All characters, original concepts, and such other objectives of this story not specifically labeled as otherwise belong to Jetix, Disney, and several individuals of which I cannot be bothered to research and list as of this current time. I continue to advise against taking any form of legal action as I remain a college student and everyone knows that the pockets of such people are filled only with lint and crushed childhood dreams.

I suppose I could offer some form of explanation for my absence. I could blame it on schoolwork, could say that studying nursing leaves too little time for things like fanfiction and the Internet and all those wonderful things I seemed so preoccupied with few years or so ago. It feels like I've aged ten years in a day sometimes and like I'm four years old again at others.

I have a job. I have school. I have friends who came into my life both through this site and others, and still more who I met out in the strange place we call reality (it's bizarre out there; it's so loud and the air moves with fans and sometimes it gives you showers without asking you how you like your temperature and water pressure). There's a million and one reasons I haven't ventured into this spot of web, or any really, in so long. But there's really only one that's true.

For some reason, I couldn't be bothered.

Don't think I'm being mean. I just...seemed to drift away. There were other things needing to be done, and so I did those instead. There are still things that need to be done. Conversations I need to have. Dishes to wash. A pile of laundry to do. Life and all that.

Being an adult, I find, sucks the kid out of you.

So I thought that I'd try and get in touch with that kid again. If only for a moment. I finished this chapter earlier in the year, or perhaps last year, I simply hadn't gone over it. I thought maybe it was time to put it up and see what the old me spun into words.

Here's hoping there aren't another two years in between chapters, eh?

An Unannounced Homecoming
This Is Your Last Chance

"They have left you alone with me."

Ordinarily, the orange monkey would have disregarded the decision to leave a guard over him. Injured though he was, it was hardly as if he was defenseless. He had managed to fend his team off in this weakened state after all—a fact he was going to have to remedy through rigorous training once the fools had returned to their senses. Yes, in any other case he would have probably ordered the other team member out of the room and gone back to nursing his wounds in the total privacy of the medical bay. Let the team believe he was invincible, and perhaps let himself believe as well. But only a small amount.

But this was not any other case.

Otto had retracted one of his saws. The other was spinning lazily in the midst of its cool-down time, ready to be put into action at a moment's notice should it be needed. Mandarin might have commended this tactical maneuver had it not been directed squarely at him, at the behest of the same human child that his team seemed not only protective of, but subservient to. That alone was nearly too much for the orange monkey to stomach. What made it worse was that apparently all his teammates had deferred total power over to a creature barely aged enough to speak. Though it had taken several minutes for the other monkeys to coax Sprx back into his senses and out of the medical bay, the act was accomplished only after the human boy hauled Sprx up by one tensed arm and spoke in low,critical tones meant to be deciphered only by the pilot.

What had been said was not even important. Sprx had always been a defiant one, even before—...before; but the red monkey was really nothing properly applied leadership could not handle. Yet...much to Mandarin's chagrin, a method involving mere mouth-sounds from a human who was not even a recognized adult by animal standards had succeeded where years of strong-arming, strict control, and several physical bouts had not.

Mandarin bristled at the implied conclusion.

No human toddler could manage better leadership than he. His brethren were merely being soft-hearted toward what in their eyes was a helpless, innocent creature. They were humoring the brat. …if they asked to be allowed to keep it, he was going to throttle them.

"Someone has to watch you." Otto bit out sullenly. It was a little more than painfully obvious that Otto did not want that someone to be him. He'd been hostile ever since having Mandarin pinned under his saws, and had kept his blades trained on the older monkey throughout the rest of the affair. Now as the others collaborated away from prying ears (his) on topics unknown (what to do about him; which was preposterous since he had practically founded the Hyperforce), Mandarin was left in the bay with the monkey that least desired to be there.

Still, the choice made sense. Sprx's temper would not hold under any circumstances in Mandarin's presence. Not while Mandarin was sorely lacking the weapons and armor that brought about his full glory and strapped to the cot frame (and told in undertones that he was to stay there or else, the ingrates). Nova was prone to violent outbursts herself, and not likely to take any attempt at exclusion from whatever final conclusion the rest of the team was making. Meanwhile Antauri and Gibson were both vital in information and status for all judgments concerning the team, and he was far busy being the guarded in this situation to argue his role as leader. The child...pah, the child was just that. In his opinion, no mere boy could be trained into a decent guard for a potted plant, let alone the great Mandarin.

Which left Otto. Understandably not the brightest of the team, Otto was arguably the easiest to excuse the absence of and the least likely to take any form of offense should he not be included in the meeting. In the most recent matter, however, it seemed a poor choice. Otto was clearly conflicted, was battling with some inner demon that Mandarin presumed had a great deal to do with his own presence within the Robot. Why, he surmised, had to do with Antauri's strange transformation, with Sprx's increased aggression, with that damned human boy...

A chord of pain and disgust with himself flooded Mandarin's senses, and he tensed against the onslaught. Beside him, Otto jerked to attention, seeming torn between allowing him to suffer and running for Gibson. Half a step was taken toward the door before the green monkey hesitated again, this time under a baleful glare from the prone orange counterpart. Mandarin's mouth was pulled into a painful sneer, one eye open and piercing with disdain at Otto's daring, while the other clenched shut against the crawling, aching numbness making its way through damaged circuits and tissue.

"I do not need—" The end of the sentence was cut off by a sharp intake and a flinch both on the part of the older warrior.

Not now. Not now of all times...

"I'm going to get Gibson." Otto managed, the wince that ceased his features in keeping with his normally empathic ways. Mandarin scowled and contorted his bound frame to balance dangerously on his side, or near enough. When he had achieved a direct line of vision with his supposed guardian, he barred his jagged teeth with great menace.

"You will not. I refuse to be sedated for such a minor inconvenience!" Mandarin fought to sit up, before seemingly remembering the straps keeping him lying on the medical bed and collapsing against the sheets in exhaustion. He lay there for only a moment, breathing deep and forcing his muscles to relax, before painfully huffing one last time and settling against the thin cushion covering. "I am...fine. Do not underestimate my ability to deal with discomfort, Otto. I have suffered far worse. Save Gibson's drugs for a time when they are needed."

Otto frowned, seeming to struggle with himself before pulling away from the door and returning to the bedside. He gave an uneasy, furtive glance to the orange monkey and retracted his remaining saw blade finally, and gingerly lifting himself up to sit on the edge of the bedside table where Gibson normally stored operating tools when they were needed. Mandarin gazed at him with heavy eyes before rolling his head away and snarling lightly with only his upper lip.

"I do not need a babysitter either. Do you have nothing else to do?"

A mechanism as large large as the Super Robot; Mandarin refused to believe that nothing needed the mechanic's attention. And even if it was in the best of conditions, there was surely some tinkering Otto could locate to occupy his staring with.

"Chiro said to watch you. So I'm watching you."

This peaked Mandarin's interest, if only mildly. He tilted his face back a fraction and glared from the corner of his eye. "Chiro said?' I will assume that you are speaking of your new pet."

"He is not a pet." Otto snapped, his tail thrashing. "And pretending you don't know was going on isn't gonna keep you from being sent back to prison! Gibson's scanning your memory archives, there!"

Mandarin stared.

For a very long moment.

And then he laughed.

It was not the snide chuckle which usually could be heard, nothing so demeaning. This laugh was full-throated and deep, called from some spark of mirth which usually laid dormant in Mandarin. Otto's response had been so incredibly juvenile that Mandarin could not help himself. However, the lapse was a short one, and with a final snort at the mechanic's expense, the mood of the former Hyperforce leader settled into its usual seriousness.

"Now then, disregarding your...childish and counterproductive spewing, what is this talk of pretending and prison?" Mandarin's head tilted in silent appraisal before he continued. "Do not think I have not noticed this strange...attitude you all seem to have adopted. Quite suddenly in fact. It has to do with the boy?"

"Uh, no." Otto grumbled in frustration. "It's because you showed up on our doorstep all banged up, and like it or not we're the good guys and we have to fix you."

Mandarin raised an eyebrow.

"Sprx wanted to dump you in the Zone of Wasted Years and leave you for Skeleton King to scrape up."

At that, the beady eyes narrowed and Mandarin squared his shoulders. Traitorous little wretch. SPRX-77 would get his comeuppance just as soon as Mandarin was battle ready again.

"Not that I blame him. After what you did last time, I don't want you anywhere near us." Otto's face hardened and Mandarin blinked.

"Last time." He echoed, searching his memory banks. There were no major events in his mind. Much of any most recently dated files in his possession were heavily damaged, from scrabbled circuitry and possible work of their enemies. Either Otto spoke of some imagined slight dealt in training or something that he had done in a recent mission. The line of thought made his head pulse, and Mandarin schooled his features into as blank a look as he could to keep Otto from rushing for Gibson. Fool that the green monkey was, he would never stand for a second performance of the leader's earlier weariness. Rest would aid the recovery process, but in the mind in his incompetent science officer, a good dose of painkiller was apparently the only way to deal with injury.


"Otto, you're are making very little sense." Mandarin paused for a moment, and continued. "Less than usual even. Explain yourself."

The silence was deafening.

"I don't have to." Otto spoke slowly as though it were a great revelation on his part. His visors winked in and out several times and he jerked his face away to glare at the closed medical bay door. "Chiro wants me to watch you, so I'm watching, but I don't have to listen to you. It's your own fault you're in this mess anyway.

"What?" It wasn't quite a screech, but it was very close.

Otto looked over his shoulder and opened his mouth to either repeat or reply, but was cut off what the bay doors opened and the rest of the Hyperforce filed through it, accompanied still by the human whelp. The green monkey quickly hopped off the table a little guiltily, and Mandarin glared after him. The conversation blazed itself deep within his memory banks; Otto would receive due payment for that insult against his authority later. For now, there were other things for him to be concerned with.

"Mandarin." It was Antauri—but not Antauri, that strange silver creature with Antauri's voice and presence—who spoke. The child tilted his head and frowned toward a corner, but did not speak. Apparently there had been a disagreement between the two, if instinct was anything to go off of. "Gibson's completed the preliminary scan of your systems, including your core memory banks. Much of your data has suffered distortion, and as you likely have discovered for yourself, the damage wrought on you is...extentsive."

"Imagine that." Mandarin murmured hollowly. "If I might be so bold, Antauri, I am simply dying to know why you are going through this immense amount of trouble when you only had to ask if I remembered anything."

"Because you'd lie, you—"


The boy bit out the name harshly, but there was no other acknowledgment of the outburst. Instead, the bright blue eyes focused on Nova, who immediately moved to tug Sprx back and hush him quietly. He continued to glare at the prone form on the medical table, but Mandarin only held the gaze with a severe determination. Admittedly, a small part of him thrummed in delight the overaggressive monkey's scolding; the rest of him was coolly enraged that once again, this...Chiro had taken command and been yielded to. When he got on this blasted cot, there was a great deal he would have to do.

"For now, we'll be keeping you confined to the medical bay." Antauri continued after a beat. That caught Mandarin's attention, and he gritted his teeth.

The boy, despite his blank face, clenched a fist and Mandarin blinked.

The child did not want him here. Not that he could be blamed. Likely it was intimidating to have the true leader of the Hyperforce watching one blunder through commanding the team. The end of his charade of power was in sight, and the boy was sulking.

How typical.

"I will advise you to attempt no ill-conceived escape attempts or to make any actions against us during your stay."

"...I beg your pardon?" Mandarin hissed, raising his head slightly to send an icy glower toward his second-in-command. The silver monkey remained unfazed (unsurprising as Antauri had always been level-headed in the face of his wrath).

"We mean it." Chiro finally met eyes with the older simian, and Mandarin fought a chill that threatened to constrict his chest. It was insane, impossible, that the child cause any measure of fearful response, let alone one as...progessed as this one. Humans were nothing in comparison to him, to his kind. Even Otto, dim-witted as he was, could easily remove a human threat in a matter of moments, no skill involved. This...boy, what was he that Mandarin's carefully controlled body seemed so keen to evade his very presence? Too many questions, and Mandarin knew he was not likely to be answered. "One wrong move, and I swear I'll make you wish we'd left you to your master."

What? My...what?

"You—!" Mandarin wrenched upward as if planning to lunge for the human's throat, and to be honest he likely would have, if the bed straps hadn't held him back. In his weakened state, he could have thrashed until he underwent another system shutdown; it would have done no good. A sudden sensation of movement behind him cause his attention to adjust, but the needle Gibson held was already sliding into his expose left shoulder. "What?"

"Apologies, Mandarin. But I think I shall prefer you unconscious while I am working." A fast-working sedative, doubtless. Gibson's voice was already wavering in octaves and the orange monkey managed only a displeased groan as he slumped forward awkwardly. Careful hands maneuvered him into a lying position and readjusted the straps to hold him there. His head lolled to the side regardless of the attempt.

As his vision drifted out, he was greeted with the departure of the rest of the team. Only Otto paused at the door and looked back at him with an expression so convoluted that it could not be read. Then he too disappeared from view.

Despite the savage denial given by his pride, his body slowly succumbed to the drug's effect. The multiple aches were soothed, the tightness of his chest loosened, and he once more sank into the promised numbness of lost consciousness.

For now at least, Mandarin slept.

I think my love for a character is shown by exposing them to excess mental and physical trauma, and seeing how they fare. Mandarin is a hardy little thing, but I cannot help feeling a little sorry for him as I look over the notes I have written for this story. I think I might be a little mean-spirited...

Just a touch, you know.

Still, I find that two years hasn't changed me as greatly as I thought it would (should). I still love this story, a little more than I do most things I write. I still want to finish it. I might, in fact. It's been a long time since I finished anything I set out to do.

We'll see.

Hugs, luffles, and chocolate truffles,