A/N: This is the revised version of a story I once posted many years ago under the title Mistletoe. When going through a bad time in my life I deleted many of my Astro Boy stories—something I later regretted terribly and don't intend to do again. By the luck of the gods I managed to find the backed up versions of my 80s and 2003 Christmas stories when going through some CDs. So in the months leading up to Christmas, I've chosen to revise and repost them.
Mistletoe [or For Always as it is now called] was originally written to a tight deadline, and cut off abruptly in the lab. So to be able to polish things up and expand upon this story for a longer epilogue to the 1980s series has been a real treat. When I was writing this, I intentionally kept to the feel of the English dub. I briefly considered revising it to fit the Japanese version, such as having the original names, but decided against it as the English dub has a special place in my heart for the 80s cheese. The actors worked their damn hardest with what time they were given, and I want to honor that.
Long live the cheese.
The girl stands in the room, her forehead jewel aglow
Tick tick tock, her time runs low
A hand reaches for the boy's, calling out his name
But he cannot save her
His attempts are all in vain…
It was the night of Christmas Eve when Astro was awoken from sleep-mode by his robot parents. He had gotten a call from his human mentor, Dr. Elefun, asking for him to come down to the Ministry of Science ASAP. Worried that some catastrophic was on the horizon, Astro was up in a flash. He plugged in an emergency energy cassette as his previous one was not yet done charging, and was out the door quicker than Astro could say a letter in the alphabet.
"Careful! You nearly ran through the patio door again!" Astro heard his father shout behind him as he activated his jets and shot up into the night sky, leaving a patch of snow melted in his wake. "And what have I told you about taking off on the lawn! You'll burn the grass away!"
"Sorry Dad!" Astro called back, his sensitive ears still ringing. He was certain with a heavy robotic heart he would be getting more house chores as punishment. For now Astro couldn't focus on that possibly, but rather what Dr. Elefun urgently needed help with.
As Astro flew across the sleeping city and his rockets chugged on, the snow started coming down strongly, causing the boy robot to shield his eyes with one arm so he didn't have to keep blinking it away from his vision. He hoped that whatever was wrong, it wasn't to do with the snow wreaking havoc on robots energy supplies again. He really didn't want a repeat of those events, or it was already too late for him.
Astro wished he had brought an umbrella.
Upon arrival at the ministry, there was no chaos or panic to be found outside, and few cars were in the parking lot. As suspected the building was near vacant, all for the exceptions of the robot security guards and the receptionist to welcome him at the front desk. Astro passed no others employees on his trip up the elevator or through the halls, all of what would've usually been a dodging game for the little robot.
Sure it was quiet for the night-shift and right before Christmas too, but if it really was serious…well, Astro expected more. The lack of anybody made it so bizarre.
When Astro did at last reach Dr. Elefun in the office, the sight of his mentor was not what he'd anticipated either. There was no stress or urgency that was typical in this sort of situation. Dr. Elefun wasn't frantically rifting through files or the computers, or speaking to anybody of importance. Instead, Astro's mentor was stood watching the snowfall from the large window, as if he had been doing so for some time; he may have even seen Astro fly in.
Most surprising of all, Dr. Elefun was smiling.
"Ah there you are Astro! I've been waiting!"
Astro hesitated, his mentor's enthusiasm blindsiding him. "You wanted to see me Dr. Elefun?"
"Yes. I'm sorry to bring you here at this hour, but it is rather urgent." Elefun said, moving away from the window.
"What's wrong? Is the city in trouble? Did I do something wrong?" Astro asked, electric anxiety coursing through his circuits. The cooling rockets in his legs still felt like magma from flying so fast, making his limbs jittery.
He hoped he hadn't broken something important here at the Ministry again without realizing it. There was so much expensive equipment here, which was the reason for Astro not being allowed to fly in and out windows anymore...
"No, not at all my boy!" Dr. Elefun laughed as he approached. Lightly he rested a hand on Astro's shoulder, the action putting the boy at ease. "There's nothing for you to worry about; the city is safe."
"Oh...so then, if there's no trouble why did you call me here?" quizzed the boy robot with a curious skim of the office, yet the answer was not in plain sight.
With a gentle nudge, Dr. Elefun escorted him to the door. "Right of course, I'll show you. Come with me."
The walk through the Ministry of Science building was one taken in utmost silence, something Astro wasn't used to. Whenever they had walked through these halls come rain or shine, Dr. Elefun would discuss the main agenda or an upcoming mission. Though now as Astro peered up at Dr. Elefun walking just single stride ahead of the boy robot, he saw that his face spoke for him.
Something had the man bubbling with excitement, Astro was sure of it. If Dr. Elefun was grinning from ear to ear wasn't evident enough, then the boy robot wasn't sure what else was.
"What is it?"
"What is what my boy?"
"Why are you so happy?"
Dr. Elefun gave him a knowing smile. "You'll see. By the way, how are your parents and little Uran doing?"
"They're okay." Astro paused. "You're still going to come and visit us for Christmas aren't you, Dr. Elefun?"
"Yes of course."
Astro tilted his head, but no more of a conversation followed.
It didn't take long for them to reach their destination. Dr. Elefun had led him into one of the laboratories where robots were constructed. In fact, a quick scan back through his first memories of life confirmed this was the very room Astro was born in.
This only made Astro more confused, if not a little worried as he searched the dark laboratory. The lights on the machinery were all on, blinking like the Christmas lights at home. It definitely looked like work had been done here not too long ago; even the cables for charging up a robot were still hanging on the table.
"What are we doing here?"
"To meet somebody very special," Dr. Elefun replied.
Briefly Astro's eyes grew wide, thinking for a brief second his mentor was referring to his creator Dr. Boynton, for why else would he be brought here? Though of course sadly, that could never be true. Dr. Boynton was dead, having suffered a heart attack on the very cruise ship they were separated on. Astro visited his creator's grave not long after Dr. Elefun rescued him from the circus...
"Someone special? But who?" Astro asked.
To this, Dr. Elefun tapped his bulbous nose with a secretive wink. "I'll just be going to get them. But first, I need for you to close your eyes."
Astro blinked. "M-My eyes?""
"Yes, it's a surprise. I was going to postpone your meeting until tomorrow for Christmas, but I decided you've both waited long enough," Dr. Elefun explained, then added thoughtfully. "No. Truth be told this special someone was so eager to meet you after waking up that they couldn't wait til morning. They just begged me to call you up here tonight—so I did."
The boy robot racked his electronic brain for answers. Somebody had really been waiting for him? How could a person be a surprise? Could the surprise be another robot sibling? Or was it—Kathy? No. They had been in touch through letters since the circus, and Astro had even seen her that one time when out on a mission in her country.
Astro thought about Atlas or maybe Livian, but after what happened there was no way they could come back…or could they?
Before Astro had time to inquire further, Dr. Elefun motioned to him with a wave of his hand. "Anyhow you go on now. Close your eyes."
"Yes sir!" The boy robot nodded and did as he was told, shutting his eyes so only the low lights of the laboratory were visible through his eyelids.
"Wait here until I return. I won't be long," Dr. Elefun said as he made his way to leave. He paused in mid-step. "Now remember Astro, don't open your eyes until I say; absolutely no peeking, and no using your enhanced hearing."
"Yes, Dr. Elefun," Astro said, and he listened as his mentor walked away. He heard the electronic door open and shut, and Elefun's fading footsteps eventually disappearing into another room somewhere nearby. Tempted Astro was to increase his hearing radius to figure out what Dr. Elefun was up to, but that would be classed as cheating.
The boy robot shook his head and shut his eyes tighter. No, he wouldn't spoil it. Dr. Elefun wanted him to be surprised for a reason. And Astro loved surprises—so long as they weren't bad, life-threatening surprises.
Astro remained quiet as a mouse, listening on to the hums and bleeping of the machinery within his surroundings—machinery that should have been shut off. The longer time went on waiting, the more uncomfortable Astro became on just standing there alone in the lab. He didn't feel comfortable staying so still. There had been too many incidents in his short robotic life where his body was so badly damaged or drained of energy, Astro was left incapacitated.
To voluntarily stay still like this, it reawakened bad memories, and reminded him of things he didn't want to remember...
'Just pretend to be broken, I'll sneak you in. They know me; it'll be fine.'
Dr. Elefun was returning, and somebody else was with him. An electric hum sounded from the door as it reopened, and Astro listened closely to Dr. Elefun's plodding steps entering the laboratory. A short time after, smaller, much lighter footsteps followed, and the automatic door closed behind them.
Astro searched his memory banks, but couldn't register the walking pattern with anybody from the Ministry of Science. The footsteps weren't heavy enough to be an adult's, and the shoes carried a faint click to their heels—a girl?
"Go on now, it's alright," Dr. Elefun whispered, yet it wasn't directed at Astro, but to the third occupant in the room. The stranger was silent, either too shy or anxious to answer vocally. Whatever the reason, the person didn't move.
Astro waited, but nothing happened.
"Dr. Elefun, can I open my eyes now?" Astro asked, beginning to get inpatient. The urge to open his eyes was becoming increasingly unbearable. He wanted to move, but feared bumping into something, or someone. "D-Dr. Elefun?"
After what seemed to be an eternity of silence, there was a small click of a shoe. The mystery person had taken a step forwards, where after some hesitation, another timid small step followed—and another.
He or she was coming towards Astro.
The boy robot scrunched his eyelids tighter shut, pressing his chin to his chest and gluing both arms to his sides. He promised not to look, but he was getting scared. It was making Astro so nervous, he was worried his energy cassette might burst.
Those soft footsteps at last came to a halt as the stranger stood right before him. They uttered not a single word, but Astro could feel them looking at him—studying him. Astro sucked in his lips and suppressed a whine, unsure of what to expect.
There was the small rustle of fabric, and the sound of one last tiny step being taken towards him. It was then, Astro felt a pair of hands delicately rest over the top of his own.
The touches of their hands were so smooth and small, smaller than his own.
Astro didn't dare move or resist, as the stranger gently pried his fingers open from his palms, raising his hands up between him and…her?
Every circuit in his body sparked with energy when that recognizable voice called out to him. In that very instance, Astro's eyes snapped open and he saw a girl stood directly in front of him. Fair skin, long blonde curls, a blue plaid dress, and those eyes, those beautiful big brown eyes he never forgot.
'Please will you be my friend? I'm so lonely here, and you're the only other robot who's ever been nice to me.'
No force on the planet or the universe for that matter could've stopped Astro from throwing his arms around the golden-haired girl, drawing her into a hug so hastily, the pair were nearly fell off their feet.
His affections were immediately capitulated as Niki hugged him back just as tightly. She was laughing—a sound Astro had never gotten the chance to hear from her before. It was a beautiful sound!
"I missed you," She said next to his ear, her velvet soft hair tickling his cheek. "Oh Astro, it's so good to see you again."
It was an embrace neither was willing to break apart from. It all felt so real that it scared Astro. It couldn't be a glitch. He didn't want Niki to blink out of existence. Gently Astro pulled back to look at her face, feeling his cassette battery melt at her angelic smile. She didn't disappear. She stayed.
"Is it really you, Niki?"
Her sweeping gaze seemed to take in every bit of detail of his face.
"It's me." Niki said with a smile.
"But I-I don't understand," Astro looked her up and down. "I thought you could never be put back together. The blueprints were destroyed!"
Dr. Elefun chose then to speak up. "Indeed they were. That's why I had to work a little magic."
"What do you mean?" Astro asked surprised.
"You and Niki were based off Dr. Boynton's blueprints commissioned by the Government—similar, but not identical," Dr. Elefun said, and motioned an arm to the boy robot. "As for going back to the source of the blueprints wasn't possible, you were the next viable option, Astro."
Suddenly his mentor's strange behavior in recent months had made sense; Dr. Elefun working a string of late nights, often looking tired and stressed, but not sharing why; the requests to run a few more maintenance checks on Astro, with one that involved lengthy scans being run of his internal systems head-to-toe.
He thought Dr. Elefun was just trying to get a better understanding of how his robot body worked to repair it better in the future, but it had been much more than that all along.
Elefun continued, scanning over the laboratory. "It was also so fortunate there were still a few Nuka models from the production line left over after the explosion—all in pieces of course. I can't tell you how much difficulty it was putting together a puzzle with another puzzle."
Astro didn't let go of Niki as he looked over her concerned. She didn't let go of him either. "But, but what about the bomb?"
"It's gone, Astro," Niki motioned with her eyes to the pale headband now endowed with a blue gem. "Dr. Elefun removed it from me."
The news was music to Astro's ears.
"And by no stretch was that an easy task either." Dr. Elefun tapped his head. "That's why your design was so crucial Astro. Transferring the components of her electronic brain into a functioning body, and without a bomb structured through every part of it would have been impossible without you."
Astro's eyes widened to the size of saucers, his body shaking. "You mean I helped Niki too?"
Dr. Elefun just smiled broadly, with a twinkle in his eyes.
The giddy excitement shot through Astro's systems making him vibrate with energy. He had never felt this strongly before, so—so happy!
"She's free? She's really free!?" Astro couldn't contain himself any longer. He picked Niki up and twirled her around the laboratory, all the while laughing. "Did you hear that Niki? You're free! You're free! You're free!"
Niki laughed alongside with him. "I know Astro! I know!"
"Careful now; Niki isn't as durable as you." Dr. Elefun chuckled, making Astro stop in a panic. He didn't want to break Niki after she had only just been repaired!
Over-protectively the boy robot set back her down.
"O-oh! I'm sorry!"
Niki covered her mouth and giggled, the multicolored lights from the lab dancing off her blonde locks. "I'm ok silly!"
Dr. Elefun checked his watched. "The both of you best be running along. Your parents will be waiting, Astro."
Odd, Mother and Father never waited up before. Then it clicked. His parents were the ones who picked up the call in the first place. Dr. Elefun must have let them in on it. How long had they known about all this?
Dr. Elefun chuckled. "Yes they are. Now be on your way. You might not need beauty sleep like a human, but I certainly do."
Niki was coming home with him.
She was alive.
The gravity of the situation really began to sink in for Astro, and how so, so grateful he was to Dr. Elefun in making this possible.
Carefully the boy robot removed his arms from around Niki, and raced over to give his mentor a hug. "Thank you, Dr. Elefun! Thank you! Thank you!"
"Yes," Niki gave a bow from behind him. "Thanks again, Dr. Elefun. I'll never be able to repay you."
The man brushed it off, giving his bulbous nose a sheepish rub. "There's no need to thank me. I only did what I believed was right." Gently he pulled Astro away from him and gave the boy robot a proud pat to his shoulder. "Astro, you've done so much for the Ministry of Science and the people of Earth. After everything you've been through, you deserve to be happy." Elefun paused, with a glow in his features as he looked to the girl in blue stood quietly nearby. "The same goes for you too, Niki. You don't owe me anything. I only ask that you live your life to the full."
To this Niki blinked profusely, before eagerly giving a nod. "I will, I promise Dr. Elefun."
With one last supportive pat to the back, Dr. Elefun gave Astro a gentle shove towards to the girl. "Now away with you both—or we really will be up talking until dawn."
"Right!" Astro said overjoyed, and was all too happy to link his hand with the girl robot's, guiding her out from the laboratory of twinkling lights. "Come on, Niki! Let's go home!"
Shyly she hung her head and interlocked their fingers, making Astro face burn with heat.
The city was quiet when they stepped out into the frigid night—the only sound being from the very faint falling of snow. It was past 3 in the morning and not a soul to be seen; no cars, no humans or robots—just the two of them, stood outside the steps of the Ministry.
Niki tugged Astro forward from where their hands were still linked, leading them both away from the shelter the building brought. Her head leaned back to survey the dark skies and all the snow falling around them.
"Oh my—I've never seen the snow before."
The girl's mouth parted in a silent o, her attention fixated on their surroundings as if it were all fascinating. Still leading Astro along, Niki stepped into the amber light of the nearby streetlamp where the snow was its most visible; there, she rose her free hand up to catch the crystallized flakes on her fingers.
More and more was it becoming apparent to Astro that the girl robot was shaking.
"Are you ok, Niki?"
"It's..." She looked and sounded in total awe, studying the snowflakes gathering in sparkling clusters on the sleeves of her blue dress. "It's so beautiful."
Astro couldn't respond; the words lodged in his voice box. He could look only at her—see only her. The snow was catching in her hair and on her skin, making Niki appear as if she were covered from head to toe in diamonds. Stood there with her illuminated in the spotlight of that streetlamp, it was as if Niki herself was glowing.
With an impulsive thought, Astro pulled Niki towards him and hugged her. Startled, she soon giggled and returned it. They didn't say anything—they don't need to.
Niki let out a squeak as Astro just as spontaneously scooped her from off her feet, and a moment's later they were soaring over the frosted white city, heading home. The whole trip through Astro kept a protective hold on the robot girl, even flying at a slower speed and lower altitude than usual.
"The lights! There's so many of them!" Niki spoke in wonder by the view, looking out in all directions as she kept an arm around Astro's neck. "I've never seen so many buildings before! There must be hundreds of thousands of people living here!"
Astro laughed. "There's more than that, Niki. Dr. Elefun said there's around 12.4 million humans and robots here in the city."
Niki was soon distracted again, pointing out landmarks like the baseball stadium and the main city's clock tower.
"Wait that woodland area—is that part of that city too?"
"Yes, that's the park."
"Pa-rk?" Niki spelled out, and wriggled in Astro's arms. "Oh can we please go there tomorrow? I love nature."
Just as Dr. Elefun said, Mom and Dad were waiting for them outside. As Astro touched down and set Niki on her feet, Uran also came to join them as she wandered out from the house, wiping a sleepy eye. They were all still dressed in their pajamas.
Astro was all too excited to introduce them. "Mom, Dad, Uran, this is Niki. Niki, this is my family!"
"It's nice to meet you," Niki said with a courtly bow.
Mom and Dad in response bowed too with their own greetings, looking a little surprised by her formalities.
"Hello there!" Uran sprung over the blonde girl, grabbing her hands as she looked her up and down. "Oh I always wanted a sister! And you're taller than me too! Does that mean you're my big sis now?"
Mother chuckled. "No dear. Niki is our guest. She'll be living with us from now on."
Even though this is what Astro had been intending to ask his parents, to hear they already planned to take Niki in with open arms was a surprise and relief to him. As Astro soon discovered, Dr. Elefun and his parents really did prepare everything in advance. The spare room Mother and Father had been cleaning out these past few days? The clothes he caught Mother storing away with the excuse they were for Uran? It'd all been in preparation for Niki's arrival.
But Christmas Day it was not just yet. It was still late, and Father soon insisted Astro and Uran go back to sleep, while their Mother helped Niki get settled in—well, once Jump stopped welcoming her to the family by licking her face.
"Oh he's so adorable! I've never met a dog before!" Niki's said joyfully while rubbing Jump's belly from where the dog had rolled over and was wagging his tail. That was the last Astro was to see of her before climbing the stairs, after his parents told him and Uran to hurry on back to bed.
"I can still call her sis right?" Uran asked dancing around happily with excitement. "She's so pretty, she HAS to be my sister!"
"You can't call her that, otherwise that'd make me her brother and that'd be weird!" Astro protested as he reached the door to his bedroom.
Uran just stuck her tongue out at him from down the hall.
"Why you—take that back right now!"
"Say you're sorry Uran!"
Father angrily broke it up. "Enough the both of you! Now go to your rooms and sleep!"
"She started it," Astro said and Uran just huffed.
"I don't care!" Father's large screw popped out of his head from his fraying patience. Frustrated he pushed it back in. "I don't want to hear another peep out of either one of you, or no Christmas presents!"
Uran whined, making that more of a scene on how it wasn't fair. Astro meanwhile, finally gave in and went to his room. Even after shutting the door, he still heard father and daughter bickering in the hall, but paid them little mind. Even if Astro got no presents he didn't care. Niki was back. He didn't need or want anything else for the rest of his life.
Getting back into his PJ's he'd left dropped on the floor when hastily taking them off earlier, Astro got himself tucked into bed, rolling on his side away from the door to watch the snow.
Time past and the house soon fell still into silence as all its inhabitance slept—all except one. Try as he might, Astro couldn't get back to sleep. His mind was still buzzing with activity. How could he sleep when Niki was back? He was afraid to wake up and find this all to be a dream.
In the midst of his internal reasoning that this couldn't be make believe, the door to his bedroom creaked open.
This had happened before. The latch on the door wasn't strong, so it was easy for Jump to push it open with enough force. Thinking it was his four-legged canine friend, Astro whispered out to the dog as he turned to face the door.
"Jump, go back downstairs. You know Mom doesn't like it when—"
In a glowing blue nightdress was Niki, holding Jump in her arms. The dog was sleepy, but still wagging his tail with a dopy happy look on the mutt's face as he was cradled like a baby.
Astro sat up. "Niki? Why are you still awake?"
"I couldn't sleep and neither could Jump, so here we are!" the girl said chirpily as she strolled on over to Astro. Carefully she rested a docile Jump on the bed by Astro's feet, where then Niki proceeded to lift the sheets up and climb in next to the boy robot, forcing him to scooch over.
"Hey wait, w-what are you doing? You have you own bed downstairs," Astro protested, nearly falling out of the bed in a panic. "Mom won't be happy with Jump being on the bed you know."
"I won't tell if you don't," Niki said, settling herself down into the mattress, resting her head down on the pillow. She closed her eyes. "Besides, going to sleep on my own is scary. I'd rather be in here with you."
Astro couldn't form an answer as his face felt hot again. In the end he made no fuss, and daintily laid back down next to Niki. He was quick to shut his eyes when he saw the girl robot's were about to open—afraid he'd be caught watching her.
He only heard Niki giggle, and breathe a sigh.
The boy robot answered while keeping his eyes shut, for he was too timid to look at her when they were so close.
Even so, he smiled.
Jump gave a tiny yelp, and soon wriggled his way up the bed, curling into a ball between the two robots lying side by side facing one another. Eventually they would drift off to asleep that way—faces inches apart, and fingers almost touching.
"Niki seems to be settling in well," Dr. Elefun said to Astro while they stood on the patio that early afternoon. The fresh blanket of snow had been disturbed, messy with prints from the man's pacing.
Dr. Elefun was a big part of their family, and they always welcomed him to their home every Christmas. Astro and his family didn't need to eat, but they did so out of tradition for Christmas, and courtesy for having a human guest over. Dr. Elefun seemed to really like Mother's cooking this year, and didn't struggle to get the food down. It'd made Mother happy at how well their skills had improved, and knowing the man's compliments were genuine.
Everyone was happy, and everything appeared fine. Yet sometime after dinner, Dr. Elefun became dissociated with them, as if something was troubling him. It confused the boy robot so as to why Dr. Elefun had chosen to remove himself from the festivities indoors to be out here in the yard, and without his coat when it was so cold out—too cold to be comfortable for a human.
Astro glanced back at his family and Niki through the glass of the patio doors. They were all gathered in the living room. Niki was unwrapping a dress his mother had gotten for her. The excitement on her face made Astro feel warm and fuzzy inside in way he couldn't describe.
Hearing that sneeze from his mentor brought him back.
"You should go back inside, Dr. Elefun. You'll catch a cold."
With a handkerchief pulled out from his pocket, the man wiped his nose. "No it's alright. Don't you worry about me, Astro. I'll be just fine."
The false efforts to smile and appear peachy didn't go unnoticed. It only made Astro all the more concerned as he tilted his head.
"Dr. Elefun, what's the matter?"
"Nothing at all my son. I just needed some time alone to think."
"Well, something must be bothering you really badly if you've chosen to come out here," Astro noted, frowning. "Why don't you tell me?"
There was a grave look on Dr. Elefun's face as he stared at the young robot. He exhaled heavily, dispelling white vapor into the air, and he turned slightly away from Astro.
"I just can't help thinking about what Dr. Rindolph did to make Niki a weapon of destruction. No robot should be treated like a tool," Elefun said sadly, as he tucked his arms behind his back. "I'm...I feel shamed to admit it, but Dr. Rindolph's treatment of Niki reminds me of myself and you, Astro."
The boy was stunned. "You and I? But whatever for?"
Dr. Elefun closed his eyes, grimacing. "I've put so much pressure on you these last few years in assisting us at the Ministry of Science—far more responsibility than ever should've been placed on your young shoulders." The man looked out at the snow-laden yard, with a shiver travelling through his bulky frame. "I meant to give you a life of freedom away from that ringleader's clutches, but I've only used you for my own means. Whenever something went wrong I sent you off to fix it without a second's thought, or exploring other solutions. I've used you like an extension of my own will."
Astro felt as if he had been hit by a mountain. He had never heard Dr. Elefun talk like this before. After all their past endeavors preventing catastrophes and saving lives, it was wrong to even compare the man Astro respected and held in such high regard to someone like Dr. Rindolph.
Dr. Elefun and he were a team! To say they weren't didn't sound right at all!
There was faintest click behind Astro, nearly undetectable to human ears. The patio door was ajar and there was Niki part-ways out, like a rabbit poking its head out from its warren. The confusion and pity in the look she gave Astro confirmed to him she'd overheard.
Elefun inhaled sharply through his nose. "I'm sorry my boy. It was wrong of me to ask so much of you when you are only a child. You should be free to do as you please. That's why I wholeheartedly understand if you decide you no longer wish to offer your services to the ministry anymore. We'll, I'll, forever be indebted to you for your help—"
"No!" Astro spoke up, shaking his head. "No, please don't say that! Don't say any of it! It's all wrong! You've never used me, Dr. Elefun. I've always wanted to help. If it weren't for you finding me, I never would've escaped the circus or have somewhere to go!" He hurried over, grabbing his mentor's hand. "Dr. Boynton gave me life, but you gave me a purpose. You gave me a home, a family. You got me into a school where I've made lots of friends! But most importantly you taught me robots and humans can be friends. Only a good person would do all those things!"
"Astro is right," Niki pitched in with, finally letting her presence be known to Dr. Elefun. The man was surprised, but she gave him one of the rosiest of smiles regardless. "You're nothing like Dr. Rindolph. His kindness towards me was...pretend. But you, I can tell you have a good heart Dr. Elefun."
Astro had never seen Dr. Elefun look so red with embarrassment before, but it was more than that. The doctor looked ready to cry.
Instead, he sneezed.
The patio door was suddenly pulled all the way open, and out Astro's mother came with a disapproving tsk tsk.
"Now, now, Dr. Elefun, what on Earth are you doing standing out in the cold? You'll catch your death out here." Mother scowled. Going over, she wrapped Dr. Elefun's coat around his shoulders, of which she'd brought out for him. "Here."
"Ah, thank you."
"Won't you come back inside; you'll be much warmer." Father asked by the patio door. Inside, Astro could hear Uran playing with Jump excitedly, still trying to teach him some new tricks.
"Thank you, but I really should be going." Dr. Elefun said, collecting himself with a quick wipe of his eye. He chuckled. "As much as I enjoy the company of you and your family, I would like very much like to spend the remainder of Christmas tucked in bed getting some long earned shut-eyed."
"Right of course, you have been working so very hard." Mother said sympathetically. "Do you need one of us to drive you home?"
Dr. Elefun smiled reassuringly. "No, no that is quite alright. I have troubled you both more than enough."
Some minutes later, they were all gathered by the car to see Dr. Elefun off. Mother and Father had been generous enough to pack up the leftovers and some desserts for the man to take home with him, something Dr. Elefun was very appreciated about.
"Here you go Dr. Elefun, I forgot to give this." Uran skipped up to the car window, holding out a small scruffy wrapped present with a bow. "It's a watch!"
Astro scolded. "Uran, you're not supposed to tell someone what the gift is before they open it."
Uran only crossed her arms. "Hmph!"
"That's alright," Dr. Elefun said unfazed. "Thank you Uran; that's very kind of you."
To this, Astro's sister was beaming with happiness.
"You as well, Astro, Niki. Thank you." Dr. Elefun continued with such genuine honesty, giving the two robots a nod.
Niki returned him a polite bow.
"Merry Christmas, Dr. Elefun," Astro said with a smile, and his old mentor exchanged a proud glowing smile in return as he started up the engine.
"You as well, Astro."
His parents and Uran waved to Dr. Elefun as he drove off home. Astro was to stay there the longest of his family as they went indoors one by one—the boy continuing to watch for the car that was no longer in sight on that street.
Astro's heart had never felt so full. He would always be indebted to Dr. Elefun for everything he'd done for him. However long Astro lived, even if he one day became obsolete to other robots, he would continue to keep helping the Ministry of Science and the people of Earth.
A hand softly slid onto his palm, interlocking their fingers together.
Turning he saw Niki beside him, a few locks of her blonde falling over her face as she leaned over to check if he was alright.
Astro gave her hand a squeeze, smiling. And together they went back inside to be with his family—and with perfect timing too, as his parents were about to serve up pudding.
By the late afternoon Niki was restless, frequently looking out the windows of the house. They had already taken Jump for a walk, yet Niki seemed like she wanted to do more than stroll around the block.
Astro took the cue to invite her out, promising his parents they would be back before sundown. They explored on foot for the most part, Niki being so curious and eager to see the city. Unfortunate for them, many stores were closed due to it being Christmas Day, but that didn't seem to deter Niki's adventuring. Every person they met she had to greet them, even the dog walkers and their dogs.
Their wanderings soon brought them to the park they had seen from the sky last night. Niki's excitement grew as she skipped along, before doing a twirl and sighing contently.
"Oh it's so peaceful here. This...it reminds me of the woods back home!" She paused for a second, looking upwards. "Well, my old home anyways."
Astro ran to catch up, and already the girl robot's attention was distracted by something through the trees.
"My, what is that?" Niki pointed and Astro followed her gaze.
"Oh, that's the playground."
Astro nodded cheerfully and went on to explain. "It's an area where children can go to have fun."
"Is that so?" Niki said, resting a hand under her chin thoughtful. She got an incredibly cheeky look on her face as she snagged Astro's arm by the wrist and went running, dragging him along for the ride.
She laughed. "Let's go, Astro!"
It was like babysitting Uran on her first weeks of life, just much more fun. Niki had no idea how any of the playground equipment worked, so Astro had to show her, all while making sure he didn't break anything with his super human strength.
The merry-go-round, seesaw, swing set, and the slide and climbing frames. Even with snow covering much of it Niki wasn't deterred. She was a ball of energy—all laughter and smiles, and Astro couldn't contend. It was the first time in a long time Astro felt like a kid his own age again, and to be here when Niki got to experience fun like every child should made him happy.
It was just them in that playground—nobody else, for it was too cold for human children to play, while any robots children were likely spending time with their robot families. They spent much of their time playing there, yet their time would soon wind down as playtime ended. Niki found her way up onto the roof of the climbing equipment, and Astro soon followed, not bothering to use his jets to fly up there.
It was beginning to get dark, the streetlights in the parks flicking on one by one, as the temperatures fell. A few folks were out for a stroll—couples it looked like. Other than the distant treading on snow and cars from a nearby road, it was quiet.
"Astro, what's the matter? You look sad."
He was hoping Niki wouldn't notice, but she did. The boy robot kicked his legs nervously from where they hung off the roof, regret settling into his thoughts.
"I've been thinking about the other Niki's Dr. Rindolph made," Astro finally said, and slumped his shoulders. "Maybe I shouldn't have blown up the lab, and there's more that could've been done for them. Maybe they could have all been saved too."
"They didn't have AI. They weren't aware of anything," Niki reasoned, leaning herself forward to look at him. "You did the right thing."
Astro gawked at her. "But, b-but they were like your sisters! Don't you feel sad?"
Niki shook her head, those big brown eyes of her sorrowful. "They would have all been programmed to be me—all of them scared. Dr. Rindolph promised he would never detonate my bomb, but he lied." She gripped the edge of the roof tightly, her face forlorn. "I'm relieved they didn't wake up, Astro. He would have lied to them too. And anyways, Dr. Elefun couldn't have repaired all of them. It took so much out of him just to fix me."
Hearing this still didn't make Astro's decision easier, but he was relieved Niki held no grudge towards him for it. Astro was happy Dr. Rindolph was locked up for his crimes, but it wouldn't undo what happened, and how much Astro failed to protect Niki.
He was still haunted by the memory of her in pieces on that table—his helplessness to do anything but watch her be taken apart.
"Niki, I'm sorry. I should've tried harder to get you out of there…"
"It's not your fault. You did what you could for me." Niki hesitated for a little, suddenly speaking her words carefully. "Dr. Elefun...he said, you haven't been the same since what happened. Is that true?"
Astro felt his face get hot again, his energy cells levels faltering as his joints locked up.
He felt as if he should add more to this, but he couldn't. It was too painful to voice it aloud.
After a while, Niki nodded slowly, and looked away.
Not too long before that mission where Astro met Niki, he had lost Atlas—feeling him and Livian die in that black hole they created to save the Earth. Astro tried to do so much good all these years, and yet people still continued to die. Astro might've saved countless lives, but he couldn't save everybody. After what happened to Niki, it was like the final straw broke. Astro carried on yes, but he couldn't hide his feelings like he used to, or be so optimistic.
Maybe he was just becoming more human that way, or maybe Dr. Elefun was right in his concerns in believing Astro's role at the Ministry of Science had taken its toll on him. Regardless of how tough things got, Astro would never give up, and would keep doing what he did best. It gave him a purpose in life he was proud of, and it made him so happy when doing good in the world...
Astro kicked his legs back and forth, staring at his red boots. After some thought, he finally plucked up the courage to ask what'd been on his mind all day.
"Niki, I have to ask you something," Astro began, nervously evading those beautiful brown eyes of hers. "Did you—did you really mean what you said before Dr. Rindolph took you apart?"
The girl robot put a hand to her cheek sheepishly, looking like she might blush over such a thing.
"I don't know. Did you mean what YOU said?"
The memory replayed in Astro's electronic brain, of holding Niki's hand through her dismantlement. Even long after her hand stopped squeezing his back, Astro never let go.
'I really like you, Astro. I—I think might be in love with you.'
'I think I might be in love with you too, Niki'
Less than a day together and Niki had such a powerful impact on Astro. He had never felt so strongly towards anybody before in his whole life—never with that much love or devotion. And he had never felt that same way about anybody since.
Astro didn't even hesitate.
"Oh yes, of course I did!"
At this Niki smiled. Looking down shyly she scooched little closer, causing her knee to bump Astro's.
"In that case, I won't ask for my legs back." She said.
The request once asked of Dr. Elefun from all that time ago resurfaced in memory, and immediately Astro's eyes got huge as he felt his face bloom with heat.
"Huh!? Dr. Elefun told you!?" Astro asked flabbergasted.
Niki nodded, chuckling. "He did. He offered me some legs he put together from one of the other Nuka robots, but I was happy with the ones he gave me already."
The boy robot cocked his head puzzled. "Oh?"
"Mhmm." Niki nodded with a knowing smile. She raised her leg slightly then, wriggling her foot that more exaggerated in front of him.
He didn't take the hint first, until he recognized the indents at the ankles and knees, and the minor difference in skin tone between the lower half of Niki's legs.
Astro nearly fell off the roof of that climbing area.
"Those—Those are my legs!"
"That's right," Niki said playfully, tapping her cheek with a pretend hum. "Now, if ooonly I had rocket-powered feet still installed in them, then I could fly wherever I want. Oh well!"
With a big smile, Niki covered her mouth and burst out in a fit of giggles, appearing to relish in Astro's bashfulness. Knotting his hands together, Astro quickly averted his attention away, pretending to be distracted by something in one of the nearby trees at the park instead.
So that's why he didn't recognize her walking pattern in the lab. Niki has been wearing his old legs this whole time and he hadn't a clue! Astro couldn't believe it; he just wanted aliens to come down to Earth and vaporize him on the spot. He was so embarrassed!
Rather than aliens, a snowflake landed on Astro's nose instead, catching him by surprise. As he looked up, Astro saw many more snowflakes falling silently from the heavens. It was a light snow flurry, each flake standing out against the contrast of those dark orange skies breaking through the patches of grey clouds. It was a wonderful sight to behold, like a moving watercolor painting of which the two robots couldn't resist remaining where they were to spectate it.
But they couldn't stay here forever.
Daylight was fading.
Astro pulled his legs away from the edge of the roof, carefully standing as so not to slip.
"We need to be going home now, Niki. I promised Mom and Dad we would be back before dark."
Niki looked visibly disappointed. "Oh not yet. Let's stay here a little longer—please, Astro?"
"Niki," Astro pressed, trying to not to let up, but the girl robot didn't budge.
"You know, apart from what Dr. Elefun shared, I don't know a great deal about you," Niki spoke earnestly. As she tilted her head up at him, the glow from the park lights making the blue jewel on her headband sparkle. "Would you please tell me? I want to know aaall about you and your adventures."
Astro smiled widely, and held out his hand to her. "Ok. But you have to promise to come with me. We can walk back."
Niki stared at his hand, as if weighing out her options, until she giggled, finally taking it. "Fine, but only if we take the long way home."
Effortlessly Astro pulled Niki to her feet.
"You promise?" She asked.
He didn't let her hand go, as he answered her with the purest of truths.
Hand in hand they walked, through the winter snow
And later they would kiss, beneath a mistletoe
Forever they vow to be, their own little family
With promises they speak:
"Together we'll always be."
A/N: At the time when the idea of bringing Niki back popped into my head, I didn't feel I could go anywhere with it—that is until Christmas rolled around and I decided to center it on that time of year. Going through this story again got me emotional. When I first conceived it, there was something in me from the start that wanted to give Astro and Niki their little happy ending. It's been great to get the opportunity to come back again and write a conclusion more satisfying, especially to develop Niki as a character as she was after all only teased in the original version of this story.
Whatever time of year you read this. Thank you.
— Niki wears all blue in reference to the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio. The blue also counteracts the red of her design, symbolic of her being free of the bomb.
— Niki's original name in the Japanese dub is Nuka.
— Dr. Boynton's [Tenma] death was only mentioned in the Canadian dub, while his involvement with the Government in making a robot bomb was only in the Japanese dub.
— Much of the conversation in the patio scene was written for the lab, but as the setting and timing for Elefun's confession didn't fit, it was moved. Astro and Uran also originally shared a room, before that too was changed upon discovering they had separate rooms in the Japanese dub.
— 1980s Astro is a beautiful cinnamon bun roll, too good for this world, too pure. Patricia Kugler Whitely you did a wonderful job as Astro. Bless you and the rest of the cast.