8: Homemade Lemonade

Author's Note: From this point on, yes, there's a second perspective besides Robot's. The story is still centralized and about Robot; these other bits just create a bigger, 360 picture of the overarching situation. I will apologize for this bit unceremoniously dragging and pitching Soul Eater characters, terms, and lingo in more mercilessly than the previous parts. And, despite what flack I may end up receiving: There are ponies in this chapter.

Fluffy snow drifted lightly down from a pastel gray sky. It was cold enough that every time Soul opened his mouth, a puff of water vapor spilled out. He grinned in a lopsided way, thinking of how his professor enjoyed nursing cigarettes every spare chance he got.

The distracted thought was cut off by a gloved hand reaching up and playfully tweaking his nose.

"Honk honk!"

"Looks like someone's having fun," Soul laughed.

Dirty blond Maka launched herself into his chest, wrapping her arms around him, and leaning against the material of his heavy blue winter coat. Bright pink cheeks and a sigh, she gathered him closer, relishing in their shared body heat. Chuckling under his breath, Soul returned the hug and idly started to run his fingers through her hair, teasing at the pigtails, and trying to pull them out before she noticed.

"What are you doing?" she asked, eyes closed.

"Nothing," he replied as he dug his index finger under one of the small hair bands keeping her pig tails in.

Smile growing, she reached up and lightly grabbed his wrist, pulling his hand away from her hair. Eyes wide, he watched as she held his hand close to her face, pulling at the index finger and slowly, carefully, peeled the glove away. Sweetly, she leaned in and kissed his palm, dragging his hand to her face and holding it against her cheek.

"I wish you didn't have to come and go..." she murmured. "It gets so lonely, being stuck here in my mind."

"I know," he replied, frowning. "I've been trying my best to find out how to help you break free, but that little metal bastard won't say anything."

Maka frowned, taking Soul's hand and pulling it away from her face. She removed her own glove and latticed her bare fingers through his. Her eyes were burning and angry. "Leave him alone."

"He's the one that did this to you!" Soul protested.

"Leave him alone," Maka insisted, a stronger edge to her voice.

Soul grunted, nostrils flaring like those of a bull seeing red.

"He might be a case like Chrona," Maka went on in a softer tone of voice. "He's a victim, rather than a participating accomplice. I don't think Robot even has any idea what Bricklin's really up to..."

"I can't believe you're willing to give him a free pass."

"It's not his fault," she sighed, squeezing Soul's hand. "Just try giving him the benefit of the doubt. For me."

In reply, Soul just closed his eyes and simmered in silent resentment. As if to give him further encouragement, he felt Maka's lips press gently against his. A feather tip kiss.

"Soul!"

His eyes snapped back open. Groaning, he hated to find himself back in reality, especially the chemical scented hospital room. Translucent curtains danced across the windows on the opposite wall; blinding light poured in, blocking any of the potential scenery.

"What are you doing?" Unlike Maka's innocent, teasing voice, this one was lower, masculine, stern.

Sighing, Soul rolled over. Of course his current predicament probably looked awkward: He was in a white T-shirt and pajama pants, buried under blue blankets and sheets, arms wrapped around the unmoving and comatose form of his meister Maka. Whoever was bugging him, all he felt was irritated and more than a little pissed off. He wanted to return to Maka as soon as possible, considering how limited a time he was allowed to spend with her now.

For a second, he felt slight anxiety as he pulled away from Maka and sat up. What if it was her spazzing, overprotective old man Spirit...? The thought made him grit his teeth and start running through mental blueprints of the quickest exit routes throughout the room. Bracing himself for the worst, he turned to see who was talking to him: Death the Kid.

Soul gritted his teeth harder to the point he thought he could feel pressure on his gums; Kid was another person he really hadn't wanted to confront right now.

This was due more to personal pride than anything else, though. Before Maka had fallen into her current coma, they'd been extremely close to becoming a top tier meister and weapon team; it'd been a behemoth task for Soul to sit on his upset at being so close, yet so far from finally becoming a Death Scythe.

Just yesterday, Kid had achieved exactly this goal. He wasn't necessarily flaunting it, but he had changed his trademark outfit; he'd started wearing a knee-length trench coat, black gloves, and had a skull mask in his pocket. His Death Scythes Liz and Patty carried themselves with more authority now, too; they'd even changed their own wardrobes to pretty much the female equivalent of Kid's new get-up...

To make matters worse, Kid's newly dubbed apprentice stood respectfully behind her teacher, looking at Soul with sympathetic pink eyes.

"What are you doing, Soul?" Kid prompted yet again, flexing his gloved fingers impatiently.

Soul sighed and reached up, rubbing his forehead, then running a hand through his hair. "I figured out that I could communicate with Maka through soul resonance," he admitted somberly.

Slight shock registered on Kid's face. "Do you think you'd be able to draw her out of the coma?"

Swallowing a sizable lump in his throat, Soul shrugged. "I honestly don't know..." Frowning, he turned towards Maka again and lightly cupped her face in his palm.

"It's possible to talk to her through soul resonance?" Kid's apprentice stepped forward, eyes shining.

When Soul gave a confirmatory nod, she looked up at Kid. "Would Miss Marie's healing waves be of any help here?"

"Someone's been observant," Kid acknowledged with a prideful smile. "We've tried that already. Unfortunately, there's been no cure found as of yet. We'll just have to wait and see."

Those words felt like somebody had shot Soul through the heart. Biting down on his lip, he lightly caressed Maka's cheek, feeling subdued resentment towards both Kid and his naive apprentice for using this as 'teacher-student' time.

Rolling his eyes, Soul couldn't help noticing just how wholly the girl held Kid's attention; the Reaper's son barely gave anyone that kind of undivided attention.

She was clasping her hands now, pencil thin eyebrows drawn as an idea occurred to her. "What about my own purifying resonance?" Unclasping her hands, she revealed two cartoonish four-leaf-clovers drawn on her palms. "If I combined it with Miss Marie's healing waves, and then we both resonated with-"

"Absolutely not," Kid cut her off sternly, clapping his hands on the girl's narrow shoulders. "She was hit by a dangerously high dose of madness. Maka's a three star meister; one of the most powerful students here at the DWMA and it's incredibly unnerving that she's been so negatively affected by this." An action that was very inappropriate to his role to her, he placed his forehead against hers. "I have faith your abilities, Gina. It's just, you still have a lot of training and practicing before-"

"Get a room, lovebirds!" Soul snapped.

"Our relationship is strictly professional!" Kid griped, shooting a pointed glare at Soul.

"Ahh," Gina squeaked, pulling herself away from Kid. "I'm not opening that can of worms again right now."

With hurried steps, Gina exited the room muttering in Spanish under her breath, the door slamming unceremoniously behind her; Soul couldn't help the slightly wicked grin that slipped onto his face when he saw Kid's yellow eyes helplessly follow the short, curvy girl out of the room. Once he was sure Gina was gone, Soul couldn't help taking a few potshots.

"What's it like being surrounded by so many girls?" he cracked. "You've pretty much got a harem now that you've taken Gina and Cat under your wing!"

"Shut up," Kid muttered, blushing furiously.

"Is the apprentice thing necessary after you reach Death Scythe status?" Soul asked curiously, blinking.

"No...my dad just recommended I take on an apprentice to..." He scoffed. "...improve my people skills. He claims it's an exercise to prepare me for when I take over the family business."

"So, did you handpick that cutie?" He wiggled an eyebrow suggestively.

"As a matter of fact, I did." Kid folded his arms and cleared his throat. "But not entirely for superficial reasons, mind you. She's the second highest in her class intellectually; she can fight adequately, but she just needs some extra help. She's been having major difficulty with soul-"

"Not entirely superficial?"

"I came to visit Maka, not to be heckled about my love life..."

That comment just made Soul's grin widen that much more.

Kid snorted derisively. "You're lucky you and Maka have perfect symmetry when you're lying there together." His expression softened slightly. "I suppose I came at an inappropriate time...I'll leave you two alone for now."

"Finally," Soul groaned.

"I intend to research more into what you just told me. There may very well be a way to help Maka return and I know a certain somebody who could be of very nominal assistance."

"Thank you," Soul said softly, sincerely.

Kid smiled serenely and inclined his head before turning and walking towards the door. Just as he exited, Soul couldn't help making one more crack: "And now, the Reaper returns to his daily soap of being surrounded by attractive girls, but alas, he's stuck in the friend zone!"

{{{{{{{{{

A magic chime sound echoed in Robot's mind when the butterfly fluttered and took off from the tip of Nicole's nose.

Wordlessly, Nicole took a tentative step forward, then she collapsed to her knees, lunging at Robot and enveloping him in a giant hug. Trembling, she started weeping and Robot found himself at an utter loss for what to do. Yet, the confusion passed quickly. He was caught up in the moment, returning the tender embrace of his long-lost mother, weeping bucketfuls for the missed years, the unanswered questions.

Almost five whole minutes passed before the two finally gained some form of composure.

Nicole held him at arm's length, sniffling as she looked him head to toe.

"You grew up into such a handsome young man!" she gushed.

Robot blushed, wanting to cover his face with his scarf.

"We have quite a bit of catching up to do, Robot!" she continued, grinning ear to ear as a new wave of tears threatened. "You had a long drive over here. Can I treat you to lunch, honey?"

Robot's blush deepened and he started pulling at his scarf now. "Lunch sounds good."

"You can bring your friend, too!" Nicole took Robot's claws in her paws and squeezed them affectionately. "Oh, I know it hasn't even been two minutes, yet, but this is already one of the best days of my life!"

Face a red tomato, Robot just swallowed and nodded in acknowledgment. That smile, her bright and happy personality, the sincerity. Somehow, in a very short amount of time, Nicole had started wriggling her way into her son's heart.

Time was an easy flowing river. Next thing Robot knew, he and Monster were sitting across a booth from Nicole. Monster was trying to entertain himself by making "homemade lemonade", much to the chagrin of the waiter while Robot and his mom launched into an intense game of twenty questions.

"What are things like in Gearsburg?" Nicole started.

"It's okay," Robot said honestly. "But, I've always wanted to get away from that town. Go somewhere smaller, perhaps in the countryside...then go and find adventure and potential clients for my inventions in bigger, more active cities."

"How exciting!" Nicole smiled. "What are your life goals?"

"To become a successful, full-time inventor," he replied. "Still working on making that happen, but thanks to my cousin, I'm getting closer."

"That's wonderful!" Nicole tapped her chin absentmindedly. "Have you patented anything yet?"

"Not officially," Robot said glumly.

"Can I see some of your schematics?" Nicole asked instead, trying to push the other question under the rug.

"You...want to see my inventions?" Robot was in shock for a long moment, irises huge and glowing. "Somebody besides Monster..." A huge, surprised smile broke out on Robot's face. Despite his disbelief and shock, though, he wasted no time at all opening his front hatch and pulling out a few of the blueprints and schematics he carried with him everywhere.

For the next half hour, he showed off and explained different designs to a very intrigued and fascinated Nicole. He didn't even have to explain technical terms more than once or convince her that the designs could be practical. Of everyone he'd ever met aside from Monster, the Krumholtz, and Gizmo, she was the first "lay man" to give him praise and constructive comments about his designs. She even gave him helpful advice as to what the casual consumer might like to find in some of his designs.

The only thing that stopped them was a very angry, and thoroughly drenched, waiter tapping Robot on the shoulder. "Ah...you need to leave sir. Now."

"What? Why?!" Robot instantly went on the defensive, but then he turned and saw Monster. Smiling sheepishly, the tall Organic tugged at the limes he'd speared to his horns; his hands were covered in sugar particles from ten different opened packets of Splenda.

"Monster..." Robot had a very impatient, older brother tone in his voice.

"I was trying to make my own lemonade!" Monster protested. "I saw a lady a few tables down doing it and it looked like fun!"

"Did you have sugar bacon this morning?"

Monster gave a silent, guilty nod.

"Gizmo's influence," Robot groaned audibly. "Monster, from now on, don't listen to Gizmo when he tries to get you to do something stupid. Capiche?"

"Princess Invisible was in on it, too!" Monster hedged, then sighed, looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry, Robot..." He looked up at the very irritated waiter now, too. "I'll help clean this up."

Worriedly, Robot turned to look at Nicole; the older woman had a knowing expression on her face, her lip curled back as she pulled out her wallet and started digging around. With an apologetic smile, Robot tapped her wrist in a "stop" gesture as he pulled out his own wallet and handed the waiter both the money for the uneaten meal and a hefty tip for his trouble.

"Oh..." Nicole furrowed her brows as she looked at the table. There were two foam containers, both holding food neither had gotten to eat due to being so distracted. "The food-"

"I have a microwave," Robot assuaged, grabbing the containers.

"If you say so," she said, still looking guilty.

The two stepped back outside. This time, though, Robot didn't even have to look to know the sun was bright and shining. Normally, he'd be aggravated by what had just happened, but the past hour or so had dragged him up from such deep emotional depths, he was consumed by happiness. Nothing else really touched his mind right now. All he wanted was to relish in this rare, beautiful emotion.

"How old is Monster?" Nicole asked, biting her lip.

"Twenty-two," Robot sighed, rolling his eyes. "He's usually not this bad. My cousin's been in town and, he's a very immature, childish guy. So, he's...been kind of a bad influence on Monster lately."

"I can relate," Nicole laughed, wearing a tired smile. "I have three rambunctious kids at home..."

"I'm...an older brother?" The concept seemed so novel and alien to Robot. He remembered Arpa saying that Nicole had other kids, but he hadn't quite connected the dots that they were his siblings.

"Would you like to see pictures of them?" Nicole asked, launching into proud parent mode.

"Sure!"

Eagerly Nicole popped open her wallet and started pointing at various pictures and giving brief descriptions. Gumball, her oldest, took after her in looks; he had a heart of gold coupled with untamed mischief and his daddy's deviance. Darwin, her second oldest, was the oddball, but it didn't matter that he wasn't blood-related; he was a bit naive, but very worldly and wise for his age, not to mention a complete sweetie. Then there was Anais, her youngest and taking after dad in looks; she was a very precocious and down-to-earth child, extremely mature for her age, but still the cherubic little girl she appeared to be at heart.

After seeing pictures of each kid, Robot had a kaleidoscope of mixed feelings; part of him wanted to meet and interact with them all in person, but at the same time he also felt slight tingles of envy, confusion, indecision. Once she finished introducing them, Nicole snapped her wallet shut and slid her arm around Robot's shoulders. What unnerved him was the new look on her face, how she seemed to peeling away his metal shell and staring into his very soul.

"Someday, I'd like to introduce you to them," she said in an even voice. "But, I'd like to get to know you better first and truly develop the mother-son relationship we never got to have...Do you think we can schedule to meet up again sometime soon?"

Both her voice and her face were hopeful, expectant.

"We're...starting to get to know each other right now," Robot pointed out, a slight tremble in his voice.

"I know," Nicole sighed, looking reluctant. "I have to go pick up my other kids pretty soon here, though. I intend to make as much effort as I can to meet up with you more, but there's only so much I can do..."

Robot felt a slight pang. Feeling selfish, he wanted to hug her again and never let go; to beg her to spend weeks, months with him. In a way, the desire extended to such a length that he wanted to stop time and make up for every lost moment there. How ferocious the desire was made Robot feel kind of sick.

Looking down at the sidewalk, then up at Nicole, he smiled in a reserved understanding. "When do you think we could meet up again?"

"Thursday, next week at Jacob's around eight?" Nicole tried. "It's Richard's favorite restaurant...Do you think you'd be up for meeting him? I think it's only right you get to meet your dad, too."

"My...dad?"

"Of course!" Nicole smiled easily. "I wasn't a single parent." She furrowed her brows. "I...didn't strike a nerve-"

"No, that's just fine." Robot ran one claw over the other, imagining that he was playing with his heart. "That'd be perfect. Just...perfect."

{{{{{{{{{

"Dude...you're still playing b-ball with me after class today, right?" Black Star asked, his face a mix between expectant and absolutely bored.

"Yeah..."

"I convinced Kid to play a high stakes game," Black Star snickered. "And I asked him to bring Gina."

"What, did Tsubaki or one of the Thompson sisters put you up to it?"

Black Star shot Soul a weird look. "No way, man..."

Now Black Star lowered his voice when he noticed a particularly nosy raven haired girl leaning in and trying to catch snatches of their conversation. Inside, Soul wanted to roll his eyes. Of course some of the girls were dreadfully curious about who of their fellow kind was insane enough to pursue and deal with someone as high maintenance as Death the Kid...

"Her weapon Cat told me what freaks her out." Black Star was trying to suppress snickers. "She has a tick almost as bad as Kid's...She hates the number eight! She makes a point of counting stuff to avoid ever seeing it."

"What the hell...?"

"Just imagine what sorts of reactions they'd have if, A: Kid had to go through an entire wing of abstract or postmodern art. And, B: Somebody forced Gina to sit in front of eight objects that she couldn't rearrange..."

Soul couldn't help the piranha grin on his face. "You're mad scientist brilliant! I'd pay top dollar to see that kind of freak out session!"

"Exactly what I wanted to hear." Black Star held up his fist and Soul returned the obligatory fist bump.

Just as they'd been talking, the class started getting up and leaving as the class let out; the raven haired girl actually made a point of glaring down her nose at Soul and Black Star, shaking her head in disgust. Soul returned her look, widening his grin to show off the full extent of his sharp canines.

"Soul, quit flirting!" Black Star chimed in, laughing.

Snorting, the girl rolled her eyes then stalked off, Soul's crimson eyes following her. Once she'd left, he joined in with Black Star's obnoxious laughter; they even made a few under-the-table jokes and comments about how Black Star felt sorry for Maka having to deal with girls clamoring to see Soul's charming "sharky" smile. Their camaraderie was interrupted by Professor Stein showing up out of the blue and fixing the two teenagers with a pointed look behind the glare of his glasses.

As usual, he was sitting backwards on the obligatory office chair, his chin balanced on his folded arms; measured impatience conveyed through the way he tapped the side of his chair with his fingers and the slight frown on his face.

"Soul, would you mind sticking around a few minutes?" A demand, not a request.

Helpless, Soul gave Black Star a wary smile and a shrug. Waving and muttering "Whatever", Black Star got up and excused himself. When Soul returned Stein's gaze, he was unnervingly aware of his bro's receding footsteps, his lifeline to normality quickly disappearing.

It didn't matter how long he'd been sitting in Stein's classes or what Soul knew about him from previous occasions where he'd actually had to fight alongside Stein in taking down more ferocious, higher scale kishin. There was still always something very unnerving and jolting about being in the same proximity as the man.

"I know about that...composition you've been poking at," Stein cut directly to the chase.

Soul sighed, slumping back in his chair as the air seemed to deflate from him. "I had a feeling Lord Death would have you follow up on it..."

The two just stared at each other for a long, silent moment, Stein's expression unreadable.

"Just so you know, you're not being excluded from the investigation," Stein assured. "As a matter of fact, you're exactly the person we'd need."

"How so?" Soul became incredibly wary, sitting forward in his chair earnestly.

"I want to conduct an experiment," Stein replied. "You're going to play Damien's Rhapsody and I want to measure just how drastic the effects are on me."

"Hell no!" The words came out as a string of memories zipped through Soul's mind. His hands started shaking as Maka's nightmare grin leaked into his mind, followed by the distant sound of the squawking, uncontrollable laughter Stein lapsed into when he was at his worst with the madness. Taking several steps back, he gritted his teeth to the point his gums were aching, his fingers electric rods. All of the worst imagery melted into one sole, striking mental cue: Maka as she fell into the first throes and fits of her current coma.

"Hell. No!" He yelled the words this time. "I won't do it!"

To his dismay, Stein only looked that much more set and resolute in his decision.

"I already made arrangements with Marie," Stein explained in a clipped tone. "This will be under very controlled circumstances. I'll be fine."

"Couldn't you use some other instrument or device to measure-?"

"The madness has to affect someone in order for me to properly measure it," Stein replied.

"I'm not doing it."

"Soul!" Stein's voice had a slight edge to it now. "We need to know just how potent the Rhapsody is, just in case Bricklin ever does get his hands on it. The sooner we know, the more quickly we can see if an antidote is possible."

"If Tin Can could write something this bad, he can easily write something more deadly..."

"Perhaps," Stein conceded. "But, think of it this way: You'll have a cure for Maka...That's our immediate objective, is it not?"

"Yeah..." he replied, stopping, and letting his shoulders drop. He looked up at Stein, brows furrowed. "By the way...How's the sun goddess holding up?"

"Not very well," Stein replied somberly as he stood up from his chair. "One of her fellow royalty was...murdered just this morning."

Soul closed his eyes and started massaging his forehead.

"She's thousands of years old, so she's probably dealt with death before," Stein assuaged, albeit grimly. "It's her protege that really needs emotional support right now..."

Nervously, Soul sat at the wooden bench, clenching the sides with shaking fingers. He peered around the huge polished mahogany piano: There stood Lord Death himself, his goofy facade hinting at his true, more hidden horrific nature. Beside him was a stoic Stein, sitting still in a metal chair; a teary Marie gripped the back of the chair, pushing her blond hair out of her face. Red haired and more serious than usual Spirit leaned in towards Stein and spoke to him in low, somber tones.

Gnawing on his lip, Soul gave in to morbid curiosity and cast his gaze across the room: There went the retreating forms of the alicorn sun goddess Celestia and her protege Twilight Sparkle. As Stein had sordidly reported, recent events left Twilight in shambles. Even though he couldn't see the purple alicorn's face, the way she dipped her head and shoulders, followed by Celestia dripping a delicate white wing around her in a delicate halo revealed volumes.

Lump caught in his throat, Soul reached up and idly stroked one of the bright ivory keys. When had his beloved craft become such a burden on his own soul? He lightly pressed down on the chosen key, smiling in a very macabre fashion at the sweet, chiming echo...

"Alright, Soul, Octavia, Vinyl," Lord Death spoke up, his voice caught between its' cheery mask and the true, husky baritone. He, Marie, and Spirit stood behind transparent blue shields, looking on with worried eyes; Stein was clamped down to his chair with purple energy ribbons now. No fear in his expression, only pure determination.

Only now did Soul cast a look at the other musicians joining in the dreaded trio. Two of Equestria's best musicians had stepped up to the task: a beige pony with a raven mane nervously tapping at a microphone and another white pony with a wild blue one taking deep breaths as she stared at her saxophone. The longer he hesitated, the more the tension in the room grew; the lump in Soul's throat was a grapefruit now.

Swallowing, he leaned forward and stomped on the pedals, fingers beginning to dance in a wicked line dance. Only a few seconds passed before the other two joined in. Soul's chest constricted as his part quickly ascended to the all-too-familiar discordant, Schroeder tones. Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm himself and just focus on his current task, but it was difficult. It became impossible when he seemed to exit his body for a brief amount of time: From an unorthodox third person perspective, he was looking down at Stein.

Already, the professor was writhing like a snake, his teeth clenched so much there may as well be cracks and fissures starting from the overwhelming pressure. As the song continued to intensify, dark purple aura emanated from Stein as he started screaming: wild, loud, and bloodcurdling screams.

Then Octavia started singing, her voice a clear, lucid bell. All Soul could focus on was watching the lenses of Stein's glasses crack and break, splintering into a glittering rain. From there, his pupils shrank, becoming overridden by a pattern of red veins as if his eyeballs would pop right out of their sockets.

Unlike the previous time Stein had been overcome with madness, though, he wasn't hollering about how he wanted to dissect everything in sight.

Instead, he just kept screaming. His skin turned pale white and, as if someone were drawing on him, unrecognizable bright green symbols appeared all over his face, neck, and every visible patch of skin. The symbols acted like holes: ectoplasmic green spirit energy wafted up and out, seeming to writhe and trying to transform into...something.

"SOUL!" Marie shrieked. "STOP IT!"

He wanted to, but his fingers were uncontrollable puppets pulled and maneuvered by unseen strings. Wildly, he craned his head: Octavia was starting to scream and writhe, her form covered in the same symbols as Stein. The next few moments were a dizzy blur: Celestia was galloping towards them now; she physically rammed herself into the piano and knocked Soul off of the bench, tackling him to the floor.

Pain ratcheted from his shoulders to his wrists when Celestia stomped down on him, effectively pinning him to the floor. He realized he was breathing heavily, that he was exhausted and drenched with depression. Heart beating a steady rhythm in his chest, all he could do was stare p into Celestia's regal face.

Her violet eyes were shining with so much regret and pain. Never in his life had Soul ever expected to see such emotion conveyed in the face of an equine, let alone feel like the strings of his heart had been physically yanked out and plucked.

{{{{{{{{{

Ever since Robot had met with Nicole, it'd been enough to carve into his recent depression.

Change had been an oncoming freight train. Monster recently quit at The Blinking Lights Factory after Robot revealed what Nessie had shared with him recently. Now both he and Monster were packing up their possessions while Invisible made arrangements to set up living quarters for them all there earlier than the wedding date.

Monday rolled around and a lot of work had gotten done. And, the majority of the exhausted party had decided to take today as a lazy day, even though Robot thought otherwise. He hadn't really wanted time to sit around and think; being busy gave him purpose, and at the end of the day, he was so busy he just slept through the night, nightmares or not. But, living with three other people meant compromise. Lots of compromise.

So far though, Robot couldn't complain. He didn't wake up until the stroke of noon that day. Silly smile scribbling onto his face, he enjoyed just how relaxing and fulfilling a return to deep sleep felt. Sighing, he rolled around under the blankets, but he didn't really want to get up. So, he spent close to twenty minutes just lying there and staring up at the ceiling.

"Are you awake yet, Robot?" Gizmo asked in a loud whisper from the other side of the room.

"Yes, Gizmo!" he yelled back, grinning giddily and rolling his eyes.

"Monster and I are gonna go get ice cream. Wanna go?"

"No thanks."

"I'll get you a vanilla cone topped with bacon bits!" Gizmo called as he left the room.

Robot rolled his eyes again before pulling the blankets over his head and falling back asleep again. Yet, barely into the moment he closed his eyes, Robot regretted his decision. Instantly, he was transported to that eerily familiar dark room, the one with the red curtains and the pictures hanging all over the walls. And here he'd started to believe that these nightmares had stopped.

Taking a deep breath, he resisted the urge to start screaming and clawing at the blankets; he could wake back up and be back in pleasant reality with Gizmo and Monster, but instead, he decided to just confront this creature. Since it refused to go away, he'd force it to by will power alone.

Unlike the previous times, though, the paintings on the wall, especially the one of the girl, were very striking and defined. For a long moment, Robot studied the portrait, feeling that it was important for some reason: The portrait was of a young human girl, around fifteen or sixteen years old; she was petite with very few curves or defining womanly features. The only reason Robot could tell was that in the portrait she wore an elegant, form fitting black velvet dress. Long dirty blond hair fell around her face and down her shoulders in waves; a pair of goose egg green eyes looked out, their color a bright contrast against the other, darker colors.

"Hey, Robot, right?" called a soft voice.

Robot turned around and was surprised to find the girl from the portrait sitting cross-legged on the piano. She was smiling, her head tilted at an angle as she quietly studied him with the same curiosity he had towards her unfamiliar species.

"Yeah," he replied simply.

"It's nice to meet you," she said, stepping down from the piano and slowly approaching him. "I'm Maka."

Immediately, Robot's pupils shrank to pinheads. "As in...the girl that scythe guy talks about all the time...?" He started shaking, keeping his eyes directed at her green ones. Any moment now, her arms would turn into wicked scythe blades and she'd dig into him with the same, if not worse, ferocity than what Soul was originally. (Right now, Robot wished that Gizmo wasn't so obsessed with that anime.)

"Yes," she said evenly, her face crumpling up with guilt. "That's...what I wanted to talk to you about."

"What's there to talk about?! He wants to kill me."

"That's...all because of a very gross misunderstanding-"

"There's no misunderstanding that can justify him threatening me like that!" Robot cried. "He plays judge, jury, and executioner based on his assertions alone. He never lets me get a word in edgewise. Every time I try to defend myself he sticks his scythe blade in my face!"

"I know his reasons are misguided," Maka sighed, looking kind of tired. "If it means anything, I asked him to stop harassing you. Made him promise, too."

In reply, Robot glared suspiciously at her, arms folded, and heart hammering in his chest.

Silent and intimidating as a ghost, Soul slinked up out of the shadows and wrapped his arms protectively around Maka. Like a protective puppy he placed his head in the crook between her neck and shoulder. With a short, whispered dialogue, she batted him away.

The entire time he watched the exchange, something occurred to Robot: There'd been times where he would have built death rays or laser cannons to protect the honor of the woman he loved. Seeing this young couple in action almost made Robot empathize with why Soul had been so ready and eager to threaten him like he had.

"She made me promise," Soul alleged, his face unreadable.

"Why should I trust either of you?" Robot directed.

"Good point, tin can," Soul sighed. He looked at his feet, then back at Robot. This was the first time he'd seen Soul express an emotion other than cool indifference or burning rage. Somehow, the kid actually looked regretful, like he'd been trampled underfoot; he even had purple sleep-deprived shadows under his eyes like Robot did. "I still don't see why I should trust you."

"Soul!" Maka barked, barring his way with her arm and glaring dagger points at him.

"I've studied Damien's Rhapsody with close scrutiny," he pointed out, his red eyes blazing as he pinned Robot with a death glare. "This morning, I figured out exactly what happened: The rhapsody can amplify madness to such dangerous levels that it could kill a regular mortal. It can rip the dark side right out of a person and uses their inner evil to overwhelm the senses and kill them..."

Eyes wide, Maka turned and looked at Soul. "How did you figure this out?"

"Professor Stein found out I had a copy and told me to test it out on him," Soul confessed, sweat beading and pouring down his forehead. "He...he's in the hospital wing with you right now. Recovering..."

"Why didn't you tell me this before...?"

"Hey, Robot!" Soul barked, his tone an auditory fire and brimstone. "I hope you're happy! Mission successful for you and Bricklin, right?! Now you have the exact tool you need to harvest souls for the Big Bossman, huh?!"

Maka's fingers started shaking as she feebly pressed against Soul's chest. Ice drenched Robot's circuitry as both Soul's arms turned into scythe blades, but this time, they were a pair of bright blue and violet flames. Mouth turning to cotton, Robot imagined just how easily those flames could burn through and melt down his metal chassis.

"I've never been associated with Bricklin, you psychopath!" Robot shrieked. "He was a horrible father! He disowned me, dammit! Why the hell would I want anything to do with him now? And, for your information: Both you and Bricklin can go to hell in a fucking hand basket! I'd gladly deliver you down there myself!"

The second he finished his tirade, Robot awoke, breathing heavily, and drenched in sweat. Strangely enough, though, somebody was hugging him. Tightly. A paw was stroking his back gently, motherly.

"I had no idea," Nicole whispered, her breath hitching. "Oh, God, Robot...I wish I'd known. I wish I'd known. Appropriate finances or not, Richard and I would have fought tooth and nail to get you away from that nightmare."

"Mom...?" Robot squeaked, wondering if he was still dreaming.

"Yes, baby," she sniffed. "Mama's here. And I'm not leaving. Never again."

"I...just had a bad dream," Robot managed, blushing in embarrassment as the current situation started settling in. "I've been having recurring nightmares lately. No big deal."

Much to his dismay, Nicole only hugged Robot tighter.

"If you'll let me, I want to be the mom you never had," Nicole was begging. "I can't erase the past, but-"

"You already started," Robot said evenly.

"...what?"

"You already started," Robot sighed. "Just meeting you was a miracle. You don't know how much that alone affected me..."

"Really?" Nicole pulled away from the embrace and held him at arm's length; her eyes were wide, glittering orbs.

"Yeah!" Robot let out a long, airy breath. "Meeting you was the highlight my week. Not just my week, but, my life."

"You...don't know just how happy I am to hear that," Nicole warbled. Tears leaked out of her eyes and down her cheek as she let go of his shoulders and took one of his claws. With a very uncharacteristically shy smile, she pulled out her wallet and revealed a book of pink tickets. Each of the tickets had "Daisyland" printed on them in neat, strawberry pink font. Childhood longing to go to the theme park every ten-year-old dreamed of visiting surged in Robot.

Biting his lip, he fixed Nicole with a confused look. "I know I'm jumping the gun on this, but I wanted to let you know that you're invited to come with us over spring vacation." She gave a small smile. "Richard won a sweepstakes yesterday for six people to go and...He insisted that you get one of the tickets. He's...actually been texting me the entire way over here asking if you've accepted the offer..." Nicole looked kind of sheepish as she furrowed her brows. "Remember what you hinted at about Gizmo...? After meeting your cousin, I...have a feeling he and Richard would get along swimmingly..."

"Mrs. Watterson, is Robot up yet?!" As if on cue, Gizmo entered the room. "His cone melted."

Both Nicole and Robot turned to see Gizmo holding a crushed cone. Vanilla ice cream and bacon bits poured out of the top and ran down the cone, covering his fingers.

"Hey Robot, do you still want your cone?"

"No thanks," Robot replied, rolling his eyes.

With that, Gizmo stuffed the entire cone in his mouth and chewed noisily, even made a show out of licking his fingers. Once he left, both Robot and Nicole stared blankly at where he'd just been, then at each other.

"Yup..." Nicole smacked her lips. "Just like Richard."

"Can't wait to meet him!" Robot conceded, smiling.

Then the two burst out laughing giddily. For the rest of the afternoon, Robot and Nicole swapped stories about their favorite pair of imaginative and childish dunderheads.

"Wear this!" Gizmo said. Then he spotted another item and rifled through the various clothing items that he and Princess Invisible had knitted and crocheted. He held up the scarf victoriously, a bright smile on his face. "You have to wear this!" he insisted.

Every day brought Robot closer to his breaking point with Gizmo's absurd obsession. What made things worse was that Monster had been reeled in, too; Robot had heard Gizmo and Monster eagerly discussing the show at length to the point they argued about plot points or character motivations. With that in mind, Robot didn't even try to hide his displeasure at the scarf Gizmo had picked out.

"This character is so much like you, you could be twin brothers!" Gizmo brokered with a giddy smile.

"That makes me want to wear that even less," Robot snarked.

"Let me point out the similarities!" Gizmo held up his hands in an emphatic "bear with me" gesture. "Kid suffers from major asymmetriphobia; you suffer from pupaphobia and a weird phobia of lollipops!"

"Do you know what kind of choking hazard the sticks on those things are?!" Robot protested, starting to shake. "Not to mention, the vibrant colors and patterns make me feel like I'm on an LSD trip...If I wanted to feel the effects of a hallucinogen, I'd be actively taking one!"

"Kid's anal about details to the point he nags people and becomes hypercritical. You nag and lecture people for lack of common sense."

"Why shouldn't I?" Robot interjected, folding his arms. "Somebody needs to be able to keep you and Monster in line. I'll admit that I'm not perfect myself, but I'm not afraid to be blunt when I absolutely have to be."

"Kid has weird mood swings; when he's too overwhelmed by his phobia, he gets angsty or depressed. You're kind of an emo sometimes-"

"I don't wear black or have weird colored hair!" Robot complained, then smacked his forehead into his claw. "Congratulations, Gizmo, you made me hate a fictitious character." Then Robot looked up, a wariness in his eyes. "Do you honestly have any idea how embarrassing my lollipop phobia is? Just how many weird looks I get for it? Next time you start laughing at this character's phobia, try looking at things from his perspective..."

"I'm not trying to be rude, Sane Cousin, I mean, Normal, Everyday Robot! No need to get so defensive over fiction!" Gizmo laughed. "So, will you wear the scarf?"

Robot groaned inwardly, then held up a claw. "Fine, but only because Monster would guilt me into it if you didn't force me to."

"There's the hypercritical side peeking out right there!" Gizmo wore a megawatt smile.

"I forgot just how far you'd go for a joke..." Robot started smiling. "Kudos."

"Ah...I'm not joking." Gizmo frowned.

Robot let out an irritated grunt as Gizmo wrapped the scarf around his neck. As he left the room, Robot looked down at the stitching: Gizmo's fingers were surprisingly nimble and he had great attention to detail when it came to stitching. Yet, the longer Robot stared, the more it became obvious that Gizmo and Invisible really had too much free time right now. They knew how to fill it in interesting ways, but too much nonetheless.

When Robot reached the front door, he looked longingly at his favored plaid scarf there. Quickly, he cast a glance over his shoulder. Gizmo was loud enough to announce his arrival, tripping over himself as he stumbled down the hall after Robot in a huge tangle of cloth scraps. The tall, lanky Mechanical was laughing and rolling, entertaining himself by creating a mess the likes a rambunctious five-year-old would cringe at.

Rolling his eyes, Robot exited the apartment and walked out into the clear night. He absentmindedly reached up and pulled at his scarf as he looked up at the faint, winking stars. Someday soon, he'd get to see a sky that wasn't overwhelmed by so much light pollution...

Invisible heaved a sigh as she dropped the box she'd been carrying, then dropped down on top of it. She sat in a very un-lady like way, her boot heels the only part of her shoe touching the floor.

"It's time for a break!" she announced.

"What's it like in the Crystal Kingdom?" Robot asked for the umpteenth time, purposefully parking the box he'd been carrying next to hers.

Blowing out a breath, Invisible looked at Robot through lidded eyes, then broke out in a wide smile.

"I'm moving there. Blindly. By your and Gizmo's recommendations alone!"

"You've mentioned that a million times, 'Bot," Invisible groaned, exasperated, yet she was wearing a smile.

Adjusting herself, she leaned forward on her knees, folding her hands under her chin. "Everything in the Crystal Kingdom is made of solidified light beams," she started, gaze misting as her mind traveled home. "For the most part, the Kingdom looks like a utopia: Greenery everywhere, a bunch of flora and fauna set up Babylonian style. All of that is a tribute to King Invisible's personal guest, Elijah Default. A token of appreciation from my people, the Borealians, for his efforts to help us start establishing relations with physical beings all across the universe..."

"Elijah Default?" Robot looked confused. "He was...committed to the insane asylum-"

"He's been in there off and on, yes," Invisible sighed, shaking her head. "Every other dimension in the multiverse has been accepting of the existence of Borealians except yours."

"Rewind a bit. Start from the beginning!" Robot made motions with his claws.

Invisible grinned. "I'm not giving you a history lesson...The Kingdom's better live and in person," she said dreamily. "Show, don't tell!"

"You just enjoy keeping me in the dark, don't you?!"

"Come on, have a sense of mystery, why don't you!" Invisible snickered. "Let your imagination run wild...if you have one, that is. Then you'll find out that the real deal is a hundred times better!"

When Robot glared, she rolled her eyes and sat up, unfolding her hands. "Oh, alright. Well, you know how Gearsburg or any modern town has light pollution?" Now her eyes were glowing softly. "The Crystal Kingdom has a solution beyond just going to the countryside. My kingdom is located in-between dimensions, which gives my people a front and center view of the universe. We see the stars as they move in real time, Robot. Not the reflection you're stuck with here on Earth..." Her smile widened. "There's a special reason why Gizmo and I put off our wedding to a later date: A supernova is scheduled to explode the day we get married."

Robot blinked, coming out of his reverie as a familiar old station wagon gently rolled up to the curb. To his utter surprise, the passenger in the shotgun seat was a very ecstatic and excited rabbit; he was rolling down the window as fast as physically possible. "ARGUS!" he yelled. "It's me, Daddy!"

The loud, booming voice made Robot cringe; he could hear a car alarm clattering just down the street.

"H-hi," Robot managed, heart beating in his chest. "Nice to-"

It was obvious that Richard lacked the understanding and patience Nicole possessed. Immediately, he emerged from the car and gathered Robot into a gigantic bear hug. The older man's joy turned into a warbling and weeping display. Staring with wide eyes, Robot wondered just how much of Richard's water percentage was getting spilled with the barrels and buckets of tears leaking from his eyes.

"Argus!" he blubbered.

"I...go by..." Just before the name 'Robot' came out of his mouth, he vaguely wondered why he was still using that name.

"I missed you, Argus!" Richard cried.

In a slight daze, Robot reached out and hugged him back, patting him lightly on the shoulder. Robot was caught between overwhelming feelings of awkwardness and weird affection. Despite the confusion, though, Robot started to get impatient the longer the embrace lasted.

Suddenly, Richard's stomach growled and he-finally-released Robot. "Bacon cheeseburgers sound really good right now..." Richard mumbled.

"Bacon cheeseburgers?" Robot's eyes widened and he started drooling.

"Yeah! That's Jacob's specialty!" Richard gushed, eyes shining. "The bacon is in-between being too soft or too crispy. It has just the right amount of grease and-" He grabbed Robot by the shoulders. "Mere description doesn't properly ascribe why it's the food of the gods. You have to try it for yourself, son!"

"I love bacon!" Robot grinned like a complete moron.

"What are we waiting for?!" Richard grabbed Robot and tucked him under his large arm, catapulting back into the station wagon.

The two grown men started chanting "Bacon" and sharing different stories and experiences about their beloved breakfast accessory. Once they reached the restaurant, Richard had managed to hype up the burger so much, Robot felt just how empty his stomach was. Not to mention, Robot had heaven bound expectations for one simple burger; the thought was ludicrous from a third person perspective, yet it also made Robot acknowledge that the large pink rabbit had an uncanny talent for tempting and persuasion.

"Richard," Nicole said suddenly, a wide smile on her face. "You mentioned the bacon burger, but you forgot to mention the fries!"

Richard gasped, then looked back at Robot, a silly smile stretching across his face. "The burger's my favorite, but just about everything on the menu has bacon in it!"

"I've just died and gone to heaven..." Robot gasped in a sing-song voice.

Jacob's was owned and managed by an older, reddish brown Mechanical man named the titular Jacob, but he insisted everyone call him Litterbug. Most of his employees were fellow family members; the waitresses were his sextuplet granddaughters who all had names starting with 'J': Jacqueline, Janis, Janet, Janine, Janey, and Jam. All of this was relayed to Robot through Richard, a renowned and favorite customer of Jacob's.

Nicole and Richard snickered and smiled every time one of the waitresses casually flirted with Robot and asked him if he knew which was one was speaking to him; they were all absolutely gorgeous, being full-figured, curvy, and busty with copper red chassis and shoulder-length red hair. Robot would be kidding himself if his uneducated comment about being in heaven had not only been met, but absolutely surpassed.

As the time whittled away, he learned more about Richard's favorite fantasy role playing games and Nicole's proud position as a manager and mother between every bite of nostalgically perfect bacon he ate.

"How are rainbows produced?" Robot asked Nicole, wide-eyed and absolutely curious.

Nicole smiled and laughed. "I can't reveal factory secrets!"

"I don't need to know what binding agents you use," Robot said, before smirking and rattling off a series of his guesses under his breath. Tone too low to be eavesdropped, but loud enough that Nicole could hear, her eyes widened and she gasped. Those reactions gave Robot a sick sense of triumph, but he hid his smile as soon as Nicole started glaring.

"Don't go telling anyone," she warned.

"Those were just the binding agents..." Robot looked at the ceiling as he bated. "I don't know what actually makes the dyes and colors used for the rainbows themselves."

"There's some factory secrets I'm not privy to," Nicole said in a low, irritated voice. "Don't toy with me, young man. I'm a force-"

"I'm kidding. I just wanted to know the general process," Robot amended, holding up a declarative claw. "The stuff seen on the tour..."

Blowing out a relieved breath, Nicole lowered her lids. "I'll nab you and your friend some tickets."

"Are you guys talking about Mr. Home-made Lemonade?" Richard was smiling cheekily.

Gasping, Robot shot an incredulous look before rounding back towards Nicole. Sheepishly, Nicole smiled and shrugged helplessly. "I had to tell him!"

"I guess we're even." Robot shrugged.

"Tell that guy he's awesome!" Richard whispered, wiggling his eyebrows.

"Gumball and Darwin want to grow up to be just like him..." Nicole groaned, burying her face in her hands now.

"He's inspired me, too!" Richard added. "I've been trying to come up with the nastiest lemonade recipe ever..." He tapped the table top as he sniggered. "And I plan on making Gumball be the first unsuspecting taste-tester."

"I'll be sure to tell Monster he's started a trend..." Robot convinced, trying to force a smile. Yet, despite the sentiment he was expressing, his tone sounded hollow. Actually, he felt a strange twinge of jealousy, followed by a pang of guilt for being selfish. Right now, Robot was getting a brief taste of why Monster got upset and kind of heckled by how much more fond his younger sister Globitha was of Robot than of him.

"I hope you don't mind, Robot, but I told Anais about some of your inventions," Nicole interjected suddenly.

Immediately, Robot's jealousy towards Mr. "Home-made Lemonade" was replaced by a bizarre unease.

"Isn't his name Argus?" Richard asked vacantly.

Blinking, Robot wasn't quite sure how to react. Feebly, he looked out at the 1950's d├ęcor and facade of the restaurant, blushing as one of the waitresses waved at him and idly wondering how Nessie would feel about having a real competitor for the Makin' Bacon just on the outskirts of Gearsburg. Swallowing, he turned back towards Nicole, surprised at just how blank his mind seemed to be getting.

"What...did you tell her?" he asked. He felt so ridiculous. Last week, he'd been poring over schematics with this woman; she'd comforted him from a nightmare. On some level, he knew he could relate and open up to her, that with time the chasm between them could be closed. Yet, he felt a bizarre anxiety; he was closing up like a clam.

"I told her about your saxophone made out of light rays," Nicole replied evenly. Her lips twitched as she started playing with the rainbow-button on her shirt front. "She was fascinated by how you intended to capture and project the light rays into the shape of a saxophone using the...?"

"An advanced and manipulated series of magnets employing the Faraday effect," Robot filled in.

"Right." She'd removed her button now. "I think you've inspired Anais."

This caught Robot by surprise; he could feel his mouth turning into a small "O."

"Yeah, she wants to be an inventor and make cool stuff like you do!" Richard added as a Grinch-like grin crawled onto his face. "Have you ever gone mad scientist...?"

"Would you mind if I showed Anais one of your schematics?" Nicole asked, slapping Richard lightly on the wrist.

"I don't have them with me," Robot said honestly. "I packed them away with all of my other stuff. I'm moving soon..."

"Where are you moving to?" Nicole asked, folding her hands and lacing her fingers together. She'd been aware that Robot was moving, but now was the first time he'd noticed her slight apprehension. Not that he could blame her. From what Invisible had been trumpeting lately, the Crystal Kingdom was definitely far away from Gearsburg; possibly a distance as vast as that as the land of Oz from Kansas.

"I'll find a way to keep in contact with you," Robot told her with a sudden urgency. "I promise. I'm not disappearing again. It's just...I have a job interview lined up there and a place to stay. I know the timing is inconvenient, but...I'm kind of under pressure and..."

Abruptly, he stopped talking. All of his yammering felt pointless and it seemed like nothing he could say would wipe the mute sense of unease in Nicole's face from the slant of her eyebrows to the slump of her shoulders. Despite her body language screaming her true feelings, Nicole said: "I understand."

Silently, she grabbed a napkin, took a pen out of Richard's shirt pocket-much to his chagrin-and scribbled a phone number down.

"Call us as soon as you get there," she whispered with a sweet smile.

Slowly, Robot reached out to take the napkin. For a brief moment, his claw touched Nicole's paw. Affectionately, she wrapped her fingers around his claw and gently squeezed. Just that one simple touch sent a brief electric shock through Robot: How had he been so easily convinced to let Gizmo and Princess Invisible whisk him away from a home he'd known all of his life...?

When he looked up, he felt the clockwork of his mind grinding and working overtime: There, hidden in the very darkest and unknown corners, were memories of his days as a baby. Comparing those images of a younger, more spritely cat and rabbit with the two living, breathing people right in front of him, he experienced a revelation. Something that should have been his first thought, but had been submerged until this very, essential moment.

How could he leave home when he'd finally discovered one of the biggest, most unexpected pieces of his life? A reason that could very well be his newfound reason for living?

Smiling, Robot squeezed his mother's paw. Heart glowing with demure candle light, he could hear murmurs of notes in his mind. Sweeping piano notes blending and mixing delicately with a contemplative saxophone. If Damien's Rhapsody had been the full musical expression of how horrid his childhood had been, then Sonata of Nicole's Search would be the hallmark of a new, vibrantly wonderful beginning...

As soon as Robot got home, he knew he'd found the inspiration to pick up his saxophone again. With a giddy smile and a slight skip in his step, he took his saxophone and polished it with a soft cloth, chuckling softly when he noticed a very conspicuous Princess Invisible sneaking peeks at him. Once he finished, he knew he needed secrecy. Despite his inner joy bursting like fireworks and his new, surging desire to tell everybody just how great the view was from Cloud Nine, he felt like he needed some time alone. Time to reflect, calm down, and process such a natural high.

No warning precedent, he ghosted off to his room and shut the door behind him, locking it. Silently, he smiled to himself as he swiped at the saxophone reed and wandered towards the nearest bedroom window. There was a bright white moon in the center of the sky, surrounded by twinkling stars and overlooking the darkened, silhouetted shapes of the city below. Closing his eyes, Robot felt his imagination become more active than it was normally: The view outside the window was imprinted on the backs of his eyelids, but the shapes seemed to blur and meld, melting into an entirely new figure altogether.

To Robot's utter surprise, the night sky became a whirl of dark skirts, the moon the pale and smiling face of a girl, and the stars a pair of eyes. Tranquility numbing him from head to wheels, he started to play: The saxophone bellowed out with a low and sweet sound. In a way, it sounded like an alto singing, but without any discernible lyrics. Perhaps, that was what Nicole sounded like when she sang?

For a few seconds, Robot continued like this, reveling in simplicity. Yet, the mental image his mind had stirred up looked at him expectantly, with a hidden yearning.

"Play what you feel in your heart," she urged, gesturing. "I can see your intentions in your eyes. Let them come out and burst to life!"

She was absolutely right. Heart beating like a snare drum, Robot decided to let wild and loose. Without hesitation, he started zipping straight into his virtuoso prowess, erupting with vibrant and raw power as he imagined the improvisatory style of fusion jazz. Not to be egotistical, but alone, Robot felt like he was channeling Louis Armstrong's legendary trumpet talent, only with the saxophone. But, as explosively brilliant as his playing seemed to be, he needed a bigger push. Someone to contrast and jam with him that could easily sync into his wavelength and help him weave this composition.

Just as the fleeting thought crossed his mind, Robot felt like someone else had spontaneously entered the room; the light brush of fingers against his upper arm. He opened his eyes; he wasn't in his bedroom anymore. He was back in that anonymous room that appeared in his nightmares. Fear grabbed him and crunched like an iron vise as he turned to see who it was.

Of course, it was shark-like Soul. Only, he seemed less formal than usual: he was wearing a Letterman jacket in lieu of his trademark suit and positioned in front of a keyboard. Before Robot could scream, Soul was pecking out a rhythm on the keyboard, trying to have the instrument play the role of basic rhythm. He played a few bars, seeming to wait for Robot to chime back in with the trumpet. When he didn't, Soul dived at the piano and played a cheerful, uplifting melody.

Heart strings plucked as the piano's sound vibrated through Robot: It resembled a bright, sunshine filled day. This was the soundtrack that Robot could imagine playing on the day he'd meet Gumball, Darwin, and Anais for the first time. With a swell of excitement, Robot joined back in on the saxophone, breathing all of his happiness into the brass. Swaying back and forth, the instrument had become a physical extension of himself. Every note that he played was an erupting, colorful accent expressing the deep, gushing wells of his euphoria.

Soul and Maka faded, vanishing and melting back into the somber grays and blues of Robot's familiar bedroom. As he wound down from the song, Robot lowered the intensity of his saxophone, looking out at the moon overhead as he spiraled down to a stop. Once he finished, Robot was touching the very outer fringes of blissful nirvana. Music had healed his soul; he felt an inner knowledge and confirmation that the nightmares would stop. Tonight, he was going to have a deep and very relaxing sleep.

Yawning, Robot turned towards his bed...and found a completely unexpected figure lying there under the covers. Slowly, she looked up at Robot with tentative green eyes and a small smile.

"Hi," she squeaked.

"I'm hallucinating," Robot warbled.

"No...you're not," Maka said soberly as she pulled the blankets aside and sat up. "I'm the one hallucinating." Biting down on her lip, she reached up and touched her forehead.

"Sane Cousin Robot, are you doing impressions?" Gizmo was on the other side of the closed door. Nervously, Robot looked at the disoriented human girl, brows furrowing as his insides started filling with ice. Subzero hit as the doorknob started jiggling.

"The impressions are nice, but I really want to-" Gizmo stopped talking as soon as he opened the door. A long moment passed, raising Robot's anxiety as Gizmo stared blankly. But the long, gangly Mechanical being still and silent didn't last long. Much to Robot's relief, surprise, and confusion, Gizmo was ambushing Maka, grabbing her by the shoulders and mumbling incoherently. Mumbling led to squeals, then Gizmo smiling in a way-too-eager way as he begged: "Tell me how you got here and then take me with you!"

Absolutely freaked out, the girl bit down on her lip and shook her head. "I don't know and...Absolutely not!" She grabbed Gizmo's sleeves and wrenched herself from his grip. Then she leaped to the point she was standing, holding back her hand as electric sparks danced and twirled around her fingers.

"I don't want to attack you, but I won't hesitate if you get up in my face like that again!"

Ogo blinked, coming out of his daydreams when he realized he wasn't the only one outside on the front lawn right now: The elderly Mr. Wheelie was out and about, too. Looking through a telescope, he opened and closed his hands around the spokes of his wheels. From his frenetic body movement, he seemed to be anxious and wary about something.

Initially out of concern, Ogo approached Wheelie, burning with curiosity as to what kind of astronomical happening could jar the old man's usually grouchy and jaded demeanor this much. At the same time, he also casually pondered where the window of Robot and Monster's apartment was so he could wheel the telescope in that direction and, potentially, spy on them.

Flight of fancy aside, Ogo looked up towards the sky; he didn't need a telescope to see this. A rainbow glowed, a brilliant stretch of neon colors as it scrolled across the night like a slowly unfolding banner.

"LGBT's getting more ambitious..." Wheelie muttered, shaking his head. "No need for that in Gearsburg, though. I thought the mayor already passed that ordinance..."

Ogo was about to respond, but bit his tongue instead when he realized Wheelie was probably talking to himself. It was better that Wheelie didn't know he was here anyway; Ogo could only imagine what sorts of mean, sarcastic, or loaded response the grumpy old landlord would direct at him and what he preferred to think of as his "quirky tendencies."

All of those thoughts stopped when Ogo's eyes followed the rainbow and, inexplicably, highlighted on a silhouetted dark figure. At first, he assumed it was an airplane-

His thoughts were cut off by a large star burst of electricity, then a loud, audible BOOM. Eyes bugging, Ogo turned in time to see all of the windows of the apartment building burst and then scatter, falling in a bright, glittering rain. Distressed tenants looked out, calling out to each other and gripping at wind sills with nervous, shaking hands.

Suddenly, a loud shriek filled the night air. Ogo felt like he and everybody else around were one entity as they all turned and stared: A lone figure was dropping, falling at an alarming rate towards the street. Faint, sputtering rainbow blurbs spurted behind it.

Without thinking, Ogo rushed to the end of the sidewalk, eyes glued to the falling form. The closer it came, the more distinctive the form. Seconds passed in an indeterminable rush, each caught in-between shutter clicks of the camera in Ogo's mind. Right before the strange figure hit the ground, he had scurried out in the street, arms extended.

Gravity launched the figure into his arms, sending the two tumbling and rolling painfully across the asphalt and into the nearby grass. Even when they'd stopped moving, Ogo still felt like his insides were zigzagging and jumping like pinballs in a pinball machine. Several minutes passed. A small group of people had gathered around him and the stranger.

Gathering what composure he could, he turned and addressed the unexpected new arrival: "Are you alright...?"

Not believing his eyes, he watched as a pale blue pegasus grunted, trying to stand, but unable. Her wings were tattered, blue feathers sailing around her in a pillow fight brand burst. What caught his eye almost instantly, though, was that the upper half of her left wing had skin stripped away, revealing fragile bones and bits of red muscle. His jaw dropped as horror seeped into every part of his frame.

"Y-yeah, I'm okay..." she managed to say, but just barely. One of her pink irises expanded and shrank repeatedly, caught in a movie reel type loop.

"I just called 911!" Monster announced loudly as he emerged from the gathered group of people, holding up his phone.

A worried and regressed Gizmo clung to Monster's arm, looking out with an expression of both utter fascination and intense concern. Within nanoseconds, an unfamiliar, but gorgeous Mechanical girl rushed towards the pegasus' side and reached out with trembling hands, staring helplessly at her palms. Earnest, Ogo was caught in-between wanting to slap a tracking device on her and focusing on the mayhem and urgency of the current situation.

"Rainbow Dash!" the woman shrieked, tears pooling in her eyes.

With no regards to the current setting, Gizmo rushed out from behind Monster and flung himself at the woman, ensconcing her in his embrace. She clung to him, weeping loudly as the blue pegasus-Rainbow Dash- keened, then fell onto her side.

Intense curiosity ripped and fought within Ogo. One of his new, absolutely urgent missions was to figure out who this strange woman was and what relevance she held to Gizmo. Because, if she was important to Gizmo, then she had some kind of link to Robot and Monster, too. Frowning, Ogo could feel his gears and circuitry clicking and whirring with unease. With how closely he'd been monitoring and keeping tabs on Robot and Monster via his security cameras and otherwise, he should have been intimately familiar with who this woman was, from her favorite color to her innermost secrets...

That aside, he knew he had to focus on what was going on right here, right now. Even the two people that Ogo considered the center of his life and universe couldn't overpower how dire this situation was.

Earnestly, Ogo approached Rainbow Dash; he reached out tentatively and started stroking her spiky, rainbow-colored mane with his claw. She looked up at him now, her eyes wide and glassy, face turning ghostly white. Wielding his careful and lifelong-developed infinite patience, Ogo looked at her, waiting as she made gurgling noises and tried, over and over, to speak.

"I told you..." she finally managed, her voice a frog-like croak. "I'm just fine..."

"No, you're not," he said sternly, face drawn. "Help's on the way."

Rainbow Dash coughed suddenly, blood coming out and staining the grass, as well as dripping down her maw. Hopelessness seeped into her expression as her brows drew up in a morbidly resigned way. With a feeble smile, she commented: "That's such a stupid looking scarf..."

"I don't think so," Ogo protested, trying not to cringe at the blood. "It was made by a dear friend of mine."

"Then that scarf is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen..." Dash rolled her eyes as she smiled. "I think I'm on my way out..." Dash's voice was weaker now.

The weight behind those words fell on Ogo like a thousand ton block. Shuddering, he wrapped his claws in the pegasus' mane and squeezed. Heart beating more steadily than it should have, he looked right into her eyes with conviction and whispered: "No. Not now."

"I wouldn't want it any other way..." she murmured dreamily. "Going out in a brilliant blaze of glory..."

Vibrant red and blue lights flashed and spilled across the night suddenly, drenching her in an abstract, almost Warholian cast.

"Help's here. You're going to be okay!" Ogo smiled encouragingly. "Let us help you!"

Dash smiled back weakly. "Stupid scarf..." She coughed. "I know this is as lot for a stranger to request on her deathbed, but the fate of the world rests on it..." Her eyes started closing and the pegasus just barely gasped her last words: "Watch out for the rainbows..."