... click clack click clack click clack ...

His head jerked as he realized he'd been reading the same request for funding for the tenth time. Sighing, he laid the pen that had been hanging in mid-air over the document down on the desk and stretched out his fingers, flexing the digits with relief. Signas scowled as he realized he'd been tapping at the slight protuberance on his pointer finger again, enough so as to rub the coating of paint right off it. He'd have to repaint it if he wanted to keep the immaculate appearance he always showed the other Hunters. An appearance that indicated that he at least was free of stress despite the Maverick attacks. It was a sign almost as powerful as the fact that X, first reploid X, was on their side, always the first to charge into battle when it was necessary, always the first with a kind word or a cheerful smile, always the beacon of hope, always so pure and innocent and lovely, always so beautiful ...

Signas yanked the drawer out so hard he almost threw it into the wall. The bottle of white paint slammed into the wall instead and shattered, splattering ivory stains across his perfectly kept blue walls. He stared at it, blinking slowly as glass shards slowly detached to fall to the floor, clinking quietly.

.... click clack click clack click clack ...

Shuddering, he forced his fingers to still as he grabbed a tissue from his dispenser and rose to try to wipe the stain away. One swipe managed to remove the remaining glass, but subsequent motions only managed to rub the white splashes around, spreading his guilt far and wide across pristine blue before he realized that it wasn't going to come off, no matter how hard he tried. No matter what he did ...

He threw the tissue in the trash, studiously ignoring the mess as he inspected his finger mournfully. Now that his paint bottle was gone, he would have to go to the infirmary to get more or write a formal request. If the first, he would have to see the source of his unease, see X laying far too quietly on a hospital bed, in healing sleep after he had been so foolish as to send him into what he had suspected might be a trap ... the second he would have to stay in his office, adding to the paperwork that never seemed to end, trapped in an office where his mind was left to chase itself around in guilty circles as it thought treacherous, treacherous! thoughts.

.... click clack click clack click clack ...

Signas shoved himself from his chair to still his traitorous fingers and stalked out of the room, pushing open the door and slowing his movements to a sedate walk as he turned to nod absently to his blonde (he twitched jealously within) secretary. "Please send someone to my office to clean up, I spilled something that refuses to come off the wall."

With that, he strode down the hallway, already forgetting the statement as his secretary's voice drifted distantly after him, "Yes, sir."

He didn't hear anyone's greeting as he passed Hunters in the hall, barely remembering to nod amicably to everything that moved, finding his fingers tapping against each other in a wilder and wilder cadence as he slowly drew nearer the infirmary.

.... click clack click clack click clack ...

Walking through the unobtrusive sliding white doors, Signas was relieved to find that it was, for the most part, unoccupied. Oh, doctors and nurses drifted here and there on unknown errands and the occasional medi-reploid acknowledged him with a curt movement of it's helmet, but for the most part he was ignored as he made his deliberate way towards the painting room -- officially known as Protective Restorative Cosmetics -- forcing himself not to glance to the right or left as he passed X's room, the numbers of it seemingly branded inside his mind.

Slipping quietly through the door, he nodded companionably to white-blonde, blue-eyed (they seemed to be everywhere, taunting him with the looks he would not have) Dr. Erol, who returned with the gesture with a friendly smile and an equally friendly tenor, "What can I do for you today, General?"

"A bottle of #224 White," he answered, walking forward so he wasn't hovering near the door.

Blonde eyebrows lifted as Erol pushed himself away from his desk and stood, "Already?"

Signas managed to look vaguely apologetic, "I ... accidentally dropped it. Put white stains all over my office."

"Please have a seat then, I'll be right back," nodding, the doctor gestured at the comfortable leather chair opposite his desk before he swept out.

Dropping into the chair, he tried to relax, tried to ignore where he was, how close he was to ... to ...

.... click clack click clack click clack ...

"I could have that fixed for you."

Signas' fingers clacked convulsively for a moment in startlement before he forcefully fisted his hands on the arms of the chair, cutting off the tapping as he looked up at Erol, who had returned to his desk after setting the bottle of white paint in front of his general.

"It wouldn't take much, just a little snip at the end of a program and you wouldn't have to deal with it ever again."

"I would rather not," he replied slowly, looking at the doctor steadily, "You can understand it if I said that I really don't want anyone to go digging in my mind unless it's really necessary?" Because he had something he had to hide, his treacherous, traitorous thoughts about --

Erol sighed, "I understand." There was silence for a moment before the doctor leaned forward, manner becoming more personal, familiar, "Signas. What's worrying you?"

He blinked slowly, taking in the question that Erol asked every time he came for more paint before simply saying, "X."

"Ah, yes. I can understand why that would worry anyone," the doctor replied, nodding his head, "But that wasn't your fault, Signas."

A convulsive tap of a finger before he managed to clamp it down again, "I ... know."

"You can't be everywhere, doing and knowing everything. You will make mistakes. You must simply trust in the fact that you are a good enough leader to never make fatal ones."

"I'm still allowed to worry when things go wrong."

"You are," Erol stood, rounding the desk to clasp his shoulder in a friendly manner, smiling down at him, "Why don't you visit X? Then you'll know he's doing fine and maybe you won't worry so much anymore."

"Thank you for the paint, Doctor," Signas said as he pushed himself up from the chair and picked the paint bottle up, tucking it away in a nook that revealed itself in his armor -- the equivalent of reploid pockets. He nodded to the doctor and walked out of the room and back down the hall.

.... click clack click clack click clack ...

He stared at the numbers of X's room, feeling them run round and round in circles inside his head, an endless repetition of 159. He shouldn't be there, shouldn't even be considering doing it, shouldn't be allowed to ... how could Erol have given him such pointed permission? How could he even suggest ... going in there ... looking at ... at ...

Helplessly, he pushed the door open against his better judgment, stepping almost tentatively into the silent room. It was wall to wall white -- white ceiling, white floor, white walls, white sheets, even white machinery -- the better to see if the normally clear internal liquids of reploids had changed colors thanks to the damage. To Signas, it was the only setting pure enough for the injured reploid that lay so quietly beneath the white sheets.

He paused, torn between the need to approach and the knowledge that he really should leave, should go while he still could, before he was hopelessly ensnared. The need won as he moved, stepping as quietly as possible across the open space between them until he could look down on the sleeping figure of Rockman X.

Yellows and greens of fading bruises staining the smooth, flawless ivory of his skin. A fine webbing of sealing cracks decorated the right curve of his cheek, indicating where the plasi-skin had cracked under the intense heat of a buster shot. One eyelid still puffed out slightly from the headlong crash into a construction beam he had suffered when a Maverick had thrown him from a roof. Signas stared at the fading evidence of X's wounds and hurt as if he himself had been suffered them. And yet, despite the damage he was still painfully lovely, glowing with a gentle beauty, wholly and entirely perfect. Soft, silken mahogany hair, as light as down, caressing every curve of his skin as it spread about his head like a miniature halo, highlighting in the most subtlest of golds. The delicate, carefully created bone structure that molded perfect ivory skin into the warm curves of his face. Cobweb eyelashes the color of hot chocolate lay across the arch of his cheeks, hiding the shimmering, vibrant, living pools of sapphire that Signas knew hid beneath them. Lips a delicate tint of summer pink ... soft ... pliable ...

He jerked back as he realized how close he had gotten, inches from those sweet, curving --

He would not even consider it, could not let himself even come close to the idea. It wasn't right. Would never be right. All his guilty, treacherous, traitorous thoughts on those smooth, perfect --

He should never have come here. One bottle of paint for his stupid vanity was not enough motivation for this. This was something that he could not submit too, could not let crack his perfectly constructed facade, not for those warm, full --

And then he couldn't stop, swept along until he was hovering at the point of no return for what seemed liked an eternity but was only the smallest flash of a second, and then his lips were pressed against the smooth, still curves, almost too large against the soft, delicate lips that tasted like mint and freshness and what could only be X. It was sweet, it was perfect, it was innocence itself. A feeling of peace swept through him, of some indeterminable sense of complete safety and security, of contentment so profound it stole one's breath away.

... silence ...

"Oi, X!"

Signas jerked upright, hand reaching out to tuck the sheet in a little tighter, as if he had bent to do that very thing, instead of steal his very own slice of heaven from the sleeping angel. "Zero?"

"Oh, hey Signas," beautiful blonde (damn him, damn him, damn him!) Zero greeted him with an easy grin as he strode in with a casual confidence that claimed everything within the room. "The doctors tell you he needed someone to talk to him, too?"

He simply nodded curtly and turned to go, watching as the tall Hunter stretched out the metal folding chair he had brought with him and sat down next to, far to close to, X. Signas forced himself to move, to stride towards and through the door as though his duty as a general had been fulfilled in this little visit, hearing Zero's loud, abrasive voice shatter the stillness as completely as his presence shattered the purity of the place, "New room number, eh, X? 159 not a very exciting number, though. Guess it's better than the last one you had -- 169!"

Signas shuddered at the thought, fingers snapping together again -- the first time they had done so since his lips has touched X's.

.... click clack click clack click clack ...