A/N: This is a story I deleted years ago during a bad time in my life. Like other my Astro Boy story For Always [originally titled Mistletoe] A Winter Wish has been reworked from the ground up and will be a 3 part chapter story. I will do my hardest to get Chapter 2 out by Christmas, but the final chapter will be a little after that.

Since coming back to viewing the 2003 show in Japanese, I've really gained an appreciation for its themes. Atom and Tenma's relationship had so much impact for me in the original dub, and I was surprised with what a multilayered character Tenma is as an antagonist to the show. Atom himself, you get more of the sense he's struggling to understand why he was disowned by his creator and if Tenma even loves him anymore when putting him through so much.

It is why I've chosen to retain those elements of Japanese dub in this revision, and why the characterizations will be different than what is in the English version of the show. Likewise, Japanese names and phrases will also be used.


The hardest prisons to break out of are the ones we build ourselves.


A Winter Wish - Chapter 1


This never should've happened.

It never should have come to this…

"No! Tenma-hakase!"

The bolt of electricity struck the running child, knocking him down. The voltage quickly dissipated, leaving him shaken. The underground plant was sweltering hot; the temperatures rocketing from the liquefied waste in the furnace, making the internal cooling systems in his robotic body work overtime.

The concrete walkway shuddered beneath Atom's feet as he pulled himself up, the ground threatening to give out.

"Leave this place now or I'll destroy you!" Tenma shouted, the jagged kuri ring aimed out at the boy. When receiving no response, his creator began charging up the device again, electricity crackling louder the higher energy the ring conducted. "Don't make me hurt you again!"

His chest blackened and still smoking from the blast, Atom raised his arms as he cautiously slid his feet forward along the concrete. Tenma noticed and retreated, keeping the distance between them.

"No! I'm not leaving without you!" Atom shouted as an exploded tore apart the crane equipment on the other side of the plant, scattering debris everywhere.

Tenma kept moving back, until he bumped into the control panel in the central pillar of the furnace. His head darted to his left and right, frantically searching for an escape, but he had nowhere else to go.

"Back! Just stay back!" He warned.

Atom ignored him, and kept edging closer. Tenma's eyes bulged wide in terror, becoming more agitated—fearful. He craved the escape of death—not life, and that thought scared the boy robot to his core.

Cautiously, he offered out his hand.

"Please, Hakase. Just come with me, and everything will—"

His bravery was punished.

A second burst of electricity far stronger than the last exploded from the kuri ring, slamming into the boy's chest with such a force he was propelled backwards through the air. Rolling across the floor, Atom snagged the railing with his arm, stopping himself from skidding off the platform. Clinging to the bars, he was greeted by the sight of the churning molten waste below. It was steadily rising, bubbling up from the depths of the furnace like the raging hellfire of a volcano—the heat so immense he had to look away.

Fires were spreading throughout the plant, smoke bellowing up to the ceiling where another large fan for the ventilation system failed. An estimate was made in Atom's electronic brain of Plant 7's demise, and it's wasn't good.

Time was short. He needed to hurry!

Atom went to right himself, only to cry out in pain the moment he moved. He clutched his chest where it hurt most, and retracted his hand immediately when he touched metal. Confused, Atom looked down to where sparks coursed wildly, and discovered his mechanical heart was exposed. The blast had completely blown through his chest panel, leaving a gaping hole of melted synthetic flesh and scorched hot metal.

But it was much worse than he could've been prepared for, for his heart had sustained damage too. The thick red metal casing had busted off, and Atom saw what he wasn't meant to see—the internal workings of his own heart, where gears and pistons sped up from the rising fear of what his young eyes saw.

A row of alerts flashed in his peripheral vision

CRITICAL DAMAGE TO CHEST CAVITY

BATTERY DAMAGE TO KORORO

SYSTEMS STATUS 57.1%

At the very sight of the boy robot's injuries, the color drained from Tenma's face as a look of sheer terror festered upon it. The man's hand loosened on the kuri ring, his entire body beginning to tremble

"It's too late for me. My sins—my sins are too grave," Tenma said distantly, his voice once strong with such convictions, now breaking as the tears welled up and fell. "I can't be saved. It's over. Just go—leave me."

Another wave of explosions tore through the plant. Several pipes spewing steam finally burst under the pressure as cracks spread up the walls onto the ceiling, threatening to bring Plant 7 collapsing in on itself. Meltdown was imminent, with the window for escape narrowing with every second to tick by.

Holding onto the rail for support, Atom pulled himself up. His legs shook, slow to reclaim the lost ground the tumble cost him, but he managed it.

"Hakase, don't do this; don't throw your life away! This isn't the way!" Atom clutched his chest, bearing the pain as he kept going. "Please, just l-let me help you!"

"Help me?" Tenma repeated. He bared his teeth, shaking his head furiously. "Help me? HELP ME!? THIS IS WHAT I DESERVE!"

"Don't say that! You can still—"

"NO!"

Atom didn't get to finish. In Tenma's anger, his gripped tightened on the kuri ring again. The shock lit up on the man's face by his mistake—but it was too late.

The boy robot didn't have a chance to evade the bolt as it made contact with his head, slicing open his cheek. Atom felt it go down to the metal, where the current travelled through into his skull and down his skeleton. He cried out as his limbs contorted, feeling something dislodge inside his electronic brain.

Atom's ears were blasted with a loud audible ringing, as the electricity ran a manic through his body. He stumbled, watching as the sight shut off in his left eye before his knees even hit the floor.

"A-Atom…"

He grabbed his head, the pain agonizing as the world spun. In the glitching vision of his remaining functioning eye, new alerts flashed red.

CRITICAL DAMAGE TO OCCIPITA01001100 COMPONENT

MINOR D01000001MAGE DETECTED TO CEREBRUM D01100001MAGE TO CEREBRUM 01000011 01001111 01001101 01010000 01001111 01001110 01000101NT

SYSTE01001101 01010011 00100000 01010011 01010100ATUS 36.4%

In all of a second, Atom heard the kuri ring shut off and clatter to the floor against the concrete. He looked over, just catching sight of the device as it rolled off the side of the walkway, plummeting into the furnace below.

When the boy robot raised his head, he saw Tenma stood paralyzed on the spot, his eyes glazed over staring at his hands in disgust. His creator quickly snapped out of it when the smoke swamping the plant finally got to him, coughing as the toxic fumes invaded his lungs. Atom quickly ran a scan, but it was a distorted mess. He picked up enough info to learn the oxygen levels were decreasing rapidly, with temperatures teetering on the limits of what the human body could endure. Tenma was beginning to suffer the effects of hyperthermia, and had minutes at most.

After that, there would be irreparable organ damage, death.

No, he would not let Tenma die!

Nobody was going to die!

It took every ounce of strength within Atom to stand back up. His movement was stiff, as if his joints had entirely rusted. Another explosion within the plant knocked Atom off-kilter, but he clasped hold of railing to steady himself.

"Hakase!"

In that moment he heard a loud rumble from behind him. Atom looked back over his shoulder, in time to watch as a section of the platform crumbled and collapsed behind him.

Their escape by foot was cut off.

Gripping the railing tighter, Atom carried on, and focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

"No, stay back!" Tenma yelled, but his protests were weaker than before. The man covered his mouth, coughing more violently as he cowered away from the very child creation he had once poured so much love into. "Get—Get away!"

Atom didn't listen, and continued closing the distance between them. Within in those last few steps, the vision in his right eye began flickering wildly out of control. Halting in his tracks, Atom blinked rapidly but it did nothing to clear it. He panicked, helpless against the failings of his body as he was plunged him into darkness.

Eyes wide, Atom blindly searched ahead where he could hear the wheezes and coughs from his creator gradually being overtaken by the fumes.

"H-Hakase!?"

The boy robot held out his arms, trying to feel out in front of him, only to touch thin air.

His limbs were getting heavier, weaker. The effort to keep himself standing was becoming more of a struggle. His energy, Atom could feel it diminishing fast, and knew his body's limits. An internal check of his systems confirmed his greatest fear. He didn't have enough energy to fly Tenma to safety. Atom wasn't sure there was even enough to get himself out from harm's way.

They were trapped on the pillar in the center of the furnace with no escape.

01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 Who do you like more, me or a robot?01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 I shouldn't have been born 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 How could you do this!? I'm a robot too! 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 Robita is my friend! I won't let you destroy her!01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 I don't want any new body! The king of robots, I don't want it! 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 You liar! You don't love me! You don't love me at all!01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110 01001111 01110100 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100001 01101110

The memories of a big old house flowed through his mind—of the young boy whose life he once shared with all his grief, his anger and loneliness.

The fear of death overwhelmed Atom in that instance.

"Otousan!"

Like a flash of lightning, a flicker of images returned in his vision, and quickly vanished. In that glimpse, Atom caught sight of Tenma by the control panel, stood hunched over and in tears.

The creator's arms were held out apprehensively, as if afraid.

Slowly, Atom reached out too.

"Don't give up. P-Please, I don't—"

A sharp stab of pain from his heart had Atom reeling forward, clutching his chest as electricity expelled from his body, prickling over the flesh and exposed circuitry.

ENERGY 01000100 01001001 01010011 01010100 01010010 01001001 01000010UTION ERROR

REDIR01000101 01000011 01010100ING POWER TO CORE COMPONENTS

SY01010011 01010100 01000101 01001101 01010011 STATUS 00110001 00111001 00101110 00110110 00100101

Atom couldn't speak. Like a switch flipped, the strength went out of his legs.

Tenma caught him as he collapsed, his arms wrapping around Atom securely, almost clinging to him for dear life.

"Atom! No Atom!" He heard his father say. Atom felt the sharp inhale of breath against him and the choked back cry as Tenma's shoulders shook. "I'm sorry. What—What have I done!? Oh god, what I have done to you!?"

As the man broke down, his words devolved into an unintelligible string of apologies, ignorant to the destruction occurring all around them.

The energy fast depleting from Atom's body, he used what little power he had left to slide his arms around his father's waist, and in response felt himself pulled into an embrace he had long since been too afraid to give, and too afraid to receive.

"Oto—Otousan…"

Distantly, Atom heard the hum of electricity and cables moving. It took him a few seconds to recognize it as the elevator he had used earlier to get down into the plant.

The elevator was being called back up.

Help was coming!

01000101 01001110 01000101RGY L01000101 01010110 01000101 01001100LS CRITI01000011 01000001 01001100 01001100 01011001 00100000 01001100 01001111 01010111

01000011 01001111 01001101MENCING EMERGENCY SHU01010100 01000100 01001111 01010111 01001110

Atom dug his fingers into the fabric of that long dark coat, pressing his face again his father's chest as his eyes fell shut. He hugged Tenma tighter as the numbness began travelling from his fingers, up his arms and to the rest of his body, until all feeling was gone.

The ringing in Atom's ears increased tenfold, until it broke up into nothingness. He could no longer hear the cries from his father, or the devastation in that plant as debris rained all around them.

Before Atom's consciousness was lost, he spoke out a confession all but deaf to his own ears.

"I forgive you."

Pl01100101ase d 01101111n't 01100100ie…


The moment Atom awoke from sleep-mode, he opened his eyes.

Not waiting, he climbed out of bed and went to pull back the curtains, letting the light into his room. Atom's jaw hung agape at the sight to await him beyond the window. There had been no forecast for snow today, so to see the entire courtyard blanketed in a thick layer of the stuff was a surprise. And the snow was still coming down!

Atom pressed his hands and button nose up against the cold glass, his large brown eyes peering upwards to the trillions of snowflakes falling from those white marshmallow clouds.

"Wow…"

After the Antarctica three and a half years ago, there was a long period of time Atom couldn't enjoy the sight of snow without thinking back to the conflict that nearly tore humans and robots apart. He was happy that wasn't so anymore, finally being able to appreciate nature's gift again. For it to snow on Christmas day was almost too perfect. If it weren't for being in his rocket pajamas and having so much to get ready for, Atom would have been out there making snow angels and building snow forts.

"An early bird again I see."

Looking over his shoulder, Atom saw Tenma standing in the shadows of that open doorway to his bedroom. The man had not been long up, still dressed in his nightclothes and robe, with his usual fancy slippers on.

A smile immediately brightened up on Atom's face as he waved him over.

"Otousan, come take a look. It's really coming down!"

With a cup of freshly brewed tea hooked in his fingers, the ex-computer scientist joined his son at the window, where they looked out at snow-laden courtyard and the neighborhood beyond those metal fences. There was a thin veil of mist out, and it wasn't completely light out yet, but it was easy to tell it was going to be a very cold day.

As Tenma raised his hand to sip his tea, Atom tracked the thin electronic bracelet strapped to his father's wrist, often so well concealed under the cuff of his shirts. It matched the bracelet on his ankle, and if that wasn't extreme enough, a tracking chip had been implanted under the man's skin at the back of his neck.

Tenma's placement into home arrest had been nearly six months ago—the day of his release still fresh to Atom as the day it happened. Professor Ochanomizu offered to be there in support, but Atom insisted it was something he needed to do by himself. Sadly, alone he wasn't to be, as the media caught wind of Tenma's release and had been waiting with Atom outside the gates of the maximum security prison to report on the events live.

So long as it wasn't hostile Atom was used to the attention, but that day media's presence was intrusive and unwelcomed. He was only thankful the police had cordoned them off for safety, but it didn't stop the paparazzi from snapping photos, or reporters yelling their questions to Atom, all while the cameras rolled.

'How do you feel about Tenma-hakase's release into house arrest?'

'Atom, can we get a comment?'

'Is it true you're the one responsible for his release?'

Atom didn't let them get to him and spoil that day. If their pestering questions weren't being ignored before, then their voices fell on deaf ears entirely when those gates opened.

With a high security escort, Tenma walked out handcuffed. Dressed in plain civilian clothing, his once confident demeanor had changed from what it was years earlier. Tenma still held his head high in front of the large crowd of media, but that facade faltered when he saw Atom waiting for him.

Those years of visiting his father in prison were the hardest to deal with. They had only been able to talk through a phone with a wall of thick glass between them. Every conversation was motored by cameras and watched by security, so there was no privacy. Still, it didn't stop them from discussing what they needed to in order to clear the air, and begin rebuilding what they had lost. Atom never went a few days without visiting him. Even Professor Ochanomizu went to meet Tenma. Though what the two men discussed remained private, it was safe to say they amounted to some level of understanding.

It took years of healing for them to reach where they were, enough for Atom to finally wager getting Tenma out of prison, and who else could Atom turn to but Professor Ochanomizu himself?

'Atom, are you sure you want to pursue this? It'll be a difficult case to build on. At most an appeal may only succeed in Tenma-hakase receiving a reduced sentence.'

For the crimes Tenma had committed, he may have spent the rest of his life in prison. Atom knew by law that was how it had to be. Still, he couldn't stand seeing his father being locked up like an animal and treated as such by the prison staff. It was the worst feeling for Atom, knowing he had the power capable of breaking Tenma out, but couldn't do so out of his own morals and obligations to follow the rules.

'We can still try,' Atom said. 'Even if we're back where we started, it's better to have done something than nothing.'

Ochanomizu looked to him, almost in pity. 'Don't confuse my reasoning for doubt, Atom. Your concerns for his wellbeing are valid, but the law is the law. There are procedures we have to follow, and then there's the matter of if he is still a threat to sociality.'

Atom hesitated from where he stood, hunching his shoulders.

'Do you believe he is, Hakase?'

With a heavy sigh Professor Ochanomizu went and sat down at his desk. 'I honestly don't know. Anybody capable of such atrocities Tenma-hakase has committed could easily do them again.' The man tilted his head back, his expression thoughtful. 'However, he does appear genuinely remorseful for his actions. All the same, he's accepted his sentencing and made no efforts to fight it in the years since. Perhaps we should respect that if those are his wishes.'

'But how can we know that if we don't ask him? Shouldn't he get to decide?' Astro reasoned. ''Rock was able to change for better, and Tenma-hakase has too. I believe in him, Ochanomizu-hakase.'

Professor Ochanomizu stared the boy robot in surprise. 'Even after what he did to you, you would still say that?'

Grief made a person do terrible things. Tenma had done such bad things, to the world and to Atom himself. It had taken years to stop having nightmares of Plant 7, of being deactivated, or forced into a new body made for battle. Nothing could excuse his father's actions, but Atom understood him enough to forgive and support him when nobody else would.

Atom remained adamant in his answer.

'Yes.'

His mentor fell silent, tapping at his desk worrisomely.

'Rock's crimes weren't as publicized or as radical as Tenma-hakase's,' Professor Ochanomizu reminded the boy robot. He hung his head, scratching his chin. 'However not all Tenma-hakase's crimes came to light. The Venus Robot incident was never pinned on him, or otherwise I'm certain his sentencing would have been far harsher.'

'Hakase…'

Professor Ochanomizu locked his hands together on his desk, making a wry face. 'I can't make promises, Atom. I'll need look into this more—think things over.'

What followed were several visits to Tenma in prison by Professor Ochanomizu. When the man was convinced Tenma wouldn't be a danger to himself or to others, the matter behind his visits were brought to light.

Tenma's response was a simple one:

'Do whatever Atom wishes.'

And that was how Professor Ochanomizu was persuaded into helping them. The professor dealt with the legal aspects around the case to make such a thing possible. It hadn't been easy, a few strings needed to be pulled here and there, and both Professor Ochanomizu and Atom needed to vouch for Tenma as character references. Fortunately, being the head to the Ministry of Science gave Ochanomizu a lot of influences in the court, and the same went for Atom with his past good deeds. Having once been the ambassador for the human race against the Blue Knight, and preventing all out world war, well…it was safe to say it worked in the boy robot's favor, enough for the courts to take his word seriously.

It was long grueling process, but it went through. They won their case.

To be finally rid of that thick wall of glass between them, and have Tenma out of prison, it was—freeing. He didn't care what the media or the world had to think. That moment he saw his father, and his father saw him, all those conflicting emotions rose to the surface and converged.

Without skipping a beat, Atom went running at Tenma for a long overdue hug.

The camera bulbs flashed, and there was an eruption of questions from the crowd of reporters, but Atom paid them no mind.

After three years he finally had his father back, but they were no means out of the woods.

"Hm…" Tenma tilted his head to look up at the sky from the bedroom window. His enthusiasm wasn't strongly expressed for the snow as it was for Atom, but the boy could see his mind working behind those weary eyes donning bags under them. "The weatherman is wrong again. Typical."

Atom did a quick data search on the most recent of weather updates.

"Forecasts predict 50% to 70% of snow throughout the day," Atom said, still buzzing with excitement.

"Yet the predictable weather may be unpredictable still," his father said pessimistically before he took another sip from his tea. The snow continued to fall in small clusters sticking to the glass, melting on contact. "Unlikely it'll cause too much travel disruptions, but we best leave early all the same."

"Right," Atom nodded, and hurried off to leave his room "I'll go recharge!"

"Careful," Tenma said. "You'll trip."

"Ok!" Atom called back as he speeded along with the fastest of walks possible downstairs to use the charge terminal in the kitchen. Under a few minutes, his energy cells were topped up at 100% leaving the boy robot free and ready to get to work making breakfast.

They were to have Christmas at Professor Ochanomizu's house this year—their first Christmas since Tenma got out of prison. The Christmas dinner itself wouldn't be until much later on, so ensuring his father had a meal to start the day with was Atom's main priority.

Tamago-Kake-Gohan, it was one of the simple dishes the boy robot had learned to make out of many since moving in here. It was one of Tenma's favorites, so Atom always wanted to make it the best that he could.

While the water heated up on the stove, Atom went on rinsing out the rice at the sink. Once it was drained, he hopped up onto the stool at the stove to gently pour the rice into the pan, giving it a few good stirs. Leaving the rice to cook, Atom hummed to himself while fetching the eggs carton from the fridge and opened it up. Just two left.

"That isn't necessary of you to do, Atom." He heard Tenma say as he entered the kitchen. He was now dressed in his formal attire, comprised of slacks, shirt and vest. He didn't appear as sleep deprived, which the boy robot noted as a good thing.

"I've recharged, and you need your energy too," Atom reminded him, while getting the bottle of soy sauce.

There was a long analytical pause from Tenma, as he considered adding more, but the man brushed it off.

"Fair enough."

Things were mostly quiet as his father went about brewing himself a second cup of tea, while Atom saw to the rice. Another minute or so and it was cooked, and left placed ready in a bowl on the side.

Atom gave the eggs in the carton a quick scan, confirming they were still safe for editable consumption raw—which they were. Just as he picked one egg up, Tenma plucked it from his hand that.

"Eh?"

The sleeves of his father's shirt were rolled up, with that silvery electronic bracelet on display.

"See about trying it this way," Tenma said, grabbing another small bowl to break the egg on. Atom observed him as instructed, watching him separate the white from the yolk kept in its shell. His father then added a little of the soy sauce, before emptying the white into the rice.

With the yolk left over in the little dish, Tenma stirred the white into the rice with chopsticks, mixing it in. It was still a Tamago-Kake-Gohan, but not the sort Atom was used to preparing, for he had learned to just put the whole egg in all at once.

"Oh…"

Picking up the other egg, Tenma handed it to him, "Now you."

Atom nodded and got to it. He replicated it, leaving the yolk with the other yolk just as Tenma did and using the same amount of soy sauce with the white, before it was mixed into the rice.

"Good," His father praised. With the left over yolks, Atom watched Tenma place them over the still warm rice, carefully breaking them open with chopsticks and spreading the yellow goo out. "This way, it gives it a better taste."

"Really?"

"Mhmm," Tenma confirmed, setting the bowl down, and went about switching the stove off. "I have everything dealt with here. Why don't you get ready?"

"Sure."

It was times like these Atom wished he could eat human food or sample it like Uran could. At least then he'd know how it tasted like, instead of only having the recipe to work with. He wondered what kind of food he would eat if he had a stomach….

Atom left Tenma to have his breakfast, heading into the living room where traditional garland decorations were on display. The boy robot stopped midway to the stairs, choosing to go for the Christmas tree instead to switch on the lights. Happy, his attention was drawn briefly to the wall of the fireplace no longer smothered in photographs of trickery from a life he never had. Instead, a few canvas paintings hung there that his father had worked on throughout the months, alongside paintings Atom had done also—though not as good.

He smiled and hurried on upstairs.

The second floor and the main infrastructure of the house were damaged after Lamp's attack with his mech. For years after, the house stood abandoned. The city was soon to have it condemned and torn down before there was intervention on Professor Ochanomizu's part. By then they were working towards the long legal process of getting Tenma out of prison and into house arrest.

When approached on the matter, Tenma refused any other living commendations, so through his funds the house was repaired, and possessions once placed in storage returned here. It'd been strange for Atom visiting the house after it was all finished, as if stepping back in time. The uneasy feeling the building brought would inevitably fade. So long as Tenma felt at home here, that's was what mattered most.

After all, it was never intended to be a home for Atom too.

Going to the drawer in his bedroom, the boy robot changed into the clothes he had let on top the night before; black shorts, white shirt, and a red suit—all for the sake of matching the festivity colors of today. It was Atom's fourth year celebrating Christmas, but his first with Tenma present, and his first living away from Professor Ochanomizu. The excitement and nerves had his body buzzing with energy; he wanted things to go well so badly.

Fitting on his bow tie, Atom dropped to his knees to look under his bed, sliding out the parcel-sized present he had wrapped a few nights before. The gifts for everybody else were already loaded into the trunk of the car, but this one was extra important.

Atom kept it tucked behind his back when he went downstairs, keeping the present hidden. He waited until Tenma was done with his breakfast and washed up in the bathroom, before he offered that neatly wrapped present to him.

"Here, Otousan. Happy Christmas!"

There was no reaction of surprise from Tenma. He stared at the gift extended out to him for well what felt like forever. Gently, he took it from Atom, much to the boy's relief.

"Thank you, Atom."

His excitement shifted gradually to confusion, as the boy robot watched his father go and set the present down on the coffee table in the living room.

"A-Aren't you going to open it?"

Atom was met with a polite refusal. "Indeed in my own time, but perhaps it best we wait until we return from Ochanomizu's." Tenma gave a sly smile. "Besides, I already know what it is—or maybe I don't?"

"You're bluffing," Atom said almost challenging.

Tenma just gave an overzealous shrug, almost as if he were teasing him.

Atom pouted. "I'm not telling."

"Good." Was all Temna said, and went to get his shoes on. It left the poor boy robot wondering on whether his father was telling the truth, or just telling porkies.

Atom looked over at the present on table left unopened. He was disappointed, but understood. Tenma was a man who liked his privacy. It'd taken a lot of convincing on Atom's part for Tenma to even go along with him to Professor Ochanomizu's for Christmas. His father hated socializing, especially now as he couldn't walk down the street without someone recognizing or challenging him over what he had done. Without Atom or Professor Ochanomizu, he would be alone as he was back in his cell.

"Anyhow," Tenma continued on with. "I would very much enjoy seeing you receive your own present first."

Atom's ears perked up. "You got me something?"

"It would've been rude of me not to," Tenma said, leaning down briefly to straighten Atom's wonky bow tie. "It should arrive at Ochanomizu's today—if the man did his part right."

"Can you tell me what it is now?" Atom asked, hilting his head. "Just a little hint?"

"If I were to tell you, then it wouldn't be a surprise now would it?" Tenma said somewhat amused as he fitted on his long coat. He then reached for the little red coat hanging up on the peg and offered it to the boy robot.

"Well, maybe you can tell me anyway. I can act surprised in front of everyone!" Atom suggested while taking the coat.

Tenma only smiled. "Acting is not your forte, Atom."

A gift that Professor Ochanomizu was in on…

So long as it wasn't anything like a new robot body as what had been sprung on Atom back in the Antarctica, then he was happy. Tenma wasn't in his right mind then, but wasn't something Atom could forget easily—whether or not he had forgiven his father for everything he put him through.

Tenma still believed Atom should be king of all robots, although he made no active efforts to force him to pursue it; those days were through. Even with the ban preventing Tenma from working in the field of robotics indefinitely, there was still a mental block there the man couldn't cross. If his father really wanted to, Atom was sure he would have found a way to build more robots in secrecy again, yet he didn't. Tenma probably could have just as easily found a way to remove the tracking devices from his wrist, ankle, and neck and disappear too, but he didn't do that neither.

Instead of robotics that'd been his life's work, Tenma occupied himself with other hobbies. He played chess, learned to paint and tried his hand at gardening before the weather got nasty. The biggest change had been the basement that had been converted into a workshop for carpentry—not machinery. Father had gained a keen interest wood carving, from making furniture, to other wooden trinkets. Atom was surprised how fast he picked the skill up, that Detective Tawashi was convinced it was a ruse, having dropped in several times with warrants to search the workshop inside out, only to turn up nothing.

Atom had been fully prepared to receive something handmade from that workshop for Christmas, as the other presents Tenma were gifting would be coming from there. So to get Professor Ochanomizu involved on his present in particular made Atom all the more curious.

He didn't care what he got, as long as they were all together.

Red boots squeaking with every step, Atom went into the dining room to retrieve bouquet of flowers on the table by the window. Water droplets fell on every surface from the long green stems as Atom lifted the bouquet out from the vase, quick to wrap them up, ensuing the stems would not dry out before reaching their destination.

Flowers were more Uran's thing, but Atom couldn't deny the blue and orange petals looked pretty. He gave them a sniff, picking up the small traces of pollen in his sensors. He wondered what they smelt like—if it was a nice smell. It made him sad thinking they would wither and die faster in this colder weather.

Shutting off the lights to the Christmas tree, Atom hurried along to meet Tenma at the front door. There was a silent acknowledgement of the flowers, before his father put on his hat and turned away to slot something into the pocket of his coat.

As they stepped outside and walked through the snowfall around to the garage, Atom's imagination went wild at what possible gift could involve Ochanomizu, and one of sorts that needed to be delivered to the minister's house on Christmas day. Somehow through all the potential possibilities, two Urans to running amok in his mind stuck out the most.

Atom wrinkled his nose as Tenma opened up the garage door. "This gift you have for me, is it another sister?"

The man smiled knowingly. "No, but I cannot promise the same from Ochanomizu."

"O—Oh."

While his father got everything ready with the car, Atom placed the flowers in the backseat behind him before switching on the radio. Messing with the dial, he tuned into the classical radio station, where a harp ballade played alongside the familiar voice of an opera singer. It immediately took Atom back to many years ago, thinking of the elusive spy robot who enjoyed listening that same music.

Atom found himself leaving the channel on.

"An interesting choice," Tenma noted as he shut the car door, buckling himself in.

The boy robot smiled, wriggling his feet as he looked up at his father. "Mmhmm, not really; it reminds me of somebody."

Tenma hummed thoughtfully, his focus set ahead of him. He was quiet for a bit, until—

"Seatbelt."

"Oh, r-right!"

Having everything they needed, Tenma drove them out the gates and they were on their way. Although the roads were cleared of snow and any ice thanks to the city's robots, Tenma drove carefully—like always.

They had a few stops to make before going to Professor Ochanomizu's for Christmas, as it was tradition for Atom to stop by and drop off Christmas presents to his friends. This was the first year Atom was doing deliveries by car. He'd insisted he could fly and get it all done early in the morning before they headed off, but his father still offered to drive him—for reasons he didn't specify.

"How many?" Tenma asked, referring to the stops.

"Six." Atom said. "A lot of them are close together, so it shouldn't take too long."

Tenma nodded, and focused on the road.

"Very well."

Atom lifted his head up to the glass to view the houses in the neighborhood where he saw some occupants already awake. Christmas trees were alit with lights through windows; human children running out excited to play in the front yard, to a robot couple watching the snow.

A few minutes into the journey, Tenma set the car ready to ascend from the street, beginning to hover over several neighborhoods from that point on. Atom sighted only a few other vehicles sky-bound over Metro City, but it still pretty early. While the window wipers did their thing to clean the windscreen of that snow, from the wing mirror Atom noticed a vehicle tailing them some distance away—almost the size of an ant.

It was a police car, if the dog design of the blue and white vehicle was anything to go on.

Atom didn't bring it up, as it was so routine to see them by now. As he settled back down in his seat, he caught Tenma peering into his rear view mirror, a coy smile lifting the corner of the man's mouth a short time after.

Alongside the ban with working in the field of robotics, Tenma was kept under surveillance as per the terms of his release. It was guaranteed that even if it appeared they were alone, most definitely they were being watched from undercover police, or via cameras.

It was an annoyance, but nowhere near of annoying as the news crews who used to camp outside their house. They parked on the other side of the street once Tenma put the sprinklers by the fence, and then disappeared completely after they were attacked by a swarm of bird droppings. Atom couldn't help thinking Uran had something to do with the latter.

Tenma's car gradually lost altitude, and eventually they arrived at their first stop.

Atom undid his seatbelt and hopped out. "Ok, be right back."

Opening the trunk, the boy robot quickly found the present he was searching for, and leapt up to pull the trunk shut again. The front door to the house was already opening by the time Atom hurried up the driveway, and he saw his hat obsessed friend waving at him enthusiastically.

"Atom!"

"Tama-chan!"

When Atom first told Tamao, Kenichi and Shibugaki at school he was planning to move in with his father, he thought they all took it pretty well…until that is, they kidnapped him right out of class.

'It's alright Atom!'

'We'll get you to Ochanomizu-hakase! It'll be okay!'

It was their foiled attempt to rescue their robot friend who they believed to be yet again brainwashed by Tenma. It wasn't a fun ordeal, and had taken a lot explaining on Atom's part before he managed to talk them down. By then, the group of teenage boys had successfully carried Atom off from the school premises and halfway down the street. Atom was impressed by how fast they ran.

'But why would you wanna stay with that psycho?' Shibugaki was the first to question after Atom explained everything. The response the large teen got was an immediate bonk on the head by Kenichi's fist.

'Can it, Shibugaki! If Atom has his reasons, then he has his reasons!' The avid soccer player said, only to cast doubt in his troubled gaze. 'I can't lie though. I wasn't expecting you to do this, I mean…'

'Right!?' Tamao followed with. 'The last time Tenma-hakase kept you there at that house he wiped your memory! And then what he did at the Ministry Science building too—are you sure this is really what you want?'

'Yes.'

Shibugaki scoffed. 'Why!? This is insane Atom!'

'I can't explain it to you yet. I'm sorry…'

As they had gotten older, Atom's friends became more protective of him. They didn't treat him like a baby, but their age difference in appearance was having more of an affect on their friendship when Atom himself didn't physically age. Often they still viewed him as that naïve looking nine year old who first arrived in their class—someone they needed to look out for, rather than everyone looking out for each other.

Their reactions that day were warranted, and their hearts were in the right place. All things considered, they were a lot nicer than the rest of the world had been about Tenma, but they left the discussion not really on Atom's side—more concerned for this wellbeing than anything else. It took months for some sense of normality between the four friends to return.

"I can't stay long this time," Atom said, and held out the present containing the new tools his friend asked for. "This is for you!"

"Ah! Thank you, Atom!" Tamao said graciously, the lanky teen having to lean down a bit as he had grown so much that summer. "Wait right there; I'll go get yours!"

His friend disappeared indoors for a good minute. Atom picked up the sound of his friend running up the stairs, along with some chatter between his family somewhere inside. Out of courtesy, the boy robot didn't increase his hearing to eavesdrop in.

Upon his return, Tamao poked is head out the door. "Sorry I didn't get time to wrap it—felt kind of wrong to anyhow." He yanked the door open fully in a dramatic reveal. "Behold! It's my newest invention! Or um—first duplicate of my newest invention!"

Atom tilted his head with a curious blink, his electronic brain working overtime to analyze what he was seeing.

It was pink puffy creature bearing some resemblance of a pig, with a white bandage stuck to its head. A scan confirmed it contained mechanical parts inside this plush exterior, but Atom couldn't figure out the design, or if it had a kokoro…

The piggy in question gave a sudden squeak in his friend's hand, startling Atom.

"I call him, Hyoutan-tsugi!" Tamao said proudly. "I'm thinking of making a large batch of him."

Atom accepted the present and carefully lifted the piggy up, receiving another squeak from the creature as it released a string of bubbles from its snout. "What does he do?"

To this, Tamao only tapped his nose and winked. "That's the mystery. Nobody will ever really know—even me!"

Atom stared with his mouth agape, before he burst out laughing. "That's awesome, Tamao-chan! Thank you!"

His friend laughed with him. "I'm glad you like it!"

Atom hopped off the step, taking Hyoutan-tsugi with him. "I have to get going now. Happy Christmas!"

"Happy Christmas! Oh—wait, Atom!"

"Hm?"

Tamao gave the boy robot a thumbs up. "If Tenma-hakase wants one, you let me know!"

Atom grinned. "Sure thing! Thanks Tamao-Chan!"

His father didn't seem to know what to make of Hyoutn-tsugi, looking more bewildered than anything. At least Tenma did give Atom's friend the added compliment of being a unique inventor.

The next stop off was to Kenichi. The teen's family had been struggling financially after his mom lost her job as an accountant. Kenichi was run ragged doing newspaper deliveries and small jobs around the neighbors just to make some yen. He'd been struggling to get the funds together for new soccer gear as he was fast outgrowing his team uniform, but at the most Kenichi was only able to afford new soccer shoes. He refused any charity or help from his friends, so behind his back Atom, Tamao and Shibugaki came together to buy Kenichi the new soccer uniform the teen so desperately needed.

Kenichi had been in tears when they surprised him the day before the new soccer season, and he looked on the verge of tears again today when he realized Atom had gotten him shin pads.

"Atom you shouldn't have. You guys have done enough for me." Kenichi rubbed his forearm over his face, wiping away the tears. "I-I'll make it up to you. I'll pay you back like everybody else I promise!"

"You don't owe us anything. Soccer's your dream, Kenichi. Just keep playing that's enough for us." Atom searched in coat pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Here."

Kenichi confusedly took it. "What's this?"

Atom swayed back and forth from his heels to his toes. "I ran your okaasan's credentials through the system, and narrowed down the list employers hiring with her qualifications and experience. They're all letters confirming interviews for the New Year."

Kenichi's eyes light up at the news, already watering up again with fresh tears. "A-Are you serious Atom!? You found Okaasan a job!?"

Atom didn't add how he obtained Kenichi's mother's details to send them off, nor that he had set up a private mail box to receive any successful applications. Higeoyaji's secretive detective ways had worn off on him a little bit—for better or worse.

"They're only interviews, but they're all in the city and she's got a good chance so—" Atom didn't get another word out when his friend hauled him off his feet and proceeded to huge the life out of the boy robot.

"Atom, thank you! THANK YOU! You're the best friend I could ever ask for! This is too much!" Kenichi sobbed, soon to release Atom from his clutches. He was shaking with excitement. "I gotta tell Okaasan right again! Thank you! I'll make this up to you I swear it!"

From hearing the commotion, Kenichi's mother soon joined her son on the doorsteps where more tears were shed once the news was broken to her. What followed was an amusing effort from the ecstatic woman trying to offer Atom a whole strawberry short cake in gratitude for his help.

Atom left both mother and son still celebrating on the doorstep as he waved him goodbye. Kenichi's mother still gave him the strawberry short cake on her insistence Atom take something.

Tenma didn't complain. He liked strawberries.

When it came to stopping by on Shibugaki, the teen was more aloof than usual. Throughout Shibugaki showed visible discomfort, sparing several glances passed Atom to the car parked on the street, as if expecting to catch a glimpse of Tenma through the blackened windows.

"I still don't understand how you went through with it, Atom." The teen came out with, referring to the obvious.

Atom's jaw locked up, finding it difficult to look at his friend.

"I mean it," Shibugaki continued as he leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed, eyeing the robot incredulously. "If it were me, I never could've done it, so why?"

It took a while for Atom to gather himself, formulating an answer that came from an honest place.

"We're family," He said. "Family sticks together."

The large teen grumbled, but didn't push it any further for he'd long lost that argument. He held up his gift. "Thanks for the headphones." Then from inside Shibugaki retrieved something in arm's reach and passed out a present the boy robot easily caught. "This is for you. Stay safe, Atom."

With that, Shibugaki gave a wave with a weak smile, and shut the door. Atom remained on the front porch for a while after, his red boots glued to the welcome mat. With a sigh, he turned and stepped out into the gentle snow flurry, following his fresh tracks back to the car.

Maybe Atom was wrong when said things were normal again.

It felt like a book, whatever Shibugaki got him. As soon as Atom was strapped back in, and the strawberry short cake placed back on his lap [with noticeably less strawberries] he carefully tore open the shabby red wrapping paper.

Atom's could've jumped out of his seat for joy.

"Peter Pan!"

It was a hardback copy, a new edition of the classic tale. Atom had been a fan of Peter Pan ever since he had learned of the story of the boy who never grew up. Any book, TV Show, Film Adaption or theatrical plays, Atom had read and seen everything; his friends still playfully joked about his obsession time to time. For Atom, Peter Pan was a character he could relate to.

Tenma glanced over, seeming intrigued as Atom opened the book. The boy discovered a message on the first page, written in large scruffy handwriting:

We meant what we said that day in Neverland

We'll always be your friend.

-Shibugaki

Atom smiled, feeling his mechanical heart grow warm inside his chest. Carefully he shut the book, leaning behind him to place it in the backseat next to the Hyoutan-tsugi. The creature blew more bubbles at him, making Atom giggle.

"Fairytales never spiked my interest." Tenma confessed as the boy robot settled back down.

"Oh?" Atom looked over at him attentively. "What did you read as a kid?"

Tenma briefly drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

"Charles Dickens."

Atom glanced in the wing mirror, the cop car still visible and lurking behind them. He sunk into his seat.

"Bah humbug."

To his surprise, Tenma chuckled.

It took less than hour to deliver the rest of the presents. Reno was away from Metro City to visit his robot family at the circus, so Atom left his gift with the teenager's legally appointed human guardians for when he returned. Nearing the coast, Atom caught his teacher Miss Midori as she was leaving her apartment. She gratefully thanked Atom for the scarf, before she got on her scooter and was on her way to meet Jumbo standing visible at the park down the hill.

Shortly after this Atom and Tenma's happened to cross paths Yoko's uncle, Mr. Higeoyaji the Detective, who was busy spending his Christmas investigating the whereabouts of a missing Chihuahua named, Muffin-Chan.

"She was last spotted wearing a Santa sweater. Recognize her?"

Atom surveyed over the photo held out to him of the small dog. He shook his head.

"Sorry, I've not seen her anywhere. Would you like me to help you?"

"No, no don't you worry, Atom. I got this one. But be sure to tell Ochanomizu-hakase if I can make it, I will." Higeoyaji sighed as he put the photo away, and rubbed the arms of his trench coats. "Yuu-san will chew me up for being late, but duty calls."

Atom chuckled sheepishly, feeling bad for the man living in fear of Miss Yuko's wrath.

"Alright well, good luck!"

The mustached man nodded, turning towards Tenma in his car and gave a I'm watching you gesture with his hand. In response, Atom's father revved the car's engine, startling Mr. Higeoyaji who was quick to be on his way.

"S-See ya later kid! And hey, thanks for the gloves!"

Last on Atom's list were newly weds: Delta and Epsilon. Atom chose to fly up to their apartment rather than take the stairs. In the process of doing so, he caught the pair sharing a moment under the mistletoe through the frosted glass.

The mistletoe in question was attached to a headband Delta was wearing—a novelty item Atom never imagined Delta of all people wearing, that he couldn't help but stare.

The couple quickly realized they weren't alone, and Delta's face fell flat as he promptly ripped the novelty headband off, tossing it away. If robots like Delta were capable of blushing like a human, his fuming face would've turned bright red.

The window swung open.

"ATOM! What gives you the right to spy on an off-duty officer!?" Delta yelled, making Atom do a back-flip in the air as the boy robot retreat back with a yelp.

"Sorry Delta, I—" From where he hovered, Atom held out the present in its blue and green wrapping paper as a peace offering. "This is for you and Epsilon!"

Epsilon squeezed in next to her partner to lean out the window. She took the whole situation in her stride, her smile as bright as the sun.

"For the two of us?" She asked.

Atom nodded. "Yup!"

Epsilon beckoned him in, while coaxing her husband to move aside at the same time. "Well don't waste your energy. Come inside."

Delta and Epsilon were somewhat aware of each other even before the incident with Pluto. It was only after Robotonia they formally met.

Atom only knew what they shared with him, but essentially there had been a special case which involved the ARRS to work alongside Epsilon. Endangered species of marine life were being stolen from aquariums and snatched from the oceans, all to be sold on the black market in and around Metro City. Through their efforts, Delta with his team and Epsilon were able to bring down the operation, where they recovered a large quantity of the animals, but it wasn't such a clean cut case.

The sea life intended to be sold off to wealthy buyers for display in their personal tanks were the lucky ones. Those sold to be exotic dishes, or to be harvested for their shells and bones suffered the greatest losses—many weren't rescued in time.

Epsilon had been devastated.

'It was terrible, Atom. I'm grateful you weren't there. That's not something you needed to see.'

Both Delta and Epsilon were nominated for the Robot Awards for their efforts breaking down the illegal ring that year, but midway through the ceremony, Epsilon up and left. Despite saving so many, to her losing those few didn't make her worthy of any award.

When Epsilon took off flying away from the Robot Awards, Delta immediately went straight after her. Atom had been at the event too as a nominee, and concerned for Epsilon also had quickly followed after the two robots…but he had no need to in the end. When they'd touched down on the beach of a nearby island, Delta was the one who had done most the talking, and had been the most successful in reaching through to Epsilon in her time of grief when she was near inconsolable.

'We can't save every life, Epsilon. No matter how tough times get, we mustn't give in. Work is never done. There'll always be others who need our protection, so we have to go on—for them.'

Delta was the one who offered to stay with Epsilon, assuring to Atom he had things covered. With Epsilon's insistence to the boy robot she would be alright, Atom took the cue they wanted to be alone and left them be.

In the weeks to follow, there were many times Atom caught the two robots together. When Atom approached Delta on the subject however he quickly became defensive, claiming Atom nosy and immediately dropped the subject. It wasn't until much later, Atom learned Delta and Epsilon had become quite close through their dealings with that case, and had been making plans to meet when the pair was off-duty. They had fallen in love—a secret that wasn't really a secret to anybody by that point.

They became a couple, and two years later, Delta and Epsilon were one of the first few robots be wedded once the law made it legal. Atom, Uran, Professor Ochanomizu and Robita were happy attendees invited to the special occasion, alongside Detective Tawashi and much of the police force.

Epsilon put a hand to her cheek, absolutely beaming with joy while holding up that elegant picture frame.

"Oh Atom, it's beautiful."

It was a photograph of Epsilon and Delta together in their wedding attire. It was long after the vows, when the party had winded down, and not many guests were left. It was a quiet moment between the two robots, seated at the steel gazebo of roses down by the lake during the sunset on that special evening.

"This wasn't taken by one of the photographers,' Delta leaned over to study the photo in question with an eye of scrutiny. "What were you doing spying on us?"

Epsilon eyes darted to her husband. "Delta!"

Atom thought he could feel his face grow hot.

The boy robot held up his hands, waving them frantically. "Not spying! Robita was the one who snapped the image and stored it in her memory. So, it's really from her." Atom realized that sounded wrong, and fumbled over his words to correct himself. "A-And she wasn't spying on you neither! She liked the garden at the venue, and wanted to take a stroll before we left."

"Ah, well then erm," Delta flustered, clearly embarrassed and breaking under his wife's sharp dagger gaze. "It is, very—very nice. Thank you, Atom. Tell her that."

"I will." Atom nodded relieved.

Epsilon relaxed again, smiling.

"Thank you, we're grateful." Her attention strayed, sparing a look over that spick and span apartment to the window. Epsilon confidence waned. "Where is, uh…."

Atom caught on to who Epsilon was referring to. "Oh, Otousan's waiting in the car downstairs. We've got one more stop, and then we'll be going to Ochanomizu-hakase's; he invited us over for Christmas." He tilted his head, "You're still welcome to come; I don't think Hakase will mind. Pluto said he'll be stopping by, and Atlas said he might drop in."

"No can do I'm afraid. Delta will be on duty soon, and I need to take over patrolling the Pacific Ocean." Epsilon said sadly, going over to prop the wedding photo up on the cabinet with the other memories between the couple framed there. Gravely she bowed her head, her face hidden by the locks of her emerald hair. "Some illegal whaling has been on the rise. Even with all the laws put in place to halt it, they still do it. It really feels like an uphill struggle sometimes…"

Hearing her say those words, struck a cord with Atom. Even with robots having rights, there was still discrimination to their kind. Epsilon cared so deeply about nature and the wildlife on this planet, only for it to be threatened time and again.

Atom wished there was more that he could do.

"If you ever need help—"

"No, Atom please you do so much as it is. We can't rely on you for everything." Epsilon strained a smile, and gave a little peace sign. "Besides I have Gideon and his siblings on my side. They've been a great help keeping the whales and other marine life safe."

Of course, the pod of robot dolphins Reno had been creating for Gideon. Atom needed to stop by sometime and see them again. From what Reno mentioned Gideon's confidence had been growing immensely ever since he had his brothers and sisters on his side, and now he'd been promoted to a protector of the oceans. It made the boy robot happy how far the marine robot had come.

Atom spotted the clock on the stand, not realizing how much time had already passed.

"I-I gotta get going!" The boy turned on his heels to run for the window, waving at the couple. "Good luck with today. By—"

"Wait, Atom!" Delta called out, making the boy robot skid to a halt. The police robot approached, making the height difference between the two machines very obvious. "May I have a word with you in private?"

Something in the way Delta spoke made Atom's mood falter.

As if sensing it too, Epsilon went to her partner.

"Delta—"

The police robot raised a hand to her, signaling to let her hear him out. "It'll just be a quick chat, that's all."

The place Delta chose for him and Atom to speak in private was the back room. What would have been a bedroom for humans was converted into a workshop for maintenance and minor repairs, with an additional charging station. Everything was well organized in here like the rest of the apartment, but no bed.

Sometimes Atom forgot not all robots needed to sleep like him and Uran did.

Delta double checked the door was shut behind them, his stern voice quiet when he spoke, as so Epsilon didn't overhear them.

"Atom, it's about Tenma-hakase."

He was so direct it threw the boy robot off.

"Detective Tawashi still has him under high surveillance," Delta continued, his mouth narrowing to a thin line. "But I'm sure you're already aware of that."

Atom remembered the police vehicle tailing them earlier. No doubt it was parked somewhere nearby watching his father in the car at that very moment.

"Y—Yeah."

"He'll jump at any opportunity to put him behind bars again." Delta said. "Don't give him a chance to, or to prove him you were wrong."

Atom nodded awkwardly, tapping the toes of his red boot nervously to the silence which followed. He wished that was all they had to talk about so he could leave, but of course Delta had more to say.

"How has Tenma-hakase been with you?" The question held concern there—unusual for Delta to ask. The years with Epsilon had changed him. "Does everything seem well with him to you?

"Of course he is!" Atom answered almost instantly.

Delta only stared him down. "Is that the honest truth?"

Atom averted attention to the floor again, uncomfortable for being so put on the spot. In that moment he thought about the therapy and medication Tenma underwent in prison—how it had a negative effect on his mood. In those early days Tenma couldn't even bear to look at Atom, the confessions of guilt for all he'd done as a father and a human being all too common.

Upon Tenma's release from prison, it was as if his father were experiencing things for the first time again. After being imprisoned in a cell for three years, the simple freedom of being able to stand outside and feel the breeze weren't taken for granted. Everyday had been a stepping stone of progress.

The first time Atom got his father to leave the house, was to visit the stables outside of the city. The boy robot had felt a great deal of happiness upon seeing Tenma's reaction to the horses, and watching him interacting with them—a first in so many years.

'Pegasus,' Atom read out on the name written above one of the stalls where he had climbed up on the wooden fence. The light bay colored coat of the horse almost seemed to shine in the sunlight coming in through the stable windows. 'He looks beautiful.'

'She.' Tenma corrected beside him.

'Oh…'

Not waiting for permission from the staff there to be in let in, his father unlocked the gate and stepped into that stall without any apprehension. Still grazing on the straw in the hanger, the horse Pegasus had turned her head towards the stranger in her stall, hooves clonking as she started to move.

"Otousan—"

Tenma signaled Atom to stay back, so he did. His father remained still, allowing that horse to approach him on her own terms. Tail flicking and ears forward, she inspected him inquisitively with a several sniffs of her large nose, showing no visible fear to the Tenma's presence—not like the rest of the world did.

Atom had soon gotten a shock when the horse unexpectedly brought her head forward to nuzzle the man, getting pieces of straw on his clothes.

She was friendly.

Slowly Tenma reached up and gently patted the animal, seeming content and at peace in that moment than the boy robot had seen him in years.

'When did you learn to ride?' Atom had asked while he kept by the stall door.

'In my youth,' his father had answered, almost subdued. 'It was a long time ago…'

Atom cocked his head. 'Do you still remember how?'

And to this, his father's attention from the horse broke back to him, and he smiled.

'I could teach you.'

That was the day Tenma taught Atom how to a ride a horse, without it being one from a hologram. He showed him how to saddle up, how to ride properly and not pull the reins too hard, and most importantly how to stay in tune with the horse. At first Tenma had walked alongside him holding the reins, but before long, Atom was riding that horse all on his own around the paddock.

A few days after, they went to a real river to go fishing, and it was just them together the entire day. There were never any talks of Atom being some robot ruler, or plans for his evolution through senseless fighting. It was just Tenma being there in his life, being the father Atom longed from him.

"…He's a lot better than he was before," Atom said slowly, still keeping his eyes low as he fidgeted with the sleeves of his coat. "Otousan's more…reserved now. He gets annoyed sometimes sure, but I hardly ever see him angry. I think he's happy, happier than he was before."

Delta was like a statue, tall and almost menacing in how he didn't give anything away. The police robot soon pried Atom for more info.

"And his treatment of you?"

Atom snapped his head up at Delta, glaring at him as electricity coursed through his circuits.

"What do you mean?" He challenged.

"Don't act surprise. You're smarter than that," Delta replied with intently, making Atom angry. But deep down, he knew where Delta was coming from—why he would ask such things.

The ARRS team were the ones who rescued Atom and Tenma before Plant 7's explosion. Delta, alongside Professor Ochanomizu had seen first-hand the damage Tenma had done to Atom with the kuri ring. Atom was under repairs for weeks before he finally could be reactivated again. It was only fortunate the press hadn't seen what a mess Atom was in at the time, or they'd of had a field day. That said his absence sure did circulate rumors of its own…

Atom bitterly looked away, clenching his fists. "I'm fine. Otousan hasn't done anything to hurt me. He won't even go near working on robotics; Ochanomizu-hakase deals with all my maintenance and repairs."

"That's all I need to know. So long as he continues to keep out of trouble, there shouldn't be any made towards him," Delta said as a warning than a threat. "I'm sorry, Atom. You've dealt with a lot, I'm sure. I can't always understand or agree with what you do, but I hope for your sakes you've made the right call."

Atom's ears detected movement near the door, and tensed up. Epsilon was listening in.

Delta picked up on this also, upon spotting Atom's attention being drawn away from him. Wisely he chose then and there to wrap things up.

"Just be safe. It's in all of Metro City's best interests, and yours," The police robot said hardheartedly. He turned and went to leave, the intention of ending their discussion there.

Atom spoke up before Delta could reach the door.

"Otousan didn't want me to forgive him." Stopping, Delta shifted to look back, and the boy robot fell under the scrutiny of that glass-eyed gaze once again. Atom didn't hold anything back. "He told me that in prison when I went to visit him. Everyday, he's trying to make up for the past—to me and to Tobio."

Atom could feel the energy pulsing in his chest, heated with so much anger. He shut his eyes, taking those deep artificial breaths to calm himself down. He tried to think of the things that made him hope, like the games of chess he and Tenma played together and religiously kept scores on from way back in prison when Atom visited him. Tenma always told him to play honestly—never to let him win.

Atom didn't expect the world to bend over backwards to accept Tenma, but he did wish everyone would stop treading around his father like he was a bomb waiting to go off. There was good in Tenma still, and he had a future—they had a future. Atom believed in that wholeheartedly.

"If Pluto and Atlas can earn themselves redemption and change for the better, then I believe Otousan can too." Bravely the boy robot raised his head to face the police robot. "Even if he doesn't believe it in himself yet, I do."

Delta's face was expressionless, unreadable. He raised no counter argument and remained silent.

Atom hoped he understood.

A short moment passed until the door cracked opened and Epsilon popped her head in. "Is everything alright?"

And there it was, the mask of seriousness came off and Delta became almost bashful again, rubbing the back of his bald head. "Yes. We're uh—all done here."

Epsilon swooped on in, shaking a finger at the robot. "Good! Because you sir are going to be late for work, and have my own business to attention to if you haven't forgotten."

Lightly putting a hand on Atom's back, the green-haired robot gently escorted from the room like an angel.

"Let me see you out, Atom. It's probably best you take the stairs from now on," she said, then added in an intentional loud whisper. "Delta's a little bit of a rust bucket when it comes to guests using the window. You'd think he were an old bot on his last bolts."

"R-Rust bucket!?" Her husband blurted out, and Atom somehow found it in him to chuckle.

Outside the apartment in the stairwell, Epsilon glanced back quickly, before kneeling down be eye level with the boy robot. "Take care, Atom. And remember, if you ever need us, we're here for you." She said, and gave his nose a boop with her finger. "Alright?"

Immediately embarrassed Atom wiped his nose, grinning. "Happy Christmas, Epsilon."

"You too…"

He backed off and headed on down the stairs. "Bye!"

Epsilon gave a wave back, but it was a while of descending those stairs before Atom finally heard the apartment door shut. His smile dropped as soon as he was out of the woman's sight.

"You were a while." Tenma said as soon as Atom got back in the car. The radio was still tuned into the classical music, some relaxing piano tune playing the boy robot couldn't place, but it sounded nice.

It took Atom mighty best not to let it show that anything was wrong.

"We were talking a while. Epsilon mentioned about the whaling going on that she's been trying to tackle," Atom said as he put the strawberry cream cake back on his lap, except there was only one strawberry left by this point.

"Was that all?" His father asked indifferently.

"Pretty much," Atom said, focusing more attentively on that cake. "Hey, I think I know who we are. Santa Claus."

"Hm…the role is far too jolly for my intellect," Tenma stated with a sense of pride to his words.

Atom stared at that single plump strawberry, thinking of a big red nose. He grinned and looked up at Tenma.

"Then I'm Santa, and you can be Rudolf."

His father's reaction was mixed, staring at Atom as if he had sprouted a second head. With a cough, Tenma adjusting silk puff-tie, and released the hand brake.

"Well then, we best be off."

They were due to be at Professor Ochanomizu's house in another half an hour. Before that however, there was one last place they needed to go…

The snow was still falling when they pulled up at the Metro City Cemetery. The drive here was quiet. Even now as they sat there in the car with the engine running and the radio on low, they said not a word.

Wriggling his ankle joints anxiously to the beat of those window wipers, Atom looked up at Tenma, and caught the man looking out at the cemetery entrance with a thousand-yard stare. His father's pale face was devoid of anything, his hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel, making no effort to get out the car.

It scared Atom when he was like his.

"Otousan?"

Tenma jumped in his skin, snapping out of it. His eyes were wide and semi-alert, but he refused to look at Atom. His father nodded without saying anything, and finally went about shutting off the engine and undoing his seatbelt. Atom did the same, and soon had hopped out once Tenma started exit the car.

Opening the back passenger door, Atom carefully picked up the boutique of flowers from the backseat, only to be surprised when Tenma came round to his side of the car. Atom understood without anything needing to be asked and held out the boutique to him, and Tenma carefully took them.

Together they stepped through the large stone torii gate, and journeyed into the land of those put to rest. Amongst the rows of tombstones laden in snow, fresh prints marked those paths where others had trodden. They weren't the only ones in that cemetery; families members were there paying their respects to their loved ones also.

Atom spotted a few around, but didn't stare or idle. They needed their privacy just as much as—

A poorly placed step had Tenma slip unexpectedly on some hidden ice beneath the snow, and he nearly dropped the boutique of flowers. Atom instinctively grabbed his arm, but his father had already righted himself with a grumble.

"Are you okay?"

Tenma gave a nod, straightening himself out. "Yes."

Atom hesitated for a moment. "Should I, I can melt the snow if you—"

Tenma gave a firm no, stating "Not in this place." Implying how it would be disrespectful to the dead. So Atom held back from doing so, instead choosing to holding his father's hand incase he were to slip again. Tenma didn't seem to mind that.

They were soon to follow a winding stone trail up a small hill, passing the bare cherry trees and the worn faces of jizo statues. At the top of steps they walked through another stone torii gate thick with icicles, which brought them to a small clearing in the trees. Residing here were more tombstones—their designs more lavish expense to the ones below.

His father halted in his tracks, creating a small tug on Atom's arm when the boy robot tried to walk forward. One gander at him and Atom knew Tenma was tethering on the edge, rooting the man to the spot in fear at what he could already see ahead of him. It took a supportive squeeze of his hand from the boy robot to pull him back from the brink.

Tenma looked down at him, afflicted with such anguish that pained Atom greatly to see, but he didn't let go—he didn't dare.

They couldn't run away from this.

With his help, Atom walked Tenma the rest of the way through the clearing, and to the tombstone placed below one of those cherry trees.

The granite stone was shaped into several doves, their wings open in flight. Near the base of the monument, Atom leaned over to wipe away the snow, revealing the gold inscriptions in the stone.

Hoshie Tenma

1961 - 1996

Tobio Tenma

1994 - 2003

It was strange sometimes, knowing so much about Tobio from the inside out. Atom shared the same experiences and memories as Tobio as if they were his own. They weren't the same person, and they had never truly met, yet that connection stayed rooted in him, made Atom part of who he was. In his mind, Tobio would always be his older brother, and nothing would change that.

Tobio's mother meanwhile, there were little to no memories of the woman Atom could recount from Tobio. There were only small glimpses of Hoshie, the details so vague there wasn't even a face, just her presence and her angelic voice singing the lullabies which had caused Tobio to grow so attached to Robita when growing up.

'She worked at the Ministry of Science—a very talented woman. You would have liked her.'

Tenma hardly spoke of Hoshie. Atom could coax little from him other than tidbits of information and what the main data base stored on her. Atom could only imagine she had to be someone very, very special to Tenma, for them to marry and have a child together, yet the topic was too difficult to approach without upsetting his him.

Maybe someday when he was ready, Tenma would share more. Atom hoped that he would.

Quietly the boy robot went to work on removing the rest of the snow from tombstone, along with those few twigs and old sodden leaves stuck to the granite. As he cleaned around to the sides, Tenma finally came alive. Taking off his hat, the man slowly knelt down to begin arranging the flowers from the bouquet.

Atom deliberately took his time, picking away the weeds that were growing around the bottoms of the tombstone, until his father was done fixing those flowers into the two memorial vases on either side of the grave's inscription. Once Atom had done all he could, he carefully came back around as Father was lighting the incense on the stand, and it was there the both of them were to stand, giving a silent prayer to the dead.

'After a person passes away, a part of them continues to live on in the memories of those who remember them. So long as we cherish those memories, then they will never be forgotten.'

That was what Professor Ochanomizu had told him years ago, when Atom had been taught about the cycle of life and death, and the feelings that came from losing a loved one. Atom had learned a great deal in his adventures, meeting so many people from all walks of life. He learned of how humans worshipped different gods, and how even the Venus robots deep down in the ocean viewed their Captain as such. He learned not just about the hearts every living creature possessed, but in the soul some humans believed lived on long after the body perished.

Atom liked to believe that a thing such as the soul could exist for both humans and robots. He liked to believe too, wherever Tobio's soul was, he was with his mother now and both were watching over them.

From his coat pocket, Tenma pulled out a miniature wood carving, placing it on the tombstone. It was a carving of Robita—not the one who lived with Professor Ochanomizu, but the one Tobio loved so much. Atom quietly marveled at it, surprised as Tenma had never shown it to him before, never knowing it existed. Atom could tell a great deal of effort had been put into that little model, and that thought made the boy robot smile.

They stayed there for sometime in the silence as the level of snowfall gradually began to pick up, falling in thicker snow clusters through the bare branches of the trees, and onto the petals of those flowers. The incenses wouldn't last for long, the smoke rising from those thin sticks already weakening.

A chill in the air picked up, and concerns grew for Atom as he peered up to those grey clouds. The longer they remained out here staying put, the more susceptible Tenma would be to the cold. Even with his coat on, he would still be losing heat in this weather. They would have to leave soon.

"Atom."

On hearing his name, the boy robot turned to his side where Tenma was still bent down by the tombstone, the vapor from the man's every breath expelled out like white smoke. His father looked so worn out and older than he really was.

He had been neglecting to come here for a very long time…

"I'd like a moment alone with them, if you please." Tenma requested, still staring wistful at the tombstone. Atom understood completely, knowing there were things his father needed to get off his chest without him there. A quick scan to check Tenma's core temperature confirmed that although it had dropped, it was still within safe perimeters, and he wasn't shivering.

Leaving him alone wouldn't hurt, and Atom had done what he needed to.

"Ok," the boy robot, began stepping back. "I'll wait for you down the bottom."

Tenma looked grateful.

"Thank you."

With a final look over the tombstone, silently Atom gave Hoshie and Tobio a farewell and went on his way. The snow crunching under foot, Atom just reached the torii gate when Tenma called out to him.

"Atom?"

"Hm?"

Tenma tapped his ear, signaling the boy robot was not to listen in. Atom nodded, and made his descent down the steps. Yet halfway down the wind trail Atom found himself stopping, soon succumbing to the urge to sit down on the steps close to the group of small jizo statues. His shorts would be damp from the snow on them, although that meant little when the cold didn't effect him. In spite of this, he couldn't help feeling so heavy, as if the energy coursing through his body was not as efficient.

Atom didn't realize how much today had taken out of him already.

With a sigh, he wrapped his arms around his knees, and watched the snow fall over that cemetery. In the absence of his mind drifting, Atom chose to hum the melody from one of those lullabies Tobio once loved so…

That is, until he caught movement high in the sky—something dark hovering against the white snowfall a great distance away.

Curious, Atom raised his head, only to wish he hadn't. The sound was barely detectable to humans hearing, but Atom recognized it easily as his sharp eyes honed in on the flying object.

It was police drone.

The boy robot sulked down where he sat, refusing to look at it. He wished had Atlas's spine to shoot it out of the sky, without fear of the repercussions.


Metro City was bathed in crimson light from the setting sun, bleeding through the windows of the Ministry of Science as Atom made his way down from the roof to Professor Ochanomizu's office. His boots squeaked as he walked the through the curved corridor of glass, the soles of his feet still hot from his flight over, while the rest of his body was cold from flying at such high altitudes.

Atom felt electric butterflies in his chest upon stopping outside the office door, hesitating for a few seconds before he entered. His mentor looked exhausted sat at his desk after dealing with such a hard day of work, yet brightened up when he saw the boy robot walk in.

"Ah, Atom! I was wondering where—" Professor Ochanomizu paused, frowning. "Is something the matter? You look troubled?"

Atom got immediately got second thoughts on what he was about to ask.

But it needed to be said.

It didn't take long upon the boy robot to coming out with his request, for the tired-eyed professor to go from a mixture of shock, disbelief, then anger as his hands slammed down on the desk.

"No I forbid it! This is where I draw the line!"

Atom flinched. "H-Hakase—"

"It's strictly out of the question! It would be insane of me to let you live with Tenma-hakase after what he did to you!" The professor got out from his chair, restlessly beginning to pace the office as all his rationality became clouded by fury. "It's my fault. I never should've offered my support through the courts. Was this his plan all along? Crawl his way out of prison so he can follow through with his absurd ambitions!?" He stopped pacing and turned to Atom, furious. "What did he say to you? What's his reasoning for this?"

Distraught, Atom shook his head. "No, Hakase! You got it all wrong. This is what I'M asking!"

Professor Ochanomizu lost his momentum, his jaw nearly dropping open in shock.

"Atom…Tenma-hakase, he didn't put you up to this?"

"No!" Atom answered quickly with. "He doesn't even know about this."

Ochanomizu stared at the boy robot in stunned, his small voice losing much of his energy brought on from his outburst.

"But why? Why would you…"

It was same question Atom couldn't bring himself to answer to his friends at school with earlier that day, for they wouldn't have understood—not yet. Professor Ochanomizu, meanwhile…

Taking a breath, Atom stepped forward.

"Hakase, you taught me compassion and forgiveness are important traits to have. I forgive Tenma-hakase for everything he did, but he doesn't forgive himself." Atom rested a hand to his chest, pressing the fingers into the artificial skin. "When humans hurt inside, it can make them do bad things. If a robot breaks they can be fixed, but if a human…"

That's why it didn't matter to Atom how much damage he sustained that day in Plant 7, because he knew there was a good chance he could be repaired, but Tenma couldn't. Human lives were fragile. They were nowhere near as durable as robots. When a human died, there were no second chances.

Atom looked to his mentor, pleading with his eyes.

"Sometimes people can't escape the sadness and hurt on their own—they need help. I-If I'm not there, I…I—I worry about Tenma-hakase, and what he might do."

There was something of understanding in Professor Ochanomizu's expression as he rubbed his chin, lamenting over what had been shared to him.

"…I see. If I knew Tenma-hakase's mental health had declined so, I would've intervened sooner. We'll need to call someone—"

"No!"

"Atom, if what you're saying is true, he needs professional help."

The boy robot knew what that meant. Tenma would be taken away and locked up. He would be evaluated, poke and prodded and pumped full of drugs again from doctors who likely wouldn't care much for the man they viewed as a monster. It would leave Tenma no better off than when he was in prison, with Atom powerless yet again.

"Please Hakase, locking him up again won't do any good," Atom protested. "People only see Tenma-hakase for what he's done. They won't help him, and he won't open up to them—not like he does with me."

Tenma had burned through several therapists he was scheduled into visits with, as per agreed on the terms of his release. When asked, Tenma admitted it was a game of patience to him. The man reveled in spinning the questions on the therapists, just to see how long it took until they cracked and rethought their career choices. Tenma always gave enough to not breech the agreement, but never did he share any of his deeper personal business.

Atom was the only one Tenma really spoke to without the mind games, and even then, it was only what he was willing to share.

The sun had now set low enough that it was beginning to disappear on the horizon of Metro City. The office was basked in the glow of that twilight, the shadows of both the professor and young robot stretching out across the floor like doppelgangers.

As Ochanomizu approached with empathy itched on his features, his shadow completely covered Atom as he knelt down and placed his hands on the boy's shoulders.

"I understand your concerns for Tenma-hakase," the professor tried to comfort him with. "But don't feel you need to shoulder the responsibility to look out for him alone. There are other resources available that can—"

"That's not it," Atom interrupted. "I'm not doing this out of a need of him being my creator. I'm doing this because I want to. I—I want to live with Tenma-hakase!"

Those words impacted the professor hard, the hurt and worry permeating from him so. As Yoko once said, Professor Ochanomizu was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, his feelings always so open and easy to read.

"Atom…"

The truth was it was more than just wanting to look out for Tenma that brought them to this. Everyday when Atom left to go home, he felt less and less willing to leave his creator alone. The house he once viewed with mixed emotions was gradually losing the negativity surrounding it. New memories were made there, good ones that overwrote the bad of being deceived, and sad ones of Tobio alone.

Without Atom realizing it, that house became second home to him.

Tenma's mood always picked up when he was there; always engaged in their games of chess and harboring pride for his growing carpentry skills, whenever he allowed Atom to see his latest work. Even something mundane as helping to clean the house came with its own rewards of teamwork. Atom hated having to watch the spark in his father fizzle out whenever it was time for him to go. Even in himself, Atom began to feel an emptiness festering with every flight home, as if he was leaving a bigger part of himself behind each day.

Spending those few hours visiting after school just weren't enough anymore.

As the last of the sun finally dipped under the horizon, the golden rays vanished from the office. The oranges of the skies had darkened, signally that in an hour or less, nightfall would be over the city.

"Hakase, both of you raised me. You're both my parents," Atom confessed, his hands tightening to fists nervously at his sides as he bowed his head. "But I…even after everything that's happened, Hakase, I can't just forget my life as Robot Tobio like none of it ever happened." With as much strength as he could muster, he looked up at the professor, wide eyes determined. "I'm Atom now, but Tenma-hakase is still my otousan, and so are you. I love both of you!"

The response Atom got shortly after, startled the boy.

Professor Ochanomizu hugged him—hugged him so tightly as if the world was about to end.

It was the same hug the professor gave him after the Plant 7 incident, upon having repaired and reactivated Atom. For Atom that time passed in the blink of an eye, but for Ochanomizu, the man had worked tirelessly for weeks straight. It never left Atom how emotional the professor was, with the man even confessing that he thought he had nearly lost Atom a second time. Atom's kokoro could be repaired by Tenma, but his electronic brain? If he had taken a direct shot to the head from that kuri ring, the damage would've been irreversible.

Only a few months before that, the professor had to witness Atom being blown apart when that missile in the Antarctica exploded. Only Reno was the one willing to admit how traumatic it had been for everybody having to recover every piece of the boy robot from the snow and amongst the missile debris. They weren't even in the air before the professor began work to piece Atom back to together.

Professor Ochanomizu had suffered so much over the years to protect him—to repair every bit of damage Atom sustained. He had been Atom's guardian, looking out for him every step of the way from the very beginning; training his adolescence mind to learn from right and wrong, and the importance of robots and humans being friends.

The unspeakable amount of pain and trouble Tenma had caused them…Atom was asking a lot.

It was an eternity before Professor Ochanomizu let him go, and Atom's heart nearly broke when he saw his mentor's cheeks were wet with tears.

"I understand."

Atom watched helplessly as the professor walked away from him, hardly even unable to look at him. The man came to stand in front of those large windowpanes in his office, his somber gaze reflected in the glass as he stared out at the bustling city.

With a sigh, Professor Ochanomizu's tucked both arms behind his back.

"I need time to think about this, Atom. Please, go now. I'll be home later."

Atom tried to protest, but nothing came out. In the end, he listened and left without a word.

The moment that automatic door to the office slid shut behind him, and he was left alone in that empty corridor, Atom felt his legs give out and he dropped to his knees. He had followed what his heart told him to do, and found the courage to go through with it…only to be left hurting in a way he couldn't explain.

It was late into the night, when Professor Ochanomizu's returned home at last. Atom was sat by the window in his bedroom waiting up for his return, when he'd finally seen the car roll into the driveway.

"Hakase."

Immediately he jumped up, and hurried downstairs.

When Atom got there, Robita was already welcoming the professor home in through the door, generously taking his hat and coat from him. Ochanomizu's face looked grim like he had aged ten years in that single evening, the sight causing Atom to stand back.

"I spoke with Tenma-hakase."

The news made the boy robot freeze, unable to speak at the thought Tenma finally knew.

Although Atom had no need to breathe, he found himself still holding his breath while he quickly examined the tired professor's face for any clue or indication of what his answer might be. Fortunately, Ochanomizu didn't leave him in the dark much longer.

"You can stay with him."

Atom could've burst from the relief. It overwhelmed him.

"Thank you, Hakase! I—"

"However!" Professor Ochanomizu interrupted with the undertones of anger, making Atom flinch. "If anything like before should happen again; if Tenma-hakase returns to his scheming ways or so much as dares to tamper with your memories, I won't protect him a second time." The professor then marched towards him, the stern warning in old man's eyes making the boy robot unable to turn away. "It'll also be your responsibility Atom, to watch him. Promise me you won't turn a blind eye. If you suspect anything, ANYTHING, you're to tell me. Understood?"

That was the ultimatum.

Any excitement Atom had dropped into the very pit of his circuits, as doubts festered in his mind. Even if he believed his father could change for the better and was capable of such, Atom couldn't say with absolute certainty Tenma wouldn't go back to pursuing a future with only robots. All Atom could do was trust Tenma, trust that he would do better with his life.

It was also in that moment Atom realized he had trust in himself to follow through with turning Tenma in, should he ever fall back into that darkness. Atom just prayed if that ever happened, he would be able to save his father from himself a second time.

Atom hung his head, and accepted that possibility.

"I promise, Hakase."

It did little to put the professor at ease, but he accepted Atom's response, and backed off.

"Alright…that's all I—"

"NO!"

Startled by that familiar voice, Atom turned to the stairs, where the girl dressed in pink pajamas came racing down, nearly tripping on the last couple steps.

"Uran?"

Atom had been so focused on speaking to Professor Ochanomizu that he'd failed to detect his sister eavesdropping in on them. And no sooner did the girl reach Atom, did she grab his arms and begin frantically shaking him.

"Oniisan you can't go back there! I won't let you!" Uran pleaded, looking absolutely terrified "It's a trap! Tenma-hakase's tricking you so you'll forget us all again! If you go, you won't ever come back!"

Atom didn't know how to respond. This wasn't how he wanted his sister to find out.

"U-Uran..."

With sad eyes, Professor Ochanomizu addressed the young girl. "Uran...Atom has made his choice, and we have to respect."

This only made Uran more distraught, with her body trembling like a leaf.

She was on the verge of tears.

"No, no! You—You can't let Oniisan do this! You can't!"

Nothing Uran could say made Professor Ochanomizu budge on his decision. Visibly upset himself, the professor had looked away, becoming unresponsive to Uran's pleas. All the while, Robita looked powerlessly between three, all unable to resolve the issues that were far beyond her help.

"Oniisan!" Crying, Atom's sister had looked up at him, banging at his chest with her fist. "Please Oniisan! Don't leave us! I don't want to lose you again!"

It was Uran that saved Atom, before any lives were lost to Lamp and his mech. If not for her efforts in bringing his friends together and flying the GO-Captain ship—he might not have recovered enough of his memories in time before Tenma's house was attacked. Uran had done everything she could to get Atom away from that house, away from being a prisoner to Tenma. How could Atom make her understand why he was going back?

They were brother and sister, but Tenma didn't create Uran, Professor Ochanomizu did. Uran wasn't burdened with the memories of a human that died, or that she'd originally been create to replace someone else. She hadn't experienced anything of what Atom had gone through before he was deactivated in Plant 7. She had never suffered the dilemmas of piecing her lives together, while feeling so mixed up over why her 'creator' had changed.

The years it took visiting Tenma in prison to gain back some affiliation between them not rooted around forced kinghood, but being a parent to a child. That happiness Atom felt when he was no longer treated as Tobio's replacement, when he could be in a same room as his father and not be afraid...

How could Atom make her understand why he was going back? The simple answer was he couldn't.

"I'm sorry, Uran. I have to do this."

The hurt in his sister's eyes was unfathomable, as if Atom had made her world fall apart in an instance…and it was too late to take it back.

In a fit of anger, Uran shoved Atom back with her super strength, knocking him over.

"Stupid! You're stupid Oniisan! I HATE YOU!" Uran shouted at Atom from where he was on the floor. With tears flooding her big brown eyes, his sister turned on her heels and bolted up the stairs to her room.

"Uran!" Atom got up, his hand outstretched to chase on after her, when Professor Ochanomizu grabbed his shoulder.

With a heavy heart, his mentor gave a single shake of his head, implying it best to leave her be. Atom reluctantly complied, knowing full well there was no talking to Uran when she was upset.

"Go and get some rest now, Atom. We'll discuss this more in the morning," Professor Ochanomizu said, and with a heavy heart, he turned his back on the boy robot. "You can go and meet Tenma-hakase after school; he'll be expecting you."

The professor shuffled off, and retreated to his office. He left Atom all alone standing there, unable to process what he was feeling as everything played on loop inside his electronic brain.

In that time Robita quietly rolled up beside Atom, and brought him back to reality when she lightly touched her pincer hand to his back.

"Atom." She spoke his name with such pity, those glass eyes filled with nothing but sympathy and love for the boy robot she had helped raise. Instinctively Robita pulled Atom into a tender hug, wrapping her long metal arms around him.

Without hesitating, Atom did the very same, hugging the service robot as she stroked the back of his head.

"Everything will be alright, you'll see" She said soothingly, causing the boy to shut his eyes, not wanting to let go.

If was within Atom's design to cry, he was sure would've shed many tears…


A/N:

Otousan – Father.

Okaasan - Mother.

Oniisan – Big Brother.

Hakase – Doctor - addressing someone with high academic expertise.

San- Honorific term for Mr, Ms. Mrs

Chan – Close child friend - a form of san to refer to children.