mega Man grabbed several lengths of extension cord from the various appliances and began knotting them together. Keeping watch out the door, Protoman nevertheless watched his brother in confusion.

"Mega Man, what are you DOING?"

"If you can't surmount a problem, go around," the blue robot replied, grinning. Picking up the desk chair, he quickly broke the star-shaped wheel array off the bottom and using his cannon's "fine" setting, melted the extension cord to the plastic. A quick tug convinced him of it's sturdiness. Then, with a plasma shot, Mega broke open the window.

Protoman's jaw dropped as he realized what the other robot was intending to do. "Oh no. You are INSANE, bro! A few chips short of a microprocessor!"

Loading the make-shift grappling hook into his plasma cannon, Mega Man shot his brother a grin. "They say there's a fine line between genius and insanity. We creative types are never appreciated in our own time." Leaning out the window, he aimed upwards and fired. The grappling hook disappeared up the building and did not come down. Tugging on the extension cord, Mega Man looked back at his brother.

"You coming?"

"You know, I never had this suicidal streak before I met you," Protoman

grumbled, crossing to stand at the window as well.

"You were only online for a month!"

"Plenty of time, bro." Even as they bickered, the two robots were hauling themselves out the window and up the wall of the building. They traveled another twenty stories like that without incident, finally reaching the top of the building. On the roof, a smaller structure stood, only a story high. Trading glances, the brothers pushed open the doors and went inside.

The room was huge, easily the size of a basketball arena, shrouded in shadows, and completely empty. No computer banks or mysterious gateways lined its walls, and there was no furniture. Mega Man sagged.

"What were you expecting?" Protoman asked quietly.

"I dunno," sighed Mega. "A machine or something, something to explain how we got here, some way home. Maybe I just needed something to shoot for so that I didn't give up."

His brother nodded. "So now what?"

"Now comes the final challenge!" A hiss from the shadows caused both robots to turn, arm cannons at the ready. In the darkness, the speaker was indistinct, simply a tall, shadowy shape.

"Who are you?" Mega Man demanded.

"And what do you want?" added Protoman.

"Well, why don't I show you?" Suddenly, both Mega Man and Protoman were

encased in powerful fields of gray energy. The energy lifted them off their feet, holding them immobile.

"I only need one of you to study," the shadow informed them. "The other one may go free. Now, the question is, which one? Oh, I hate decisions. Let me see. Eenie, meenie, meinie–"

"Me," Protoman interrupted. "Take me."

"NO!" Mega Man cried. "I won't let you!"

"The world needs you, bro," Protoman said. "And so do Roll and Dr. Light." Turning his attention to their captor, he continued. "We've had all the same modifications. Physically, we're identical. But I'm not as dangerous, or as hard to handle."

"He's as stubborn as a mule!" Mega Man replied. "Look, I'm probably the most advanced robot in existence. You want me as your specimen."

"I'm used to shifting loyalties." Protoman's voice overrode his brother's. "He's faithful to his creator. You can't break that. I'm the one you want."

The shadowy creature chuckled. "Well then, I'll take you up on your generous offer." A gesture, and Protoman began to slowly sink. He shot his brother an apologetic look.

"Sorry, Mega," he said quietly. "But this is how it has to be. You'll be okay."

Mega Man's cannon was beginning to build up a phenomenal charge, from the effort he was exerting against the energy field. His struggles were becoming more and more frenzied, a wild look creeping into his blue eyes. Suddenly everything broke.

"NO!" Mega Man howled. "NOT THIS TIME!" Aiming at the creature approaching his brother, Mega Man released the energy he'd been holding back, in what could have possibly been the largest super shot he'd ever produced. The ball of plasma struck the shadow, throwing it back against one of the walls. The energy fields holding the brothers suddenly dissipated, dropping both to the floor.

Shoulders heaving as his cooling system tried to compensate for the energy build up, Mega Man placed himself between the shadow and his fallen brother, cannon ready. "Not this time," he repeated quietly. "Not ever again."

In the shadows, the creature sat up. Mega Man couldn't see its face, but he got the feeling that it was examining him closely. Then it shrugged. "Well, I found out everything ~ I~ wanted to know. I think we're done here." It waved, and the world dissolved into white.

"Mega? Mega, can you hear me?" As Mega Man slowly returned to consciousness, he could hear Dr. Light calling him faintly. Forcing open his eyes, he saw the scientist leaning over him, his expression worried.

"I hear you, Doc. Man, I feel like I got run over by a train."

Dr. Light looked relieved. "Well, you're not damaged. I'd theorize that your condition is the result of decomposition space travel, combined with a significant amount of energy depletion. You should be back to normal after some rest."

Suddenly the memories of past events reasserted themselves, and Mega Man sat bolt upright. "Protoman! Is he–"

"Over here, bro," the red robot called. Mega Man turned to see his brother lying on another lab table, waving. "I'm fine, considering that ~ I~ didn't expend nearly half my energy on a super-shot."

Mega Man relaxed. "What happened? How'd we get back to the lab?"

Protoman shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. I don't remember a thing after that guy just let us go."

"I was working on a way to find out where you'd gone when there was a bright light, and the two of you were lying on my lab floor," Dr. Light explained. "You'll have to tell me what happened to you, once you've had some rest."

"Yeah," Mega Man agreed. "It was weird, Doc. And I'm not sure we've heard the last of this."

"Well, I'll go get the two of you some energy, and prepare a guest room. If, that is, you're planning to stay for a while, Protoman?"

The red robot smiled. "Yeah, Dr. Light, I think I'm here for a while. Maybe to stay. I'm not Blues anymore… I've changed too much, I can't go back to that. But I'd like to stay, if you'll have me."

"Certainly we will," the scientist assured him. Mega Man nodded enthusiastically.

"Then you need to stop calling me "'Protoman.' That's Wily's creation, and I'm not him anymore, either. I guess you can call me… Break Man."

"A clean break?" Mega Man asked, raising one eyebrow.

Break Man smiled. "Something like that."

Dr. Light nodded. "Very well. I'll send Eddie in with some energy for you to, and get started preparing a room for Break Man." With that, he left the two alone in the lab.

"It's good to have you back, bro," Mega Man said quietly. "But if you EVER scare me like that again… I lost you once, and I'm not going to lose you again. I'm especially not going to let you take a shot for me. Not again."

Break Man smiled lopsidedly. "No promises, bro. You know I can't do that."

Mega Man sighed. "I guess." He didn't look completely happy, but he shrugged it off. "At least you're home."

"We're home," Break Man corrected. "And this time, it's to stay."

Mega smiled. His family was finally together again, something he thought he'd never see. And for the first time in years, Mega Man felt whole.