Title: Astro Boy – Growing Pains
Author: Icka! M. Chif
Beta: Thanks to Dogmatix and Skit for corrections.
Word Count: 13,000
Author Notes: Plunnie fangs. Huuuuuge fangs. Written to 'Now or Never' by M-flo meets Chemistry on repeat for two weeks. Also, Tenma doesn't like Ochanomizu. He may respect him, but he doesn't like him. Thus, Ochanomizu comes off kinda bad.
Summary: Post-2003 Series. Tenma-hakase has some issues he's working through.
Tenma Nagamiya had not been a good father. He had not been a good man either, but it was the former that haunted him now.
He had lost his son three times now. First he had driven Tobio away from him with his negligence, Tobio had run away from him and died. Then he had resurrected Tobio in the form of a robot. He had tried to be a better father to that Tobio, spend time with him. But then the robot Tobio rebelled against him just like the original Tobio had as his original memories resurfaced. He'd decapitated his son. But he'd been unable to bear dismantling it, so he had tucked it away.
The third time was after Ochanomizu had found his robot Tobio and brought him back as 'Atom'.
He had pressured Tobio, pushed him to the limits, tried to make him stronger, faster, better. Make him evolve. Pitted him against other robots, more powerful robots. Threw challenges in his path. Tried to make him the undeniable King of the Robots.
Tobio had refused. Refused Tenma's gift, of power, of a better body, one more suited for the Ruler of the World. Had sided with the humans, forged a peace between both sides that Tenma had never seen coming.
And his son had broken. Blown up by the very humans he'd tried to save in order to protect the free robot city, Robotobia. He had damaged almost to the point of no repair.
But Tenma had done it, had healed Tobio, and brought him back without his troublesome memories. It had been a victory, sweet in his mouth to watch the realisation on Ochanomizu's face when he realised that his dear 'Atom' didn't remember him.
But the sweetness hadn't lasted for long. Tobio's memories continued to resurface until he had completely forgotten about being Tobio at all. And he rebelled again.
And all that was left of his son was Atom.
Atom, who chose the city, chose the humans and the robots and Ochanomizu and Ochanomizu's peaceful mantra that robots and humans could be friends. Over him.
He'd handed his son to Ochanomizu, trusting that the older man who had gotten civil rights for robots would be a better father to his robotic son.
He saw them occasionally, on the newscasts that were his sole distraction in his bare cell, Ochanomizu standing with Atom and the daughter he had built from what he could understand from Tobio's original plans. He hated the man, just a little, whenever he saw them standing like that. Ochanomizu had what most men dreamed of, a perfect family, but without any of the trails and tribulations that came with it.
Ochanomizu hadn't gone through the troubles and triumph of finding a spouse and the effort of keeping them. Or the nerve-wracking anticipation and preparation of a new child on the way. Or the loss of said spouse and child.
No, Ochanomizu had his perfect family, pre-made without any cost to himself. All he had to do was flip a switch. He had no wife to demand his time and attention, he had a robot servant to cook and clean for him instead. His children were what every parent dreams of, polite and obedient, because as the flagship bridge between humanity and robots, they could be nothing else. They were unable to develop from the age they had been created at, forever frozen at that perfect stage of childhood where one was old enough to play on their own without supervision, but young enough not to rebel.
But, they appeared to be happy. He mused upon this while he was residing here, in prison. It wasn't like he had much else to do other than to except to ponder what he had done and the mistakes he had made while in seclusion. And talk to the quack who was his 'therapist' three times a week. The therapist said he needed to work through his issues in a non-harmful and conductive fashion.
If he had it to do all over again, he would have been a better father. He wondered if he had been a father to Tobio the first time if any of this would have happened.
Well, not that he'd know now. Outside of those newscasts, and two old-fashion style photographs, of Tobio and Atom, he had no contact with his son. And no recourse available to him to change that.
Still, at least his son appeared to be happy.
The door to his cell opened, jolting him from his thoughts and he looked up in surprise. It was not meal time and he never had any guests. From the open doorway, wide brown eyes stared hesitantly back at him.
Tenma's jaw dropped in shock. "To-Tobio?!" He was greeted with a small flinch and he hastily corrected himself. "Ah! Sorry, Atom."
"Hi." Atom said shyly, glancing around the room, as if uncertain about his presence.
"Hello." He stared for a moment more before his manners belatedly kicked in. "Please, come in." He stood up, motioning for Atom to take a seat at the desk.
Atom stared at him for a minute before stepping inside, looking like a frightened rabbit. It was almost ridiculous, the world's strongest robot, afraid of being in the same room as him. Atom could escape with the flick of a finger if he so chose, opening the thick walls of the room as easily as a human could rip a slice of cheese.
Tenma drank in the sight of his son as Atom took a seat at the desk. He looked the same as he had, the last time Tenma had seen him. "It's very plain here." Atom commented, looking at the undecorated white walls, his gaze never lingering long on anything in his nervousness.
"Yes." He agreed. "I don't require much here." A table and chair for a desk, the television and a bed. They were afraid of what he would create if given anything to make tools out of. Not that he could blame them for such. He was a rather tricky character, if he did say so himself. "So what brings you here today, Atom?"
"I... was wondering how you were doing." Atom admitted shyly, kicking his feet slightly as they dangled from the seat. "It's been a while since I've seen you."
He wondered what his son thought of him now, here in this cell. He was no longer quite the proud man he used to be. "I am doing well." He said, and it was a truth. His health was fine, he exercised and ate well, his keepers made sure of that. He did the same menial work that the other inmates did, only with a closer scrutiny around robots.
"Really?" Atom asked, tilting his head to the side, wide brown eyes looking at him curiously.
"Yes." He said, attempting to smile reassuringly and not completely sure he succeeded. When Atom gave him a hesitant smile back, he figured it worked.
"But more importantly-" He cleared his throat. "How have you been doing? I've been keeping track of the news reports; you've been keeping busy lately."
"Just a bit." Atom confessed, looking embarrassed.
Tenma smiled. "Tell me about it?"
Atom blinked, looking surprised. "But... if you've heard the news reports..."
"I would like to hear what happened from you, if it is alright."
"Um... okay." Atom said hesitantly. Tenma began to draw various small stories from his son, things they were learning at school, playing with his circle of human friends, chores around the Ministry of Science, and his attempts to keep the sister that Ochanomizu had made, Uran, out of trouble and usually failing.
As well as the minor clashes between Humans and Robots that weren't quite willing to give peace --or equal rights between their species-- a chance.
Their talk progressed quickly, Tenma easily losing track of time. It was a surprise when Atom paused in mid-sentence, his eyes widening in alarm. "What is it?"
"It's been almost two hours!" Atom exclaimed, sliding off the chair. "I'm going to be late! I've got to get back!"
He dashed for the door, it automatically sliding opening for the small robot. Atom paused in the doorway before it shut again. "Okay if I visit you next week?"
"Uh... Yes." He nodded. "Of course!"
"I'll see you then!" Atom gave him a broad grin and a wave.
Then the door shut, blocking his view of his son, and sealing him inside once more.
"... Next week." He echoed, realising he had his own hand raised in an aborted wave.
He found himself doubting that, that his son would be allowed back to visit. The therapist thought he was dwelling too much on self doubts. He thought the therapist was a bubble-headed idiot.
But the thought lingered throughout the rest of the week and he found himself counting down to the time that Atom had visited him previously. Tuesday, around four o'clock.
A few minutes prior to four on the next Tuesday, the door opened and his son appeared again, this time dressed in a pale blue short sleeved shirt over a long sleeved tan shirt, dark blue shorts held up with a brown belt and with a brown school backpack with books over his shoulders.
Atom paused inside the door, pausing to catch his breath. "Hi." He said, looking slightly embarrassed once he was in the door. As a robot, Atom did not need to breathe; therefore he had no reason to catch his breath. However, as a robot created to mimic a human as closely as possible, it was just one more thing that enabled him to fit in better.
"Greetings." Tenma raised a hand in greeting. He got a hesitant grin in response. "Just got out of school?"
"My friends had something they wanted to do right out of school with me." Atom straightened his clothing self-consciously. "I didn't have time to change out of my school clothes."
Tenma nodded and filed that titbit of information away. Interesting. If Atom was coming here directly from school instead of stopping by home, did that mean that he hadn't informed Ochanomizu of his visitations? That would certainly explain why he had been in such a hurry to leave previously.
"And how is school going?" He questioned as Atom took off his backpack and set it down next to the chair as he took a seat.
He got a grin in return and a bouncing report on what they were doing in history class. Atom loved learning about the latest science and technologies, even if it was self-profusely to have the ability to repair any damaged robots, but Tenma was surprised to discover that Atom had a passion for history, the adventures and progress of humans. Which made a surprising amount of sense when he thought about it. As a Child of Science, Atom could not escape technology in his daily life, especially by the virtue of living with the current Head of the Ministry of Science. History however, he could learn from. What heights and barbarianism humans had been capable of in the past, they were capable of in the future. What mistakes from the past he might uncover in the present.
Again, their meeting passed by too quickly and Atom soon rose to leave. Tenma watched him put on the backpack with a faint feeling of nostalgia. He had watched Tobio get ready for school when he was younger as well. "Atom..." He hesitated to ask the question in his thoughts, and then asked anyway. He could not know otherwise. "Do you still have any of the clothing I gave you?" Tobio's old clothing, like he had been dressed in the photographs that he carried.
Atom gave him a sad look. "No."
"Ah." He nodded, having expected as much. When Atom's memories had returned this last time, he had left feeling betrayed.
"Um. I have a question." Atom said, looking down at his feet, scuffing the heels slightly. "A lot of other robots have clothing... When you created me... Why black speedos and boots?" The last came out as a rapid confused blurt, like he couldn't entirely figure out how to phrase his question.
Tenma's eyebrow rose as he smiled. "Ever since he could pick out his own clothing, Tobio always wore red boots. They were his favourite." He said fondly. When he had been recreating his son, he hadn't been able to imagine the robot that was to be his son with out them. "As far as the black speedos... Creating you with no clothing at all was not an option."
"Oh." Atom could not quite blush, but he certainly made a valiant effort. "Thank you."
Tenma smiled fondly back. "You're quite welcome."
"Same time next week?" Atom asked curiously.
"I shall be here, awaiting your arrival next Tuesday with bated breath." Tenma promised sincerely. After all, where else did he have to go?
Atom gave him a pleased grin and a wave as he walked out the door. "I'll see you then!" He promised.
He didn't like to dwell on what the therapist said after that meeting. Sometimes, people could take Freud just a little bit -too- far.
The next week, Atom showed up without the school clothes, but looking tired and slightly worn. Tenma rose to escort his son to the chair, then hovered a moment before sitting back down on the bed and asking how things were going. Atom gave him a wan smile and briefly touched on what they had been doing at school that week and an adventure with his human friends.
The cheerful facade fell away, leaving a tired young warrior and the story of this past afternoon, which had not yet reached the newsvids came out. Skunk had freed himself from prison to make a reappearance, and Atom had been forced to fight his brethren robots yet again.
Despite Tenma's... encouragement to force Atom to evolve into the Ruler of Robots over humans and utilize the weaponry that Atom possessed, --including the guns in his rear that had as of yet not been discovered and Tenma was not going to mention-- he had not created Atom to be an instrument of battle. Tobio had had a kind heart, one that had recoiled at the senseless destruction of life, human or robot, and Atom possessed the same heart. And those gentle traits had been encouraged and amplified by the time spent in Ochanomizu's care.
What followed was a dark discussion about philosophy and the co-existence between robots and humans. Tenma still believed in the superiority of robots over humans while Atom believed that they were equal, and they spent a good time in a minor debate, each playing devil's advocate for the other.
Tenma found himself holding back slightly, reigning in his temper and trying not to push his view of robot superiority too hard upon Atom. For all intents and purposes he had already lost that debate. To Atom, before he ended up here. And he'd lost his son to his anger before, he wasn't going to repeat that mistake once again.
Atom, in return, surprised him by a surprisingly deep view of the world around him. His son's appearance was innocent, but inside he carried a heavy collection of battle scars. Not all of them from physical battles, there were quite a few created from the wear and tear of daily life of a robot living in a human world. How many times had Atom seen something, done something extraordinary, only to have it be dismissed because he was only a robot?
Realisation dawned on him, as their conversation was winding down and some of the frustration that Atom appeared to carry had faded, that these fears were not something he could voice to Ochanomizu, who viewed the world in a positive light, without the shadows and battles that both Atom and he experienced.
Atom eventually moved to leave, looking better than he had when he first appeared, smiling slightly as he slid from the chair. "Thank you." Atom said sincerely.
"You are quite welcome, it is my pleasure." Tenma smiled back.
"Same time next week?" Atom asked, as what was apparently becoming a ritual.
"I would be delighted." Tenma agreed as Atom left the room. "I shall see you then."
He mused on this conundrum for the next several days, of Atom being stuck between humans and robots, and between Ochanomizu's philosophies and his own.
If humans were the beings between Angels and Demons, what did that make the human's offspring, the robots?
He didn't mention that to the therapist, not after the previous week.
The next Tuesday, when Atom appeared again, he did so by sneaking into the room, glancing around as if he were expecting the shadows to jump out at him at any moment.
"Greetings." Tenma looked at his son in amusement as Atom gave a sigh of relief as the door slid shut behind him.
"Hi." Atom gave him a small embarrassed smile. "Sorry for the entrance."
"It is not a problem." Tenma assured him with some worry as Atom took his seat on the chair. "Is something the matter?"
"I almost didn't make it." Atom said, looking some what embarrassed. "Ochanomizu-hakase suddenly had a list of a half dozen things for me to do right away. It took forever to sneak away."
"And you didn't do them?!" Tenma asked in surprise. He had always thought that Atom followed Ochanomizu's orders without question.
"I did some. I'll do the rest later." Atom casually assured him as he swung his feet back and forth, looking much like a mischievous nine year old boy. "I didn't want to miss our meeting."
"Oh." It was hard to fight the surge of pleasure at the fact that Atom was doing such a thing to spend time with -him-. It probably was not something he should encourage, but he couldn't find it in him to argue it either. "So, tell me, how was school this week?"
This earned him an eye-roll at the latest antics that Ken'ichi, Shibugaki and Tama-chan had talked him into, the wonders that Reno and Gideon had gotten into and the latest mystery that Uran and a private investigator with a huge moustache, Higeoyaji, had solved. Atom relaxed as he talked, motioning with his hands as he explained his small daily troubles. Tenma hadn't seen him on the newsvids this week, it had been blessedly quiet. Something he found himself pleased to see.
Then the door suddenly opened, Ochanomizu bursting into the room. "ATOM!" He bellowed, sounding panicked. Without thinking, Tenma rose to his feet, taking a step to stand between his son and the door.
"Hakase?!" Atom yelped, standing up.
"Tenma!" Ochanomizu glared as he pointed a finger at in his direction, the other hand curled into a fist. "Get away from Atom!"
"Hakase?!" Atom repeated, stepping forward, one hand raised towards Tenma, fingers not quite touching his hand. "What are you doing here?!"
"What am I doing here?!" Ochanomizu exclaimed in disbelief. "What are you doing here?! What has Tenma done to you?"
He almost took offence to that. Almost.
"Nothing." Atom said, looking at his guardian in confusion. "We've been talking."
"Talking?!" Both Ochanomizu's hands clenched into fists. "You can't tell me you mean that you've been sneaking off these past few weeks to TALK?!"
"Yes." Tenma spoke up, cutting off Atom's flustered protest. "Precisely."
Ochanomizu glared up at him, his fat round body shaking in fury. "You stay out of this Tenma."
"No." Atom said defiantly. Tenma had heard this tone of voice from him several times before, usually directed at him. It was the tone of voice that was heard before his son did the impossible, moved heaven and earth, and defeated what ever obstacle was in his way because Atom had decided that it was the right thing to do.
It was rather odd, to be on the other side of that 'No'.
"No?" Ochanomizu blinked, taking a small step back.
"No." Atom repeated firmly. "You can't blame him. -I- was the one to decide to come visit him and I was the one to decide to keep coming back to talk with him. And that is all we've ever done, is talk, you can check the security logs if you don't believe me."
Tenma glanced up, belatedly remembering the cameras that watched him in case he decided to cause more trouble.
"Atom..." Ochanomizu stared at the robot as if Atom had suddenly sprouted a second head. "Why?" He finally asked, sounding faintly betrayed.
"I forgave him." Atom said seriously. "And forgiving someone means that you don't just forget their existence once they've gone away. You can't forgive someone and not mean it. And he's my Otousan."
Tenma froze, staring at his son in shock, vaguely realising that Ochanomizu was doing the same thing.
Atom's eyes dropped, staring at the floor, fading from a warrior facing a fight to a young child. "I... remember when I was Tobio. The human Tobio... and the robot Tobio." Atom confessed, closing his eyes, face twisting in a myriad of emotions. "I can't forget, and I don't want to forget that Tenma-hakase was my Otousan because Ochanomizu-hakase is my Otousan now... but I can't get the memories to match up of my kind Otousan who loved me and the Tenma-hakase who pushed me to fight."
And so Atom had come here, to talk and get to know him better. To have a chance to reconcile the two sets of memories, the two sets of personalities, in his head.
In retrospect, he realised that Atom had always been very careful not to address him by any sort of title, either as 'Tenma' or as 'Otousan'.
Ochanomizu stared at Atom, his round frame slumping as the anger faded. "Atom." Ochanomizu said quietly. Atom startled, looking up at his guardian with an almost guilty expression. "Wait outside, all right?"
"I..." Atom glanced between the two men.
Tenma nodded. "It is all right Atom. We're just going to talk." Ochanomizu nodded as well, giving him a reassuring smile.
"I... Okay." Atom said quietly, slinking out of the door.
"Please turn off your enhanced hearing." Tenma added. This encounter was probably not going to be very polite on either end and he did not wish for his son to be forced to hear his 'Fathers' fighting. "It is impolite to eavesdrop, even by accident."
"Okay." Atom added sullenly as he walked around them. The door slid open for him and the small robot stepped out.
Silence filled the room after Atom left. Tenma sighed, sitting back down on the bed and tiredly waving Ochanomizu to sit down on the chair Atom had just vacated. It wasn't like there was anywhere else to sit in this cell.
"You do realise that he came to me." He said quietly as Ochanomizu elected to stand. "I never encouraged him. Although I will admit to suspecting that he was visiting without your blessing and saying nothing against it."
"You would be correct." Ochanomizu sighed heavily. "I would not have allowed him to come if I knew this was where he was going."
"I am not going to turn him away if he wishes to visit me." Tenma said seriously.
"I realise that." Ochanomizu scowled darkly. "I merely do not want you filling his head with your rubbish."
"As opposed to filling his head with your rubbish?" Tenma retorted. "I still believe that he should be the Ruler of Robots, not humanity's puppet. Nothing has changed that"
The two men glared at each other for a long, tense moment, neither of them backing down. They finally broke their gaze off at the same time with a loud 'humph'. They looked away at the walls, mentally regrouping and strategising for the next volley. Just because Tenma believed the man to have the makings to be a decent father did not mean he had to –like- the man.
"What… does he talk to you about?" Ochanomizu asked quietly, no doubt wondering what Atom would talk to Tenma about that he wouldn't talk to Ochanomizu about.
"Life." Tenma responded softly. "The little things. How school was, what he and his friends are doing, battles he's faced. That sort of thing." He was not about to mention the one debate they had had, Ochanomizu was sure to take it the wrong way.
"He talks to me about the same things." Ochanomizu frowned. "Why would he come here to tell you the same?"
"A different perspective, perhaps?" Tenma shrugged. Part of him gleefully insisted that it was Atom's way of proving that Atom did care about him. "Or possibly a chance to spend some time where nothing is asked of him save the pleasure of his company?" He drawled.
Ochanomizu seethed back. "And what is that supposed to mean, Tenma?"
"Tell me, Ochanomizu-hakase…" Tenma leaned back and smirked, because he knew it would piss off the other professor. "When was the last time the Ministry of Science solved a problem without throwing Atom at it?"
It was a cruel question, but one that Tenma had been pondering about for a while. Certainly not since Atom's resurrection. Anytime the Ministry ran into trouble, or there was a clash between Robots and Humans, the standard response as of late was to throw Atom at it and let him take care of it. Which he did, with admirable luck and skill, despite the fact that he hated fighting. Tenma had forced battles upon Atom, but he had expected better from Ochanomizu.
"I… why, you…." Ochanomizu growled, shaking with indignation. "Don't tell me how to raise Atom!" He snapped, Tenma mentally scoring himself a point. Ochanomizu probably could not honestly answer the question.
"I'm not." Tenma purred, tilting his head to the side. "I gave up that right long ago, when I de-activated him. But that does not mean I do not watch him and worry about how he is doing."
"He is doing fine!" Ochanomizu insisted loftily. "Just fine!"
"Is he now?" Tenma inquired, raising an eyebrow. "If that were true, why would he be coming here to talk to me?"
Ochanomizu's mouth opened, but he said nothing. But then Ochanomizu had never fared well against Tenma when it came to logic, or debates.
Tenma leaned forward, closing in for the kill. "One of these days, Hakase, you are going to have to choose, which is most important to you. Is he your son, or your tool?"
"Don't be ridiculous." Ochanomizu scoffed. "Atom is my son."
"Right." Tenma nodded. "And Atom is your average nine-year old boy who goes to school, champions for peace, battles giant robots, travels in Space, cleans out radioactive reactors of waste as part of their after school chores and chases after his rebellious sibling when their 'father' is too busy." Tenma continued reasonably. He paused, then added scornfully; "Really, Ochanomizu, who did you make Uran for if you were not going to take responsibility for the girl? She shoulders none of the weight that Atom does, yet gleefully adds to his burdens with her shenanigans."
Ochanomizu stared at him. "I… what are you talking about?" He asked, his expression the perfect picture of confusion. His large eyebrows then came down, the confusion quickly shifting to anger. "No. Do not confuse the issue. Atom is my son and there is nothing you can do to change that!"
"No, I can't." Tenma agreed softly, his voice a low dangerous purr. "But I can be there for him when you are not. After all, I am not going anywhere." He motioned around the bare walls of his cell with a level of morbid joviality. "As for the rest, observe for yourself sometime and see what I mean. For one day you –will- have to make that decision, and I pray that you choose more wisely than I."
"I will." Ochanomizu said firmly, drawing himself up to his unimpressive height. "And in the mean time, don't think I won't forbid him from coming here again!"
"You could." Tenma agreed. "But you won't. Not if this is something that he truly wishes to do."
Ochanomizu glared at him defiantly, resisting his words. Tenma did not have much of an arsenal at the moment, but of what he did have, the truth was his greatest weapon, even if it was a doubled-edged sword.
"You're right." Ochanomizu finally grumbled. "But I cannot see why he comes here to talk to you instead of me."
"Atom lives in a world that we cannot know." Tenma said quietly, softening his tone. "He is a robot in a world of humans. And it is not always a nice place. That is what I can give him, understanding of that darker side of the world that you do not know."
Tenma had lived the opposite, a human in a world of robots, many that he created, and controlled to varying extents. Ochanomizu created robots, but he had never lived in that world, where optimism broke down and all that was left was anger and power. It was that side of the world that Atom was face to face with, a side that Ochanomizu, in his glass tower in the Ministry of Science, never saw.
Ochanomizu looked at him for a long moment. "Very well. I won't condone his visits, but I won't interfere with them either. But if you harm him, even the slightest little bit-" He let the threat dangle.
"I won't." Tenma said steadily. He couldn't, not if he wanted any chance at continuing to see his son.
He got a brisk nod in return. "So long as we understand each other, Tenma."
"Certainty, Hakase." Tenma smiled genteelly back. He understood more than Ochanomizu certainly did. "Until next time."
Ochanomizu harrumphed and stalked out the door, muttering darkly about there had better not be a next time. The door slid shut, leaving him alone in the cell. He sighed, leaning the back of his head against the wall and stared up at the ceiling. Well, at least he had said his piece. If nothing else, hopefully he had given Ochanomizu food for thought.
The door opened again a minute or so later, Atom sticking his head in and staring at him with concerned eyes before stepping in. "Is everything okay?" Atom asked, stepping near the bed, the closest he'd come towards Tenma yet.
"Everything is fine." He gave his son a reassuring smile. It felt a bit tired around the edges, but genuine. "How is everything on your end?"
"Hakase's a bit angry with me." Atom said ruefully with a slight grimace. "But I knew he'd be, which is why I didn't tell him. He says I can keep visiting though, as long as it doesn't interfere with anything else."
"I see." As long as Atom didn't show any adverse effects to Tenma's presence, that was. Although the 'doesn't interfere' was slightly worrisome, he would not put it past Ochanomizu to suddenly increase Atom's chores to prevent his Tuesday visits. "I am glad."
"Me too." Atom smiled at him, a slightly shy expression. "And I'm sorry for not telling you the other parts earlier either. About Tobio's memories."
"I understand." Tenma's smile drooped. He had already suppressed Atom's memories once, to play house with his 'Tobio'. Atom's angry, betrayed face when his memories returned and he realised he had been living a lie the past several weeks still haunted him. Possibly because a part of Atom wished it to be the truth, not a fiction, although that could have been wishful dreaming on his part. "You may have Tobio's memories, but you are Atom now, not Tobio. I am not going to mistake one for the other, if that is what you are afraid of."
Atom grimaced. "Not so much afraid…" He mumbled, looking down at his boots.
Tenma hid a chuckle. "But now that I know why you are here, I imagine that you have more questions for me."
"Yeah." Atom nodded. "But they'll have to wait until next week, I told Hakase I was just going to say good-bye, and then I have to go do my chores." He made a face, from which Tenma surmised that Atom was going to be in the doghouse for a while.
"Next week then." He nodded. "Take care, Atom."
"You too." The smile he got in return was not the broad innocent ones that Tenma had received when Atom had first been constructed, or ignorant of his memories, but tempered with a strange sort of maturity, and he treasured it all the more for that. Experience had not been kind to Atom, he had not been kind to Atom, yet Atom was still here.
With a final wave, Atom left, the door obediently opening and closing for him, Ochanomizu's worried bulk waiting for him on the other side. He saw Ochanomizu put a hand on Atom's shoulder as they walked away, Atom not minding the contact. There had been a time when Atom had not been afraid to come near him as well, and he had lost that.
Something to strive for in the future.
The therapist thought this was a marvellous breakthrough, a venting of his true pent up thoughts and emotions. Tenma continued to think that the therapist as a gleeful idiot.
The next Tuesday, Atom showed up at his usual time, looking slightly harried. "Everything all right?" Tenma questioned as Atom took his usual seat on the chair.
"Yeah." Atom gave him a tired smile.
One of Tenma's eyebrows rose. "Ochanomizu-hakase came with you, didn't he?"
Atom nodded. "Yeah." And was probably in a control room, watching them carefully and listening in on every word they said. Which sort of defeated the purpose of Atom coming here to talk about those things he could not talk to Ochanomizu about.
"I see." Tenma said quietly. "In that case, why don't you ask me the questions today?" He offered. Atom looked at him in surprise and Tenma smiled back. Atom blinked, and then returned the smile with a shy, almost mischievous grin, as if they were conspirators in a plot.
"Actually…" Atom's expression faded to a more serious expression. "Can you tell me about my… Tobio's mother? I don't seem to have any solid memories of her, just like shadowy glimpses that I can't see very well."
"I'm not surprised; she died when Tobio was very young." It was almost a shock, to realise how much time had fled. Time had stood still for him for so long, frozen at the moment of Tobio's death. Had Tobio lived, he would just be entering his pre-teens now. "After her death, I threw myself into my work. You would have liked her I think. I see a great deal of her in both Tobio and you. You both take after her."
"Really?" Atom's eyes were round in surprise, making him look very young.
"Yes." He smiled fondly, momentarily wishing he had a picture of her with him. He'd destroyed them all after her death, unable to deal with it. "Her name was Hoshie, she was very lovely. She also had a very kind heart."
"Ohh…" Atom listened attentively, drinking in his stories like he was starved for the information, pausing only occasionally to ask a question for further clarification. This was, Tenma smugly concluded, something that Ochanomizu could never give Atom. Answers to the questions that any child might have about their parents and their past.
As always, the visit did not seem to last long enough and Atom eventually rose to leave. "Thank you." Atom said with grave dignity as he stood just outside of the door's sensor. He looked like he had a lot to think about.
"You are quite welcome." Tenma said, suddenly feeling old and tired for no explicable reason. He had not thought about Hoshie in quite a long time, either the good memories or the bad.
"See you next week?" Atom inquired.
"Of course." He agreed. "Until then."
The door opened for his son, and this time there were no shadows waiting for Atom to take him away. Tenma hoped that Ochanomizu had learned what he needed to know this visit and there would be no further hovering or interference from the man.
The therapist was ecstatic, two breakthroughs in two weeks, finally dealing with the long-ago trauma of losing his wife. Tenma wondered if the therapist was imbibing just a little too much on happy pills.
The next Tuesday, when Atom returned, he appeared to be more upbeat than his previous visits. Ochanomizu had not accompanied him today, due to the fact that the other scientist was currently being run ragged chasing after Uran without Atom's assistance. Ochanomizu's assistant, Yuko, was enforcing this after Ochanomizu had made the mistake of using her as a sounding board about Tenma's insinuations about Atom's time.
Tenma was quietly pleased to hear that, and Atom appeared to be a lot more relaxed and happy since he was no longer solely responsible for the trouble Uran got into.
Atom's school class had gone on a field trip to an Aeronautics Museum that week. Atom was quite enthusiastic about it, save for the fact that as the shortest member in his class, he had been unable to go on the one ride, which had a height limit. They cheerfully passed the time discussing the evolution of flight.
It was slightly ironic, seeing as Atom was one of the few humanoid creatures that could fly, and the only one who was capable of doing so via either their feet or their hands. Most other robots that were capable of flight did so via rockets on their backs.
Atom left, promising to return the next week.
The therapist wanted to know what his dreams were like, if Tenma was longing to be free, under the blue sky again. Tenma really started to wonder about those happy pills.
However, when the next Tuesday did roll around, Tenma found himself doubting that Atom would appear, with good reason. It had been all over the newsvids for the half the day, a clash between Drake's Anti-robot group and the Ministry of Science, with Atom caught in the middle, trying to keep the peace and failing.
It always struck him with a dark sense of irony, that the Anti-Robot groups always used robots to do their fighting when screaming slander didn't work.
But more importantly, Atom had been severely injured in the battle, his systems sparking dangerously the last he had been able to see of his son. Atom's fall had prompted a turn of the tide, bystanders turning against Drake's people. And unlike robots, humans were under no compunctions not to harm other humans.
One did not mess with the world's saviour, many times over. But still, he spent a few torturous hours, watching and knowing there was nothing he could do.
And then the door to his cell opened, and Atom limped in. "Sorry I'm late." He said with a tired smile.
"I am amazed you made it at all." Tenma said with surprised honesty, rising and ushering his son to the bed, which was a lot closer to sit on than the chair. Atom leaned against his hand, accepting his assistance as he sat down with a yawn. "Should you be here? I saw the newsvids."
"Yeah, s'not a big deal." Atom said simply, tilting to the side. "And I didn't want to miss our meeting."
"I see." Tenma said, shifting to prop Atom upright as he sat down on the bed. "And how has your week been?"
This earned him a tired giggle. "Quiet, until a few hours ago." Atom said, leaning the other direction and Tenma hastened to catch him before he fell off the bed. There were marks on his arms and legs of recent repair work, probably done by Ochanomizu. Tenma fretted slightly, not even Ochanomizu could entirely figure out Atom's structure and if Atom needed severe repair, he doubted he would be allowed to repair Atom again after his previous performance, even if he was the only one with the necessary skill and knowledge.
He started a story, about one of his earlier failures in robotics, involving a cat, a non-flushing toilet and a vacuum cleaner, keeping his voice smooth and low as he talked. To this day, he still disliked cats, preferring the loyalty and intellect of dogs over felines. Atom's head nodded a few times as Tenma talked, eyes drooping a few times until they closed entirely, Atom falling asleep, a comfortable weight against Tenma's side.
Winding the story down, Tenma stretched his arm out, grabbing the blanket on the bed and covering Atom with it before settling down to stay like this for a while. Tobio had had the same habit, trustingly falling asleep at any time or place once he was tired. He had carried his son upstairs to his bed many times before because of this.
Bitter sweet memories… But that was all they were now.
He spent most of an hour that way, the newsvid volume low as he watched them replay today's footage, punctuated by Atom's soft breathing. Once again, he was struck by how human his robotic son was. Ochanomizu was the one to eventually find them, looking frantically worried as he stepped into the room. "Shhh." Tenma warned him. "He fell asleep as soon as he got here."
"Oh, thank goodness." Ochanomizu sighed, wiping his forehead. "He went missing as soon as I finished the repairs. I swear, I turn my back for one second to put a tool away and he disappears. We've been tearing our hair out looking for him ever since."
Not that Ochanomizu had much hair to tear out anymore. "He said he didn't want to miss our meetings." Tenma said quietly. Ochanomizu regarded him with a serious expression, but said nothing. Tenma changed the subject. "Thank you for taking our last conversation into consideration. Atom appeared to be much happier last week."
"He is." Ochanomizu said tiredly, walking forward and watching Atom sleep for a moment. "They both are, now that Atom is acting more like a brother and not her father. And once it was looked into, there were several robots around the Ministry who were more than happy to do various chores around the building that humans could not."
"I am glad." Tenma nodded. Not only did it give Atom had more free time to act as a normal child, robots loved having something to do, which made it a double victory. Good.
"How did you know?" Ochanomizu asked, picking up Atom. Atom murmured softly, shifting in his sleep so as to be comfortable and carried more easily.
"Uran's actions occasionally made it to the newvids." Usually by the anti-robot groups trying to use it towards their own goals. "Which reflected badly upon Atom. The rest I pieced together from things he mentioned, probably because he thought that I would be unable to change anything, therefore could vent without fear of reprisal." He had driven Tobio away in the past because he didn't listen to his son. He listened carefully now. There was also the fact that Ochanomizu was too close to see what his own actions were doing.
"He is a good boy." Ochanomizu said with gentle pride. "I find that it is all too easy to take that for granted."
"Yes. It is." Tenma agreed. He knew that very well. "I saw the damage he took on the newsvids. If you require assistance repairing his injuries, do not hesitate to contact me. I will put no conditions on it."
"Thank you." Ochanomizu said gravely. "However, I don't think it will be required at this time. The damage looked more serious than it was."
He could not tell if it was a lie or not, so he held his tongue. Ochanomizu would probably not contact him unless the Ministry completely failed to repair him, as per the last time. Even if he wished they would allow his assistance before it got to that point. "He'll see you next week." Ochanomizu said, his voice dryly annoyed,
"Next week." Tenma agreed with a nod, and watched them leave. He attempted to move and discovered that parts of his body had fallen asleep, all pins and needles. He sat very very still for a while, waiting for the blood to resume circulation. Ow.
He got a standing ovation from the therapist, for handling this encounter with maturity. Tenma wondered if he could get some happy pills, to take just for these sessions. They were starting to give him a headache.
The next Tuesday, Atom appeared to have suffered no ill effects from the previous week. This was probably in no small part due to the fact that Ochanomizu had sent him to the visit his friends Reno and Reno's dolphin robot, Gideon, away from the city for the weekend.
Reno was currently working on building a pod of robotic dolphins because dolphins were social creatures and did better in pods. Gideon's first sibling, Tola, had just been activated and they had had fun playing in the waters. Unlike Gideon, who could read the oceans currents to a masterful degree, Tola could use echolocation and interpret various Cetaceans song. She listened in to the commutations of the whales and dolphins, because they would be the first to notice trouble brewing in the oceans, before the humans would.
Epsilon, the weather robot, had joined them, happy to have someone who could understand her beloved creatures.
Tenma had been rather surprised and impressed to learn of Reno's past, an infant abandoned by humans and raised by the robots of a small circus. It was another example in his mind of robot superiority, but Atom believed it to be proof that humans and robots could co-exist in peace.
They agreed to disagree and see each other again the next week.
Which did not happen. Before Atom's next visit, --and thankfully, before the next therapist visit-- Tenma found himself drugged, kidnapped and taken away to a secret laboratory by persons unknown. Or persons unknown until after the drugs had worn off and they had appeared, explaining what they wanted him to do.
They wanted him to build a robot. A human robot, of their daughter Livian who had recently died in a tragic tear-jerking accident.
Tenma had built Atom after Tobio's death, Atlas for Takagowa's dead son, Daichi, and Shadow based off his own memories and brain. He would not create any more robots, especially those from a human's mind. It was too sorrowful.
Despite cajoling, threats and being locked in a small dark room for an unknown period of time, he continued to refuse. What could they do to him? If they tried any sort of torture or drugs, they ran the risk of damaging beyond the point where he could build what they wished in the unlikely event he agreed. He had nothing they could blackmail him with, no bribe he was interested in. Although he did debate what he would do if he gained his freedom, if it was worth it to disappear again. Would he turn himself back into the police, to serve out the rest of his sentence? If he did that, the visits from Atom would stop.
He doubted that Atom had considered that his visits would be an incentive for Tenma to stay in jail and not cause trouble.
So aside from occasional debates and demands, he was left in a dark cell and sporadically given just enough food and water to survive. The boredom wore on him. He didn't even have the newsvids to act as a distraction. He plotted escape from his current prison, cursed his lack of access to the computers and the laboratory to do so, exercised occasionally and slept more than he had in recent memory.
The monotony was eventually broken when the heavy metal door that was the sole entrance to the room was ripped open, Atom standing in the doorway, asking if he was okay. At first, he thought it was a hallucination, or a dream, then Atom took his hand and helped him past the remains of the door.
The lab, or what was left of the room, was a mess. Atom filled him in on the details as they walked out of the building, not releasing his hand as they walked. The Police, the Ministry of Science and Atom had all been looking for him since his disappearance. The Police because this made him an escaped fugitive, the Ministry because they were afraid of what he might build this time, and Atom because he was worried about what happened.
Uran's friend, the Private Investigator Higeoyaji, had been the one to crack the case, following a trail of stolen robotic equipment. The family had already been arrested, fleeing with the equipment. A little digging into the family's properties had revealed several pieces of property that were capable of housing a robotics laboratory. Atom had flown out and investigated them, his enhanced hearing finally picking up a sound of human life, Tenma's breathing, here.
For which Tenma was exceedingly grateful for. He didn't know how long he had been abandoned as a loss and it probably would have been a while before he was found without Atom's drive to find him.
They stepped out of the underground building, into a flat open plain, the night's starry sky stretching out above them, unhindered by Metro City's ambient light. A breeze blew by them, rustling his hair and bringing the fresh scent of grass, plants and the milder tang of herbivore dung. He looked up towards the stars sparkling high above them, the gibbous moon's gentle light illuminating the landscape around them.
It had been a long time since he had last seen such a view; it nearly stole his breath away.
After a moment, Atom tugged at his hand, looking at him regretfully. "I'm supposed to get you back as fast as humanly possible." He said apologetically.
"Ah, yes." He drew his attention away from the splendour around them. He was still supposed to be in jail, repenting his crimes after all. "Then we should probably get on our way, shouldn't we?"
Tenma took off at a brisk pace, striking out even though he had no idea which way was the correct way back. "Ah! Wait!" Atom scrambled after him, still clinging to his hand. "It's faster if we fly!"
"Yes. But we are to get back as fast as humanly possible." He agreed with a bit of devilment creeping into his tone. "And humans cannot fly, correct?"
He got a wide-eyed stare for a moment, Atom's mouth a perfect circle. For a moment, Tenma thought that he had pushed too far, and then Atom burst into giggles, a grin splitting his face. "I guess we'll have to walk." Atom said, obviously trying for serious and failing. "Robots aren't supposed to disobey orders."
"And we wouldn't want to get you in trouble for disobeying orders." Tenma agreed neutrally, which set Atom off in another bout of giggles.
"Okay." Atom agreed, tugging on his hand. "But it's this way."
They walked as they talked, catching up on the events of the past week and a half. Tenma felt the exercise a little bit more than he wished he had, stumbling a few times, Atom activating his eye-lamps to illuminate the ground before them on the trickier bits. They eventually found a small animal path and didn't have to worry about their footing as much, spending more time staring at the sky. Tenma pointed out constellations he vaguely remembered his father pointing out to him when he was little.
Atom pointed out the ones he knew, but he mostly knew the stars by their distance and scientific names, not the old stories from long ago. Although Atom did surprise him by talking about the various space aliens he had met during his adventures.
It gave him some hope that Shadow, and the residence of Robotopia would find some place they belonged.
A pale blue light flying towards them cause the conversation to stall. With the rush of rockets, a red and blue robot landed in front of them.
"Atlas!" Atom cheered, waving with the hand that was not holding Tenma's.
"Hey, Atom." The teenage robot gave Atom a fond grin. His expression turned serious as he looked at Tenma. "Yo, Tenma-hakase. You still crazy?"
"Greetings, Atlas." Tenma raised a hand in wary welcome. "You still angry at the world?"
"Heh." He got an amused grin in return. Atlas tilted his head in the direction from where he'd come. "Was going to stop by for a visit when I got roped into checking on you. Tawashi-keibu and Ochanomizu-hakase were worried."
"Can you tell them that I found him?" Atom said cheerfully. "We're on our way back now. The bunker is about a kilometre behind us."
Atlas tilted his head to the side. "Wouldn't it be faster to fly back?"
"We're supposed to go back as fast as humanly possible." Atom said simply.
Atlas paused, and then started to snicker. It grew into a full blown laugh. "They're not going to like that." The teenager finally wound down, wiping an eye. "I like it."
Tenma found himself grinning as well. "Then they should have phrased it better."
"Heh." Atlas grinned back.
"Not to worry." Atom informed him gravely. "I've gotten a hold of the captive and he's not escaping from me easily."
Atlas glanced at their linked hands and started snickering again. "The road is another two kilometres the way you're heading. I'll go check in with them and then do you mind if I come back and join you?"
Tenma glanced down at Atom, only to find his son staring back up at him. Atom shrugged. "That's fine." Tenma agreed.
"Great." Atlas' jets started up, illuminating the area and blowing the dust and the dirt around. "I'll see you soon!"
"See ya!" Atom waved as Atlas took off. They watched as he flew behind them, disappearing for a moment, most likely checking out the bunker. A moment later, Atlas looped back and flew back towards from where he had come.
"It's probably a good idea if Atlas joined us anyway." Atom said quietly as they watched the light of the rockets disappear. "Just in case we do have to fly back. I'm easily strong enough to carry someone, I'm too small to carry an adult comfortably."
"I see." Tenma mused. That hadn't been a factor when creating Atom. Atom's form was tiny, but he was a powerhouse, even compared to robots easily ten times his size. Like an ant, Atom was small, but tough to squash. "Atlas seems fond of you."
"He acts like I'm his little brother." Atom said with amused annoyance. "You should see him try to ruffle my hair sometime."
Tenma chuckled, and they started walking again. Perhaps he should have worked on creating more realistic hair when creating those powerhouse systems, instead of two solid spikes.
He could probably make a fortune, selling robotic hair replacement to balding men… Ochanomizu could be his first test subject.
"What's that constellation?" Atom asked, pointing up at the sky. Tenma drew his attention back to the stars and the old stories he had known as a child. The story of the mighty hunter Orion, with his faithful dog Sirius at his feet, with Scorpio, who followed him across the edge of the night sky even now.
Atlas eventually joined them again, landing on Tenma's other side. "Tawashi-keibu says he doesn't like it." Atlas reported with a smirk and a wink towards Atom, that their little word play was being allowed. "But they'll meet you at the road."
"Thank you." Tenma said, slightly grateful. While he was enjoying the rare chance of freedom, he was certainly feeling his recent lack of activity.
"I checked out the lab." Atlas continued, his swagger replaced by seriousness. "You didn't make another robot. Why not?"
"They wanted me to make another human robot, based off their deceased daughter." Tenma said, feeling very old. Atom gasped softly, then glanced at Atlas. Atlas looked at Atom with a pensive expression. They both knew the joys and pains of that all too well.
"I have come to the conclusion." Tenma continued softly. "That it is far better to treasure what one has while it is there, rather than attempt to make up for it in the future."
"So no more human robots." Atlas said, sounding much older and tireder than his usual cocky self.
"Yes." Tenma agreed. "No more human robots. It's… too sorrowful."
"Sorrowful?" Atom questioned.
"You have Tobio's memories, does that make you Tobio?" Tenma asked.
Atom frowned, and then shook his head. "No. I'm… me. Atom."
"And Atlas is Atlas, not Daichi for the same reason." Tenma nodded, aware of Atlas' wary look on his other side. The temperamental teenager was listening, for the moment. "Building the two of you did not bring Tobio and Daichi back. And it is sorrowful for you as well, to carry the burden of those memories."
Atom shook his head, face scrunched up to argue when Atlas surprised him by speaking up. "Neither truly human nor truly robot. I thought I was a monster when I was first activated." He said scornfully, then snorted, banishing the darker tones. "You, Atom… You helped with that. But I'm still not entirely sure of what I am."
"You are what ever you choose to be." Tenma shrugged. "The same with Atom. You get to decide your fates."
Atlas gave him a surprised look, and then made a thoughtful sound, looking back up at the sky. That was the thing that robots with kokoro, human robots had, that normal robots did not. They could decide with free will what actions they would take, what course their life would be. It was both a terrifying and amazing thing. Humans had a reason to be scared.
"What about normal robots?" Atom inquired. "Could you still make those?"
"I don't know if I can make 'normal' robots anymore." Tenma admitted. The fact that it would be doubtful the Ministry would let him anywhere near the tools necessary to do so aside, after his past creations, normal robots were hardly any sort of challenge. "The last robot I made was Shadow."
Shadow, a perfect clone of his own mind and memories. Right up to replacing him as Ruler of Robotopia. Why did the robots need Tenma to guide them when they had Shadow, their own robot version of him? That very human betrayal had driven him to toward taking over Plant 7 for a final confrontation with Atom and the demons of his past, resulting in the destruction of Plant 7 and his current time in jail.
"Although…" He mused after a moment. "I do miss the robot dogs." He wouldn't mind a small pack of them again. They were good company. And lasers were nice. He'd never had to worry about opening stuck jars, irritating chirping insects or annoying salesmen while he had a pack of laser mounted canines around.
"Not a cat person?" Atom giggled.
"No." Too… independent. He preferred the loyalty of dogs over the unpredictability and aloofness of cats. "You?"
"Uran likes cats, the way they purr." Atom shrugged, as if the ways of his sister were strange. "I think dogs are more fun to play with. They follow you around, play fetch and slobber on people. They're cool."
Tenma filed this bit of information away for future reference. Perhaps, if he ever got to make his own pack of dogs again, he should make one for Atom as well. One that could be a playful puppy during the peaceful times, but backup during the times of conflict. Yes, that was a good plan to keep in mind.
"Hey, Atlas? Did you know there's a dog in the sky?" Atom asked happily. "It's right up there, next to the Hunter!" He pointed and Atlas obligingly looked up. The subject returned back to the stars and histories of the constellations, of which Atlas was surprisingly knowledgeable, even knowing where in the asteroid belt he had been frozen for several months. It probably should have surprised him more, except for the fact that Atlas was the one to name himself after the Titian who carried the Heavens on his shoulders and caused the stars to revolve.
They were still discussing the stories of the stars when they discovered the road, and a little farther on, found Tawashi-keibu and Delta, the head of the police robots, waiting for him with a few police cars. "It looks like this is the end of the trip for us." Tenma commented mildly. "Good evening, officers."
Tawashi-keibu grunted in return, looking distinctly grumpy. "Took you long enough."
"We came as soon as humanly possible." Atom said, looking as innocent as a newly hatched cute fluffy little chick.
He got a glare in return. "You do realise that trick will only work once." Tawashi-keibu said gruffly as he opened the back door for Tenma.
"It only has to work once." Tenma smirked, folding himself down to sit sideways on the back seat of the police vehicle as gracefully as he could. "Thank you for the escort Atom, Atlas."
"You're very welcome." Atom grinned at him, briefly tightening his hold on Tenma's hand before letting go. Atlas grunted and shrugged, his arms crossed as he looked warily at Delta and the police officers staring at them. Atlas was not particularly comfortable around the police, especially not after his first appearance. Delta stared back at him, similarly suspicious.
"See you Tuesday?" Atom asked as Tenma turned sideways, tucking his long legs inside the car. "Like usual?"
"Of course." Tenma agreed, realising he was uncertain how many visits he had missed.
"Great!" Atom beamed at him. "I'll see you then!"
A flash of yellow as Atom's rocket boots triggered and he took off into the night air. Atlas snapped him a jaunty salute, his own blue thrusters starting up and he took off after Atom. Blue and yellow lights flickered across the night sky. It looked like the two robots were in a game of tag as they raced back to Metro City.
"You're lucky." Tawashi-keibu said gruffly, shutting the door behind Tenma.
"Yes." Tenma agreed. "They're good kids."
Tawashi-keibu grunted in return, like he didn't wish to agree with the statement, but couldn't argue it either. "Let's go. Everyone! Move Out!"
Tenma closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the seat as the vehicle took off. He had probably over done it with the walk, but it had been nice to talk with Atom. And Atlas, much to his surprise.
He was taken back to Metro City jail, asked what happened several hundred times for the sake of consistency, poked at by the medical staff in the infirmary and eventually taken to a new cell, seeing as the old one still had a gaping hole in it. Thankfully, he found the photographs of Atom and Tobio waiting for him in the room. He looked the photographs over for signs of damage before placing them on his desk and getting some much earned rest.
The questioning was repeated the next day, this time by the therapist, who wanted to know what he felt about his adventure. He hadn't tried to crush anyone, no one had actively tried to kill him, and other than the walk back, it had been a very boring distraction.
He thanked the therapist for the therapist's past kind words and advice which enabled him to cope with the situation so well, just to see the reaction it caused. He was slightly disturbed and gratified to get back flips. Evidently happy pills really did live up to their name.
He ran into a former Mob Boss named 'Rock', who had somehow slipped his guards during Tenma's exercise time. Rock was in for just about every single ill-wrought thing they could throw the book at, but he appeared to be a surprisingly nice person. They discussed Atom for a little while, apparently Rock having encountered his son before Rock's current incarceration, although Rock seemed oddly ambivalent about it.
The guards eventually found Rock and carted him off, but not before Rock thanked Tenma for creating 'Tetsuwan Atom', or 'Mighty Atom' as some called him. Tenma laughed, marvelling at the effect his son had on people. He could take the most hardened of hearts and softened it.
Atom returned like clockwork, on Tuesday at four o'clock, poking his head through the door of the new cell with a shy grin. "I saw the damage they're still repairing to the other room." Atom said, walking in and taking a seat at the new chair. "How are you doing?"
"Quite well." Tenma smiled back. "How are you doing?"
Atom launched into a story about his group of friends, their flying bike the Captain-Go and a cat stuck up in a tree. It would have been easier for Atom simply to fly up and retrieve the cat, but that would have ruined the accomplishment of their working together as a team. Atom also thanked him, because coming to visit got him out of a game of Basketball, which was becoming one of Atom's least favourite sports due to the fact of his height. Atom was quick and strong and fast, but without the use of his rocket jets, it was hard to see over the much taller players.
His classmates were growing up, growing taller and older, leaving Atom behind. The nickname of 'Astro Boy' was starting to weigh heavy on Atom, especially the 'Boy' part.
Robots couldn't age.
… Could they?
Tenma rolled the thought around in the back of his head, trying to feel it out, getting the first shreds of ideas. He continued to talk to Atom about other things as he pondered the idea.
Atom finally rose to leave and Tenma rose to escort him out, a different thought hitting him. "Why Tuesdays?" Atom always showed up on Tuesdays.
His son paused, staring at him for a moment. "Friday's part of the weekend, and everyone is all buzzing about the weekend. Thursday, they spend the whole time wishing it was Friday. Wednesday is kinda stuck in the middle, it's not the weekend yet, and you're not coming down from the weekend, like you are on Monday. So Tuesdays are kind of hopeful days." Atom shrugged with a small smile. "And they're usually quiet around the Ministry."
Meaning he had fewer chores for him to duck to come here. "I see." What was the line from that poem? Tuesday's child is full of grace…"Thank you, I was wondering if there was a meaning behind the day."
"Not really." Atom admitted. "See you next week?"
"It would be my delight." Tenma said honestly. He got a broad grin, and a fast hug around his waist before Atom darted out of the door. Tenma stared at the closing door, then smiled, let out a soft chuckle, mixed joy and relief. Atom appeared to have gotten past any residual fear he had of him.
The therapist had taken up juggling as a hobby and spent their time attempting to teach Tenma all the various patterns. It wasn't half bad as stress relief and it gave him something constructive to do with his hands.
The next Tuesday, Atom showed up at four o'clock, cheerful but looking like he had a question. Tenma waited as they talked about the latest school assignments that Atom was working on and the lazy weekend at Dragon Lake they had had.
And then Atom asked about robot interaction. More specifically, about Pluto spending a large amount of time hanging around his sister Uran lately, the two of them blushing and giving each other flowers.
For a brief, horrifying moment, Tenma thought that he was going to have to have to explain the Birds, the Bees and the Robots to his son.
…. Why couldn't that task have fallen to Ochainomizu?!
They ended up discussing robot genealogy, such as it was. Tenma had created Atom, Atlas and Shadow. Ochanomizu had created Uran based of what he understood from Atom's plans, making Uran Atom's half-sister to Tenma's way of thinking. Shadow then created Pluto and Acheron, making Atom Pluto's Uncle, and Uran his Half-Aunt.
They both ended up scratching their heads at that, and came to the decision never, ever to apply human genealogy to robots ever again.
"I'll see you next week?" Atom asked again on the way out. By this point, it would have felt strange if he had broken the ritual.
"Of course." Tenma agreed. This time he wasn't taken by surprise when Atom briefly hugged him on the way out.
The therapist showed him various Rorschach inkblotsand asked him to describe what he saw. They ended up deep in a discussion about various species of canids and the various pros and consof the variety of breeds and sub-families. The therapist was more prone towards liking hyenas, while Tenma was still fond of the domesticated dogs, although he did like the enhanced biting strength of the Spotted Hyena.
The next Tuesday, Atom appeared in his school clothes with a folded piece of paper that had been given to him by Atlas to give to Tenma. It was a bit rumbled, the prison guards probably having checked it over for any secret messages or hiding anything strange. Curious, Tenma opened the folded paper as Atom took his usual seat.
'Thanks.' Was all it said.
"I asked him about that." Atom said, looking slightly confused. "He said something about you letting him make his own choices, even if they were mistakes."
Tenma remembered an angry teenager, fresh from losing a fight with Atom and demanding more power. The same angry teenager who had gone on a rampage, destroying the company that his 'father' had decreed he would take over someday, even if it meant coming back from the grave as a robot. Tenma had given it to him, despite the warnings that it might destroy him. It almost had, Atlas had the damnest luck, just when you thought he was destroyed, he managed to come back.
Atom had spent the weekend with Reno again, to discover that Atlas was hanging around the young inventor, in his Daichi form for a change. Atlas was a robot that had been human and therefore didn't act quite like a robot, Reno was a human who had been raised by robots and therefore didn't always quite act like a human. The two of them had evidently found a middle ground in their oddball status.
He had not meant to give Atlas advice, but if it worked for him, Tenma was not going to complain. Although he was not sure if he was amused or disheartened to hear that Atlas was expressing no interest in reconciling with his human father.
Tenma borrowed a pencil from Atom, sketching and writing notes in shorthand on the thank you note as they talked. The ideas were mostly complete, but they would probably require some minor modifications to work properly. He handed the paper to Atom as his son rose to leave, asking that he deliver it to Reno. It was a remote chance, but the best he could offer at the moment without going through official channels with the likelihood of being denied.
Atom gave him a slightly suspicious glance, then scanned the paper. Tenma could see his processors committing the patterns to memory, then Atom blinked, giving him a surprised look. "This is-"
"Yes." Tenma nodded, raising a finger in a gesture of silence.
Atom nodded in understanding, folding the paper and putting it in a pocket. "I'll see that he gets it." He said gravely. One way or another.
"Thank you." Tenma gave him a soft smile.
"No, thank you." Atom said, reaching up and giving him a large hug.
Tenma smiled and hugged him back. "You're welcome."
"Next week?" Atom asked.
"Yes." Tenma agreed. Atom nodded once, then left, his jaw set in stubborn determination.
The therapist ended up taking over the therapist couch, asking him about relationship advice because Tenma was the only client they had who had been married. He really did wonder about the therapist sometimes. But not too much.
On the next Tuesday, Atom came in practically vibrating. "Reno says it's possible. And that it could work as a repair unit when it's not as active." He said, bouncing in the chair. That was what the design had been based on, since Atom seemed to get injured on a regrettably frequent basis. "I'll have to learn how to eat!"
"I hope that there are the parts around the lab that you can use." Tenma agreed, relieved that it looked his small plan had worked. Atom would probably recoil at digesting pieces of scrap or parts of previous robots, even if he needed the raw materials. "And be careful, you will probably feel drained for a little while. Rest when you can."
"Okay!" Atom nodded cheerfully. He seemed excited about this new venture.
"How was school?" Tenma asked, steering the conversation away from their secret project and towards more mundane topics. Atom grinned as he caught the hint and shifted subjects. The buzz of anticipation remained throughout their meeting.
Atom hugged him before he left again, marking his height against Tenma. "I'll see you next week." Atom promised before dashing out the door, not even waiting for his conformation.
Tenma laughed. It was nice to be able to do something constructive for his son, instead of merely watching.
He spent the next session with the therapist attempting to piece together a love letter for the therapist's mangled love life. He'd never realised just how many words could be rhymed with 'Puddin' before. It was a realisation he could have done without.
The next Tuesday, Atom walked in, his pace subdued. Tenma offered him a seat on the bed and sat in the chair instead as Atom yawned. They talked about small, inconsequential things for a few minutes and then Atom nodded off to sleep.
Tenma covered him with a blanket, having expected this result when the system he had drawn was completed.
Atom apologised when he woke up for sleeping like that. Tenma waved it off, he didn't mind.
He was hugged again when Atom rose to leave, Atom measuring himself against Tenma again. It felt like it was slightly higher than it was previously, although it could have been his imagination.
"I'll see you next week?" Tenma asked, patting his son on the head.
"It'll be my pleasure." Atom smiled back before disappearing out the door again.
The therapist didn't want to talk, preferring to giggle manically, with occasional bursts of insane laughter. They spent their time together cutting letters out of the newspaper, which the therapist then pasted on to large construction paper hearts. Tenma didn't feel inclined to read what the therapist was writing. It was pleasant to spend time with someone who was having a good time.
Before the next Tuesday, Ochanomizu came bursting into Tenma's room, red-faced and waving a sheet of papers.
"135 centimetres!!" Ochanomizu shouted at him, waving the papers in Tenma's face. "30 kilograms!!"
"Beg pardon?" Tenma asked with some slight confusion, leaning back to avoid a paper cut on his nose.
"Don't play games with me, Tenma." Ochanomizu growled. "Atom has always been 135 centimetres tall and weighed 30 kilograms. Then he gained weight and now he's 137 centimetres tall!!"
"And your point is?" Tenma asked, thoroughly amused and not bothering to hide it.
"This is some how your doing, isn't it?" Ochanomizu glared. "I never should have let him come here to talk to you! You've done something to Atom!"
"I haven't." Tenma smirked back. "He did it to himself."
"What?!" Ochanomizu stammered, pausing in his tirade.
"Atom was tired of being left behind by his human friends." Tenma said, sitting down at his desk. "So therefore, a system was developed by myself, Atom and Reno. Atom 'eats' the raw materials that the system converts into nano-machines. The nano-machines then bond with Atom's structure, first thickening it, and then slowly stretching it's the same thickness as everything else, enabling him to grow. This opens pathway to new developments for both him and robotics, does it not?"
Tenma's face, once red, was now pale. "You… what?"
Actually, now that he thought about it, by trying to make Atom more human, he'd just surpassed his previous expectations. How very ironic.
"By granting Atom's wish, I enact my revenge upon you, Ochanomizu." Tenma smirked darkly. "For you to suffer every parent's greatest sorrow, and their sweetest triumph. To watch their child grow up."
Ochanomizu stared at him in open mouth horror for several long moments. Tenma treasured the silence.
Later, after Ochanomizu had left without a word, he discovered that the therapist had run off with a psychotic client of theirs.
Which was fine with him, he felt he did not require a therapist anymore. He'd worked through his issues in a non-harmful and conductive fashion to a successful conclusion, thank you.
Small in jokes:
Livian – Atlas' partner in the 1982 anime version.
Machine guns in the butt: No, seriously. One of his original Seven Super Powers. Go look at the cover of Book 7 on amazon. You DON'T want to know where the original re-fuelling port was.
Gideon is canon, Tola we made up. Like Gideon, Tola is named after one of the Judges listed in the Biblical Book of Judges.
The Therapist's name was Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harlequin. We needed a clinical therapist and there she was, fresh from Batman: The Animated Series.
-am totally admitting that the thing with Uran is my own annoyance at the character coming through and I succumbed to the urge to fix things. If you love her, that's fine, but I do not understand why Ochanomizu built her as a daughter if he was not going to bother taking any responsibility for her.
Thanks to the Astro Boy Online forums for inspiration. My account will not let me reply or post to the forum for whatever reason, but your discussions kept me educated and entertained while working on the story. Thanks!