A/N: What really moved me with the Japanese dub is that Professor Ochanomizu views Atom as his son, and openly admits this on a few occasions, particularly in the last episode. It really builds something to his character and why he's so protective of Atom, because it's comes from a maternal place. Yes, I openly admit to seeing Ochan as a nurturing mother figure who wants best for Atom, while at the same time I view Atom having two dads in his life.
With the addition of including Higeoyaji into the rewrite, I've really fallen in love with the character. He brings such an energy to the room, that I can see why he appeared so often in Tezuka's works. Anyhow, I'm happy to have gotten this out in time for Christmas. As I said in the previous one, the last chapter will be sometime afterwards [I will be taking my time on it].
Wishing you well whatever the time of the year you read this.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34
A Winter Wish - Chapter 2
Atom caught the plump-nosed face of the professor peering through the windows when they drove up to that familiar mushroom-shaped house aglow with fairy lights. By the way the Ochanomizu stood there ensuring it was them before disappearing, Atom wasn't surprised if he had been there a while waiting for them to show up.
Those old familiar cyber butterflies festered inside Atom's body, acknowledging this would be the first time they would be here together at the Ochanomizu's home.
Tenma's voice broke the boy robot from his thoughts. They had silently been sitting in the car for over a minute now with the engine off. The snow was coming down pretty heavy, gathering easily on the windscreen now that the car was immobile and the wipers switched off. Atom imagined if they stayed there long enough, the car would become an igloo.
With a thin-lipped smile that only just reached the eyes, Tenma motioned an arm at Professor Ochanomizu's house.
Atom found his energy again, and unplugged his seatbelt.
The snow crunched under his boots as he hopped out, and a short time after so did his father. From down the street, Atom saw a group of children from the neighborhood laughing and having a snowball fight. He really, really wanted to join them and have a game too. Hopefully if things went well, he would have time for that later…
Wearing a novelty Christmas sweater patterned with reindeer and pine trees, Professor Ochanomizu was there to meet them at the open front doors—the cheery man's face harboring a wary gaze that flicked conspicuously between Atom and Tenma.
Atom pretended not to notice as he ran up those steps and leaped into his mentor's arms for a hug.
"Ochanomizu-hakase! Happy Christmas!"
"Atom! It's good to see you!" Ochanomizu said happily, embracing the boy robot in return. With a pat to Atom's back, the man lightly pulled away, checking him over a little too studious. "How's your morning been?"
Atom beamed at him. "Great! I bumped into Higeoyaji-san while delivering the presents to my friends. He says he'll try to make it, but he's chasing a missing case."
"Ah yes, he mentioned it over the phone yesterday. Hopefully Yuko-kun won't be too upset." Professor Ochanomizu straightened up, finally acknowledging his other guest stood a little way's back from them. He gave a firm nod. "Tenma-hakase."
"Ochanomizu," Atom's father responded with a wily smile as he stepped forward, and offered out the strawberry short cake, though be it, now lacking any strawberries. "Merry Christmas."
"Oh, ah….why, t-thank you," Professor Ochanomizu accepted the cake befuddled, appearing not entirely sure where to place it. "My, I didn't know you could bake cakes."
"Nor did I," Tenma replied, and Atom suppressed a giggle.
Professor Ochanomizu dithered briefly, looking past them to the snowy neighborhood. A breeze of cold air hit the man, making him shiver. "Uh, w-why don't you both come inside."
"In due time," Tenma said. He raised his hand, and with a click of the car key, the trunk popped open some ways behind him. "We have a delivery to distribute first."
Of course, the presents!
"I'll go get them!" Excited, Atom turned and jumped down the steps, running out from the shelter of the porch into the heavy snowfall. "Wait there Otou—"
Atom stopped and spun around. He didn't even have time to react when a speedy pink blur tackled him over onto the snow ground. The boy robot landed on his back, with his sister squealing happily as she squeezed the life out of him.
"Happy Christmas, Oniisan!" Uran said energetically. "Did you miss me!? Did you? Did you?"
"Uran, we saw each other only yesterday!" Atom reminded her, of which they had. He had met up with his sister to help her feed the birds and other animals in Metro City Park, as the weather hadn't been too kind to the critters. It was one of Atom's many activities did to spend time with Uran, although it often had to be on her terms. However Atom could adamantly say feeding Metro City's wildlife was much more fun than being forced to make flower chains all day.
The green-feathered bird Pikora flapped his wings, flying in circles around the siblings chirping. Atom sat upright, but Uran wouldn't release her hold on him from around his neck. Her overenthusiastic acts of affections were starting to wane on his patience. "Come on, cut it out."
"Not until they say you missed me!"
"Okay, okay! I missed you!" Atom near pleaded, just wanting his sister off him.
At that Uran finally released him from her super strong hugging clutches, and hopped up. Standing with grace in the pink and white dress she only wore for special occasions, Uran pointed to the little green bird as he landed on her shoulder.
The bird whistled a swift tune, using his wings to straighten up a little bow tie he had on around is neck. When Atom didn't give an immediate response, little Pikora turned his beak up at the boy robot as if he were of lower class.
Atom sighed and got off the ground, dusting the snow off the back of his coat and shorts.
"I missed you too, Pikora."
To Atom's surprise, Uran offered to help carry in the presents with him. What was not so surprising however was her scoping out the piles of gifts in the trunk, and demanding which hers were so she could carry them, and ONLY them.
"You did you get me something didn't you?" Uran asked as she set her eyes on the many new presents, that she begun to poke and prod at. "Are they all for me?"
Atom laughed. "Not all of them— HEY! Don't shake that!"
Uran pouted and went on collecting them up. Her sights focused on one particular green-wrapped present. "Whose is this?"
Her eyes lit up and she added it to the pile she was carrying. "It's tiny for such a big robot. What did you even get him?"
"Films," Atom said. "It's these old black and white silent ones. I thought he might like them."
It was hard picking things out for Pluto. Given his size, there wasn't much he could do in terms of hobbies. The green giant had a place he called home up in the mountains a short flying distance away from Metro City, where everything was scaled up for Pluto to live comfortably. When Atom visited, it was almost like being shrunk down to the size of a mouse, although thankfully not as small as when he needed to destroy that microbot inside Uran's brain.
The green giant had really gained an appreciation for nature, but listening to the radio, audio books or watching films were of great enjoyment to him too. He even had a special projection screen setup in his home—that's what the films were for.
Uran nodded vaguely, just acknowledging Atom. She smiled proudly. "I knitted him a scarf!"
But, Pluto didn't wear clothes…
Atom held his tongue, and added nothing to that.
All the presents collected, the boy robot reached up to close the trunk, but the trunk door was too high for him to reach, and he couldn't jump up, not while holding the gifts to reach it. Uran's arms were full too.
A strong cold breeze happened to pass through the neighborhood as Atom was debating using his rocket feet, and the stack of presents he held began swaying.
He panicked, fast to balance them out, but one present at the top slid off.
Luckily Tenma was there to catch it.
Atom thanked him, and his father returned a faint smile before closing the trunk for them and locking up the car. When Atom turned to face Uran, he discovered his sister already hurrying back to the house, nearly tripping to get away.
The boy robot tried not to let it bother him as he followed.
"My, that is a lot you have there!" Professor Ochanomizu chuckled, when the two siblings came indoors with the stack of presents. The professor directed them to the living area, "Why don't you go put them over by the tree with all the other gifts, and we'll open them soon."
"Got it!" Atom said and did as he was told. As he was carrying them off with Uran, someone hovered out from the kitchen in a decorative Christmas apron and a bright red party hat.
It was none other than Robita herself.
"Ah! Robita!" Atom called out and quickly set the gifts down to go greet the robot. "Happy Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas to you too dear," She replied politely as she glided on over, happily accepting the hug she was given by the boy robot. Without even the slightest bit of hesitation, Robita went over to Tenma, her large glass eyes smiling as she gave the man a bow, something which was difficult to do with her stiff robotic frame. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Tenma-hakase."
"The pleasure is all mine," the man said slowly.
"Would you like for me to take your coat?" Robita asked, offering out one of her mechanical pincer hands.
"No!" Tenma replied a little sharp. Quick to recover, he stubbornly turned away to undo his coat. "No, that is quite alright…"
Although they differed in color and personality, Robita's model was the same as the Robita who had cared for Tobio once-upon-a-time, and had been at the heart of the divide between father and son. Atom often thought of Tobio's Robita and how she was doing now. Professor Ochanomizu had fixed and reactivated her many years ago, and supposedly she was re-homed to a family with small children outside the city.
When his father had asked about what became of that particular Robita, he seemed at peace learning she was fully functioning and having a good life now, but showed no desire wishing for her return—too many painful memories. But the Robita living with Professor Ochanomizu knew none of this, and looked particularly puzzled as to why Tenma had suddenly become so uncomfortable in her presence.
Fortunately Professor Ochanomizu noticed this, and quickly swooped in to save the day.
"R-Robita, would you take this and serve it up for when Yuko-kun and her fiancé arrive?" Atom's mentor asked, offering the service robot the strawberry short cake Tenma had brought in.
"Oh certainly; I'd be delighted!" Robita replied with kindly and carried the cake off. She soon returned to the kitchen to carry on with cooking, completely oblivious to the moment that'd passed.
Robita wasn't the only clueless one.
"Can we open our presents now?" Uran whined, bouncing about the place before she latched herself onto Professor Ochanomizu, giving him the sad eyes. "Pleaaase, Hakase?"
"In a moment Uran, I—" The professor paused, "Actually, why don't you and Atom go and open your presents now? Me and Tenma-Hakase need to have a word alone."
Atoms ears perked up, and from the corner of his eye he saw his father react to this after hanging his coat up.
"Is that so?" Tenma said with a smirk.
"Yes," Professor Ochanomizu said slightly testy as he eyed the man. A tension faintly brewed between the two men, of which Atom picked up on fast.
His father inevitably submitted, his hands tucked in his pockets as he headed towards Professor Ochanomizu's study without pushing anymore of the man's buttons.
The professor went to follow, only to paused mid-stride and look back.
"I know," the boy robot said sullenly. "I won't listen in, I promise."
Ochanomizu smiled in gratitude.
Hyperactively Uran bounced around in circles in the living room, clueless to the goings-on between the two men. She soon leapt in front of Atom, grabbing his wrist to drag him over to the tree. "Yay! Yay! Come on Oniisan!"
Professor Ochanomizu caught Atom's troubled gaze as the boy robot was led away. The man paused, and gave a reassuring smile to the boy, but Atom saw through his happy guise.
"It's just a word, Atom. I promise we won't be long."
With that, the two men left the robot children alone.
Uran stopped in the midst of tugging Atom's arm. When he checked, he saw his little sister blinking up at him confused.
Atom forced a smile, and gently released his wrist from her grasp. He undid his coat and left it on the side of the couch, and after one last glance back at the study, he went along with his sister.
Tenma and Professor Ochanomizu were two very different people, from their personalities, their beliefs to core values— particularly those on the coexistence of humans and robots. Times may have changed, but history couldn't be forgotten, or what Atom's father had done.
The two men had made some progress, enough to be civil. They could tolerate being in the same room as each other now, and hold a conversation without it accelerating into an argument anymore. But with it all said and done, Atom wasn't sure Professor Ochanomizu fully trusted Tenma yet. Even now, Atom noticed Professor Ochanomizu would still address him on every meeting or visit by 'Atom' as if still testing he responded to his name, and not Tobio's.
Atom had doubts that distrust would ever go away.
'If you're certain on going through with this Atom, I want you to have this,' Professor Ochanomizu had said the day before Atom was due to begin staying over at Tenma's. His mentor had handed over the communicating device the boy robot was long familiar with, but noticed something amiss with it. 'It's for emergencies only. I've modified it so you'll be able to respond internally instead of vocally, and nobody else but you will be able to listen in if I contact you.'
Atom held the device, the weight of it in his hands feeling heavier than it truly was.
The professor had laid a hand on the boy robot's shoulder, the concern the man had for him all too real.
'Keep it on you at all times, and don't ever allow Tenma-hakase to be made aware of it.'
It had taken much talking to pursue Professor Ochanomizu into letting him stay at Tenma's house permanently. After all these months living there, even if he had seen the professor earlier that day, he would still call to check up on Atom through that secret communicator. He only called Atom once every few days now, which was a vast improvement from the numerous calls he used to get every day. Professor Ochanomizu hadn't stopped by the house unannounced in a quite a while neither.
That communicator was intended as a protection measure against Tenma, but had instead ended up being more of use to Atom on the field. It had saved him a handful of times from Skunk's shenanigans of late. As much as Atom felt guilty having the device installed inside his chest, there was at least some advantages to having it outside of its intended purpose.
"Oniisan, are you listening?"
Atom didn't know how long he'd been spaced out for, staring up at the star on the Christmas tree. He hadn't decorated it this year. The decorations were the same, with the tinsel, ball balls and little ornaments of anglels and glass icicles, but he had no hand in where any of it was placed. It was the same for the lights on the outside of the house. Professor Ochanomizu hadn't asked for Atom's help this year to put them up, instead, Uran and Robita had assisted him...
A finger prodded at his arm. "Oniisan?"
Uran was looking at him worried, just as Pikora landed on her shoulder. The bird tilted his little feathery head at Atom, as if even he had noticed something was not quite right with the boy robot.
"Y—Yeah…" Atom's attention wandered down to the box of fishing hooks and lures Professor Ochanomizu had gotten him, with a handwritten note promising they would take another fishing trip in the spring.
He felt guilty. They hadn't gone fishing together in a long time.
Atom refused the temptation to scan the others presents for what was inside, as not to ruin the surprise. He checked the tags, but didn't find any from Tenma, despite him saying the present he had gotten him would be here. Was it someplace else?
Uran didn't look convinced that Atom was fine, but she didn't pry. Instead she picked up one present from where they were both sat on the floor, and shoved it in front of his face.
"Eh?" Atom accepted the gift, resting it on his lap. It was light and soft, whatever it was.
"I made it just for you," Uran added eagerly just as he began tearing the wrapping off.
It…it was a plushie of Uran.
Surprised wasn't even the word for it.
Made from mismatch pieces of different fabrics all sown together, the stitching was wonky and the stuffing poked out in a few tiny places. Instead of doll eyes or felt eyes, Uran had used two odd buttons with one noticeably bigger than the other, and the doll's smile had been glued on with felt.
"I worked really hard on it. I wanted to make it so you can always have me with you back at Tenma-hakase's," Uran leaned over to the couch, pulling out a plushie secretly stashed behind one of the pillows there. "See? I made one of you too."
It was the same; the mismatch fabric, the spikes for his head just two crocked cut pieces of felt and some more buttons for eyes—one black and one brown. Atom was used to seeing toys of himself out in the world, but this was something else.
Uran sat there waiting in anticipation for Atom's response, grinning big-eyed and expectant at him. Even if Atom wasn't into stuffed toys, his sister's efforts to make him something this year moved him, particularly for her reasoning behind it.
At least it wasn't socks.
Anything was better than socks.
"Thank you, Uran."
His sister immediately clapped her hands and raised her arms up in the air.
"Alright!" She cheered, making him smile.
Atom never thought he'd say it, but he missed his little sister wreaking as much havoc in his life as she used to when they were living under the same roof. From Uran messing up the kitchen from baking, to their sibling quarrels fighting over the TV remote for their favorite shows, Atom missed it all. There were even those few times during thunderstorms, when his little sister would sneak into his room at night and climb into bed to hog the covers. Always Uran was adamant to Atom she wasn't scared, but that she was there to protect him in case any thunderbolts hit the house.
The last time there was a thunderstorm, his sister somehow managed to contact him through that secret communicator Professor Ochanomizu gave him, and stayed with Atom on the line for an hour until the storm passed and she fell asleep. A fear of thunder, it was the only lie Atom could go along with for his sister's sakes, all so it kept her mind busy trying to think up stories and stuff to keep him calm. It was annoying when Atom was so tired himself, but he put up with it, for her….
Maybe he'd ask his father sometime if Uran could sleep over. But somehow Atom wasn't sure if Tenma could tolerate such long spells with his sister, and then that was if Professor Ochanomizu approved.
"Tulips!" Uran held up the packages of bulbs to contain every variety of the flower. "These are my favorite!" She set the bulbs down next to the bag of gardening tools Atom had also gotten her. Pikora flew off his sister's shoulder as she encircled her arms around Atom's neck, smothering him. "Thank you, Oniisan!"
"Y-You're welcome," He got out, eventually coaxing Uran to pull away from him before she squeezed the life out of him. She always did have a strong grip.
Distracting herself, Uran picked up one of the presents, turning it over. "Who is this from?"
Atom recognized the plain brown paper wrapping. It wasn't one of his doing.
"Tenma-hakase?" Uran asked surprised, flipping over the visible equally plain name tag. "For me?"
Uran hesitated, before she began timidly ripping open that paper wrapping more suited for delivering mail.
A simple box was uncovered inside.
Carefully his little sister lifted off the lid, recoiling back suddenly as if frightened something might jump out. Leaning her head over, Uran's eyes widened upon seeing what was inside.
Reaching her eager hands in, his little sister lifted out a small polished wooden box. Atom immediately took note of the intricate carvings of plant life and flowers winding around all sides of the wood. The amount of time taken to craft it was unfathomable, but not surprising.
"Wow, it's so pretty!" Uran exclaimed giddily, running her fingers over the itching of her name on the lid of the wooden box, and down to the wing of the bird carved below it. "Tenma-hakase really went and bought this for me!?"
"No," Atom corrected. "Otousan made it."
"Made?" Uran blinked. She didn't appear to know what to say to that.
When she was to finally open the box, both robot siblings were to get a surprise when the weight sensitive latch for the lid triggered, and a gentle melody began to play from within.
It was a music box.
Atom had heard the song before, not from Tobio, but from down in the basement where his father worked on his carpentry. Tenma had his secrets, and many of his creations from that basement were one of them. If Father had gone to great efforts to make that music box in secrecy much like Tobio's wood carving of Robita, then what other secrets did Tenma have?
So long as they were nothing malevolent, then Atom was okay with surprises like these.
Pikora chirped from where he perched himself on the top of Uran's head. The girl robot eyes sparkled as they sat there listening to that music box's melody. She didn't say anything, but Atom could tell his sister was happy with her gift, even with it being from Tenma...
"Oniisan, are you happy?"
The question caught the boy robot by surprise. Uran was still looking at the music box she held on her lap.
"I mean, you are happy…aren't you?"
Atom knew it came from a personal place, and more than what he was experiencing in that moment.
Was he happy?
The answer was crystal clear.
To this, Uran finally looked at him, her smile glowing.
"Then I'm happy too."
When Atom had first made his choice to live with his father, Atom's relationship with his sister became strained. She didn't want to be in the same room as him, and kept walking off in a huff whenever he was around.Talking did nothing. Atom tried, he really did try to get her to understand, but she was having none of it. It always ended in the tantrums from the girl, calling him names and throwing her stuffed toys at him.
'I hate you Oniisan and that's that!'
Professor Ochanomizu said she would come around, but the weeks turned into a full blown month and there was no change; in fact, they were worse off. Uran flat out stopped talking to him and it hurt Atom greatly. He was worried if it continued, her resentment would only grow—none helped by Pluto openly agreeing with Uran, who also didn't trust Tenma in the slightest.
Atom felt as if he were being forced to choose between maintaining a relationship with her sister or his father, when he could never do such a thing. Eventually Atom realized that if he couldn't explain the reasoning behind his decision in a way Uran could grasp, then he needed to do so in another way he hadn't thought of yet. And soon enough, Atom found it.
When he came to her that day with the proposal, Uran just scoffed at the idea.
"Share memories? It's stupid. You're stupid."
It was the first time in a week Uran had said something to him, and the boy robot considered that an improvement. Undeterred, he'd gone and sat down next to Uran on the windowsill seat in her bedroom.
"Not really," Atom had explained. "Ochanomizu-hakase said our brains are the same. That's why I could connect to your consciousness when—"
"Stuuupid!" Uran loudly interrupted, and crossed her legs on the seat, refusing to look at him.
Atom sighed, worn down by the full month of arguing at that point. How was it that Blue Knight had been far much easier to negotiate with than his own sister? The amount of times the boy robot had heard her call him stupid, it could have been made his first, middle and last name. Atom didn't know what else to do. This was the only viable option he had.
"Uran…you said you don't get it. If I can't explain it through talking, then maybe my experience can."
Atom caught his sister scowl at him from the corner of her eye. He felt utterly defeated as she stubbornly darted her attention elsewhere, pouting.
"Please, Uran." He begged, yet the energy was all but fought out of him. "If this isn't enough then…I won't bother you about it anymore."
It was the possibility he was frightened to accept, that he would simply have to live with his sister shunning him for the rest of their lives. Never had that reality struck Atom so hard than in that moment when alone with Uran in her room.
He missed his sister, and never wanted to have to say goodbye. Thankfully the finality of his words had an effect on Uran.
Without looking at him, she extended out her arm to Atom. "Fine—if you're going to keep on about it, Oniisan."
Atom lit up elated, finally relieved to be making progress.
Professor Ochanomizu and Miss Yuko had gained access to his memories before, either for use on missions with the Ministry of Science or his overall mental development, but nothing to this extreme. As humans they could analyze and watch from a computer, but they couldn't BE in the moment, experience every sensation, every thought and emotion. Memories were much more than just recollections for a robot—they were gateways to the past.
"Will it hurt?"
Atom had shaken his head as he opened the panel on his chest, attaching the cable to his mechanical heart. "No. The pain receptors will be disabled; I made sure."
"And it'll really be like I'm there? Like I'm you, Oniisan?" Uran asked curiously, watching while the panel to her forearm was opened up.
Atom took the cable and carefully hooked it up to the connector inside Uran's arm.
"Yeah, and I'll be right here with you. You won't be alone," Atom assured and had given her a supportive smile. "Okay?"
His sister stared at him thoughtfully, as if debating to go along with it.
Eventually she'd given a tiny nod.
As soon as the program was executed, Uran fell into a trance like state; her body went rigidly straight from where she sat, as the soft brown irises of her dilating eyes lit up blue.
In an instance, their minds had fused.
01001001 01101101 01101111 01110101 01110100 01101111
Atom already pre-planned what he'd intended to connect Uran to, as not to blast her with three lifetimes worth of memories that would've overloaded her brain.He'd given her what she needed from the web of interconnecting memories, through Tobio, Robot Tobio, and himself…
01010100 01101111 01100010 01101001 01101111
There were the glimpses of Tobio's lonely life with Robita; his work orientated father that the boy cherished any time with, yet missed terribly. Then, he had given her the circumstances surrounding Tobio ninth birthday.
01010010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100 00100000 01010100 01101111 01100010 01101001 01101111
Atom had quickly followed with his first memories as Robot Tobio being born, revealing the short happy existence he had lived with Tenma in that house as the apple of his father's eye, with the memories of being taught how to walk and talk, and being read to every night.
01000001 01110100 01101111 01101101
Through his eyes, Uran saw his rebirth as Atom, and the brief flashes being raised by Professor Ochanomizu before Uran was even born; how the three and Robita became a new family of their own that he still cherished. But with it came the dilemmas and internal struggles Atom dealt on a daily basis over his original creator, his origins and identity; being forced to fight Atlas and Pluto, and being preached to about becoming a king of robots.
01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110
Atom had left nothing out from Plant 7; the feud between father and son that caused the boy to run away and die shortly afterwards in an accident, and how the same feud caused Atom to be deactivated as robot Tobio when Tenma feared he had become a threat. He also didn't shy away from showing her how Tenma had attempted to end his own life when Atom rejected returning to his side to be king, along with the sacrifices the boy robot made to save the man's life, and why…
01000110 01101111 01110010 01100111 01101001 01110110 01100101 01101110 01100101 01110011 01110011
Then what followed were the prison and home visits, those years of healing and longing for a second chance. Every private discussion between Atom and his creator that nobody else knew about, every secret, every thought and all the feelings within every one of those moments were exposed to his sister.
01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 01110011
And while within those memories, Uran experienced the admittance from Atom himself, that even after everything Tenma had done, Atom still loved him as much as he loved Professor Ochanomizu as a parent. How, in the months since their relationship as father and son had been rekindled fully, Atom felt as if he had found that long lost piece of himself that had been missing for so long. Yet at the same time, there was thee acknowledged of loss from Atom on not having his sister in his life as much as he used to, and missing being as big a part of Uran's, Professor Ochanomizu's and Robita's lives when they were their own little family.
01000110 01100001 01101101 01101001 01101100 01111001
For what was only a few minutes in reality, time processed much slower for Uran as she had relived those moments in Atom's life, and the ones before it. Once it was over, their minds had defused.
Uran's body had slumped over, her head falling forward from where she'd sat in that window next to Atom. The seconds had passed, and her arms stayed limp at her sides as she remained unresponsive, not saying a word.
It was then…her shoulders had begun to twitch.
"Uran?" Alarmed and fearing the worst, Atom had reached for her. "U-Uran are you—"
As he had helped support Uran upright, his sister had slowly raised her head, and looked him directly in the eyes. What Atom saw, made him clam up completely.
She was crying.
Her lips had begun to quiver as the tears fell uncontrollably down her face, staining her cheeks. Not caring if the cable was still connected or that her brother's chest panel was wide open, Uran sat up on her knees on the windowsill seat, and threw her free arm around Atom. Her body shook from the sniffles and sobs as she buried her head into his neck.
"I'm sorry," she'd wept, hugging him tightly as she started to bawl her eyes out. "I'm sorry! I'm—I'm sorry!"
Atom lost track of time on how long they sat there holding there each other, while his sister cried everything out he never could. But from that day forward, Uran stopped distancing herself from him.
He got his sister back.
Then right on schedule as the clock struck eleven, there was a knock at the door.
"Coming!" Atom called, and jogged over with a squeak of his boots to answer. The very second the door was opened, the pink robotic flamingo Momo came trotting in, carrying a small bag on her back. Slow to follow, hobbled in the young woman wrapped a thick duffle coat, her rosy cheeks aglow beneath her large woolly scarf and hat. Her eyes looked tired, but she appeared happy to see the boy robot nonetheless.
"Yuko-san! Momo!" Atom called, giving plenty of room for the secretary to step in from the cold.
Uran who'd been distracted playing a game with her new toys, leapt to her feet at the sight of the Yuko and Momo. "HAPPY CHRISTMAS!" she yelled at the top of her voice, causing poor Pikora to fall off the tree bewildered.
"M-Merry Christmas Uran!" Yuko laughed light-heartedly. She then turned to Atom, bending over to give him a hug the best she could in her current condition. "And you, how's my little man holding up?"
Atom knew that if Yuko rephrased her words, he was sure it would've meant 'Has your father been up to no good and are you still yourself?' but he was long since used to these questions by now.
"Systems are functioning at 100% capacity!" Atom assured as he returned the embrace, being careful not to hug the woman too tightly. "How are you Yuko-san?"
"Me? Just tired and frustrated. I don't like being on maternity leave," The secretary said as she pulled away, giving the boy robot a smile as she pet her belly. "Baby's been kicking up a storm too. I haven't been able to sleep much. And my back is killing me."
For much of the year to follow Blue Knight and the revolution, Miss Yuko wasn't at the Ministry of Science. Instead, her efforts were focused in the Antarctica trying to get her late father's Cronos Project back off the ground with her childhood robot friend Gulliver. During one of her flights back, Yuko was experiencing lower abdominal pain on her right side, reaching the levels of being excruciating. Unbeknownst to Yuko, it was appendicitis.
If not for quick thinking of the doctor seated next to her both recognizing the symptoms and performing emergency surgery right there and then on the plane, Yuko's appendix may have burst. And it was that chance encounter with said doctor, that Yuko met her now husband-to-be.
'He was going to serve me some exaggerated bill for the surgery. I only let him off the hook a little when I learnt he donates it to hospitals and nature conservations. If he pocketed it all for himself, he'd have some hell to pay,' Yuko explained to Atom and Professor Ochanomizu over break once. A smug smile had soon bloomed on her face as she sipped her coffee. 'Also, he maaay have cut me a deal after I investigated into his practices, and threatened to report him for not having a surgeon license.'
How they became an item Atom would never understand, but Yuko and that vigilante surgeon ended up together.
The pregnancy years later wasn't planned neither—in fact Yuko had no idea she was even pregnant!
Several months before in Professor Ochanomizu's office late one evening, Atom had offered to stay and help Miss Yuko on the paperwork which the professor was far behind on. Yuko was the best timekeeper in the whole of the Ministry of Science, possibly in all of Metro City, yet those last few days the strain had really begun to show on the assistant. She was experiencing a few dizzy spells and feeling less like her typical energized-self.
Yuko brushed off as a cold and blew off all offers from Professor Ochanomizu to take the rest of the day off. If it weren't for needing to attend an interview with the press, the professor would've been there sorting papers with them when Atom discovered exactly what was amiss.
'Atom? Are you— what's the matter?' Miss Yuko asked, having noticed he had stopped organizing those documents into their correctly labeled folders. She waved a hand in front of his face. 'Atom?'
Slowly he had set the files down, and turned to her confused by what his ears were picking up. Atom enhanced his hearing, but the noise only puzzled him further from where it was coming from.
Frowning concerned at what he was hearing, Atom stepped forwards Yuko and grabbed a hold of her waist, pulling her close as he pressed an ear to her stomach. It was faint, but he could hear it clear as day drumming alongside Miss Yuko's heart.
"A-Atom!? What on earth do you think you are doing!?" An extremely embarrassed Yuko had demanded, tugging at the hands of the 100,000 horsepowered robot locked on her midsection. "Release me this instance young man! You can't just—!"
"A heart…I can hear another heartbeat!" Atom blurted out, and pulled away at her request. Upon doing a scan of Miss Yuko's body, it confirmed what Atom had already figured out. He pointed at the assistant's stomach. "Yuko-san, there's a baby growing in your belly!"
Atom had watched as the color drained from the shocked secretary's face, uttering out barely a few words before she swayed to the side, and fainted. If Atom hadn't caught her, Yuko's head would've hit the side of the desk on her way down.
Yuko gave him one doozy of a lecture when she came to while being fanned by the boy robot with some of the office paperwork. She was hysterical for a while, still coming to terms she was going to be a mother, while angry Atom had dropped the news on her as if she was carrying a bomb in her uterus. It all worked out, but that was how Atom learned that should he ever be put in the same position again with an unexpected mother-to-be, he had to break the news more gently.
"Is Ojisan here?" Yuko asked while struggling off her coat, revealing her bright yellow sweater with the noticeable baby bump. Her eyes scanned about the room, clutching the engagement ring tied around her neck. "I didn't see his car outside."
Atom shook his head and helped the young woman out of from the coat's sleeves. He hung the coat up for her. "Nmhmm. I met Higeoyaji-san earlier. He's on the search for a missing dog."
Yuko sighed, looking disappointed. "I thought as much. Ojisan's never sticks to his word."
Atom peered over at the front doors Momo was nudging shut with her beak. "Hey, where is…"
"My hubby? He left on urgent business. There was an emergency call from the clinic." Yuko explained. She gave a weary sigh and stretched her back, hands resting on her hips. "And here I am ready to pop."
Atom smiled sympathetically as he helped Momo close the front doors. "I guess even surgeons can't catch a break for the holidays."
"You said it. But I'm used to it by now," Yuko looked to the boy robot and smiled back. "Would you be a gentleman and show me to where the bathroom is? I forgot where it is, and my bladder isn't made of steel."
After escorting the young woman to the bathroom on the second floor, Atom left Yuko alone to do her business and was soon busy having to chase down Uran who had decided to pony ride poor Momo all around the house. Shortly after getting his sister under control and away from the flamingo robot, Professor Ochanomizu and Tenma finally exited from the study.
Atom could tell by their stressed faces the two men had talked about a lot, and none of it casual chitchat. Part of the boy robot wished he'd listen in, but the other half didn't. Neither his father or Professor Ochanomizu looked agitated or angry, so that was good at least…
"Hakase!" Uran chirped and rushed over with a bubbly spring to her step. She tugged on the professor's arm. "Come on, you gotta open what I got you!"
The girl's eagerness brought out a chuckle from Professor Ochanomizu as he was pulled towards the Christmas tree. "Uran calm down, you'll make me trip!"
While the two were preoccupied, Atom gingerly approached his father who was standing idly away by the banister to the basement. Tenma's hands were tucked in his pockets, and he seemed withdrawn into his thoughts.
One look and Tenma read Atom like a book, and knew exactly what he was going to ask. He quickly brushed the concerns off, looking away.
"Everything is alright."
Atom was somewhat relieved, but didn't push further. He really did just have to trust his father on this, just as much as the boy robot chose to respect Tenma's right to his privacy.
Hearing a creak on floorboards, Atom turned to see Yuko coming down the stairs, having returned from the bathroom. Upon her eyes making contact with Tenma, the pregnant woman halted briefly on those steps, before continuing the rest of the way down—though be it slower than before.
Professor Ochanomizu looked over, after having thanked Uran for the funny croquette sandwiches slippers the girl robot had gotten for him.
"Ah, Yuko-kun! I didn't hear you come in. Merry Christmas!" Atom's mentor welcomed, and scanned all visible areas of the house. "Is um…"
Yuko quickly intercepted. "He's out on an emergency call. He'll be here later, if he can."
Atom was certain he saw the woman flinch when his father turned and looked directly at her.
"Yuzuru's daughter? I don't believe we've had the pleasure of formally being introduced," Tenma said smoothly, as if it were business talk. "Congratulations on getting the Cronos Project up and running again; no doubt Yuzuru-san would be proud."
Something about that immediately set off alarm bells ringing in Atom's head.
Tenma—should not—have said that.
Her hand resting on her swollen belly, Yuko sharply inhaled through her nostrils and marched forwards. Atom watched as his father's confidence was metaphorically tossed out the window as the woman shoved an accusing finger in the man's face, threatening to break his nose.
"Do you have ANY idea the amount of paperwork you left us burdened with at the Ministry of Science? It was backlogged nearly fourteen months when you resigned!" Yuko snapped. "Ochanomizu-hakase needed to hire me as an assistant just to get back on schedule. And your shenanigans three years ago only added to the mountains of paperwork! Dare I talk about your filing organization? It was horrendous! And that's saying a lot coming from working with Ochanomizu-hakase!"
"I-Is that so?" Tenma said, taken aback by Yuko's fiery temper as he grabbed the banister to stop himself tumbling backwards down the basement stairs.
The boy robot looked over at Professor Ochanomizu for help, but the man just looked red from embarrassment at being called out over his poor office keeping skills.
"The least you could do is apologize!" Yuko argued, her anger rising as she poked even harder at Tenma's nose. "I swear, the amount of sleepless nights I had trying to recategorize everything! The—The cups of coffee! And you just can stand here and talk about my late otousan like everything's rosy!? I was chugging lattes!"
Atom thought the floor was going to open up and swallow his father whole. Never, NEVER had Atom seen someone bold enough to speak down to Tenma and it not be Detective Tawashi. His father legitimately looked nervous in the pregnant woman's presence, if afraid for his life.
The power Miss Yuko had over him was astonishing.
"Yuko-san…" the boy robot called, wanting to break things up when as if on cue, Robita emerged from the kitchen bearing gifts of sliced non-strawberry short cake on a plate.
The service robot glided up to the young woman in greetings, cheerful as always.
"Yuko-san! Merry Christmas to yooou!"
"R-Robita?" startled the woman stared at the cake, and then back at Robita who had a party horn sticking out of her mouth.
At that moment the service robot chose to playfully blow said party horn. Combined with the party hat and Robita wiggling her focal eyes, the comical act confused pregnant woman enough to unexpectedly burst out laughter.
"What are you—Robita!" Sheepish Yuko took a slice of the cake with a napkin "T-Thank you, I guess?"
Tenma relaxed his shoulders where he stood, appearing grateful to have escaped the clutches of the woman's wrath—for now. Even Professor Ochanomizu breathed a sigh of relief. At least Yuko hadn't given Atom's father grief on being a parent. He could do without hearing that today.
'It's not a good idea to me, but it's your decision, Atom. Just be careful, please? I don't want to see you get hurt again.'
Atom caught Yuko's eye and she quickly averted her gaze. Holding that cake slice close to her mouth with her cheeks red with shame, the woman seemed to quietly be thinking something over, before not too long after directing her attention over to the robotic flamingo.
The large bird sprung up from her spot by the Christmas tree with an electronic squeak, trotting over with the bag she was holding earlier, now clasped in her beak.
Yuko reached in and pulled out an item.
"Here. This should keep you organized."
She refused to look Tenma in the eye as she held the book out at full arm's length. It wasn't an electronic book, but a traditional one with a binder. There was even a pen tucked into the side.
Atom's father silently took it, and not waiting around for any sort of thanks, Yuko hobbled off with Momo in tow as they went to Professor Ochanomizu. A folder retrieved from the bag, Yuko handed it to him.
"Hm? What is this?" The professor asked confused.
"The paperwork you had due in three weeks ago for the school education program on the Galileo II spaceship," Yuko said curtly and plopped herself down on the couch to get comfortable, taking a big bite out of the strawberry shortcake. Yuko spoke, her words muffled. "Fill them in and sign, and you'll get your present."
Professor Ochanomizu stuttered in shock, but ultimately accepted his fate as Momo offered him a pen poised in her beak. Even when on maternity Leave, Atom's mentor couldn't escape Yuko's authority.
Robita hovered on the spot after leaving the plate of cake slices on the coffee table, looking between the faces of everyone. "So, who would like some malt wine?"
Professor Ochanomizu and Tenma both instantly raised their hands.
"And Yuko-kun, is there anything I can get for you?"
The young woman sunk into the couch, looking extremely comfy as she shut her eyes, the energy drained out of her. She sighed.
"A bath please."
Yuko settled for a cup of warm milk instead.
Professor Ochanomizu was the one who came to Atom about inviting him and Tenma over for Christmas this year. Before that, Atom accepted he was going to be spending Christmas Day with just his father as he couldn't imagine the professor being open to the idea. For the Ochanomizu to put aside his feelings and to do this, it was a big deal, and Atom was so grateful to him for that.
Tenma however wasn't so thrilled by the news, having even suggested Atom go by himself instead, but the boy robot refused. As much Atom wanted to see everyone, he couldn't leave Tenma by himself on Christmas. Leaving him alone in prison on the special day each year had been hard enough. His father eventually let up, but only admitting to doing so for Atom's sake, with the added excuse Tenma didn't want Professor Ochanomizu on his case.
Atom knew this wouldn't be easy, and unfortunately, the atmosphere was as bad as Tenma predicted. With the exception of Robita, the only time all of them had been in a room together like this was briefly back at Tenma's house three and a half years ago after Atom recovered his memory. To say things were awkward was the understatement of the century.
Everybody tried to play things off normally, with Professor Ochanomizu even turning on the festive music, but it did little to liven the mood. Miss Yuko was still visibly uncomfortable at Tenma's presence, while Professor Ochanomizu [having swapped his previous slippers for croquette sandwiches ones Uran got him] made awkward small talk with Atom on the two handmade plushies of the siblings. Tenma meanwhile, had opted to stand at the window by the Christmas tree, sipping that mug of malt wine while he watched the snow. He hadn't said much of a word since to Miss Yuko's outburst.
Atom was worried if this went on, his father might cut the visit short and leave of his own accord. If that happened, Atom would have to go with him, even if he protested.
"Excuse me, Tenma-hakase?"
Atom turned his attention away from Professor Ochanomizu flipping through the paperwork, noticing his little sister had approached Tenma by the window.
"I—I wanted to thank you for the music box," Uran said shyly. With a small bit of hesitation, Atom watched his sister shakily hold up the small Christmas present to the man, as if offering it out to a lion. "Here, I got this for you!"
Between surprise and amusement Tenma set his mug down on the windowsill and accepted the gift.
"Open it," Uran urged.
For a moment Atom thought his father might not upon being reminded of the unopened gift that was waiting back home, but Tenma surprised him. Probably under the pressure to do so under the watchful eye of everybody else, he tore open the colorful paper.
Tenma was quiet as he studied the gift, turning it over in his hands.
It was a rubber ducky.
Atom's father looked absolutely confounded by the thing.
"It's not a real one, obviously!" Uran explained shyly, poking her index fingers together. "I was going to get you a smoking pipe that blows bubble, but I couldn't find one and I don't know how to make one. So I got you him instead!"
There was strange silence that followed after her timid ramble, with all attention set upon Tenma, and that little rubber ducky…
And then like that quite unexpectedly, Tenma laughed.
It was one of those soft laughs that came from a human's belly. And for the first time since being at Professor Ochanomizu's house, Tenma gave a genuine smile. Next to Atom, his mentor gave let out a chuckle, while on the opposite couch Yuko snorted, quickly covering her mouth. Atom himself did his best not to do the same, but couldn't help cracking a smile.
"Huh?" Uran uttered, looking around at everybody very confused.
Tenma cleared his throat, taking a while to formulate an answer. "Well, I can—I can safely confirm nobody has ever gifted me a duck before." He said uncouthly, being very careful in his words. "I suppose, I should…offer you thanks."
That's all it took to let Atom's little sister know she'd done good, and she was ecstatic.
It was the ice breaker that caused a ripple effect, as the rest of the presents were one by one unwrapped and the atmosphere in the room began to change into something more positive. Miss Yuko was thankful for the teddy bear she'd received from Uran, made from patches of pinks and blues since the baby's gender was being kept a surprise—not even Atom was allowed to spoil it with his scanning abilities.
Uran was happy with the new pajamas she'd gotten from Robita, and Robita was pleased with the flowery hat she received from the girl. And after finally finishing his papers, Professor Ochanomizu was rewarded with a electronic diary from Yuko, which she was all too happy to inform him gave out audio message reminders if he was a second late with his schedule. The man looked mortified.
Neither Tenma or Professor Ochanomizu mentioned so much as a peep about the gift supposedly at the house for Atom. The boy robot reasoned through the stress of being under the same roof together on Christmas made both men simply forget, so he didn't bring it up. He was very thankful for all he'd been gifted already, and was happy just being with everyone.
Uran easily to have gotten bored in spite of all her new toys, went off to help Robita in the kitchen to finish preparing dinner. Miss Yuko was soon off to the bathroom again in a hurry after the baby had kicked her bladder, leaving Momo behind who seemed happy to watch little Pikora drink from the bowl left out for him.
During this time, Atom noticed the Hyoutan-tsugi his friend Tamao had made him, was sitting under the tree.
He didn't bring him in, so how did he…
Atom hopped off from the couch and bend down to reach for the funny piggy creature, when among all the remains of wrapping paper below that tree he saw there was one present that remained unclaimed. It was one by Tenma left unmarked, obvious by the simple brown paper wrapping. Atom knew who it belonged to and what was inside.
Professor Ochanomizu's gift.
As Atom gave a quick glance to Tenma still stood by the window, his father gave him a look in return with a minute shake of his head to his son, as if to say 'leave it be.'
Perhaps Tenma's intentions were let the present be left there until he and Atom left, so that way, it would be discovered later by his mentor.
But Atom decided to throw a spanner in the works.
Before his father could protest, the boy robot scooped up the present, and went over to Professor Ochanomizu who was in the midst of flipping through the book on The Legends of Sliverland that Atom had gotten him.
"A-Atom!" He heard Tenma sternly say in a loud whisper behind him, but it was too late.
"Here you go, Hakase!" Atom said, making sure to be sound extra bubbly as he handed over the gift to his mentor. "Happy Christmas!"
Professor Ochanomizu totally oblivious let out a laugh, gratefully taking the item from him as he set the book aside on the couch.
"Something else for me? Atom you shouldn't have."
Tenma was reduced to a quivering bug-eyed mess in the corner.
Atom just grinned innocently.
Pyrography, or for the easier term to understand: freeform wood burning. It'd taken Tenma a couple goes to get the hang of it, after having sustained a few burns on his fingers from using the heating tool. It were those burns which led to Atom discovering what Tenma was up to, as upon questioning him, the man allowed his son down in the workshop to see the project in its infancy.
It was a thin slice from a log, showing the rings from the wood's age. With a mixture of carving indents and burning, Tenma had created an elaborate design of a tree, using Japanese numbering in the old Kanji style to form a clock.
Professor Ochanomizu was at a loss for words.
"Oh my….Atom, it's wonderful. How did you even afford this?"
Atom folded his arms behind his back, smiling.
"Not me. Otousan made it down in his workshop."
Red as a tomato, the man in question refused to even look at the two, utterly embarrassed as he skulked in the corner.
"I don't know what to say. Thank you." Professor Ochanomizu, looking down at that beautifully made clock again. "I'm—impressed. You've been picking up carpentry skills quite well."
Tenma said nothing to it or the compliment, as if he had no way to channel an answer for such praise. Atom's intuition warned him he might've pushed too far by setting his father up like this. All the same, he was happy he did it. The two men had their differences, but Atom considered it an important step that his father had gone to the effort of making that gift, just as important as his mentor had been for inviting Tenma over.
Some moments after while Professor Ochanomizu was trying to figure out where he might place the clock, the boy robot heard a car pulled up outside the house.
"Indeed. It appears we have another guest." Tenma declared from the window, almost leaping at the change of subject.
Professor Ochanomizu went to check, and recognition lit up his face as he went walking to the door with a spring in his step. "Ah! Higeoyaji! He finally made it."
Within seconds of door opening, the private detective's presence was announced.
"Behind the couch!" Mr. Higeoyaji exclaimed as he stormed into the house, shaking a fist and clutching an unopened bottle of wine. "My client has me trekking across the city on Christmas freezing my moustache off for their deaf mutt, and it was sleeping behind their couch the entire time!"
"I haven't seen you in two months and that's the first thing you have to say?" Yuko called out from the stairs, trudging on down to meet her uncle. "How about saying sorry for being late? Tenma-hakase is more courteous than you."
Atom couldn't tell if that was a complement or an insult. Tenma didn't react, while the private investigator was left tongue-tied.
Professor Ochanomizu grinned broadly, giving his moustache friend a welcoming pat on the back. "Well we're happy you made it, and just in time for the meal. It shouldn't be too long now."
"Food? Hah! I like the sound of that!" Mr. Higeoyaji chortled, and pushed the bottle of wine into his friend's arms. He gave him an overly strong pat in return on the shoulder. "It's good to see you again! It's been too long Hakase."
Yuko coughed loudly.
"Y-You as well, Yuu-san."
"Good." Yuko said curtly. Her seriousness soon broke as the corner of her mouth turned up in a grin, and she went and gave her uncle a long hug. "I missed you, Ojisan. You better not have been getting into too much trouble."
"Me? Into trouble? Nooo." Mr. Higeoyaji laughed as he pulled away. "But look at you; it can't be long now can it?"
"Not long, a few weeks." Yuko reminded, rubbing her pregnant tummy as she narrowed her eyes at her uncle. "You better be there."
Mr. Higeoyaji nervously raised his hands. "I-I will, I wouldn't miss my great-mei's birth for the world."
"Good cause if I call you on that cell phone and the battery's dead again, I'm sending Atom after you," Yuko threatened.
Her uncle quickly pulled out the cell phone in question, the one Yuko had previously bought him. "No no, see? Full bar!" The man showed with nervous laughter, and was fortunately let off the hook.
Yuko was extreme sometimes with her uncle, but Atom couldn't really blame her. Mr. Higeoyaji was the only living relative she had left after both her parents had passed on. Now with her baby on the way, Atom could understand how important it was to the woman that her uncle be a part of hers and her baby's life. Still, the boy robot wouldn't mind teaming up with the private detective more often for some adventures, without it being behind the Yuko's back. Uran expressed the same.
Atom felt his electronic heart drop out of his chest cavity as Mr. Higeoyaji finally set his sights on Tenma by the window, and the private detective only saw red.
"Tenma-hakase," Higeoyaji's nostrils flared, looking the man over as if sizing up his nemesis. "Still being a law abiding citizen I hope?"
Cool as a cucumber Tenma responded. "Depends—are you still camping in my yard old man?"
The police weren't the only ones keeping tabs on Tenma. Mr. Higeoyaji was hired as a private investigator by an 'unknown client' to spy on Atom's creator. But the man's plans were foiled when he was caught hiding in the bushes with binoculars watching Tenma's property. His father having noticed the man from indoors, brewed some tea and requested Atom take the cup out to Mr. Higeoyaji— saucer and all. Suffice to say, the man wasn't happy from being made a fool of.
The private investigator would try a few more times after that, before he finally listened to Atom and left them alone.
Higeoyaji pointed a finger accusingly at Tenma. "Wise talk all you want, but I know your game. I might be an old dog, but you can't fool me!"
Atom's father lightly shrugged his shoulders, unperturbed. "Such a shame; here I was hoping to engage in a round of charades."
This only ruffled Higeoyaji's feathers, as he gritted his teeth and went to storm up to the man. "Why you snot-nosed—if I were two decades younger!"
Atom jumped in front of Tenma with his arms out, ready to stop the hot-headed private investigator doing anything he'd regret. The boy robot didn't get a chance to speak, when Robita came speeding into the room, moving faster than Atom had ever seen her move.
The words just gushed out of the service robot mouth as she hastily greeted Mr. Higeoyaji.
"Dinner is ready! Oh hello Higeoyaji-san! Let me take your coat! Would you like some hot saké? Or perhaps some malt wiiiine!?"
No sooner was the man's coat yanked off and thrown on the coat rack, had Robita then physically picked Mr. Higeoyaji up over her head, and carried him off just as fast to the kitchen.
"Hey put me down! What are you—crazy robot!" Despite his resistance, Higeoyaji was carted away against his will.
Yuko sighed heavily, and eventually followed suite. "Not again…"
"Well that was..." Professor Ochanomizu didn't have anything to follow that up with. He turned to Tenma. "I'm sorry about that; Higeoyaji-san is known for being brash."
Atom's father shrugged it off. "I'm well accustomed to it by now."
Professor Ochanomizu look over to the dining area, where the man noticed Uran was carrying out the plates. "Ah well. Why don't we—"
"Yes, let's," Tenma finished with, as the professor went off to the assist the girl robot in setting the table. Little Pikora went flying over shortly afterwards, with Momo trotting in tow.
Another crisis averted.
Lightly Tenma rested a hand on Atom's shoulder, as he his father walked around from where the boy robot had stood to defend him.
His father was calm. Whatever stressed him out earlier wasn't so prevalent now.
Atom nodded with a smile and followed.
Now more than ever did Atom wish for a stomach.
It was a feast fit for an emperor—and the boy robot had met one of those and could easily confirm as such. The dinner table was full of dishes from fresh sushi rolls, steaming cream stew, meatloaf, potato wreath salad, to dinner roll sandwiches. All of it had been cooked and prepared to perfection, with even decorated stars and the fruit bowl shaped into a Christmas tree.
Atom could only imagine what it tasted like.
"Robita, you've outdone yourself." Professor Ochanomizu complemented as he took his seat, making the service robot bow her head shyly and give thanks.
Yuko sat opposite of him, next the space left empty at the end of the table for her fiancé—just in case the surgeon showed up during the meal. "It looks really good, I'm starving."
Going over, Atom pulled up a chair in the middle next to Professor Ochanomizu, and across from where Uran had sat, with Pikora already planted by his small bowl of birdseed between the two siblings on the table, happily munching away.
Atom looked back at Tenma, to see him still stood a little ways back from the dinner table, as if he were assessing the situation. The boy robot was about to call his father over, when who else should heavily sit themselves down on the seat beside Atom, but none other than Mr. Higeoyaji himself, holding a cup of what appeared to be hot saké.
"Ah, is that meatloaf?" the man's eyes were wide and his mouth watering, already helping himself to dinner.
Bewildered, Atom peered back over his shoulder at Tenma, to see his father had look of contempt for the private investigator. Swallowing his pride, Tenma ambled over and stiffly took his seat next to Uran, the chair creaking painfully loud.
Mr. Higeoyaji huffed across from Atom's father, and downed his drink.
A dish of wagashi and other delectable's specifically for Uran were already in front of the girl, but on realizing Tenma was seated beside her, she shyly offered out the plate.
"Would you like some Tenma-hakase?"
He held up his hand, a single shake of the head for a no.
Uran shrugged and picked one of the treats up. "I like the sugar candy ones the most," she said and plopped it into her mouth, chewing. "They taste really good!"
And from there, Atom's sister created a glowing energy bubble from her mouth, soon causing it to burst into a sparkle of light. Tenma seemed intrigued by her ability to dispel food into energy—but of course he would be. His father had never been around to see Uran do it.
Professor Ochanomizu took notice of this, and proceeded to explain to his fellow computer scientist how he had developed it from Atom's ability to dispel energy through light. The conversation soon turned to subjects involving renewable energy sources, barely skimming robotics. Tenma visibly wasn't comfortable divulging on the subject, and the professor wisely treaded around it.
Atom watched his father's mood pick up throughout the course of the dinner, even seeming to gain some amusement at debating against Mr. Higeoyaji's old-fashioned ways. Yuko eventually piped up, insisting her uncle's typewriter was not a viable substitute for a computer.
From there, the adults reminisced on old technology, when cell phones weren't a thing—Professor Ochanomizu recounting record players still having the best sound to digital. A few drinks in Mr. Higeoyaji lightened up in his hostility, and was laughing with the group, as the delectable foods were consumed under the pop of energy bubbles.
Atom sat contently without any food or drink, engaging in the chitchat whenever the opportunity arose. But for the most part, he sat listening. Things between everyone were so much livelier than they were before, and the boy robot was simply grateful for that. It felt like Christmas.
"Hmm! This shortcake is good!" Higeoyaji said as the group had began picking at the desserts goods Robita had brought out.
Yuko nodded in approval, wiping the whipped cream from her mouth. "I know. I've never tasted anything like it. A shame about the strawberries…"
Professor Ochanomizu checked the dish before taking a swig of the wine his moustache friend gifted him. "Ah yes, that's the cake Tenma-hakase baked."
Yuko looked shocked, while Higeoyaji spat out his mouthful of cake, nearly choking. "Him!? Baking!?"
Tenma smirked, picking up a slice bit of strawberry with cream.
Atom giggled. He refused to fess up. Instead he picked one of the new foreign Christmas crackers Robita had recently brought in, and held it up to Professor Ochanomizu on his left.
"Oh, of course," his mentor smiled, taking the other end. "It's been a long time since I last tried one of these."
Together they pulled, and with a snap to startled Pikora, the golden cracker broke in half. Professor Ochanomizu got the smaller piece.
"I won!" Atom cheered, peering inside the cracker, pulling out what looked to be a folded green piece of paper—a hat?
"It appears so." Professor Ochanomizu chuckled, while the boy robot tried putting the paper crown on his head, but because of his spikes and smooth skull, it sat slanted at an angle. Atom laughed.
"Better luck next time, Hakase?" Yuko said, already holding out her cracker to the man, and the challenge was accepted.
This time around, the professor won his own crown—a pink crown. "Oh that's um, maybe I'll—"
"Nuh-uh-uh-uh." Yuko immediately waddled around the table and fitted the crown on the man's head. "You have to wear it like everyone else; that's the rules!"
Ochanomizu's cheeks went red, while Uran giggled and quickly leaned over the table to Atom with her Christmas cracker. "Oniisan!"
Atom tried to ensure his sister won—tried to at least. But she didn't.
"Oooh," the girl huffed sadly, only to get excited again when the professor offered his own across the table. But with another round, the girl was still unsuccessful and sulked in her seat.
Mr. Higeoyaji sucked in a breath, nearly kicking back his chair as he armed himself with that Christmas cracker, pointing it at Tenma like a gun. "How about it, Tenma-hakase? You and me, let's go!"
Atom's father remained calmly sat where he was, and nonchalantly looked away. "I'll decline."
Smoke could've poured out of the private investigator's nose.
There were a few novelty toys that came with the crackers, but aside from Atom and Uran, the others paid them no mind. Instead the group had a laugh or two trying to translate the jokes that were inside the crackers [all written in the western language] Mr. Higeoyaji eventually settled for pulling his cracker with Ochanomizu, and Atom's father surrendered the Christmas cracker left by his plate to Uran, who went to pull it with Robita just as the service robot came out the kitchen. Third time was the charm, as Atom's sister finally won and happily wore her blue crown with pride.
"Hakase, what does my one say?" Uran asked.
Unfolding the piece of paper inside, Ochanomizu got out his glasses again and squinted. "How do…how do snowmen get around? They ride, an licicle—icicle?"
Atom blinked. Not even his advanced electronic brain could grasp the humor.
"That's just as bad as the polar bear one," Mr. Higeoyaji finally exclaimed.
"They're all bad." Yuko added with a laugh.
Ochanomizu took off his glasses amused. "Agreed."
Unnoticed by the group except to Atom, Tenma lightly shook his head in dismay.
When the dinner was over and the plates were taken away, the grownups continued with their chatting and drinking. It was during this time, Uran slipped away to help Robita with washing up, and Atom was not far behind her. As the trio worked together to wash, dry and put everything away, his sister and Robita broke out into a rehearsed song the pair had seemingly made up together for when doing dishes.
"Dish dish, washy wash, scrubba scrubba, scrub scrub," the longer the two sung, the more they started giggling.
Atom wished he had thought up song himself, maybe then Uran might've offered to helped him do the dishes in the past, instead of flat-out refusing every time.
"Robita, why didn't you go to the Robotonia like the others?" Uran curiously asked after everything was finally cleaned and put away.
The service robot paused after pulling the plug for the sink, before she turned her head to the girl. Robita's green glass eyes softened.
"Because my home is here with you and Hakase."
When the authorities were taking robots away, Robita had been fortunate to be out buying groceries when Detective Tawashi, Delta and his team came for Atom and Uran. Given Atom's circumstances at the time, he wasn't present when the professor and Uran reunited with the service robot, but from what they shared, Robita been an emotional wreck.
She had been forced to witness other robots being taken away or attacked by the humans. After narrowly evading capture herself, she had arrived home to an empty house, with the front doors kicked in, the windows broken…and her family was nowhere to be found. Instead of attempting to flee with other robots to the Antarctica, Robita braved the streets yet again and went straight to the Ministry of Science to find Professor Ochanomizu. She was only lucky the incident had quickly resolved itself by then, and she was left unharmed.
"You weren't even a little tempted to go?" Uran pried.
Robita turned the facet, cleaning the sink of bubbles and bits of food left over from washing up.
"No. This is my life and I'm happy with it. If I couldn't clean or cook for Hakase and you, I would be lost," she replied earnestly to Uran. The service robot then looked up at the ceiling, pondering. "That said, I do wonder about the other robots who left for the stars. I hope they are all well and happy."
Atom gripped the blue dish cloth in his hand, unable to help being reminded of the blue-caped leader who was ready to wage war with the humans. He thought of Blue Knight and Robotonia often and how easily that disaster might not have been averted, had Atom failed to reach the leader with reason, or if he had succumbed to pressure to side with the robots.
It was a dark time, but one Atom wouldn't let himself forget for how his morals were tested. At Steel Island, where so many robots were slaughtered by the anti-machine protestors, Atom's anger got the better of him as he'd nearly wiped out those humans in order to prevent more robot lives being lost. The same happened in the Antarctica, but reverse for it were instead humans who being attacked by the robots.
Death and destruction, that wasn't what Atom was created for, or what he chose to live by. Atom could empathize with Blue Knight's experience and what he suffered through in his past, but the only way they could move forward for the future was with peace, not violence.
Atom hoped wherever the robot kingdom ended up in the universe, they had found that peace.
The discussion between the three about Robotonia continued on with them debating what life they might lead on another planet, and Uran raising the question if they were also celebrating Christmas too, or would they make their own traditions? Atom suggested they might celebrate their independence, and/or whatever planet they settled upon. But Christmas, he wasn't sure.
Robita perked up suddenly, her party hat snapping off as she began activating the screen on her head.
"Incoming call! It's for you Atom."
"Oh?" curious, the siblings gathered around the service robot as the screen activated.
A young man appeared, and gave a wave at the screen once he recognized who he was looking at.
"Hey guys! Merry Christmas!"
"Reno!" boy robot grinned happily. "How are you doing? How is everyone?"
"Awesome! Oh Atom, you won't believe what my folks did!"
It was from there, Reno excitedly told them Princess Abby was in town where his circus family performed. And it was no coincidence. His family had gotten in touch with the princess and given her an extended invitation—all to surprise Reno.
"It was amazing! They lead me into where they were doing rehearsals, saying they had a new member for trapeze act starting, and she was just standing there! She said I'd gotten tall! Me! Tall!" Reno said hyperactively and chuckled, clearly not over his crush of the princess. "Say, what's the weather like over there? It's hot as the sun out here!"
Atom took quick a look at the nearby window. "It's snowing pretty hard here."
"Snow!?" Reno collapsed in his chair, cooling himself off the best he could with an electric hand-held fan. "Send me some of that my way please."
"I could, but I'd have to get in touch with Epsilon first, and—"
Reno started laughing. "It was a joke Atom. You're too literal sometimes." The young man wiped his forehead, and leaned up to screen, his grey eyes searching. "Hey, did you receive the—"
"Reno!" Uran shouted, startling Atom when she leapt up onto his shoulders to cover his ears.
Even Robita fell into a stammering panic, flailing her arms in the air. "Don't! DON'T!"
"Oh!" Reno leapt back alarmed, nearly knocking over the seat he was in as he juggled with the hand-held fan, trying not to drop it or fall off. "S-Sorry! I thought—nevermind!"
Despite Atom's ears being covered, it did nothing to his sensitive hearing as he heard a door open on Reno's end. A female voice spoke off camera, and Atom recognized it as belonging to Princess Abby.
"Are you ready Reno? Everybody's waiting."
The young man's cheek immediately got red, suddenly straightening up his posture. "I-I gotta go! Take care guys! Say hi to Ochanomizu-hakase for me!"
His sister still latched onto him, Atom awkwardly waved. "Bye Reno! Happy Christmas!"
With an ironic salute and grin, Reno ended the call.
For some reason, both Uran and Robita breathed a sigh of relief. The boy robot scrunched up his brows, frowning. Annoyed by his sister not budging, Atom finally removed her hands from his ears and lifted her off his shoulders.
"What was that about?" He asked, puzzled by their behavior. "Did something happen?"
"No! No of course not!" Robita laughed sheepishly, plucking up her broken party hat. "Oh dear chores! Let me fix this—" and she quickly excused herself.
His little sister was no better off, grasping her hands together with an innocent flutter of her eyelashes.
"So hey Oniisan, what did you get Tenma-hakase? I didn't see you exchange anything."
Taken aback by being such a random change of subject, Atom scratched his cheek.
"Oil paints," Tenma answered from behind them, having excused himself from the table where the others were watching. "Would I be right in saying so?"
Atom's electronic heart leapt in his chest. "H-How did you…?"
To this, his father adjusted the cuff on his wrist, smirking.
"I didn't. It was merely a hunch."
It took Atom a few seconds to realize what he had done, and the boy robot chuckled nervously.
So his father had been bluffing after all.
Mr. Higeoyaji was drunk.
Professor Ochanomizu was a little red in the cheeks from drink—Tenma less so, while Yuko was happy with her fruit juice and cookie cravings.
But Mr. Higeoyaji was very drunk.
Atom did a scan on his blood alcohol level, and confirmed the man was indeed very, very drunk. So drunk was Mr. Higeoyaji, he challenged Tenma to charades. The private investigator went as far as to roll up his sleeves as if ready to fight.
"You hold that game in such high regard I'll send you to the mime dimension!"
Tenma turned away disinterested from where he sat on the couch next to Atom. "I'm not engaging in such trivial activities with an old mule."
"What did you call me!?" Mr. Higeoyaji yelled getting up in the man's face. But Tenma didn't flinch, even going as far as to smile smugly.
Professor Ochanomizu stood up. "Now, now there's no—"
"Teams! That's what we need!" Mr. Higeoyaji looped an arm around the professor's shoulders, poking him in the chest. "Wannada say, Hakase? Let's team up and defeat this peacock."
"Oji-saaan," Yuko whined, covering her face with embarrassment. Beside her, Uran giggled hysterically.
"How about a game of Russian Mini puff tree?" Robita asked, already bringing out a tray with a plate full of cream puffs—six in total. On the cream parts were two beady eyes and a beak.
The cream puffs looked like penguins.
"Sign me up!" Mr. Higeoyaji cheered, pumping his fists in the air overenthusiastically.
Tenma looked at the plate analytically as if he didn't quite grasp the game.
So Atom explained. "There's wasabi hidden in one. Each team eats a cream puff at the same time and we have to figure out who got it."
"Is that so?" his father replied with quietly. "I thought the name was familiar…"
"Hakase got it last year!" Uran said giggling. "And the year before that."
Professor Ochanomizu chuckled, rubbing his bulbous nose. "The odds are always stacked against me it seems."
"OK! Team-time!" Yuko grabbed Uran's hand, raising it up. "Dibs!"
The girl robot cheered.
"Alright Hakase, it's you and me against the big bad!" Mr. Higeoyaji announced chugging some more of his drink. "Let's see you deal with a mouthful of wasabi Tenma-hakase!"
"I'm afraid it'll be you with wasabi, old man," Atom's father said simply with glee and allowed himself be roped into the game.
"Atom, remember. No scanning." Professor Ochanomizu reminded him.
Atom nodded. "Got it!"
Robita immediately went about serving out the cream puffs to the teams. When she finally reached Tenma, the man looked taken aback.
Atom picked one of the two penguin cream puffs, and smiled up at his father.
"Ochanomizu-hakase usually eats mine."
Come to think of it, that's probably why the professor lost. The odds were indeed stacked against him—except now it was Tenma.
Mr. Higeoyaji cackled like a mad man, while professor looked genuinely sympathetic towards Tenma as he tentatively picked up the last cream puff, including the one Atom offered out to him. His father held them as if they were snails.
"On the count of three, everybody eat your cream puffs!" Robita announced, getting her party horn ready. "One...two...THREE!"
She blew the horn.
All at the once, everybody ate their penguin cream puffs whole, and a second later so did Atom's father, having to stuff both in his mouth. The boy robot tried not to laugh and instead focused on everybody else.
The goal of the game was if you got the wasabi, you had to play it off as if you hadn't. It was like poker, but with cream puffs.
Because the wasabi was so overpowering to the taste buds, the faker was easy to spot. Professor Ochanomizu was in the clear this year, and looked happy to escape the spicy taste of the wasabi. Mr. Higeoyaji was squinting astutely at the other participants while he munched on his, but Atom didn't see his eyes watering so he checked out okay.
Sat beside Atom, Tenma gagged and began violently coughing.
"Ha-hah! Victory!" Mr. Higeoyaji cheered. "What did I tell you Ochanomizu-hakase! The man can't handle his greens!"
Atom patted his father's back, while Robita offered the man some water. Tenma motioned it away, still coughing into his fist. Aside from a slightly red face, his father gave off no other side effects and soon recovered—too quickly for him to have devoured a wasabi-tainted penguin cream puff.
"It's not us." Atom said once he was sure.
"What? But look at him!" Mr. Higeoyaji pointed accusingly. "Wasabi infliction right there!"
"Or not," Professor Ochanomizu said, soon to put his mustache friend's gloating to rest. "I'm afraid your observations are off."
"That indeed." Tenma added with a smug grin upon wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Next to Yuko, Uran was sat with her leg twitching, her face twisted in disgust and eyes streaming. The instance girl robot realized the gig was up she let out a loud belch, and a flurry of tinged green energy bubbles escaped her mouth.
She stuck out her tongue.
"Ah! Yuck!" Uran wailed, causing the group to erupt with laughter as Pikora went to console the girl robot. Even Tenma seemed to stifle out a chuckle.
"Rats!" Mr. Higeoyaji huffed as he crossed his arms and glared at Atom's father. "Don't think this is the end, Tenma-hakase. I've only just started!"
"I don't doubt it." Tenma replied, simply reveling in the man's challenge.
"That does it!" Mr. Higeoyaji snapped, his gritted his teeth so hard they could've cracked. The man shot to his feet, pointing a finger at Tenma. "Pictionary! Let's go!"
Professor Ochanomizu and Miss Yuko gave an audible sighed as Mr. Higeoyaji continued on with his big talk. Atom could finally understand how his father had gotten under the skin of his previous therapists…
The boy robot was about to speak up and suggest Shotoku Taishi instead, as that was his favorite party game to play, but he never got the chance to. Through Atom's sensitive hearing, he detected the sound of jet-rockets west of them, heading directly towards the house.
The boy robot stood up, putting his hands behind his ears to sure, but there was no need for alarm. They weren't in danger, as the noise marked the approaching arrival of a dear friend.
He smiled. "Pluto's here."
"Pluto!?" Uran hopped up, quick to recover as she stood up on the couch. She squealed with excitement when she finally heard the sound of the green giant's jets too, and started jumping up and down. "He's here! PLUTO'S HERE! He's here! He's here!"
As the siblings ran out the backdoor, the large robot touched down on the grassy woodlands outback Professor Ochanomizu's house as he had done so every year before. And like every year before, Uran went leaping over the side of the concrete walkway to meet him.
"PLUTOOO!" Full of laughter Uran made a dash across the lawn thick with snow, her arms flapping excitedly as she jumped up onto the robot's extended hand. "Happy Christmas!"
"Happy Christmas, Uran," the large robot greeted, his gaze softening as he raised the girl up to eye level. "Have you been well?"
"Yup! I've been having lots of fun and I got so many nice things!" Uran said excitedly, "Well except the wasabi game—I lost! But Hakase really liked his slippers!"
"Ah, so a good choice…"
Instead of hopping down or taking the long way around, Atom activated his jets and flew the short distance to join them.
"Happy Christmas, Pluto!"
"The same to you, Atom; It's good to see you." The green giant said sincerely, and pointed with his free hand to behind him. "I brought our other guest."
"Huh?" Just then, there was movement from behind Pluto's head, as somebody in formal attire stepped onto the green giant's shoulder.
Holding onto one of Pluto's horn was—
Atom's face lit up. "Atlas!"
In the years to follow the Robotonia incident and robots being given rights, Atlas and Pluto became active on the forefront of humanity and robot kind by lending their support to the Ministry of Science. Much like with the past invasiveness to his father's privacy however, the media still gave Atlas and Pluto bad rep from time to time for their past endeavors. The only reason charges were dismissed was because they sided with Atom against Blue Knight. Alongside the pair being two very powerful robots the authorities didn't want to get on the bad side of, working under the protection of the Ministry of Science likely contributed to no further action being taken.
It wasn't uncommon for Atom to team up with Atlas or Pluto for certain missions, depending on the severity of the situation of course. It was due to such teamwork that Atom had forged a much stronger friendship with the two robots, that he could easily consider them an extension of his family. All three had all indeed gotten close.
'We are the three amigos,' Pluto announced once after their successful efforts to protect several villages from flooding. No lives were lost, and damage was kept to a minimum as they'd been able to assist in repairing the flood barriers. All three were a mess in the dirty sense—covered in mud splatters and other filth, and had used much of their energy. After days of working so hard, it left them not in the highest of spirits
Atom and Atlas had simply looked at each other, then back at the green giant as if he were crazy.
'What?' they said at same time.
'Amigos,' Pluto had repeated, still staring off into the watery horizon where the sunlight had finally broken through the stormy clouds—a serene peace in his eyes,. 'It means, friends.'
They had all been created for a purpose, and they had risen above that to be who they wanted to be.
They really were the three amigos.
Stood in his human form, Atlas gave a cocky grin, and slid down the giant's arm, landing in front of the boy. "Hey there Metal Head," he said, and proceeded to grab Atom into a playful headlock, digging his knuckles into his spiky head. "Hah! Finally decided to suit up this year, eh? You look like an elf in that thing!"
"H-Hey cut it out, Atlas!" Atom laughed. "You're one to talk!"
Atlas released Atom and stepped aback, purposely speaking in an over-grandeur tone. "I'll have you know, this suit was specifically tailored to be the most prestige of quality. It would be a criminal to return home in nothing but tatters." He explained, referring to the flaw in his own design, and gave a playful shrug of his shoulders. "Wouldn't want my old man to see me a mess now would I?"
"That's true." Atom chuckled.
Atlas raised a brow as he scrutinized Atom over, before shaking his head. "Never imagined I'd see the day you'd dress up like that, Atom. Guess I should be used to it by now."
In response the boy robot looked at himself slightly baffled. But now that he thought of it, he had been wearing more practical clothes these last few months...
"Oh your present!" Uran clapped her hands and jumped back down to the ground level. "Wait right there Pluto; I'll go get it!"
Pluto gave a thumbs-up to the girl as she ran back to the house. By this point Professor Ochanomizu was making his way down to greet the two robots. The snowfall had temporarily let up, but it was still an extremely cold day. So the professor was smart to wrap himself up in his coat and trade his new croquette sandwich slippers for shoes.
Atlas waved. "Hey there, Hakase!"
The professor gave a welcoming smile. "Atlas, how have you and Tokugawa-Kun been getting along?"
Atlas stuck his hands in his suit pockets, lowering his head. "Ah you know my old man, same as ever. Uh—oh! He mentioned to thank you again for the support and funding for the eco-energy project he's pushed forward with his new apprentice. It's been given the go ahead now."
"Aw that's great! Wonderful!" Professor Ochanomizu said ecstatic. "I'm happy he's finally getting it underway. We can't rely on resources from the moon forever."
Atom noticed Pluto was still staring up at the house on alert, but he soon realized it wasn't because of Uran. Tenma had stepped outside, and was watching over the group from the concrete wall of the walkway. Unlike Professor Ochanomizu, Tenma dared to brave the cold without his coat.
Atlas waved up at the man, smirking. "Hey Tenma-hakase! You better not have been cooking up more trouble for Atom. Got any new robots siblings I need to worry about?
"Not to my knowledge," Tenma called back, and Atom was surprised his father cracked a smile.
Pluto didn't utter any word of greeting to the man, but simply stared him down. And likewise Tenma watched him back as the unspoken tension between the two rose.
Shadow might've been the one behind creating Pluto, but Tenma was still responsible for what led to Pluto being made to fight and hurt innocent robots for the sake of evolving Atom. Yet it was more than that which brought Pluto unease in the man's presence, for it were his actions which inadvertently caused the giant's own demise
The sad truth was the original Pluto was gone—lost in that volcano when he saved Atom's life. The Pluto with them in the here and now was just a copy Shadow kept backed up on Pluto's kokoro and memories. Without that, Pluto would've been completely gone.
Everyone still accepted Pluto as Pluto, even Uran, but none knew like Atom of the struggles the green giant had faced on his identity. In his lowest, Pluto had eventually confided in Atom when the boy robot noticed something amiss with him, and he heard him out through everything he had to say as they sat together on the rooftop of the Ministry of Science, until darkness befell the city.
'The memories you have might define you, but it's who you become that matters, Pluto.'
Pluto had looked down at him with such conflict in his large brown eyes. 'Is that why you choose to be Atom, and not Tenma-hakase's boy?'
The words struck a cord deep, that Atom was left unable to answer.
Pluto continued on, with desperation both in his voice and in those expressive eyes of the giant's. 'What if you decided you were happy as you were? Even if the memories weren't yours, but you accepted them?'
In that moment Atom couldn't help being reminded of the weeks he'd spent brainwashed into believing he was Tobio; how admittedly it was the happiest he'd been with his father at the time since first being abandoned. Finally seeing the side of Tenma that wasn't obsessed with making him a king, and genuinely seemed to love him, like before…all until that is, the cracks in the illusion appeared, and Atom's memories came flooding back, leaving him confused and hurt over such betrayal.
Atom had turned to stare out at Metro City, the many lights from all around the two robots shining like stars under the cover of night.
'Then, I'd be Tobio.'
He, like Pluto, went through an identity crisis of his own through various stages in his life. When Atom began wanting to spend time with his creator, such worries resurfaced. But in the end, Atom realized these feelings were his own, and weren't echoes from Tobio. Atom genuinely did want to be in Tenma's company as his son, and only then when Atom accepted that, did he stop being afraid.
But for Pluto, he chose differently for himself. Pluto could have given himself a new name—a new life. In the end, he chose to be who he wanted to be, and that was himself. But Pluto, he could never forgive what had happened, or the violent purpose his predecessor was built for. That was why, when Pluto learned of Atom's plans to live with his creator, the green giant gave but a simple warning:
'If Tenma does anything to harm you or Uran, no robot laws will stop me hurting that man. Do as you wish, Atom, but don't seek approval from others. If it were me, I would cut ties with Tenma-hakase for good.'
Professor Ochanomizu, having noticed what was going on stepped forward, thankfully distracting the giant robot's attention away from Tenma.
"Pluto it's good to see you. How has your arm been since your last check-up?" Atom's mentor asked.
The giant stared down at the man for a brief few seconds, before he gave his metal arm a test, proving the joint worked perfectly.
"It's much better; thank you."
"Good, good. But be sure to tell me if it starts locking up again," the professor said kindly.
Pluto bowed his head in thanks.
Professor Ochanomizu sneezed as a cold breeze blew through the trees. He wrapped his coat tighter around himself "I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'll have to cut the formalities short this year, but you're welcomed to stay with us as long as you like, Pluto. I'm sure Uran will love that very much." The man said, regretful there were no means for Pluto to come indoors, since the house was incapable of facilitating him. The professor then turned to Atlas. "You're welcomed to join us inside if you like. If I'm not mistaken, Higeoyaji has plans for a game of Pictionary underway."
From inside the house, Atom heard Yuko shout through the open backdoor. "Ojisan for the last time, I'm not playing!"
Atlas chuckled and pointed a thumb back at Pluto. "Thanks, but I'll chill out here with the big guy. I can't stay too long anyhow."
"I understand," Professor Ochanomizu turned around calling out. "Robita! Would you do the honors?"
"Certainly!" The service robot said, waving an arm from where she poked her head out the backdoors. Just as quickly, she vanished back inside.
A few seconds later, all the trees out in the yard where the robots resided lit up with fairy lights. It took the green giant by surprise, and even Atom himself, for this was the first time lights had been fitted out here.
"It's not much, but hopefully it'll make you feel more com—comfortable," Professor Ochanomizu just got out before he sneezed again, wiping his large nose with a hanky. "I'm sorry we can't join you in with this cold. We'll have to arrange some tents next year."
"Don't trouble yourself, Hakase. I'm honored you thought of me regardless." Pluto looked elated "Thank you, I mean it."
Glancing back up at his father, Atom spotted Robita coming out from the house, holding the portable record player in one arm, and a small foldable table under the other.
Seconds after, Uran came running out behind her, holding a giant package over her head—Pluto's gift. In the girl's haste and excitement, she rushed by Robita, startling the service robot as Atom's sister knocked the side of her mechanical arm.
Robita yelped, just managing to prevent herself dropping the recorder player, but the vinyl records resting on top went flying.
"Oh—oh dear!" Robita uttered as she looked around on the ground, assessing how to pick them up with her arms full.
Atom ran few steps forward, and powered up his jets to fly up and help her. As he landed on the concrete wall however, the boy robot realized somebody else was already on the case. Tenma, who was previously standing nearby, was now bending down to pick up those records.
It was only fortunate it'd been snowing, combined with being in their cardboard cases which prevented them getting damaged.
The man hesitated, before he gave them back to Robita.
"Ah! Thank you, Tenma-hakase," the service robot said to him with a bow of her head, and merrily carried on her way down, humming to herself.
Tenma watched her go, until he looked back over and briefly locked eyes with Atom. Catching a chill from the winter air that made the man's shoulders shuddered, he gave his son a small nod of acknowledgement, and returned indoors without a word.
Atom couldn't help but smile to himself, before he hopped off the wall, and ran down the walkway winding around the mushroom house. He quickly caught up to Robita, and helped her carry that foldable small table for her the rest of the way back to the group.
Uran entirely clueless to the whole incident she caused was already with Pluto, offering up his present. "You won't believe what I made you! I worked really hard on it!"
As Atom set down the foldable table, Professor Ochanomizu greeted him.
"I'll go and help Robita with the rest before I head in; there's a few chairs we can—oh," the communicator hooked inside his coat buzzed unexpectedly. Taking it off, Ochanomizu scanned the screen, where for a grief glimpse of a second, something resembling excitement flashed in his eyes.
"Is everything alright, Hakase?"
"Yes—yes, just a message," the professor replied with an overly broad smile, but didn't go into specifics. He quickly tucked the device away, and looked down at the boy robot. "Atom, why don't stay out here for a while? I'm sure you have some catching up to do."
Catching up to do?
But Atom had only seen Atlas and Pluto a few days ago.
Unsure, he nodded slowly. "Sure. I'll get Atlas and Pluto's presents and I'll—"
"No, that's alright. I'll do that for you." Professor Ochanomizu insisted and patted the boy robot's shoulders with a smile. "You just wait right here and I'll get them; under the tree yes?"
"Good! Very well." the professor nodded and was already walking away—at an unusually fast pace. He waved back at Atom extremely cheery. "Back in a moment!"
The boy robot tilted his head as his mentor hurried along, feeling a little dumbstruck by the awkward exchanged. Professor Ochanomizu was not a good liar, but he didn't seem troubled so it couldn't be anything to be that alarmed about…
Atlas chose then to flick Atom's nose, catching him completely by surprise.
"If you got me art supplies again, you're eating snow." The teen said, smirking.
To this, Atom sheepishly scratched the back of his head and giggled.
The morning after overhearing Atom's wishes to live with his creator, Tenma, Uran refused to come out of her bedroom. Atom knocked, but she'd just told him to go away as he heard her crying quietly from behind the door. Guilt-ridden he'd left her, yet vowing to himself that he would try and talk with her again later…
Downstairs, Professor Ochanomizu was already waiting for Atom in the kitchen. With a request from his mentor for Robita to pardon herself so they may speak privately, they had soon sat down to have their little talk.
The agreement they made was Atom could stay over a few days a week at Tenma's house. If things went smoothly, then it could be extended to a permanent stay—if that's what Atom wanted. This was all providing Tenma didn't cook up anymore life-threatening schemes for them and Metro City.
"We can move on from the past for a better future, Atom, but we can't ignore what Tenma-hakase has done," the professor said, his fingers laced together from where his sat leaned forward on the table. A sad sigh escaped the man, his tired eyes still slightly red and puffy from crying on and off through the night. "If your life is put in danger, or I suspect any foul play, the police will be involved."
"It won't come to that Hakase, I promise," Atom said determined and so sure.
"For your sakes, I pray that you're right." The professor only looked at him full of sorrow, his words stinging the boy robot. "I only want for you to be happy, Atom."
He couldn't take it. Without even needing to think it over, the boy robot ran around the table to give his mentor a hug that seemed to last forever between them. It was the least Atom could do to show his thanks, and that he still cared about and loved him like a second father; nothing would ever change that.
Atom had heard a sniffle from the man, and feared for the worst. But Professor Ochanomizu held it together, eventually patting the boy on the back.
"You best be going. You'll late for school."
Atom's day in school trudged by painfully slow, his mind so muddled he was unable to take anything in Ms. Midori taught. And after spilling the news to his friends the day before, Tamao, Kenichi and Shibugaki were withdrawn, not really knowing how to approach the boy robot on his troubles. It wasn't a fun day.
The bell for the end of class and consequentially school for the day couldn't ring soon enough."Atom, would you stay behind please?"This was NOT what the boy robot wanted to hear from his teacher when he was all too ready to hurry out the door. Instead very reluctantly Atom went to Ms. Midori's desk, where she waited until all the other students were out of her class before addressing him."You've been distracted all day. Is everything alright?"There was concern there, yet this wasn't something Atom could discuss so freely with his teacher. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't.
"I...I have an important decision to make, at home," Atom said, as he'd tapped the end of his boot against the ground, squeezing the straps of his backpack. "But I don't know if it's the right one, or if it'll make the people I care about sad."Ms. Midori studied him closely, as she'd leaned forward in her chair. "This wouldn't have to do with what happened in class the other day, would it?"When his friends carried him out in a panic, believing Atom had lost his mind...Atom got embarrassed."Sort of…"
"…I see." Satisfied by that answer, his teacher rose from her chair, and turned to the white board. With board eraser in hand, she began to remove her day's work. "Then there is only one piece of advice I can give you."
Ms. Midori paused and smiled back at him, tapping at her chest. "Listen to what's in here," She'd said earnestly. "Whatever it is, I'm sure you'll make the right choice. But do it because it's what you want—not just to make others happy."
Those words swirled inside Atom's head as he'd left school. His friends who had stayed at the gates to wait for him, offered to hang out in an effort to patch things up. As much as he wanted to, Atom had somewhere he needed to be…
Descending from the sky, Atom set himself down outside the gates of Tenma's house. In the full heat of the sun, Atom gripped the straps of his backpack, straightening his school clothes for the umpteenth time, hoping he looked tidy.
Before he could even press the button for the intercom, the gates opened.
The sprinklers were spraying in constant rotation like a fountain, creating multiple rainbows on that lawn to have been a cut a few days earlier by Tenma and with the assistance of Atom himself—so much grass. The boy robot walked the whole way, instead of running like his previous visits, his every step weighed down as if his legs were filled with rocks. Never had that house looked so intimidating to him than it did that day, as though its windows were eyes, watching him.
The front door opened quietly as Atom approached, and from the darkened shapes indoors, Tenma stepped part-ways out into the light, waiting for him.
His creator's hair had been disheveled and his goatee slightly unkempt, yet his clothes were crisp and clean. Atom couldn't help noticing how thin the man looked in that shirt, like he were tethering on the edge of poor health.
Tenma's calm and collective demeanor didn't give anything away.
"It appears we have much to talk about."
Atom gave a nervous nod.
Tenma briefly shut his eyes as internally psyching himself for the conversation to come. When he opened them again, the man stepped aside and motioned to the door.
"Come in. I've just brewed some tea."
There was the most unnerving of silences between them once Atom stepped inside. It carried on from when Tenma poured himself some tea in the kitchen, to walking through to the small dining room. It was like the man was going through the motions, not really connected, and not saying a word. The contrast was so much different than when Atom was here only yesterday, when his creator couldn't help but ask of how school went and even offering to help him with homework.
As they had walked into the dining room, Atom followed Tenma over to where the man sat down at his favorite seat by the window. Memories from Tobio and Robot Tobio stirred from the past of always seeing Tenma there, sipping his tea and reading a newspaper before heading off to work. Yet the man before Atom now just resembled an empty shell—a husk.
More afraid than he had been in a long time, the boy robot stood across from his creator, his grip not loosening for a moment on the straps of his backpack as he'd tried to remember how to speak.
It was Tenma who finally broke the silence, after taking a long sip from his tea and setting the cup down.
"Now, I believe you have something to ask me?"
Tenma knew full well Atom's reasons for being there. The Professor Ochanomizu had informed Tenma of Atom's wishes—something Atom wanted to be the one to ask personally and on his own terms. He'd felt almost betrayed that his mentor had gone behind his back, but there was no option to bail out now.
He'd known for certain by then what he wanted…
"I...I was wondering..."
Atom took a long deep breath into his artificial lungs, and straightened up. There with his arms rooted to his side, the boy robot proceeded to bow as respectfully as possible.
"Tenma-hakase, may I please come live here with you?"
The curtains from the unlatched window ruffled gently from the warm breeze let in from outside. Atom stayed frozen in that bow, afraid to raise his head.
It felt an eternity before Tenma finally answered…
Ojisan - Uncle
Mei – Niece