Here's the next chapter. Now we see what happens to Auto, and also get a hint about something that will happen in the future.

- 5. Long Hard Recovery -

It was two days before Auto awoke. When he did, Sauron was the first one to know it.

"Father! You're awake!" he said when he felt his father's hand squeeze his.

"Saur-ron?" Auto inquired weakly, "My son. Is that you?"

"Yes, Father." the boy replied with tears in his eyes. Auto turned to face his son easier and shakily put both arms around him. Sauron threw his own arms around his father's neck and buried his face in Auto's shoulder.

D-Fib and Eve stood in the doorway watching them.

"That's so sweet." D-Fib commented. Eve nodded in agreement as she watched Sauron climb up onto the bed to get closer to his father. Auto, with some difficulty, moved over to make room for the boy beside him. Auto let his head fall so his chin was resting atop Sauron's head.

"It makes me hate Forthright and BnL all the more for what they did to these two." Eve remarked.

"What happened?" D-Fib asked. So Eve told her Auto's story. D-Fib's hand flew to her mouth as she gasped loudly.

"The poor little thing!" Then, as if a realization had just struck her (which it had) D-Fib cast a concerned glance at Eve. "Where's he going to live?" she asked.

"Well, my house is plenty big, and seeing as most of the rooms are not in use right now, I don't see why Sauron can't stay with me. It's where he's been for the past two days. And I think I can take Auto when he gets released."

D-Fib nodded, "That's good. That would help me tremendously." She looked at the information card on Auto's door. "Once he gets over being sick, we'll have to get him back in good condition before he can be discharged. He's severely underweight, and the man's got less muscle than a corpse."

"What can we do about that?" Eve asked.

"He'll be put on a strict diet and physical therapy regimen." D-Fib answered, "Monitored by me, of course. I wouldn't let just any buffoon around here take on a case as serious as this." Then a thought seemed to occur to her, "What about the boy? Surely he needs something done, too."

"I don't doubt it." Eve answered, "Why don't you give him an exam and some screenings, just to be sure." D-Fib nodded, and the two of them entered the room.

"Sauron, would you mind coming with me for a bit?" D-Fib asked. Sauron stood and turned to face Eve, a confused look on his face.

"You didn't do anything, Sauron. She just wants to make sure you're not sick or hurt, too. That wouldn't help your father any, see?" The boy nodded and followed her out, casting a glance back at Eve.

"Don't worry, I'll stay with your father." Eve promised. Sauron nodded again, and turned to follow D-Fib.

Eve slowly walked over to Auto's bedside.

" something wrong...with my son?" Auto asked uncertainly.

"That's what D-Fib wants to find out. She took him to get examined and screened."

"Oh. That's good." He looked down at the white blankets covering him, "What happened? How did I get...wherever I am?" Eve stifled a giggle at the way he looked around, as though he was lost.

"You're in the medical ward on the Axiom. The ICU, to be exact. As for how you got here, Sauron ran into me and told me your place was on fire. I flew over, went inside, found you close to dead, and hauled you out. Then I flew here with you and Sauron." Auto's face showed his shock clearly.

"The...the medical ward! But...but I..." Eve silenced him with a finger on his lips and a soft "Shh." She leaned back so she could look him in the eye.

"It was an emergency. You almost died, died, Auto. I couldn't let Sauron lose the only family he has left. And..." she sighed and looked down at her lap, "...and I couldn't lose you."

"Hhmh." Auto replied, already slipping back into sleep. Eve watched him a little longer, then left to go check on Sauron.

The first few weeks were spent building Auto's muscles back up and putting weight on him. Sauron's exam had turned up no signs of illness, just malnourishment and lack of muscle tone, so Auto was first priority. D-Fib designed his diet to quickly add a healthy amount of weight to him. She also oversaw rigorous physical therapy sessions in which Auto was pushed to his physical limits, and administered medications for his multiple illnesses. When he wasn't in physical therapy or weekly checkups, Auto remained bedridden in his room, with Sauron and/or Eve for company.

Finally, Auto was deemed cured of his illness and at a healthy enough weight to leave the hospital. He couldn't walk yet, so he was placed in a wheelchair that he could mone by turning the wheels with his hands or having someone push him in it. Just as she had promised, Eve took Auto and Sauron back to her mansion with her. Sauron stayed in his room on the first floor, and Auto was given the one next door to it. D-Fib still monitored his diet, and she came to the house to conduct his physical therapy sessions, which were more rigorous now that Auto was no longer ill. At the end of the hardest three months of their lives, there was just one final milestone left to cross.

"All right, you're good in every area except one." D-Fib announced as she admired Auto's progress reports.

"What's that?" Auto asked.

"To get you on your feet again." she answered. Auto's eyes widened.

"I-is that even...possible?" he asked bewilderedly. Eve and D-Fib nodded.

"It'll be hard, mind you," D-Fib warned, "but it can be done."

"Don't worry, Father. We'll all be here to help you. Promise." Sauron took his father's hand in his as he spoke. Auto smiled at his son. That was a promise he knew he could count on. Throughout those grueling weeks and months in the hospital, the boy had never left his side. Sauron had always been there, encouraging him and comforting him when he needed it, and he thanked whatever higher power existed for bringing him and Sauron together again. He looked back to D-Fib.

"Then what are we waiting for?" D-Fib laughed.

"Anxious, are we?" she joked, "Good, I had planned to start on that today anyway. Eve, help me get him up, will you?" Eve and D-Fib each took hold of one of Auto's arms and pulled him to his feet. Then, they let go of his arms and instead held his sides and shoulders. He thrust out his arms in an attempt to balance himself on his newly remuscled legs.

"All right, Auto. Eve and I are going to slowly back away and let go of you. All you have to do is stay standing. If you start to fall, we'll catch you. Ready?" D-Fib asked. Auto took a deep breath.

"Ready." he answered.

Sauron held his breath and watched as the two women lifted their hands and began to slowly back away, keeping their hands out in front of them so they could catch Auto if he fell. His legs wobbled under him, and Auto gritted his teeth trying to keep them straight. Eve and D-Fib were about three feet away from him when Auto's legs buckled and he fell forward.. Their arms shot out and caught him around the chest and by the arms.

"Not a bad start." D-Fib commented, "Not bad at all."

"Oh, Father, you were so close! Try again! You can do it, I know you can!" Sauron urged.

"All right, all right, just let me get back up first." Auto laughed as Eve and D-Fib helped him stand again.

"Hold your head up. And stick your chest out." Sauron advised. Auto did and signaled Eve and D-Fib to move away again. Once again, everyone held their breath.

This time, Auto didn't fall.

His legs didn't even wobble beneath him this time. Auto slowly let his arms drop to his sides. The ground felt steady and solid beneath him as he curled his toes around the soft fibers of Eve's carpeting. He looked back to D-Fib and Eve.

"Now what?" he asked.

"Now you try to take your first steps on properly muscled legs." D-Fib answered.

"Come toward me, Father." Sauron instructed. Auto nodded and shakily lifted one foot off the floor. Once again, everyone held their breath. Auto flexed the muscles in his leg, and his raised foot moved forward. Slowly, very slowly, Auto placed it back on the floor, a few inches in front of him, and shifted his weight to that foot. He repeated this process with his other foot. And he kept repeating it, gaining speed with each step. Sauron, smiling brightly the whole time, led him all through the house, Around corners, through closed doors that he had to open, Up stairs, and back down stairs, and finally out into the back yard that quickly gave way to the beach and the ocean. It was here that Sauron began to pick up speed, forcing Auto to do the same. He followed his son at a brisk walk, finally breaking into a run as the distance between him and Sauron grew. Eve watched from the back porch and gasped at the pure beauty of the sight before her. Sauron, racing across the sand, occasionally splashing through the waves that wash up on the beach, his robes fluttering with his quick short strides. And behind him, black hair streaming out like an ebony wind and catching rays of sun that made it look like silk, was Auto, whose long, graceful strides seemed to flow through the waves with hardly any disturbance at all as he quickly closed the distance between him and his son. He finally caught the laughing boy in a tight embrace, which Sauron was only too eager to return. Never, in all her life, despite the luxury she grew up with, had she seen anything so purely wonderful in the world as this father embracing his son, who was taken from him at his birth, and put through the cruelest ten years anyone would ever know. And through all the years of pain and heartbreak that both of them had been through, no one had ever seemed more bright and innocent than Auto and Sauron beside the ocean. Eve felt the strange tingling in her chest again as she looked at Auto, but still didn't know what it was. What she also didn't know was that when Auto turned to look back at her, he too felt a strange tingling in his chest.

Okay, so we know Auto's gonna be all right. But what is this strange feeling he and Eve are feeling? What will this mean for their future? What part will Sauron play in all this? And what will the rest of the Axarians, especially the Captain, think about Auto's return to Axar.